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'Nick News' review: A lesson in school disparity

Bryan Kelso and Jonshell Johnson, members of the

Bryan Kelso and Jonshell Johnson, members of the student activist group Reed Renaissance Initiative, will appear on the upcoming "Nick News." Credit: Lucky Duck Productions / Martin Toub

SPECIAL "Nick News: Black, White, and Brown v. Board of Education: A Return to Segregated Schools?"

WHEN | WHERE Tuesday night at 8 on Nickelodeon

WHAT IT'S ABOUT "Separate but equal" never really was true when America's schools were largely divided into those with white students (in good facilities) and those with black students (and little resources). The disparity behind that discredited claim is also not over, despite 60 years having passed since the 1954 Supreme Court decision referenced in the title of anchor Linda Ellerbee's latest half-hour report for kids.

After a brisk once-upon-a-time summary of legally enforced segregation, Ellerbee says, "The sorry truth is that, practically, we're still separated by race." Cameras hop around St. Louis, New Orleans, Washington and Hartford to capture the continuing divide, embodied in both the "prejudging" expectations implied and the learning tools provided. During a one-day "school swap," black city teens are stunned to see the technology resources taken for granted by their white suburban counterparts: "Wow. We don't have all that." A white swapper sees "schools that are failing, and it's making the kids fail."

The self-selection inherent in charter schools symbolizes the issue's tough choices, sometimes seeming to undercut community resources while boosting individual opportunity. Charters can bring higher expectations to disadvantaged black neighborhoods ("They force you and make you into a scholar," says one confessed former slacker), as well as voluntary "magnet" programs that build equality through diversity.

MY SAY As usual, both Ellerbee and interviewees get straight to the point. Her report covers lots of ground, right down to property-tax funding inequity. "Nick News" might retell a bit more history here, to better inform those young viewers lucky enough to be growing up so immersed in diversity that official segregation must seem as madly remote as slavery seemed to their elders. But it's also great to see today's students have their say.

BOTTOM LINE Ellerbee's half-hour offers more questions than answers, challenging young viewers to think for themselves about a problem that is already theirs to face -- and will soon be theirs to resolve.



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