This article tells a short story of two families in Oakland: one, a white family who tries to go to a predominantly poor, mostly African-American school and leaves after two years, and the other, an African-American family who abandons the wealthier, predominantly white school for that same school the white family left.
In sum, it’s just sad. It’s sad in all the ways you’d expect: the poor school is under-resourced (this: “Our kids are used to broken promises”) and the wealthy/white school makes parents of color feel unwelcome. Now, of course, this is one anecdote journalistically culled from many possible stories, but still, it is a familiar trope…
But while this article is ostensibly about integration, it ignores something that integrated schools proponents don’t talk much about: the difference between integratING schools and integratED schools.
IntegratED schools can be challenging, indeed, but integratING schools have even more heavy lifting to do. There is some research around a kind of “tipping point”– a percentage of middle class families in a predominantly poor school that actually makes the school integrated (somewhere between 30-50%). Without some massive-scale de-segregation policy, however, individual parents, kids, teachers and administrators have to get through integratING on the way to being integratED . And this can be excruciating. For everyone.
It can be lonely, very lonely especially if you are seen as an interloper (usually parent of color or poor parent) or harbinger of colonization (usually white or middle class parent) [I’ll let you unpack the horrors of all that on your own]. There is a good chance that you will be resented before you even open your mouth.
Administrators may ignore you (“*sigh*, here comes that entitled white mom”) or, conversely, cater to you in such a way that it builds resentment among the other families. For instance, I was both smiled at and placated with empty promises so that I would go away AND told to come to the front of the long line of Latina moms waiting to be assisted at the front office because I was “that” mom.
The pilot year (arguably first two years) in our integratING school is one of deep heartbreak. And mine is the last-middle-class-kid standing in his 8th grade cohort. And there were many times we wanted to tuck tail and run. But yet, we haven’t… And our boy swears that even though there are things about it he hates, he doesn’t want to leave.
The experience with our daughter, who we enrolled in this school two years later is tremendously different. Though still not laden with the father-daughter-elementary-dance goodies of middle class schools in our area, hers has been smoother ride. I look at the kindergarten classes over the past couple of years and theirs is much, much more a story of a integratED school.
So when we read articles like this, it does seem like integration is improbable if not impossible. But it isn’t; it just hasn’t worked here and I understand…
IntegratING isn’t smooth and it isn’t quick and it isn’t always clear in the moment that you’re making the right choices. Yep. Just like parenting.
At the end of the day, I don’t regret our daily re-decisions to stay (though surely I have regrets about how some things went down — lots of missteps along the way). I don’t begrudge the many who’ve left but I am glad we haven’t.