I’m standing in line buying too much toilet paper and that bottle of hand soap that I don’t need but has an irresistibly pretty label. The woman waiting to check out behind me asks: “hey, nice cleanser… where do your kids go to school?”.
I’m pulling a stick out of my wailing toddler’s mouth at the park. A fellow mom leans over and empathetically says “sticks and sand today… but really, where are you going to send him to school?”
Picking up the kid from day care, waiting in reception for the doctor’s appointment, milking up the coffee I just ordered, checking out books from the library, getting my stupid car’s oil changed, waiting at the post office to mail birthday gifts, at the mill-around after Sunday service, watching my four year old try to play soccer… All these are places where The School Conversation has happened.
I understand the angst, the questions, the seeking out of information that we parents do. I did it. The internetty information we can find about test scores, the pass-by appraisals (does it look like anyone loves that school?), the ridiculous realtoresque school ratings sites are all just bits of data we assemble when thinking about where we enroll our kids. But talking with parents – friend parents, random coffee line parents – is where the real evidence is gathered (see this research/commentary).
For those of us who care about the inequities in our educational system, who look at our increasingly segregated schools and feel a heaviness of heart that all kids don’t have the same opportunities, who know that we are all responsible and complicit in the system… you do have power to change things.
The first and perhaps most impactful power we have is to disrupt The School Conversation. You have the option to change its tone, to destabilize its implicit assumptions of “good” and “bad” schools, to alter its language.
Regardless of whether your kids are/will be in an integrated/ing school, you can tell the mom at the park that you are really concerned about educating your baby in a bubble. You can say to the dad at the birthday party that you’re touring WhateverIsnt‘Cool’ Elementary because test scores really reveal more about parent income than teaching integrity. In line at the post office, you respond by sharing that integration is a priority for your family. You could talk about all the stuff Swank Elementary will give your kid or you can talk about how the choices you make help build the world your kids will be adults in.
And you can always refer to privilege/white-segregated schools as privilege/white-segregated schools. (name it, name it, NAME IT!)
Changing the conversation around school integration is not easy work. It is neither satisfyingly quick nor comfortably straightforward. Building anything worthwhile doesn’t happen overnight – especially when there are decades upon decades of systemic bullshit to dismantle at the same time.
Of course, conversations are just the beginning. Then comes the work of walking the talk, of enrolling our kids. Then comes the work of supporting our integrating schools and relentlessly centering equity. Then comes the work of letting our electeds know that we vote and that integration policy matters (hey there, SB, throwing this up in Houston!).
The coffee shop micromoments of The School Conversation are, however, the foundational support for all the work. They are the powerful places of social exchange; what are you contributing?