From an article today in the Atlantic, former Obama Sec’y of Education, John B. King Jr. called the decision to cut the integration-promoting Opening Doors grant program “a ‘heartbreaking signal’ … Students of color represent more than 50 percent of public-school students, King noted, and “the fate of the country” will be determined by how well it decides to educate this new majority of students. School integration is also tied to “the fate of our democracy,” he suggested, because segregated schools allow politicians to scapegoat minorities, while integrated schools remind students of what they have in common as Americans. Research finds that school diversity reduces racial prejudice and improves academic attainment, which, in turn, is tied to higher voter participation.
King [said] that this was not a moment “to admire the problem,” but a time to engage in fresh thinking about new approaches. What options do supporters of diversity have? Could progressives capitalize on DeVos’s rhetoric around school choice—particularly, the compelling need to liberate kids from struggling, high-poverty schools—to encourage choice within the public-school system that is designed to bring children of different backgrounds together? Should progressives pivot from Washington to focus on progressive states and localities? What is the role of foundations? What about state courts?
It may be the worst of times for school integration at the federal level, but could this be the best time for progressive school boards and state courts, newly energized by the national political scene, to embrace an education reform that will strengthen American democracy?”
While I certainly agree with many of the sentiments addressed in this article, I think it leaves out the most important piece: YOU. Me. Parents. White Parents.
Yes, courts are important, school boards are important, policies are important. Of course. But who makes those policies, by and large? Who sits on those boards? White folks. White folks who have kids. White folks who have kids who will do well regardless.
For integration to ever be viable, it will ABSOLUTELY require parents of privilege and choice (and whiteness) to support it. It’s ugly, yes, and truth nonetheless. I struggle with making the demand for more ‘white space’ in general – we are always demanding and entitled to our white spaces, yes? But we have the power to avoid and dismantle integration – and have done so in some pretty creative ways (and if you’re reading Making the Unequal Metropolis for book club, you can see ALL the clever ways this happens beyond just white-flighting. #GrowthSoWhite). That means, though, that we also have the power to fix it. And, yes, the responsibility to do so.
But no one is really talking about us anymore (Nikole Hannah-Jones notwithstanding). No one trusts us. And there is logic in that, evidence for that. But until we are part of the conversation about integration – directly, purposefully, and specifically – we are going to keep the systems that serve only us in place. The saddest part is that integration serves us too, we just don’t believe it yet.
This is – of course, the whole point of Integrated Schools. Of US doing THIS work. But it still astounds me that building parents have never really been the goal.
So we can support King by proving him wrong, by lobbying our schools, our districts, our policymakers, our friends and ourSELVES to invest in respectful and thoughtful integration.