The term “gerrymander” was originally coined by a political cartoonist to describe the salamander-shaped electoral districts drawn by the political party colleagues of Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry in 1812. The word is an amalgamation of the words “Gerry” and “salamander,” and it describes the way politicians divide geographic areas into voting districts that give one party an unfair advantage in elections. (And in case you’re curious, despite the efforts, Governor Gerry lost his bid for re-election.)While we think of it as impacting state and national elections, gerrymandering and its effects aren’t restricted to just elections. The phenomenon has also been at play in the United States’ public school system for years. Recently an article on Vox explored the history of gerrymandering as it applies to school districts and racial segregation. Common sense could lead one to believe that children always attend the school that is closest to them, but that isn’t the case: School districts are often drawn by elected school board members that take elements other than distance into consideration.
The authors explain that some school segregation is “the result of America’s history of housing discrimination, in which the government for many years only backed home loans to white families who wanted to live around other white families.” However, other school districts were drawn in such a way that further effectively segregated children based on race. To see how your school district stacks up, check out a nifty calculator by clicking on the image below and scrolling to the end of the article.