If you listened to The Impacts of Testing Our Kids and Measuring Our Schools (Parts 1 and 2), you heard about some of the issues with using test scores or data aggregators to judge the quality of a school. But if not test scores, then what? Making a choice about school is a privilege, and with that privilege, comes a responsibility. How do you bring your values to that decision, when the information available is so problematic?
We’re joined by two mothers, Dana from Brooklyn and Meredith from Minneapolis, who both have kids entering elementary school next year. They talk about how they are thinking about this choice, given the options available, their values around social and racial justice, and the pressures from their White and/or privileged peers.
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The Integrated Schools Podcast was created by Courtney Mykytyn and Andrew Lefkowits.
This episode was produced edited and mixed by Andrew Lefkowits.
Music by Kevin Casey.
Andrew: Welcome to the integrated schools podcast. I'm Andrew White dad from Denver, and this is “Choosing a School: Values, Privilege, and Responsibility.” One of the upsides of podcasts, both creating and listening is that you can do it at least six feet away from everybody else. So we hope you're all doing your part to flatten the curve and prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Since you’re likely cooped up at home, now's a great time to share this podcast with your friends or go back and listen to episodes you may have missed.
If you listened to the past two episodes, you heard about many of the issues with the ways that we rank and judge schools.
As professor Jack Schneider said, we rank-order our schools by wealth and pretend that what we're measuring is quality. And as Matt Barnum highlighted, the data aggregators like GreatSchools often end up pushing families away from schools with higher concentrations of Black and/or Brown kids, even when those schools may be contributing more to growth in average test scores, then schools with largely White and/or privileged populations.
Hopefully you've come away from these conversations a little less willing to put quite so much stock in the ways we often talk about “good” and “bad” schools. Maybe you're a little more willing to look past school ratings, or average test scores or single score, high stakes measures of something as complex and nuanced as a school. And if you are, and if you have kids who are getting ready to start school. You may be feeling a bit lost.
So much of the way that we talk about parenting is about getting the “best” for your kids, providing them with every opportunity to thrive. And if you've hopefully begun to question if test scores and school rankings are really giving you that information, it can be scary because - what do you fall back on?
Well, today I'm joined by two mothers who are in the very thick of this very dilemma. Dana from Brooklyn and Meredith from Minneapolis. They're both struggling to push back on the default assumptions and expectations of their White and privileged peer groups while taking the responsibility of choosing a school seriously.
When you bring privilege to this decision, even a choice to just go to your neighborhood school is a choice, and our choices have implications - for our kids, for our communities, and for the type of world we want to create.
These kind, thoughtful mothers were nice enough to share how they're thinking about this choice - How they're grappling with choosing, when the simple fact of being able to choose feels a bit like opportunity hoarding itself.
From where to tour, to the struggle of weighing the various things they know about the schools near them, to what their responsibilities are when they arrive in a new school community, particularly one where they're not in the majority, their struggle and their thinking hopefully feels helpful. I'm really grateful to them for sharing and let's hear the conversation.
Andrew: So maybe we can start, you guys could just introduce yourselves.
Dana: Sure I'm Dana. I'm in Brooklyn. I have two sons. One is almost four. He's in preschool and he's about to start pre-kindergarten next fall. And then I have a one-year-old, who is not in school yet, and, I'm a single mom, so I get to make the decisions on my own.
Meredith: I am Meredith. I live in Minneapolis and I also have two sons. A kiddo turning five in about a week. So he’ll start next fall, and then a two and a half year old.
Andrew: What were your own, like growing up, your own school experiences like? Dana?
Dana: I have never been to a public school, so I have been to private school since preschool. My family is Jewish and I went to a Hebrew day school, which was a very tiny, very kind of isolated community in a city that did not have a lot of Jews. So there were six kids in my whole class, my whole grade, for most of elementary school.
And then, transferred to the pretty elite private prep school, for later elementary school and middle school. And then hated it there and went to boarding school for high school, and I went to a boarding school for the arts, and then I went to private university for undergrad and graduate school and I did my PhD at another private university.
Andrew: Wow. So not only no public schools, but a lot of school and all of it private.
Andrew: Yeah, Meredith?
Meredith: I grew up in Georgia, in the Atlanta area, and went to a small elementary school in a mostly White, segregated neighborhood in this very small, it's a four square mile area, called Decatur, that feels like kind of like a small town in the city. So it's pretty unique and a really small school district. So I went to this very small, White, elementary school, and then kind of funneled together with all the other smaller elementary schools, some of which were predominantly Black. And so that was kind of a new experience for everyone coming from various segregated schools, in sixth grade. And then went to the one high school in the city schools of Decatur for high school where it was, you know, racially about 50/50, but pretty tracked. Like most of the AP and honors classes were very White. And then I went to school, private college, in Minnesota, and presently doing a Master's at a state university, which is my first time doing public higher education, which has been really good to kind of challenge some stereotypes I had about who does that and what kinds of people go there and kind of making me check my own snobbishness.
Andrew: Yeah, when did the ideas of race or segregation or social justice? When did those come up for you guys in your lives?
Dana: For me it was definitely high school / college. So up until high school, there was one Black girl in my entire education experience, from nursery school through ninth grade. So it was very, very, very White. And then, when I went to boarding school, I thought it was very diverse. I mean, looking back, it was still predominantly White, but there were definitely more kids of color and more international students, so I started to see some glimmers of, oh wow, who am I around people of color? I really had had such little experience through most of my life.
I played sports a lot in middle school and played basketball. And so my only experience kind of across race lines was, I participated in a basketball league, where I was the only White girl in the basketball league. And that experience was really humbling and I definitely was out of my comfort zone for much of it and then by the time I got to high school and actually had some friends that were not White, realized, wow, what, what, how have I spent my entire life?
And then when I got to college, I became pretty radicalized, and really became aware of privilege, and White supremacy, to an extent. So I would say it was really college that I started to see and then looking back, kind of looked at my whole education through the lens of - what the fuck this was really unfair.
Meredith: Yeah, totally. I mean, I think my sort of first experiences that stick out, but that I wasn't able to grapple with in a way that was very mature, but like seventh grade. You know, in my opinion, like the, maybe the worst year of K-12 education for most people. Um, they had teams of teachers. I ended up on a team with like none of my friends, and the homeroom that I was in, I think I was the only White girl in the class, and there was maybe like one or two White boys in the class. And it was like so devastating to me. I felt so sorry for myself, and just alienated from my friends, all of whom were White at that time.
So that was the first time I felt the discomfort of like, oh, I'm in a predominantly Black space or global majority space, and not having any language for that and not having friends who were experiencing that in the same way.
And then, in high school, they kind of revamped the district while I was in high school because it was so racially segregated. So they hired a new superintendent to come in and redesign the district basically, which was not popular with the White parents. So they ended up combining Black and White schools, so some kids were bussed across this very small, you know, geographical area.
But my mom and I talked about that as it was going on and all of the reactions that were coming out in the community, and then I think that kind of prepared me for college, where like that's where I first heard about White privilege and . . .
Andrew: What was your mom's take on the redistricting, the redrawing of boundaries, the combining of schools?
Meredith: I think she thought I was necessary and that the superintendent had a really tough job to try and solve the achievement gap problem, and also get a plan that White people would opt into or, would,
Andrew: not flee
Meredith: Yeah, right. I mean, part of the reason people move to Decatur is for, you know, it was like known for the school district and the small town vibe and the neighborhood schools. And so I think she was my first sense that you know things were not right. Or helped me put language to some of the things that we were seeing, like in my high school and the district. So I'm grateful for that.
Andrew: So you guys both are now gonna make a choice for your incoming kindergarteners. Why don’t we start with just like the default. If you don't do anything, where does your kid go to school? Both technically and then maybe also socially - What's the default in your sort of social circles? Because I feel like those things are not necessarily the same.
Meredith: Actually, I think in our situation, they're, they're pretty much one in the same. So social default would be like our neighborhood school, which is about, a third of a mile from here, like 75% White. It's where all the kids on our block go. And then if you don't do a choice card in Minneapolis right now, I think you're typically sent to your neighborhood school if there's space, and they're moving even more so in that direction. So I think if we did nothing, that's probably where we would be assigned.
Andrew: And that school is a desirable school because it's in a largely White, segregated neighborhood.
Meredith: Yeah, you know, it's not like one that everyone around the city talks about like we have to send our kids there, but it's one that White people in the neighborhood that I know - everybody seems like pretty content. People seem to feel like they're fortunate to have a good option that's really close by, and they don't have to deal with any controversies sending their kids there, you know?
Andrew: Right. And it's 75% White or something in Minneapolis, which is what's Minneapolis overall?
Meredith: I think the school district is about 35 or 40% White overall.
Andrew: And Dana, what's your default?
Dana: So for me, very different, the social default and the system default. So the systemic default, if I don't do anything, our zoned school, is a predominantly Black school. It's, I think, 12% White students, and it's known as a really great school, for Black kids to go to in the district. It's ranked like number one in the district because it has really high test scores, as the White parents who don't want to send their kids there say, the pedagogy of the school is that they teach to the test and that they have a very strict discipline policy, and they give a lot of homework starting in kindergarten, and it's a very rigorous, testing type school.
It also historically has a lot of pride in the Caribbean culture of the neighborhood and African American culture. There's a lot of celebration of Black culture at the school. So that would be the default school.
My peer group that is White, get their kids into other schools. So because it's Brooklyn, there are, you know, 10 options within a 15 minute walk. I live in a rapidly gentrifying / gentrified neighborhood where you can literally see so clearly when you visit these schools, the gentrification in the neighborhood and how fast it's happened.
There's a couple of schools that the White parents, that is the socially acceptable default, which is to send your kids to one of the “up and coming” public schools, which means one of the schools that's getting Whiter starting from pre-kindergarten on. So I visited one of those schools that's known as like, oh, the school used to be a bad school, but now it's a really good school. And when I visited, all of the fifth and sixth grade classrooms we're a hundred percent Black kids. And then starting in like third, fourth grade, there were like 10 White kids, 15 White kids, and going down that the pre-kindergarten class was almost all White.
So it was like unbelievable that you could just see this White wave going through the grades, that it used to be the quote bad school, cause it used to be a Black school. And now, you know, the language around it is like, the PTA is really active and there's a new principal who's this like young, White woman, and they have all these new programs. They have like a science program now and an art class because the PTA is raising more money than they've ever raised before. So they're bringing in all these great programs. So that's a popular school.
And then there are a couple of dual language schools that were created for the LatinX community with a lot of Spanish speaking homes, but the dual language programs have become very competitive and popular for White families to want their kids to become bilingual. So they're now becoming more and more White. And then there are charter schools. So then there are a few charter schools that again, have like excellent reputations of like super progressive, like they don't have to follow a curriculum, they're very arts-based and inquiry based. And, they are really hard to get into. You know, those are like the lottery, but you can kind of hustle and get your way in.
And so I know some parents whose kids are at those schools. And then there's private school is the other option. So I know several parents who are sending their kids to private schools.
Meredith: That's crazy that the test scores at the Black school near you are considered,
Meredith: yeah. It's like, it's like they can't win. They
Dana: I know,
Meredith: Black, a Black school with good test scores or a Black school or bad test scores.
Dana: right? Exactly.
Meredith: shunned in some way.
Andrew: Yeah. Either there's a bad academic reputation, and so I can't send my kid there because they need them to get a good education or it's a good reputation, but I need them get a different kind of good at
Andrew: Are there dual language options near you as well, Meredith?
Meredith: Yeah, I was going to say that's a very similar dynamic where there's this huge demand for Spanish immersion and the problem of White families using this school choice system to try and get in so they're kind of over-represented. You know, a lot of families, who are actually native Spanish speaking families , have been getting displaced. and I, you know, I was interested in that theoretically, but it was kind of complicated figuring out like, it's a really great thing for all students to be learning multiple languages, but, but for it to start feeling like a resource hoarding thing or like this is a resume. Yeah. And a resume builder for my White child who's going to be able to access curriculum and have his home language validated in the culture.
Whereas, you know, some of these children coming from Spanish speaking homes like this may be the one opportunity that they have to like maintain their heritage language , and connect with family or whatever. You know,
Meredith: very complicated.
Andrew: So you guys both got to a point where you were ready to push back on , at least the social default, but also Meredith, the programmatic default. what do you think brought you to that? Why were you willing to look at things in a way that's different from maybe how your more privileged social circle was looking at it?
Meredith: You know how the older you get, the more you look back on your, you know, past experiences or early experiences and realize all that was there that you didn't understand and then I think becoming a teacher and having worked in public and charter schools. Both here in Minneapolis and in Nashville. Very segregated schools, global majority schools. So knowing that that's a problem, and also just feeling like I want my kids to have relationships with people of color well, before I did. because I think we are so separated in so many, almost all areas of our communities. And I, I think it really boiled down to like, being able to, to have humanizing and connecting experiences with people. and so I just feel like this is a place where I can put my money where my mouth is. It feels like, in my best moments, like this is a chance for us to be empowered to make a decision that's in line with our values, when a lot of times I feel totally helpless about addressing any of these systemic problems that are so big, like, like racial injustice in our country.
So I guess as a teacher and a parent I feel like a hypocrite if I talk about racial justice. Like for a couple of years I've been meeting with this group of parents. We formed this little like , we call it race conscious parenting, to sort of grapple with some of this.
And just like raising White kids, you know, who don't suck, and who are aware of race.
Andrew: Which is like, which is a pretty big ask. Like that's not a, you've got to work on that. That doesn't just come.
Meredith: Yeah. Right. So, but just feeling like this is, it's not easy, but a huge and pretty direct and daily way for me to be putting my family in the position of actively engaging with this. Like
Andrew: Simple, but not easy.
Meredith: Yeah, exactly. Like allowing ourselves to join into a community with others and move through it in a way that I'm sure it will be challenging, but also immensely rewarding for us. It's easy to be like, up on this high horse and focus on the sacrifice elements that you guys have done a great job unpacking in this podcast. But to try and also be like, you know, we, we gain so much and, it's, it's an opportunity for something that I hope can allow us to just keep those conversations going because it will be right in front of us all the time. You know.
Andrew: How about you, Dana?
Dana: Yeah. I mean, I think racism is one of the defining injustices of today. And the work that I've been doing in my, in my various day jobs over the last couple of decades is all anti-racist activist work.
So if I'm doing that work as my job, how can I look my kid in the eye and tell him that I'm making choices that are about maintaining White privilege. Which I feel would be participating in segregated school systems, is, being part of the problem. And so, really thinking about the responsibility of White people to end racism and that it's not going to be easy and comfortable and what White people let go of, in order to maintain a community that's best for all of our children.
And for me, seeing my White peers going through the process of trying to talk themselves into how the choices they're making are just about good parenting. and I want what's best for my kids, and seeing how that mindset is so much of all of the problems that we have in this country, particularly around -
I had a conversation with a White parent in my community about the gifted and talented program. So there are gifted and talented tracks in a lot of these public schools, and she had put
Andrew: In elementary school.
Dana: Starting in kindergarten. So you take the exam when you're in pre K - the G&T test. And she had signed her daughter up for a prep class basically for the G&T test, and she was telling me, Oh yeah, her four year old,
Andrew: Her four year old
Dana: Her four year old
Andrew: Just making sure we, we know what we're talking about.
Dana: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Andrew: Signed up for a gifted and talented test prep course.
Dana: And she called it, and she was telling me, I was, you know, in a conversation that was not about that at all, but she was saying how her daughter loves, and she was calling it puzzle class because how else do you test a four year old except like doing puzzles. And you know, it's like $1,500 or something for this course.
And how, you know, she just wanted her daughter to have all the options and, you know, we're just seeing the test as something fun for her to do, and then we'll see what the results are. And you know, it just means smaller classes, and I'm a teacher and I believe in smaller classes, so if she gets into the G&T track, she gets smaller classes and it's more arts-based, you know, they have more activities and they get to go on more field trips. And I was like, yeah, shouldn't every kid get all of those things? Like why does your daughter get to have these special things? And it really hit me in that conversation of like, I'm also an educator. I teach in a graduate school of education, and I see the benefits of, you know, all of the incredible opportunities that the White kids get.
And so for the school that I'm sending my son to, which is, as I mentioned earlier, it's the, it's our neighborhood school that White kids don't go to, but he's going to go, and yes, it's a school that pedagogically is not in line with my values at all. I would love for him to have, you know, more arts integration and inquiry based learning and get to have a garden and plant vegetables in the garden, in the front lawn of the school. You know, which some of these schools have.
But the one thing that I cannot teach him, is literally growing up and spending 40 hours a week with kids who are not like him, and seeing the beauty and the value and the love that he can have for kids of all different backgrounds. And that I can't provide with all of my, you know, abundance of privilege and I feel like the future of our world demands that we need this generation to have compassion and empathy and love and friendships with other kids across difference.
And so when I look at these schools that are predominantly White in a neighborhood that is rapidly, violently gentrifying. I don't want to have a conversation with my kid when he's old enough, which he is now old enough to look around and see, you know, why is everybody in my class White, when, when we go on the subway, there aren't that many White people. He's in a preschool now and this, you know, does not make me happ, his preschool is predominantly White, and it makes me a little bit crazy. And every day that he's there, I'm like, Oh my God, I can't believe that I'm sending him to this preschool that's predominantly White. So I'm really excited for him to have an opportunity next year to get out of that bubble of, of Whiteness.
Meredith: And also like that catch 22 of like, he'll be in a class with kids who are not like him, but also who are like him or like, then he'll, you know, he'll find out in what ways they are, you know,
And with the values thing, you know, I love the arts and outdoor play and all of, you know, music and all these things that we all want for our kids. And it's, it's really interesting to hold those values and then also be like, how can we like advocate for those things across the board?
Dana: Like why am I okay with other kids not having them? Right? Like all these parents that say, no, I won't send my kid to that school because they don't have outdoor play space, but so the cognitive dissonance of then saying, but it's okay in your heart to know that there are a thousand kids in our neighborhood that go to a school without outdoor play space. And you're okay with that? Like, why aren't we all fighting for outdoor play space in all of the schools? And can we make that fight better if we're on the inside, if my kid goes to that school that, then I can better advocate for why all of these schools need arts integration and, you know, outdoor play space and a garden on the rooftop.
Andrew: Yeah. And I think, you know, to come back to your point earlier about the self-justification, you know, any decision about school is a weighing of a whole bunch of different things that it's really hard to accurately weigh against each other. I think it's one of the appeals of something like a GreatSchools is like, we'll take care of this for you because you're thinking like, all right, well this is one thing that I think is important, here's another thing I think is kind of important. I don't know how to compare these things. They're not really comparable to like weigh them out. And we find parents very quickly deciding that the thing they care the most about is the thing that keeps them out of a school that is largely Black and Brown. Right? So it's, so it's either I, yes, I love all those things. I think that's super important, but, but my kid needs really strong academics. Or like in your
Dana: Or the opposite.
Andrew: Right, right. It's the opposite. My kid needs not such strong - You know, there are parents who are like, I would love to send my kid there, but I can't because they don't have homework in kindergarten and I'm worried they're gonna fall behind. And then like those exact same parents you pick them up and plunk them down in your neighborhood, Dana, and it's like, Oh no, I can't send my kid there because they do have. . .
We have it in, in my neighborhood, a lot of people are like, I just need to go to my neighborhood school. Like that's the most important thing to me is the community that's created by a neighborhood school. And you're like, alright, like there's value to that for sure. You know, to be able to walk to school is amazing. To have kids from your kid's class come by when you're trick or treating, you know, like there's real value to this sort of sense of community of that.
But a lot of those parents, if the school that happened to be around the corner was not a “good” school, are like more than happy to throw their kid on a bus for an hour and a half to go to the STEM arts magnet, whatever school that's, you know, on the other side of town. Look at what I'm doing for my kid to go over there.
And I think that anybody who tells you that they are, you know, that there is only one thing they care about when they're making the school choice, I think is, is deceiving themselves or you or somebody, I don't know.
All right, so you guys both broke out of the default, certainly the social default to make some decision that your friends weren't making. And before you did that, I'm guessing you guys toured some schools. Can tell me what schools you toured and how did you decide which schools to tour and to look at to make that decision?
Dana: I mean, there's so many options in my neighborhood that I have friends who toured like seven or eight schools. And even that, the amount of privilege to be able to take that much time off of work to tour a school, it's like three hours out of your day to go on a school tour, first of all, and you have to register in advance. So you have to know how to register in advance and they fill up really quickly.
I thought I would tour more schools I think, than I did. I first went to the school that I told you about earlier, that highly gentrified school, and I toured it because everybody had told me it was a good school. And I knew some parents whose kids went there and loved it. And, it's an easy walk away and I was horrified on the tour. You know, the way that you could see the White wave felt so horrifying to me that I didn't even know how I could have a conversation with my kid if he went to that school about why are the older kids all Brown and all the younger kids are White.
Like. That would be a really important conversation to have even though the school was awesome, I really loved most of what I saw there. They had, you know, the garden and the front yard, and they had art classes and music classes, and it was a really, vibrant space, but it was very, very White from the younger grades.
And so then I realized pretty much that I wanted to send my kid to the one that we're zoned for, that is the predominantly Black school. So I signed up for a tour, and I went on the tour and I was kind of bracing myself for like it being a really bad experience. Like that I would hate the school and I would be so deeply conflicted.
And I did. I mean, I walked in and it's like, you know, my son, he's now, he's not even four. And I walked into this giant public school and it just felt it did, was, it felt kind of overwhelming at first. And these schools, you know, they look like prisons. They're these huge, huge buildings. There are a thousand students at the school. So that scared me a little bit of just like walking in and imagining my sweet little boy walking into this space. But, I really liked the school. It was the first tour where I would say maybe half the parents on the tour, half were White, half were Black. And I had an interesting experience with the tour guide who was a parent, and there was a Black woman parent on the tour with me and she asked the woman on the tour, she said, you know, I'm looking around, I'm seeing a lot of White folks here on this tour. If I send my kid here, how do we make sure that the school doesn't become a White school like all the other schools in the neighborhood and that it maintains its celebration of Black culture. Because it's really known for like the celebration Black culture.
That hit me like a punch in the stomach. Here I was, I felt like I was making this kind of bold decision that I was comfortable and excited about, like, my son is going to go to the school. This is where we're zoned. This is where we belong. And then here was this Black woman saying, actually, you don't really belong here. This school is not for you. We don't want more White people at this school. You know, it was a powerful moment of gentrification, of like what that looks like. And the tour guide kind of fumbled through the answer. I don't even really remember what she said, but, that did - that has haunted me a little bit of like, am I taking - by sending my White boy to this school, am I taking away spots from the Black families who see this school as this jewel of the Black community? Though I have heard, and I looked at the website, that 100% of the families who wanted the school that we're zoned for again, which is not the most popular school, get a spot in pre K and that it's not one of the competitive schools.
Andrew: So you’re not taking a seat from somebody.
Dana: No, and I, I, that was my other kind of justification, I was kind of like, this is my zoned school. Which I guess doesn't defend that at all. Like it's a gentrifying neighborhood. So the zone school is changing because more White families are moving into the zone and pushing out more of the families of color who can't afford to live in the zone anymore. So I'm curious, 10 years from now, you know, even my son starts in kindergarten in the next, you know, throughout,
Andrew: Well, I mean, and, and with your younger one, like, yeah, you may well be there- it’s one of the things about elementary school that's so different from Middle and High school.
Dana: It's a long, yeah. You're there for a long
Andrew: It's not uncommon to spend a decade at an elementary school.
Andrew: Where did you tour Meredith?
Meredith: So we toured the neighborhood school, and then basically the way Minneapolis has been, and they're changing it, but, there's an extended zone that we were eligible for transportation, like for a bus. We toured, I think we toured seven in total, so I think we toured every global majority school that was in that broader transportation zone. And then another one that was outside the zone that I would have loved to have gone to, but we just couldn't. It's a little too far. And then the Spanish immersion school that is, that is downtown,
Andrew: So you saw a bunch of options. Have you made a decision?
Meredith: So we don't know yet. So we put the community school just, I'm not working at the moment and I'm not sure what my future holds, so I felt like I needed to have an option with transportation, like a spot if we want it. But we're very likely to enroll at a school outside of our zone that's really under enrolled, and it's almost entirely East African refugees. And it's, but it's a pretty close drive, so it's, it feels like manageable. And in a year it's supposed to become a magnet school, I'm kind of whatever about that. I think it was kind of the place where like values met, logistical possibility and
Andrew: Because if it becomes a magnet school then you would have transportation.
Andrew: So you can, you can transport your kid there yourself for a year. But for like we were saying, a potentially a decade is not maybe sustainable. And so something with the opportunity to have transportation built in while also not being the 75% White school around the corner.
Meredith: Yeah. And the whole thing, I mean, it's like weird being able to try and like strategize your way into this stuff. You know, I mean, I think convenience can be such an easy kind of,
Dana: I feel like that's the code word
Meredith: Yeah. I mean, it's like, it's both a code and it's legitimate in the sense of like, you know, people's lives are crazy, childcare is expensive, and people are just pulled on all ends.
So I feel like deciding to not let convenience be the entirely determining factor was something that I had to put forth. And I think a lot of people are kind of, you know, it's okay to let yourself off the hook if it's not gonna work. And I'm like, I know, but also, if I can do this, like I feel like I should and I want to, you know,
Andrew: Right? I mean, it's like the same thing, right? All these various things you're weighing - Driving your kid to school every day is definitely in the “con” column, you know? But there is a version of driving your kid to school that is, you know, 90 minutes every day that may actually just legitimately not be possible, and then there's like, okay, I can, yeah, it would be nice to walk, but also I could probably pull off driving a few minutes everyday.
Meredith: Yeah. And I feel like I, you know, it took me a while to let go of the neighborhood school idea, because I had gone to neighborhood schools growing up and it took me a while to sort of let go over the possibility that we might not do that. But I'm grateful to have a block with lots of kids who are close and I think we'll continue to play together, even if we're not, you know, at the same school as those kids.
Andrew: Yeah. What do you, what are you hoping to get for your kids in, in these non socially default choices for your schools? What is the hope that they come away from these schools with?
Dana: I mean, for me, and sort of opposition to your question, maybe is trying to let go of thinking about what do I want my kid to get all the time.
Dana: And what do I want for my community? Like what do I want for the world that he's growing up in and his peers? And so what my kid will get is hopefully somewhere down the line, and I hope he's not a Guinea pig in the experiment of it, is he'll get a more equitable school system where he's able to grow up with peers who all have equal access to excellent educations.
But the direct answer, I guess, which is also the truth as well, though the one that, you know, I don't want to think about as much, is this another layer of me exerting my privilege to make this choice for him? Because I have other opportunities in case it doesn't go so well. Is I want him to get you know, the, the joy and the education of seeing the common humanity of all kids, regardless of their race and class backgrounds, and to make friendships and relationships and all of those things with kids that don't just look like him and live in houses that look like his house.
And that's really important to me and to the future. So, yeah, I guess that's what I want.
Meredith: What, what do you mean by hopefully he won't be the Guinea pig?
Dana: This is the argument that I've had with my other White friends, like, why would you put your kid at a disadvantage? Like don't you want him to have all of the most opportunities to make every choice he wants to make in his life. And we know that education is such a determining factor for people's future outcomes. So why wouldn't you give your kid every opportunity to succeed?
So I guess that's the fear of like the Guinea pig and the experiment of like, Oh no, what if he goes to this quote, bad school? And then he doesn't get into a very good middle school or a good high school, and then he doesn't go to a good, good, you know, all of this code word of like, good. He doesn't get into college and then you
Meredith: Won't have a good life,
Dana: Exactly, exactly. All of those things. So I guess that's what I mean. It's the experiment of like the assumption that elite education or all White education is going to give you a good life.
Andrew: And I, I it's, it's crazy that you get that pushback even when the school that you're opting into is by those measures,
Dana: A good school. I know. I know.
Andrew: of test scores is actually a good school. Yet you still hear that same, that same pushback.
Dana: Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, or that he, you know, he very well might be one of like two or three White kids in his pre-kindergarten class. That that experience will, I don't know, silence him or make him feel like he's so different that he won't thrive.
Dana: Though, that's actually, I feel good about that. I feel like that's a fear that is an important learning for him and I, I think that would actually, would be good for him. I actually don't believe that that will happen in any way. I think I only see the positive outcomes of him being in a minority in school by being a White kid in a predominantly Black school.
Andrew: Yeah, because the rest of his life is not lived in, that space. The odds of that, you know, meaningfully impacting him. My elementary school experience was similar to that. There were more, more White kids in kinder, first by third grade, yeah there were maybe three or four of us. And it definitely, you know, there were, there were definitely times where it was challenging in that regard. And, I like was made aware of my difference in ways that I think friends of mine who ended up in private school or in other, you know, Whiter schools were not. But that was from eight to three, you know, and it was not only was it for only from eight to three, but it was also in a system where the power structures still put a really high value on me as a White kid.
You know, where the administration and the teachers all came with the expectation that as a White kid I was going to be successful. I had a place to have a voice, you know so that tiny bit of social discomfort. I'm, I'm incredibly grateful for having had that.
Dana: That's good to hear. That's good. Yes. And that's, that's my dream. And that he will someday host a podcast like this.
Andrew: Look back on it.
Andrew: Yeah, or a podcast much better than this. It's all generational work keeps, keeps growing and getting better.
Meredith: Right. Yeah, I really like what you said, Dana, about seeing this choice as a way to let go, to like sort of opt out of the overly concerned like White parents and culture of
Dana: Yeah. Like individualistic.
Meredith: Yeah, I need to know what's going on all the time. I need to know that the curriculum is in line with my values. But it's like, you know, I don't know, just sort of having some skin in the game
Meredith: And like he will be fine and, I'm excited for him to be in a full time learning environment and get to have those initial experiences together with a class like building community. I love, I loved going on tours. That's part of why we did so many, because as a parent and also as a teacher, I just loved being in the spaces and seeing like the way these teachers are building community and all the ways that they are trying to reach different students.
You know, the school will be mostly English language learners and largely Muslim students. You know, being exposed to things that he's hasn't seen. And just like, knowing that the world is bigger than, than the way our family and our block, our neighborhood is, realizing all that he doesn't know and all that he has to learn from other people, and you know, learning about other people's cultures. And long term, like I want it to be a big part of like trying to develop like an anti-racist White identity.
Andrew: It seems like you both have a certain degree of confidence in the resiliency of your kids. In fact, there, there is so much of parenting nowadays that feels like, and hopefully, maybe, I dunno, hopefully the pendulum is starting to swing back a bit, but that there's this idea that your role as a parent is to clear the way of any obstacles for your kid to make things as easy as possible to ensure that they don't ever encounter any hardship. It sounds like you're both actually looking for a bit of hardship, looking for a bit of struggle to, to give your kids that confidence and ability to, to deal with it.
Dana: Yeah. To live in this world. To be real about what is going on outside that bubble. I think raising, especially for White parents, raising kids as if racism. I feel like my generation pretends especially, and I have a lot of like activist friends or friends who everybody's like posting on Facebook, all of their, like how to be an antiracist and, but they're not practicing it in their daily life.
Like it's one thing to talk about it all the time, but I want to be like, I'm sorry, you can't post about how much you love the book, How to Be an Antiracist when you're sending your kid to a deeply segregated White school.
It's like, how are we participating in this incredibly racist system? And you know, the kind of cliched line of like, if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. And it really, it feels like education should be absolutely the like equalizing force that it was hopefully in its ideal form meant to be, and it's so, not in this country. I mean, New York city is the most segregated school system in America right now. And all of like, the, like White, liberal, progressive friends pretend that like, they're not part of the reason why it's the most segregated school system in America.
Meredith: Right? And I feel like the narrative is so infused with like sheltering our kids. Like I don't want my kid to see metal detectors. I don't want my kids to know about the evils of slavery or racism or blah, blah, blah. And with the resilience things, the positive side of it is like, if you can get your four or five year old to start sitting with discomfort and difference and not sort of needing to have immediate answers or control all the time, I feel like that's where we start to develop better humans. Rather than waiting until they're in middle school or high school where it's like, Oh, we've never talked about race, or you've never been in a space. Our silence in fact said something. And that was, that like, there's something wrong with these communities, and now we're trying to undo that, you know?
Andrew: Rather than dig into the discomfort of doing it from the time that they're are four or five or
Andrew: You wait. And for many people, it's until they're past college. It's their first job. And there is this fine balance between what are you getting for your kids and what are you doing sort of on behalf of all kids where are you a martyr and where are you opportunity hoarding, but you look at the world that our kids will enter when they are out on their own - when they hit 18, whatever they decide to go do, if there is still such a thing as college at that point, there's, you know, whatever it is at that point. But the world that they will be entering, White kids won't be in the majority. And so what are, what are you actually setting them up for? If that's going to be the first time they try to deal with the fact that there are people who are different from them.
Andrew: How are you preparing them for that?
So, you both are at least relatively sure about decisions that will put your kids in the minority in the school that you're arriving in. Dana, you've heard specifically from parents at that school that there is some concern about the arrival of White people there.
Andrew: How do you think about your obligations as you're thinking about arriving in those schools next year, how do you think about your obligation to the community and how you go about approaching that?
Dana: Yeah, I mean, I take that very, very seriously. I've been reading and thinking a lot about, you know, the ways that White parents come into the schools and then like take over the PTA and show up you know, like use to getting what we want or hearing our voices have power in a space.
So, I do want to be involved in the PTA and as an engaged parent in the community, but I think it is absolutely my responsibility to take some time and sit back and listen to the parents who have been there for awhile and what their needs and their concerns are. And follow their lead around it. So what is the space and how do we fit into it and in a responsible way where we're participating and engaging and collaborating with and not like seeing ourselves as separate or going in with my agenda of like, okay, I'm going to dismantle the teaching for the test, you know, when
Andrew: I don’t like your pedagogy. I'm going to undo it.
Dana: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. That this is part of why these families love this school because the test scores are so high. So for me to, you know, my instinct would be, I would want to come in and be like, Oh, I think we need more arts programming in this school. And, you know, maybe we should be able to opt out of the tests and all of this, but like, I need to really listen to what's the culture of this space. and be humble about, you know, what my role is in supporting what's already working, instead of, , the kind of activist in me that often wants to like, come in and like shake it up and fix it and yeah. So it's going to be a challenge for me. I foresee.
Andrew: I mean, in some, in some ways your innate activist mindset and probably your education and how you ended up here is part of what's pushing you into this space. And then it's going to be those exact tendencies
Dana: Yeah. That could get me really, could really piss off everybody there. Yeah. Make us very unpopular.
Meredith: That's all resonating with me too. Yeah, that's, I think that's like maybe a common thing because it's, it's the activism that gets you in the door of these schools and then it's like, okay, now, now it's a different mindset or just way of applying those values. That's actually like less talking, more listening. I think, giving it time and sort of challenging yourself to not be involved almost. Or like, you know, involved in really thoughtful ways.
Dana: To lead for me, like, not to come in and be like, I'm going to be a leader in this parent space.
Meredith: Yeah. And I think figuring out what the, with the families that are already engaged, what do people love about this school, and listening and finding those things out over time, over years, right? Like, what do we do? What do people love and what are people's dreams for this place? But yeah, again, it's easy for me to come in with my agenda, even if I think it's like the right progressive and anti racist agenda. And it's like, if that's not what other people say, and I'm like, that's not the thing to lead with. You know?
Andrew: Yeah, that's the, that is another one of these very fine lines to walk, right? Because, if, if all you do is just show up in the school and take up space, then sort of like not really moving the ball forward in terms of equity. You're not contributing and that, you know, that may be enough. You know, that that is like a good first step is, I am not contributing anymore to opportunity hoarding. And maybe for elementary school, that's enough, you know, just not contributing. But if you are going to start to try to drive positive change, figuring out what counts as positive is really hard because we have this tendency to be like, well, let's look at what the research says and you know, the research says that we need this and this and this. And so like, let me go ahead and tell you all what you guys need at this school and then I'm going to go ahead and I'm going to fight for it for you. And be more like, yeah, we actually don't want that.
Dana: Right. Yeah. We love the school the way it is.
Andrew: We actually like the fact that all of our kids are getting good test scores and we're good with it. So maybe, yeah.
Andrew: But yeah, it's hard to, it's hard to know where that is. And I think it has to come out of relationship building and building trust. And one of the upsides to doing it now, in elementary school, is that you are there for such a long time. Because it is a slow, hard process. And I think we think it's easy to show up in a school and think, all right, well, yeah, like I'm not going to show up at the first PTA meeting and demand they do things, but the third PTA meeting maybe, you know, and you realize that like at the sixth PTA meeting, you still haven't really built those trusting relationships and you still, you know, it's still hard. And we start to get anxious and antsy, like, Whoa, okay, like I gotta, I gotta do something. I have to fix this.
Dana: Right, right. I came here to change the system.
Meredith: Well, and I like, Dana, I think you and I have a lot of similarities regarding like activism and stuff. And I think this whole question we want it to be like a thorn in the institutional side. And also like kind of realizing over and over that like the reality is it's probably not going to make a difference
Meredith: You know, and the institution. Yeah. So kind of being like, okay, like you said, Andrew, like at least I'm at opportunity hoarding and also I have to think about the multigenerational piece of like it's not at all immediate. And what's really frustrating? I mean like I think there will be immediate short term ways that this has the potential to help us be a more actively anti-racist family, but also that like longterm, you know, you're giving your child the foundation for the rest of their life and what racial conversations will they be having at our age, that will be more advanced than us. Like that's how we push things forward. And hopefully the institutions will evolve as the people evolve, you know?
Andrew: As the people who are running it. Yeah. I mean, right. You are a little bit further along than your parents, and then your kid is a little further along and slowly, slowly but surely. The choice that both of you are making, the choice that I made, none of that eliminates racism tomorrow or even next week or next year, or by the time that that our kids are grown and thinking about having their own kids, but you know, they're probably going to do it better than we are and their kids will hopefully do it better than they. And then maybe eventually we start to sort of dig out from it. Hopefully.
Meredith: Long work.
Andrew: Generational work.
Well, listen, I cannot thank you both enough for coming on and sharing your thoughts and your experiences so openly, and I'm really grateful to have you.
Dana: Thank you.
Meredith: Thank you.
Andrew: Huge thanks to Meredith and Dana for sharing how they're grappling with this choice. You know, thinking about all the things they're trying to weigh, how they're struggling to bring their values to this choice, I'm reminded of something Margaret Hagerman said way back in the third episode of this podcast. You know, she talked about the challenges of trying to navigate structural inequity at the individual level. That, in a fundamentally unequal society, it's hard to know what kind of choices to make.
And you know, I think both Dana and Meredith recognize that the ability to choose a school is a privilege. And with that privilege, and the many other privileges that they both have, comes a responsibility. And while it's important to make a thoughtful choice and to try to bring their values to the decision, I think they both also recognize that their individual choices aren't going to fix the structural inequity.
And I think that that's one of the challenges of this work. You know, on the one hand, I believe that the choices we make about where to send our kids to school are incredibly important and worthy of deliberate, intentional thought to make sure that they reflect our values, and are made with, you know, as deep an understanding as possible of the ways that they may impact our kids, our schools, and our society.
And at the same time, this decision is just one step, right? Like one moment in time. And the structural inequities continue to exist. We aren't solving the problem of inequity simply by enrolling our kids in global majority schools. Just as making this choice for our kids doesn't absolve us of having to continue to do the work of building their and our own anti-racist capacity. Especially given the responsibility we have for the impact of our arrival on global majority school communities.
We tend to think that making the “right” choice about school is the thing that is going to set our kids on the path to success, and making the “wrong” choice about school is the thing that is going to guarantee them a life of misery. And we think of that choice as being like the moment of pushing the snowball down the hill. And once it starts rolling, it's going where it's going and our work there is done. And I think it does us a disservice, because on the one hand, going to the “best” schools is not a guarantee that everything is going to turn out great in our kids' lives. And at the same time, bringing our values of social justice to our school choices is not enough to ensure that our kids are on an inevitable path towards anti-racism.
The work of trying to create the society that we want our kids to live in - the work of trying to create an educational system that provides an equitable opportunity for all kids to thrive is ongoing work. It’s hard work, it’s important work, and it’s work that I think requires constant self-reflection and course correction.
It’s one of the things my late co-host and Integrated Schools co-founder Courntey was so good at - constantly growing - constantly learning. If at any point this feels comfortable to me, or I feel certain about it, I know that I’m probably doing something wrong. And that’s why I’m so grateful to Dana and Meredith for sharing their thinking as they try to make these individual choices with intentionality and care, recognizing their privilege, and being mindful of their impact.
If you’re in the midst of making this decision, we’d love to hear how you’re thinking about it - you can join the discussion on social media - @integratedschools - or email us, [email protected]. If you enjoy hearing these conversations - if you have found value in this podcast, and would like to support this work, or the broader work of Integrated Schools, please contribute. Go to Patreon.com/integratedschools and give what feels right. You’ll also get access to the message boards, podcast happy hour and more, and you’ll help us keep the podcast ad-free.
While we are all individuals, together, we can actually change the system. I’m grateful to be in this with you, as I try to know better and do better. See you next time.