Terence Crutcher. Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. Dallas… Through all of the social media righteous outrage and frustrated hopelessness, I have seen some beautiful good-white-liberal pledges. Talking to your kids about race (#colorblinddoesntwork)? Great. Posting BlackLivesMatter memes? Yes. Speaking up and speaking out? Thank you. Attending anti-racism rallies? Absolutely. Patronizing black-owned businesses? Even better.
But soon it will be August, we will commence with back-to-school shopping, and our children will return to classrooms with children who look like and sound like and come from families just like ours.
Our schools are more segregated than ever before (yes, more than before the Civil Rights Movement and Brown v. Board of Education) and we wonder why we can’t get anywhere with race and class relations in the US… We don’t even know each other.
Until we invest our most precious, until we entrust our most beloved, until we put our literal skin in the game, all of our July resolves will not be enough.
If you’re like my neighbor, you’re about to tell me that your kid can’t be sacrificed to fix this huge problem and that, lamentably, you have to choose offspring over ideals. We all love our kids and want the best for their futures, but if you’re like my neighbor, you imagine that they will only get into a “good” college and have a “good” life if they go to a “good” school. And that “good” school will be relatively affluent, have high test scores, talk about STEM and The Arts and host fundraisers for organic gardens.
But there are ways that other schools can be good for your kids, too. Increasing research shows that diversity in school actually is good for all kids, even white and affluent ones (this and this and this and this and this). Adaptive reasoning, global-identity-forming, complex problem-solving skills, dexterity in cross-cultural collaboration, and effective communication strategies, are only some of the benefits. And yes, heightened awareness of issues like race, ethnicity, and class. (And lest we think we can fix this at home by ourselves, did you hear this statistic: by the tender age of 10, white children believe that they feel greater pain than black children?)
At a homogenous bubble-school where everyone is within a very slender margin of cultural and economic (and especially economic) similarity, frames of reference are narrowed. Difference becomes an academic problem rather than a lived experience. The world is flattened.
There are other reasons, too, that “good” bubble schools are not the only or even best way to educate the next generation. Our universities are beginning to question admissions from the bubble (this and this and this). In record numbers, parents across the country are opting their children out of standardized tests because, in part, a “good education can’t be measured by a test score” (also this). Moreover, many of us are wondering whether the demands of 79 AP classes and hordes of extracurricular hours to log onto college applications are really preparing our kids to be the kinds of adults we hope they will become (like this, this, this, this, this and this).
Maybe, just maybe, integration isn’t the sacrifice we are sold.
Does integration always work? Of course not. Nothing always works. For every integration horror story waits a heartwarming Lifetime-movie tale of harmony waiting to be told. Chances are that your kids’ experiences will be somewhere in between.
It probably won’t be all kumbaya. Going to an integrated/integrating schools is likely to be a bit messy and complicated and hard. Raising children to be adults is hard. We didn’t have kids because we wanted life to be easy…
My babies, now hormonally fraught middle schoolers, attend a high-poverty, majority Latino (and heavily native Spanish-speaking) school. My husband and I love our neighborhood and chose not to try to find $200k+ to move to a “better district.” Our kids are thriving. And there are many of us parents across the country who are intentionally choosing integrated/integrating schools (this, this, this, this, this, this and this).
Today’s parents attended more integrated schools that our children’s are/will be. Unless we intentionally and loudly make this choice. Parents – middle class parents, white parents – as you send your kids off to school soon, think about the kind of nation you want your kids to grow up in and the kind of adults you want to raise. This doesn’t have to be choice of kid OR country.
With all the talk for us white folk to be more that just allies, for our country to find a way to come together, it’s time to integrate. All of us. For real. Bust out of the bubble. Because policing and racism and schools are NOT separate conversations.