By Ali Takata
It was about this time last year that I rediscovered Nikole Hannah-Jones. I was familiar with her articles, but this time was different. In November 2017, segregation simmered in the forefront of my mind because for two years my family and I had lived in a very segregated Texas city. It didn’t take long for me to notice the city’s east-west racial divide. Initially I thought the city was very white, but I quickly learned, it’s not very white – it’s VERY segregated.
After two years in our upper middle class, white, “good” neighborhood school on the west side, I began to dig deeper into school segregation and this city’s history. I learned that my city’s schools are not unique in that US schools are as segregated by race and class as they were in the 1970’s. Moreover, our schools are segregated by design and white/privileged parents reinforce school segregation with our choices. Knowing this, I could no longer reconcile my discomfort and outrage about school segregation with my choice for a privileged segregated school for my two daughters.
Now what? What do I do with this knowledge and my ambivalent feelings, especially since our girls loved their school?
In my quest for information and answers I found IntegratedSchools.org. Not only did this website talk about issues I had been contemplating, it suggested an actionable step – the Two Tour Pledge. I decided to take the Pledge and tour schools on the east side. Among the 23 elementary schools, the first school I chose had a GreatSchools score 10 AND was ethnically/racially/socioeconomically diverse, “School X”. I was intrigued. I also felt a desire to ease into a school tour by choosing a school that matched our current school rating. School X appeared to possess both top scores and racial integration.
On the morning of the tour, I waited in a crowded School X hallway with approximately 35 parents – some of whom knew each other and only three looked to be people of color. Clearly, these parents also saw the school’s impressive statistics. Based on my initial impression, School X seemed to be rapidly gentrifying. Oftentimes when white parents enter schools without being thoughtful and proactive about integration, it can feel like a takeover. I was leary.
I stayed for the tour in case my initial impression was wrong. During the more than two hour tour, I learned details one could not glean from a website or numbers.
It was a surprisingly informative, invaluable experience! As I had suspected, and as is common in gentrifying schools, despite the school’s demographics, the upper grades were mostly black and brown and the lower grades were mostly white. I would not send my girls to a school where my older daughter would have a racially integrated experience and my younger one would not.
After this first tour, I felt like I was on a mission. What could I learn about other schools that websites and statistics could not tell me? I was curious and in the following three weeks, I toured seven more schools. All the schools serve a student population that is 75% – 95% black and brown, and 69% – 97% economically disadvantaged. All the schools I toured had Great Schools scores ranging from 2 to 7. With each experience I learned tidbits of important information and witnessed incredible commitment, kindness, enthusiasm and leadership. I also learned about struggles and hardships. These illuminating tours provided a moment for me to look beyond the school stats and to see the faces inside the school.
After weeks of school exploration, my eyes were more open than ever and I looked at schools through a different lens. I could see that our education system very effectively perpetuates racial and economic inequities. Additionally, I wanted to stop contributing to these inequities with my choice for a white, segregated school.
When I started my journey in November 2017, I had no intention of leaving the comfort of our upper middle class, mostly white elementary school. But I needed to make a change. After a few discussions with my spouse, we decided to transfer our two daughters to an elementary school on the east side. They now attend a Great Schools rated 4 school that is nearly 90% black and brown and economically disadvantaged. While their new school is different in many ways both my girls are doing incredibly well, academically and socially. And I finally feel like I am living my values.
Throughout this process, I learned that the choices of white and privileged parents are not inconsequential. We can choose to uphold an unjust school system or we can do our small part to chip away at the injustice. I feel grateful for Integrated Schools’ Two Tour Pledge. It was the push I needed. The Pledge showed me that I can do something about school segregation. I made that choice. Maybe you can too. Join me in taking the Two Tour Pledge!