If not me, then who?By Integrated Schools | August 15, 2018
Honestly, I don’t know what to say about this Yet Another White Family Leaves the City for the Suburbs article. The author, who “believes in justice, integration, anti-racism and the daily battle to dismantle America’s many systems of racial and economic oppression” has made the choice to prioritize everything BUT these things when deciding where to live and send his kids to school.
He blames the stickiness of the situation on school funding that provides “rich schools for the wealthy and impoverished schools for the poor.” And unlike many who argue that private choice does not public policy make, he knows that nothing will change as long as families like his make choices like his. Agreed.
And though we can hear his struggle over which values are more valuable (and maybe even wonder why he penned this public mea culpa), we wonder how the author defines the “best.” He drops the adjectives “good” and “strong” to describe the schools and leaves it to our collective imagination as to exactly what this means.
And I think this is part of the problem. When we say “good” schools – or “bad” – how are we making these determinations? What counts here? What doesn’t? And might there something particularly important about having to articulate the descriptors rather than relying on the we-all-know nod? Is this about test scores or access to AP courses or IEP services? Are we talking about “safety” or high-dollar booster club fundraising? Is there an organic garden component to this discussion or perhaps a stable administrative team? Each of these ways of defining “good/bad” have their own coded schemas and also engender different discussions. But until we demand specificity, unpacking remains unfeasible. Opaqueness allows for a whole lot of torpor.
While the previous author exercises his choice to move to whiter pastures, this NYT OpEd focuses on the charter choice as a kind of “racial avoidance” that is part of a “legacy of failed justice.”
Kaplan writes that it is “partly because diversity can be managed — or minimized — that charters have become the public schools that liberal whites here can get behind.”
While Kaplan writes here about charter schools in particular, there are many ways we ‘manage diversity’ and many ways in which parents choose schools that promote, sustain, and perpetuate segregation.
And perhaps using “diversity” is a poor tool with which to dismantle segregation. A school that is 40% white and 60% global-majority could easily claim “diversity.” Yet, if this district serves only 10% white students, is this not a disproportionality? A concentration of whiteness? This school may be diverse but it is definitely not reflective of the district or metropolitan area.
Reinvigorating what Kaplan calls the “risky, almost revolutionary energy that fueled past integration efforts, which by their nature created tension and confrontation” will mean more than individual choice. It requires an understanding that comfort is not a helpful companion for justice and a commitment to digging in to the messy-ness of integration. It demands the acknowledgement that our fates are intertwined and that private decisions are a kind of public policy.
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