Given the reality of social distancing, how do we reconcile a desire for educational justice, a drive for anti-racist education, with the fact that we’re stuck at home trying, or maybe not, to educate our kids in vastly inequitable circumstances. This is not a How-To guide, but a conversation about trying to live our values in challenging times. Garrett Bucks joins us, along with Anna, to talk through how we are thinking about this moment, for ourselves, our kids, and our communities. What do we want our kids to remember from this time, and how can we focus our attention, our compassion, and our love outwards, when we are being asked to draw inwards?
Garrett’s piece on Courtney’s death – A few thoughts about Courtney Everts Mykytyn
Garrett’s blog – The White Pages
If you are able to give in these times, please consider local organizations helping in your communities. Here’s a place to start, if you need it – Grassroots organizations around the country who are helping from Colorlines
Join our Patreon to support this work, and connect with us and other listeners to discuss these issues even further.
The Integrated Schools Podcast was created by Courtney Mykytyn and Andrew Lefkowits.
This episode was produced by Andrew Lefkowits.
Audio editing and mixing by Andrew Lefkowits.
Music by Kevin Casey.
Andrew: Welcome to the Integrated Schools podcast. I'm Andrew, a White dad from Denver, and this is "COVID-19: Finding Community in Isolation". Wow. These are strange times, huh? You may notice this episode is a bit late because as you'll hear in the episode, my kids are home and like many of us, I am struggling to get things done.
We had a great conversation lined up about parent engagement, but as I was working on it over the past two weeks, it just felt really out of place in this moment of crisis. So that conversation will be coming some time, I'm sure. But today we're going to talk about COVID-19.
First of all, if you aren't doing everything you can to slow the spread of this virus, please do. We're being asked to do something new and hard and different, and we're being asked to do it not solely for our own personal benefit, but for the benefit of our communities, of our healthcare workers, of our vulnerable populations. The impact of taking these steps isn't immediately evident, but it's incredibly important. Even if that means podcasts come out a bit late or suffer from interruptions.
Secondly, this is a crisis unlike anything many of us have faced in our lifetimes. However, while this crisis is impacting all of us, we can't ignore that it is impacting some of us more than others. And that quite often, that impact tracks with all of the other ways that our society can negatively impact marginalized communities. Financial security, stable housing, underlying health conditions, access to health care, environmental hazards -all of these things impact communities of color much more significantly. And this crisis is amplifying that impact in so many ways.
So if you're in a position of privilege, as you confront these difficult and frightening times, please consider finding a way to help.There are many organizations on the ground doing incredible work who could use financial support. There are links in the show notes, and we'd be grateful if you'd share any other organizations with us by emailing [email protected]
Finally, I know that in these unprecedented times I find myself searching for direction, hungry for some sort of roadmap. I know that the strain that this is putting on me and my family is a small fraction of what others are facing, and yet my fear, my exhaustion, my lack of ability to concentrate on anything for more than five minutes, is also real.
The challenges are massive and reach far beyond schools and parenting and community. But on this podcast, we wanted to have a conversation about this moment and how to reconcile a desire for educational justice, a drive for anti-racist education, with the fact that we're stuck at home trying, or maybe not, to educate our kids in vastly inequitable circumstances.
There is much work to be done to get us through this crisis, and particularly with school being closed, likely for at least the rest of the year, this podcast may seem like an odd place to be diving in. I definitely don't have a How to Guide for thinking about school integration in this moment, and I certainly don't have a How to Guide for how to be a good human in this moment, but it feels like there's some value in talking through this with an eye towards educational justice, thinking about what we want our kids to take away from this moment.
Early last week I came across a blog post that I found incredibly helpful in thinking about this, written by Garrett Bucks on thewhitepages.substack.com. If you aren't reading his work, I highly recommend it. Just after my late cohost, the Integrated Schools founder, Courtney, died, Garrett wrote a piece that really brought comfort and clarity in a moment of crisis, and so it was not surprising to find that his take on this current crisis also resonated.
We asked him to come on the show and to share, and I asked Anna who you may remember from past episodes to join me for the conversation. Just as a bit of a disclaimer, this conversation was recorded on March 26th. Well, that wasn't actually that long ago. It already feels like the world has shifted underneath our feet in so many ways. So if it feels like it's missing a bit of the raw emotion and fear that feels more baked in today, that may be why. I'm incredibly grateful to Garrett for coming on and sharing and to Anna, who, as always, provides clarity, compassion, and insight.
So, let's hear the conversation.
Andrew: Why don't you introduce yourself.
Garrett: Hi, my name is Garrett Bucks. Because I'm a longtime listener to the Integrated Schools podcast, I've always wanted to do the Integrated Schools introduction, which is: I'm Garrett, I'm a White dad from Milwaukee. I am a anti-racist educator and organizer and writer. And, originally from Montana, was in the nonprofit world for a long, long time. And now I'm now doing my best to build a different world of White folks.
Andrew: And you have kids?
Garrett: I do. I got two kids, a six year old boy, going to be seven in May, has already processed the fact that there is not going to be a birthday party this year - surprisingly well actually, and a three year old girl.
Andrew: That's awesome. How did you become an anti-racist educator, how did you find yourself in anti-racism work?
Garrett: Yeah, so I think this origin story will not be atypical for a lot of listeners, but I had a very, very classical kind of White do-gooder trajectory where, you know, I was lucky to be raised by parents who instilled in me a sense of social justice, a sense of caring about your community. And, as I grew up and finished college, I took that to mean that my job was to be working in other people's communities, and to be doing “social justice” work in predominantly Black and Brown communities. Right? And I feel good about a lot of the work that the organizations I worked for did, and I did my best to be useful in them. But, after a while, I think a few things became really, really clear to me.
The first was that the work I was doing and the work that all of the broad nonprofit industrial complex was doing, was resulting in a lot of individually good outcomes, right? Like, this kid would get to college, this classroom or this school would look better than did before, right? But we weren't truly working towards a different world. And in particular, if you asked the question of, are we working towards a world of racial justice, are we working towards a world of economic justice, of gender justice, et cetera, we were plugging the dike, but we weren't unrigging the system in any way.
And I think it was also looking at my own role in it, both individually as a White person, a White person leading nonprofits, and a White guy leading nonprofits. And seeing that unintentionally, I was causing a lot of harm and often had to have folks, women of color in particular, point out to me that I was causing harm and I was, so, I was thinking about my individual role. And what I was proud of and what I wasn't proud of and then I was kind of putting those two things together and thinking about, you know, the world I'm dreaming for my kids and my grandkids. In a world where justice is an actual state of being and not just an aspiration, what's it going to require?
So if justice means the unrigging of systems, that means two things, right? That means a whole lot more focus on building and sustaining power amongst communities and leaders who have had it withheld from them- societally, for a long time. So leadership in particular for racial justice coming from folks from Black and Brown communities. And on the other side, it means those of us who are on the top of rigged systems, White folks, men, et cetera, organizing with each other to get off the top, to get used to a different way of being. And when I broke it down that way, it's then, you know, let's not just do good work, but let's think about what the world we want to build looks like. It became pretty clear what my role needed to be. And that was not, you know, other people's communities, but that was in the communities that had raised me.
Anna: You know, I feel like when you say you're humble, it usually means you're not.
Anna: But I've been thinking a lot about, I've been thinking a lot about Courtney during this time, and how part of what drew me to her and drew me to the work was her ability to provide herself with accurate self appraisal of, like, her past actions and how their impact didn't match her intent. And, in hearing about your background and how you came to this work from a place of the evolution of social justice as a White person and being able to honestly recognize mistakes or missteps. And I learned so much from Courtney's ability to do that and I'm really comforted by your ability to do that as well. Because every time I hear someone do that, it makes it easier for me to not be afraid of trying things. Because I will make mistakes, even now, like there's no arrival point. This is all a practice. And I'm definitely gonna make mistakes over the next few weeks and months as I'm trying to do this as well as I can. But that like, it's in the trying and the re-evaluating and the not being afraid. You know, I used to be so afraid to do anything because I was afraid of doing it wrong. And so I would just sort of sit there paralyzed and so I'm just, I'm always honored to be around people who have the ability to reflect and say like, Oh yeah, I've made some mistakes and I'm trying something different. Instead of just giving up and saying, well, there's no right answers, so I'm just not going to try.
Garrett: It's so funny, because that's such a universal feeling that, I think you've just articulated so well Anna, that, that intense shame we have, right? You know, we're, we're eager to be good people and it's very ingrained in us that being racist is bad and that being particularly negatively impactful to folks of color is bad. Right? And it's, that sense of shame is so real, but it's so funny, right? If you, if you take a step back and think about it, because, you know, in an objective sense, we've had a 600 year intentional project as White people to make us feel like we deserve to be at the top of things, and that we, we have the full right, to hurt people, and to not take responsibility for our actions. And that was an incredibly, incredibly effective, insidious, evil process. And there has been basically no years of a concerted counter process to that, amongst White communities, that would teach us how to build anything different.
So of course we're terrible at this. Of course we're learning. And, and the, the biggest shame I feel, of course, is that so many of the times I've learned has come after I have already caused harm right after, you know, when I was leading organizations and people would feel like they couldn't be themselves working around me, when I entered spaces and, you know, dominated them and took them over, when I made decisions about resources and where they were going, such that they kept going towards White folks and men, et cetera, and all the above. I feel terribly, of course, and I feel a responsibility in particular that I had to learn from people that I had hurt. Instead of learning proactively from other White people who may have been able to take me aside before I cause those mistakes and say: Listen, you're likely to do this. I get it and I want you to not, let's work together to avoid having you make those mistakes. So I feel regret but I don't feel in any way, a sense that it’s, it is an indictment on my humanity. It's an indictment on the effectiveness of a 600 year process of making me and people who look like me, less good at being in beloved communities than we should be.
Andrew: Yeah. It doesn't take away your, your responsibility to push back on it, but it is not a, an indictment of the deep core of your personal being.
Garrett: And to focus your emotions on, I care about the harm I caused and I care about repairing the harm I caused instead of: I care a lot about how badly I feel having caused that harm.
Anna: That's right. That's right.
Andrew: Hmm. Yeah.
Garrett: I can spend a lot of time focusing on and learning from and attempting to make reparations for ways that I could have been better in the past and trying to be intentional about doing different things moving forward. But if I'm focused on my feelings in the midst of that, then I'm not really actually focused on reparations.
I'm focused on, some sort of weird self absolution ritual, right? But if my goal is legitimately to make whole with that which I have broken in the past, and attempting to break fewer things in the future, then I am listening more carefully, to others around me. I am building relationships in a different way, and the questions I'm asking myself are, less about, yeah, how I feel about doing this, than about, what is actually happening as a result of the way I walk in the world? And to what extent is it making it easier for others to walk? And in what ways is it hindering them?
Andrew: So we find ourselves in this moment, all socially distancing. We talk a lot about the power of integration, the power of building communities. And right now we find ourselves in as segregated a schooling environment as we could possibly imagine.
Garrett: That is correct. My kids' school is currently 100% White and 100% from the same economic background.
Andrew: Right. Right. Yeah. All of our schools now are as segregated as they can be, and you wrote a great blog post about sort of, what does this moment mean for us? What does this moment mean for people who care about racial justice, who care about social justice, and who look to education as a place to try to affect change in that regard? I wonder if you can just tell us what the, the theme of that post was and how you're thinking about this moment that we find ourselves in.
Garrett: Yeah. I appreciate the way you started that. Integrated Schools is an effort to build community. And this is a moment where I think we can feel really, really frayed and rudderless from communities. And where the moves we would typically make if we were desiring to connect, if we were desiring to be useful, if we were desiring to organize, aren't available to us. A, are physically not available to us. B, for many of us who are parents at home right now are not available to us in terms of time, are not available to them in terms of emotionally, in terms of the other things we're wrestling with, right? So that's, so I think you're darn right about the moment we're in.
I think the piece I wrote is written, I think, both in response to that feeling, but also more broadly from, you know, a brass tacks, where do I start right now? And an attempt to articulate at the most basic level, as somebody who cares about building justice, of the little bit that feels in my control right now. And that is the little schooling experience and the little home experience that has, you know, the majority of my day. How can that become a space that is reflective of my values?
And when I started thinking about that, right? Like, you know, how do I make this space one that for my two kids becomes about learning, not about how special we are, about how much we love just this family or about how smart we can become in a limited amount of time, but, but what world community we're a part of and how can we take responsibility for that? When I started from that place, I actually realized that this moment is one of profound opportunity, because it's not just a chance to build something decent right now, but it's a chance to, I think, build the muscles that in particular as White folks, we have not built of: not putting ourselves first, of thinking about interconnectedness, and thinking about nonlinear paths to be useful for others.
And so I think that was kind of the arc of the essay that took me from a place of like, it was very little I can control to actually discovering this could be a really, really powerful moment. And especially when I think about how radical White families can start trying to be right now compared to the patterns that we typically find ourselves in.
Anna: Garrett, I'm so grateful for what you wrote and it was, I mean, I sat there on the ground in my kitchen and just sobbed reading it because I've been so hungry for a rudder right now. I felt paralyzed, because I know that our social distancing, our isolating, I knew it was not just to keep us safe. I knew it had a community goal, but it felt like when it came to educating my kids, like I was either, you know, lost in the scheduling of making sure they're using this time to shove them full of academics and enlightenment and you know, felt like it was just trying to get them ahead or in the rankings somehow, but that doing nothing didn't feel helpful either. And I felt like, for me, it gave me real clear directions, so I'm really grateful for that cause I don't know if anyone else was, but I've certainly been hungry for some direction in my home of how I, like, practice this in my day to day.
Andrew: Yeah. We, we spent a lot of time thinking about, you know, how do you show up in a school community in a way that reflects your values, in a way that acknowledges, you know, your impact over your intent, in a way that tries to be helpful without being a savior, all these things, and then all of a sudden you're stuck in your own house with your own kids. It's really hard to think, how do you make this space be reflective of your values? And I think you really tapped into that with the piece
Garrett: If you use this moment as a metaphor, you know, Anna, you were talking about how easy it is for us to fall into the trap of perfectionism as parents in this moment, right? And the idea that this time needs to be maximized. And this time needs to be educational. This time needs to be screen-time free, and in all of these things, and resisting that perfection in this moment and instead try to move away from, you know, all the ways we are then tempted to jump towards that perfectionism and instead ask myself, I think bigger, broader questions about, you know, a year down the line, two years down the line, 50 years down the line in my kids' life, if they have any memory of this time, what do I want that memory to be like from a values perspective and from a spiritual perspective.
And on one hand that increases the stakes, cause I'm, you know, asking not just about a good day, but I'm asking about, you know, questions of values, but I don't know how that makes it much simpler, right? It, it makes them that less like: the room I'm currently sitting in, does it have a floor that's covered in Legos? The answer is yes. It is completely covered in Legos and Scrabble tiles somehow. But more about how present I was and, and what kind of conversations we were having. And who was the center of those conversations.
Anna: And part of it is me needing to actually check my own screen use right now cause I'm getting so lost in the despair of the news and the Twitter sphere and what people are talking about. And it feels so, discouraging. One of the things that's really helped me is, to, to try and find the joy. And I do that with my kids. Like, where can I, in this, find the joy?
And part of what's possible here is, the fact that this is something that really has never happened before. Where there's sort of this, like, global freeze and of course it's full of fear and tragedy and I feel like all of our collective shoulders are up in our ears right now, but there's also like, I walk outside and see how quiet my usually busy urban street is. I'm like, you know, people are listening. This has never been done before. And maybe through that, there is this, like, sliver of potential for real behavioral change. Wich is something we at Integrated Schools talk about a lot, which is like, how can we change our behavior to reflect this building of a multiracial democracy that we all desperately say we want, but act in divergence with that goal every single day.
Garrett: I mean, yeah. You're so right. I mean, that's literally the work we're trying to do every day in a, in a broader sense is about helping people who don't have to think about their actions, right? Who can go through their lives, in this case as parents, um, making all of the societally prescribed correct choices for their family. And who in doing so, in spite of being very good people, are continuing an incredibly violent, terrible system, right? When all of us are trying to help each other and help more and more folks in that position learn how to make a different set of choices, choices not just what is good for me, but choices of what is good for our broader community.
And right now we're at a moment where all of us are getting a muscle built in a very, very different way of doing exactly that. Of being responsible, not just for our individual good, but the societal good for doing things we do not want to do at all, but that we are told will help, and we are doing so willingly. And we are discovering, I don't know about you all, but in many ways about resilience and our strength. And I am almost saying this out loud multiple times right now to myself to hold myself accountable as an organizer, that when I'm out of this moment, I want to make sure that I help remind myself and I help remind so many others that you did this already.
In a different way you did this. And, I'm hoping that we have the evidence for so many reasons that you did this and it helped. But I want to then ask, you did this before. Let's do it again and let's do it again for a threat that feels even more abstract, that is even more chronic and less acute. And let's do it not to be the heroes, but because we're, we're part of an interconnected family.
Andrew: Yeah. I mean, one of the things I struggle with is, is recognizing how fortunate I am in this moment to not be struggling financially, to have a safe and a relatively functional home that, you know, everybody's pretty much able to get along in, and all of these other things that, that give me an advantage, which sometimes makes me feel like why do I feel fear and grief and stress about this situation given how much better I have it than other people. But I think to, to recognize that as, as a call to action, because something that Ali said a couple episodes ago, like the river of racism is running. And if you do nothing, you just float down the river and you and you go along with it and, every choice that you make, if you just go along with things... not only does it not, you know, push back, but also contributes to this system. And it's really hard to break out of that mindset.
And now we have this opportunity where, where we have been forced out of all of our routines, all of the things that we normally do, all of the ways that life just sort of continues to roll along. We've been forced to stop. And so, so to use this moment to be reflective about what does that mean going forward and like I said, like coming out the other side, how do we want this to have changed how we think about the systems and structures, the things that felt inevitable, the things that felt unmovable, the things that we felt like could never change. We've now seen, actually just changed and they changed because of a really specific and acute threat. But that doesn't mean that they can't change again because of ongoing, you know, equally difficult but harder to identify threats.
Garrett: That's right. And another way that I think that's going to be allegorical to the work that we need to do in the future is: the moves we are making in particular, those of us with a lot of very specific privileges in this moment, right? A warm house, a roof over our heads, a relatively safe economic position, et cetera, whatever. That's true for some of us, right? Like, we are still doing a new hard thing. And it feels hard even if it's relatively easy. And those of us who are, those of us for whom it's relatively easier, and the load we have to bear, even in its hard moment, it's less. It doesn't mean that there's still not struggle of learning a different way of being, but we should also be learning like: Hey, I need to do this because it helps everyone. And actually, comparatively, it's not that hard for me to do. Right? And I think that is very, very, connected to the broader work of White antiracist work, right?
Which is, we are asking behavior change amongst each other. We are asking a new way of being in the world. And whenever you're trying to change behaviors and do things that are separate from what others are doing around you, that is legitimately hard. And as people who are given all the privileges of whiteness in society, every element of what we do racially, even the hardest moments are still going to be way easier than being Black, Brown, and Indigenous in America. And both those two contradictory things can be true at once.
And that's another kind of lesson I've been talking to myself in this moment, saying, you know, objectively, the changes I've made, you know, are fine. But the sense of loss, and the sense of struggle with change, and the sense of fear is also real. And, I can push myself, and remind myself and fill myself with gratitude for the ways that it's actually still relatively easy, while also being empathetic to the ways that I've had to change. And try to learn from how I've become better at being in community because of the hard stuff.
Anna: You know, I want to, uh,
Andrew: I just have to go ask my kids to be quiet. One sec. Sorry.
Anna: Oh my God. But it's so cute. Can you hear them, Garrett? It's just so cute.
So, I wanna take a second if we can, because I feel like, you know at Integrated Schools, we're trying to not be overly prescriptive, right? We're trying to just, you know, focus on conversations that advance behavior change, but are really self-directed. But, I, like I said before, I really needed a prescription for my own sense of sanity. And I felt like I got that out of your piece. One of the things you say is: “If ever there was a time to break the cycle of quixotically quantifying my love through the procurement of competitive advantages, it's now.” And then at the end of that paragraph you say: “They'll learn a lot from what they can tell matters to me from how they see me spending my time.”
And I feel like a lot goes on in my head, and that's great, you know, a lot of this involves difficult conversations with myself, and how can I turn that into actual conversations? Because I've got to have these conversations with my kids. Like how do we take this from inside of our heads and between our ears and have these conversations with our kids?
Garrett: I'll answer that if I'm given permission to be deeply imperfect in that answer, and I'll also think that my answer might be different a week from now, right? So I've got a six year old and a three year old. Right? So not, not super, super old kids. But before we get to any of these structural oppression elements of this conversation, I think one of the other things this moment has taught me is: It's funny, you don't have to keep relearning just like how astute and potentially emotionally intelligent and, and just better at being human beings your kids are than you are. Right?
Anna: Yes. Yes. Absolutely.
Garrett: And I think that, I think their understanding of what we need to do in this moment has actually, like, that blew my mind. Right? I think I was so worried about so many conversations that I would need to have with them about teaching my three year old that when we see a playground, like we're not allowed to go on it and stuff like that. Or, or talking to my six year old about how there's not going to be a birthday party and things like that. And both of them have just actually shocked me on a base level of when it's phrased to them and saying, you know, there, there is a sickness that is going around the world and we're doing a lot of things right now that are really different than we've ever done before in order to help people. And they're just immediate, like, not just the intellectual wrestling with that, but also like the emotional intelligence of saying, okay, yeah, that that's more important to me than getting to go on this playground that I like. That's, it's weird that we can't see grandma and grandpa. They live a mile away, but if this is helping keep everyone safe, we will do, it has just blown my mind. So I said that I just get reminded that all the time, right.
And so I think some of what we're doing in terms of then processing inequity, and just community responsibility in this moment are pretty basic. Right? And then brainstorming, saying like, this is a moment that we can't do a lot of things we would normally do to help. We can't bake things for people and give it to them. We can't go get supplies and stuff like that. You know, my son was already incredibly interested in what's happened, the virus, how we can help and stuff like that. And he understands from previous conversations, the long impact of segregation and racial injustice in town, that we can have that conversation on saying, this too, is not impacting all of us equally. What does that make us think? What does that make us want to do now? When our options for reaching out to people are limited, and then what does that make us want to do later on when all this is said and done?
And I think then to every day creatively expand my literal definition of how I'm building community that day, to whom I'm reaching out, to whom I'm checking in on, who I care about. And in particular for my son who, because of school is so lucky, so fortunate to have such an incredibly, legitimately diverse social network and such a rich tapestry of who he's connected to and who he cares about, making sure that we're checking in, and being present for a wide variety of folks. And therefore also hearing about the ways the wide variety of folks are experiencing this moment. Some easier, some harder.
So none of those are mind blowing and again, this is all work in progress. But if there's one takeaway I've discovered, it's that, you know, we are so much more in our own heads about what our kids can wrestle with at this moment and they just blow my mind when we actually welcome them into the thing we're thinking about.
Andrew: Hmm. Yeah, I think there's such power in finding things that seem relatively simple or we feel like there's this project of raising anti-racist kids and that feels like, like really high stakes and like, you definitely have to get that right. And so then it feels like, well, every moment is like an opportunity to get that wrong. And so I better not get it wrong. And, and just like with all other anti-racism work, it can be paralyzing. But to think about the opportunities, just to have conversations. Our district is now giving out laptops, and iPads and stuff. And it just sort of presented an opportunity to talk with my kids about equity versus equality, about how we think about fairness. And what does it mean to think about fairness from an equity standpoint. You know, you could argue that it's not fair that some kids are getting new Chromebooks and we are not. But it, it was very easy for my kids to say, Oh yeah, that wouldn't make sense. Like, we don't need a Chromebook, so it wouldn’t make sense for us to get a Chromebook. But if we're going to be doing stuff online and other kids need it, to shift that sort of definition of fairness to equity instead of equality.
And like you said, it's not groundbreaking. It's not, it's not the answer. It's not like the one thing that I need to teach my kids that all of a sudden will, will mean that my work on raising them is done, but it's these little moments that if you can take the opportunity to have these conversations, and like you said, I think they're, they're much more capable of understanding that and moving forward with that than we often give them credit for.
Garrett: That's so right. I'm not pretending anything I'm doing right now is building in a sustainable real way, justice. Right? But what I am doing right now, I hope, is a communication of values, and at a moment that we could be so, so inwardly focused, a modeling of outward focus.
This is going to be for adults and children alike, such a crucible moment, right? And you learn in crucible moments. But you can learn lots of different types of things. So that's just what I'm focused on. Is what do I learn in this moment that makes me a better neighbor, a better community, better a better organizer? A more empathetic person, and what do my kids learn right now about whether or not the world is about them, about, or about whether the world is about us.
I'm just realizing like in this conversation, I have like five minute conversations with my wife at the end of the day and she's exhausted and it, after the end of a shift, this is the first I've really checked in with, lots of friends, all that. But this is the first time I've sat down and processed this moment with adults, right,? And it's real. It's, yeah. There's just a power in saying, oh, we're all fumbling our way right now, and we're all, we're all seeking the same thing.
Andrew: Yeah. I mean, I think, I think one of the challenges for an organization like Integrated Schools in this moment is the work that we're talking about is generational work. It's slow work. It's work that takes a long time of building relationships and helping our kids do better than we did and their kids do better than they do. And this moment feels like there is a real immediacy to the need that so many communities are need. And we can't march, we can't have protests. We can't, you know, all show up at a food bank. We, you know, there's all these things that we normally turn to in times of crises that we can't do. And I think there's power in leaning into, to building this community now in these moments. To, taking the time to think through these things and talk through these things and build our own capacity to think about it. Cause we have a lot of time to ourselves right now or maybe with our kids and our families, but to think about, the, the intentionality behind how we spend that time. And I think it's so easy to get caught up in, like you were saying, Anna, and like in the, the constant stream of news and information, you feel like you have some obligation to know what's going on.
Anna: Yeah. I shouldn't bury my head in the sand. I should be bearing witness, you know, like I've got to be vigilant and take it all in and own it all and like, it's hard.
Andrew: Yeah. Yeah. And that, but then it's debilitating and then you don't actually take any time to try to be intentional about how, how we spend this time. Cause there is a, there's an opportunity here. I mean, I think, you know, the chance to spend so much time with our families can be stressful, but also can be a real opportunity if, if we choose to make it that. And it's what I love… the things that you're hoping to get, Garrett from your piece. You know, you want, you want your kids to feel that they are loved deeply and that you delight in being around them, but that they're no more delightful or worthy of love than other kids and other families. And that like, yeah, that's hard. I definitely am not doing that in every day and every moment the way that I would like to be doing. You know, I, I feel quite often, the opposite of delight and... in the, like constant needs of my kids. But, but it's true. There is this moment then, and, and then there's these like moments of joy but they're just like these moments that it's easy to lose sight of or to feel like aren't, aren't important or aren't relevant because we are in a crisis. Like, why should I be taking joy in my kids when so much is wrong in the world and when I have it better than other people and it's so easy, I think to get lost in that and then not, not be willing to embrace the delight of being around your kids and getting to know them better and getting to see them in sort of a different environment than you normally do.
Garrett: Yeah. You connected at a couple of points that I had that had been wrestling with, right. I am really, really scared, when all this is said and done, for our ability societally and individually to focus on doing the immediate work we need to, and also still doing long term work, too.
But the moments I feel the most at peace, I kind of compartmentalize kind of three tasks for myself, right? And the first task and the most immediate one is to make sure I do my darndest to not regret these days. Right? Like that, you know, as easy it is to lose sight of the fact that, that this is an opportunity to be stuck in one place with a limited number of other distractions with your family, how to really, really remember that it's an opportunity and have a ball with it. Right? While also, you know, teaching and having the conversations and communicating the values I'm trying to communicate, also just enjoy time with my kids and be aware of the things that I'm doing that make me enjoy that time less. In particular, Twitter. In particular, checking the news and things like that.
So that's task one. Is, let's, you know, try to be a values driven parent in this moment, but also just try to enjoy this gift I get because quite frankly, you know, when I look at my parents a mile away, not being able to see their grandkids, the one thing I get right now is the one thing they're craving the most, which is to get to play with my kids and if I were in their position, I would want me to be savoring that time. So that's task one.
Task two is not to immediately organize out of this moment, but, to, make sure that I am operating out of a sense of love and empathy with all those that I get the ability to be connected with. And then from that, learn a lot about how lots of people are experiencing this moment, and what people are gonna need in the months and potentially years after this moment.
And then, I think the third task is, I'm asking myself a lot, when we are enough on the other side that our energy can be towards not just how do we plug the dike, but how do we build something different? Um, what do I want to be doing? Those people that I was connected to and taking care of and checking in right now who are taking care of me. What could we be doing together? So I'm trying to compartmentalize my immediate and long term actions in those three goals.
First, delight in my kids. Second, take care of people. And then third, think what do I want to build with those people, later on down the road? And I'm giving myself the permission to have that third question, not have all the answers yet.
Anna: I have a lot of peace with this. And on a, on a personal level it gives me like a roadmap that feels manageable and not comfortable, but you know, accessible and attainable to some level.
Andrew: Yeah, thinking about like maybe depth or meaning that, that there are these really sort of deep, profound things that, that we care about, that it feels like the stakes are really high. Like, ensuring that my kids end up being part of creating a better world for everybody is, is fairly simple and, and incredibly hard and feels like the stakes are really high on that. And it's hard to to think about how do I engage in that work on a day to day basis when that's really the work I want to be doing. But then all these other things that are like, this is how you go about being a good parent and they're certainly not things that are required to, to achieve that sort of deeper level goal. But it's much easier to focus on those details. Much easier to focus on, you know, how much time did they spend on Khan Academy? What sort of spelling words am I pushing them for? What, well, you know, how much outside activity do we have in our homeschool schedule. You know, these sort of more surface level details that I think , it's easier to have a sense of control over those things.
I know that I can, and sometimes it's not always, it doesn't work out that easily, but like, I know that I can pretty much set down a schedule and stick to it with my kids over the course of a day, that is relatively easy to control. It's much harder to feel like I have some control over making any moment, but particularly these moments of stress feel like they are contributing to making them into better human beings.
And that, that feels like the stakes are so much higher and the ability to control it so much less, so I want to stay away from that stuff and just get lost in like the minutia of the, of the more surface level details.
Garrett: I love that you pointed that out, right. Because I think, you know, it's easy in particular in my piece to feel that I don't have an intense level of empathy as to why we would cling to a schedule right now, right? As to why we would cling towards this as a rigorous academic time right now. Right? I love the way you put it. It's about control, right? And, and of course, this moment more than I don't know about you two, more than any moment in my life, I am craving a sense of control because I'm scared to death right now. Right? I've never been through anything like this.
I'm scared for the world. I'm scared for my family. I'm scared for so many things. And of course, it's going to be so much easier in a lot of ways, whether they are actually the things I value or not. To, yeah, cling to things, you know, I can go to sleep at the end of the day and say, you know, was this a structured, rigorous, helpful day? And I know it was because, you know, my son got on the iPad and he started on this level and he finished on this level, right? We did four word problems and things like that. Right. I'm so empathetic to why we would want that. And so I think what I'm trying to do myself is, and I'm not, not to scold myself for that kind of feeling, but to sit and be patient with myself.
We've never been through something like this. And, it's okay for all of us to, just admit that we're emotional and, we're in search of a lot right now. But then after we do so, after we sit in that moment, re-ask ourselves the question, what do I want to be true as a result of this time, and what kind of person do I want to be in this time?
And when I do that, I'm actually led in a very different and much less despairing direction.
And I don't want to use the term silver linings at all, but I think from an organizing perspective, I do ask myself the question, what is the moment you are in and what can you build from it? And when I ask that question, I think what makes me optimistic is that there has never been, in my lifetime, a moment that collectively, and we're not doing it perfectly as a society, but still we're doing it much more than we ever have. There's never been a moment like this collectively, where all of us have committed to doing something hard and different and confusing that we aren't good at, in this case, this social distancing, the self quarantine thing, et cetera. Not because solely it will help us or our families, but because we are told that the actions we do or don't take right now, including the uncomfortable ones, will help people we don't know.
Um, and that societal input, in particular in the United States, in my lifetime, has never been part of the equation. That you do things not because they're good for you, not because they're good for your family, not because they're easy, not because they were rewarding or you will get accolades for them publicly, but because they will help people that you will never know. And that an unintentionality about your actions will hurt people you never know.
And we are all scared and confused, but we're also trying an experiment in interconnectedness that I think is really, really powerful, that I think when we are out of this and when we are on the other side, it would behoove us to make sure that we learned the lessons from. Because I think they are teaching all of us that we're capable of doing so much more for one another than we had ever given ourselves credit for.
Andrew: Deeply grateful to you, Garrett, for, for all the work you do. For, I think, the piece that you wrote right after Courtney passed away was a, I think really resonated with a lot of us and, this piece as well. So, really grateful to be in conversation with you.
Andrew: Huge thanks to Garrett and Anna. You know, just having that conversation felt helpful to me. So hopefully hearing it provides some comfort in these trying times. There's so much about this crisis that feels challenging and, and so many aspects beyond schools and parenting and kids where attention and energy could be put.
So again, I encourage you to find ways to be helpful for your community, if you can. Providing support to our most vulnerable is crucial. And letting the responsibility for doing that fall on other marginalized people feels antithetical to truly being in community. Nevertheless, we all support each other by staying apart, and the more of us who are able to maintain social distance, the less deadly this thing will be. The ability to stay apart, while a sign of privilege, is also a step towards solving this crisis. And so all of that to say, I really have no idea what to actually do day to day in this moment.
However, I think it's worth taking a bit of time to think about big picture lessons that at least I hope we can learn from this. It, it seems clear that this crisis has laid bare the lie that we have told ourselves about our educational system: equal opportunity, meritocracy, fairness, and justice. We have been forced through this to look at reality. You know, millions of kids rely on school for food. Millions of families don't have internet access. Millions of families don't have stable housing or devices. In normal times, we pretend that our schools can fix all of that, that they can bridge those gaps. We ask our teachers and our administrators to solve the injustice of society while also working second and third jobs just to pay their rent.
Why did it take this crisis for us to see this? To open our eyes to the injustice. You know, there are White and/or privileged people who are shocked by the number of kids who rely on school to provide one, two, or even three meals a day. That poverty wasn't created by this crisis. We just refused to see it. The evidence has been there all along. Communities of color had been shouting about it for decades. Why wouldn't we see it? For some of us, we simply don't want to see it. I think to acknowledge the injustice would require us to confront the ways that we've benefited from it and the ways that we've contributed to perpetuating it.
For others, I think our isolation has led to blissful ignorance. You know, our islands of privilege are so far offshore that we can't even see the struggles on the mainland. This, all the more amazing as our physical proximity has increased, right? Our urban centers grow more diverse, and yet we continue to find ways to isolate ourselves from the reality that our neighbors face on a daily basis.
And now here we are, parents trying to teach our kids, districts trying to provide an education through the inequity, and it's much harder to look away. I don't think we can pretend that the answer lies in technology or a new curriculum, a better mousetrap. I think the answer has to come from community. It has to come from those of us with power and privilege being willing to, as Garrett says, "build the muscles that in particular as White folks, we have not built: of not putting ourselves first, of thinking about interconnectedness, and thinking about nonlinear paths to be useful for others." But doing that requires having our eyes opened, the reality facing our friends, our neighbors. Not out of pity, not out of a desire to save, but out of a love for the full humanity of all.
It's hard work, but in this time of crisis, we're learning what we are truly capable of. Imagine if we could channel this energy, this intentionality into the ongoing crises we face in education. There'll be lots of bad to come out of this crisis, I fear. But maybe, just maybe we can find some good. I, for one, find that to be something worth working for in this moment.
Our plan is to keep putting out episodes as frequently as we can pull off. If there's something you'd like to hear, a conversation you're wondering about during this crisis, please reach out: [email protected] You know, this is normally the part of the show where I ask you to donate, join our Patreon, et cetera. Today, if you're fortunate enough to have some money to give, I’d ask that you find a local organization, helping with food, rent, utilities, educational resources, whatever it is that your community needs. Find that group and help them.
I’m deeply grateful for the entire Integrated Schools community, for you for listening and for being in this with you, as I try to know better and do better. I’d like to leave you today with Garrett reading the end of his essay from The White Pages.
Garrett: So here’s what I hope my kids learn while we’re home together. Again, this isn’t going to come in the form of direct instruction, and there will be no quiz at the end. It’s a set of goals for what, years down the line, they can say mattered to their mom and dad, as shown by our actions :
I want them to feel that they are loved deeply and that I delight in being around them, but that they are no more delightful or worthy of love than other kids in other families.
I want them to process, alongside my wife and I, this specific moment when we’re consciously doing different, hard things to take care of our community. When this is over, I want them to expect that we continue to do so, but in response to more chronic threats.
I want our family to spend time creatively brainstorming ways to show care for our neighbors- both in the short-term and long-term.
I want them to know we’re a family that talks and thinks about unfair and painful systems that hurt some people more than others. I want them to know the stories of how that’s true across lines of race, gender, class, sexual orientation and gender identity.
I want them to wrestle, alongside their parents, with what it means to do things not because you feel sorry for others, not because you want to save them, but because you know them and think they’re great and truly believe that the world would be better with all of their gifts.
I want them to know that, as a family, we will hold each other accountable for using our voice to help systems work for everybody, not to hold onto our position.
I want them to understand that our family has been shoved to the front of a whole lot of lines in life and that we are still learning how to stop shoving to keep those positions.
For the first time in my kids’ lives, they’re in a moment where everything in our family’s world is focused on the common good. I won’t be doing right by them, their classmates or any of our neighbors if I allow this first time to be the last. Here’s to showing not telling. Here’s to loving our family hard but not stopping there. Here’s to fighting pandemics that hurt us in a single moment and systems that hurt us for a lifetime.