As a public school parent, I feel pressured to take a solemn oath of loyalty to free government schooling as if these schools little temples of a high democratic order. I comply, mostly, uncomfortably, because whether I want to or not I must create a compensatory bond with the entity that keeps my children five days a week. For the most part, it works out. My kids survive and I cling to the weak belief that school staff and the powers that govern them hold my children’s’ safety and well-being as the highest priority.
But, I see the signs all over telling me something is wrong. One huge example is the string of news reports about water in public schools that is contaminated with lead, and the fact that our “leaders” haven’t told us the truth about it.
That reality breaks something irreplaceable for me. In fact, it’s the most important thing in all human history: trust. Break that and nothing is the same.
With that in mind, my message to parenting peers is beware, education is one area of life you can only trust cautiously, and you must verify religiously. That’s not easy, I know. Who wants to be the problem parent, the bossy one, or the one who knows-it-all?
I’m a sharp-tongued education activist and at home in my civilian life I mostly pretend to buy the illusion of our local schools. But deep down I know the real world has no completely safe places for our kids. Government is not the ideal education provider. And slouching into naivete on these matters puts my kids and yours in jeopardy.
Last year the Charlotte Mecklenburg school district tested their water for lead in 58 schools and more than one-third of their buildings had lead levels as high as 430 parts per billion. The federal government says 15 parts per billion puts children at risk for lowered IQ, hyperactivity, behavior and learning problems, and slowed growth. The American Pediatric Association says anything above 1ppb should raise concerns.
According to the Center of Disease Control there is no safe lead level in children. Water should be lead-free.
Parent organizers issued a statement saying CMS made an “executive decision not to inform parents that lead was in the drinking water at one or more water outlets in 27 CMS elementary schools.” When they gathered to discuss the issue last week, a local pastor told them A pastor in Charlotte told a group of concerned parents “We send our children to school to learn. We send our children to school to help them develop into healthy, able citizens of our nation. One of the things that we could never imagine is sending our children to school and having them poisoned.”
Others said it’s inconceivable that public officials failed to warn the public that their children were at-risk.
But why is it inconceivable?
In the years since Flint, Michigan became the symbol for public poisoning we’ve seen the same problem across the country.
25 percent of New York City’s public schools have lead problems. Inspectors found elevated lead levels in nearly two-thirds of Detroit’s public schools. One school in New Jersey found 1110 ppb of lead in its water.
Again, the feds say 15ppb is too high.
It’s not just the water
Telling people their water is tainted with lead sparks all the outrage you’d expect because it’s easy to understand. Dirty water isn’t a mystery. But, in truth, our schools are man-made lakes polluted with inequity and cultural indifference.
For evidence, look to a report released this week called The Opportunity Myth by the education nonprofit The New Teacher Project. It says millions of young people in American public schools are working hard to complete the assignments assigned by their teachers, but those same students aren’t aware that the work they are doing isn’t preparing them for college because the bar is too low.
TNTP’s Kenya Bradshaw tweeted yesterday saying “Nationally we have a two tier grading system. That is lying to students of color about how well they are actually doing. This is NOT about students ability this is about adult bias and choices. Students are not even getting access to rigorous content. #TheOpportunityMyth.”
TNTP isn’t the first to provide solid information on the shortchanging of our students and it’s doubtful they will be the last.
Earlier this year a study by the New York Equity Coalition found substantial barriers for black students to access the “gateway” courses and programs that predict college enrollment and completion. That builds on The Education Trust’s study from 2003 that found capable low-income students are missing from Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes even when they clearly qualify.
All of that means we need to be as vigilant about what our children learn as what they drink.
We want to believe our kids are on track, their grades reflect reality, their teachers are the best, and if there is any human effort that can be made to get them to- and through – college, those efforts are happening. Black parents, in particular, are the most likely to tell pollsters we expect our kids will go to college, which speaks to the trust we have in our schools, our teachers, and our education system overall.
Unfortunately, our system leaders have data mountains to show any rational person our kids aren’t growing academically like they should. In fact, year-over-year some of our brightest students are falling the furthest behind. Making matters far worse is that the very education officials and public employees we trust to have our back are busy pushing policies that would effectively scrap the data, hide the test results, and make the public more ignorant about the systemic threats to the development of our young people.
That irresponsible and deceitful behavior that hides a problem that is at least as hurtful as high lead levels in school drinking fountains.
Teachers see black children as angry when they aren’t
From right to left, the story for why black children aren’t reaching their potential lives within the child. Or, their family. Their culutre. Their community.
If only they had two parents, better jobs, more time to read at home. It wouldn’t hurt if they had middle-class social benefits. Put those things together and there wouldn’t be a racialized gap in student achievement.
Ok. I won’t argue there. But lets set aside the condition of the child for a moment and consider this new study that finds teachers are less likely to accurately read the facial expression of black students. This only adds to the research I won’t stop talking about that shows black children are seen as less innocent, less capable, and older than they actually are.
When we talk about inequities in education, why don’t we talk about these things?
Eventually, we have to ask the question: “regardless of the condition of the child, aren’t their too many problems in the system that need fixing before blaming children for their own maltreatment?”
Read this from the study:
Prospective teachers are more likely to perceive Black than White elementary and middle-school students as angry, even when they’re not, according to new research published in Emotion. The findings suggest that Black children face a racialized anger bias in school.
“We know a lot about emotion and emotion expression, and we wanted to use our skills toward a question that really mattered and specifically, mattered for social justice,” said study author Shevaun D. Neupert, a professor at North Carolina State University and director of The Daily Well Being in Adulthood Lab.
For the study, 178 prospective teachers from three training programs in the Southeast were shown 72 short video clips of child actors’ facial expressions, and were asked to identify the emotion being displayed. The video clips included both Black and White students and male and female students.
“We hired child actors to display six different emotions and we had professionals who could make all six facial expressions on demand to work with the children until they were able to do so,” Neupert explained. “Then we took short video clips and we made sure that each expression was showing the desired emotion and only that emotion.”
Those emotions included happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise or disgust.
Overall, the researchers found that teachers were more accurate at identifying the facial expressions of girls than boys. The teachers’ emotional evaluations also tended to be more accurate for White girls than Black girls, while being more accurate for Black boys than for White boys.
We’re in trouble when a $4 sandwich matters more than a Black life
We know something has gone terribly wrong in our world when a $4 sandwich is worth more than a black life.
On April 23, 2009 scientists observed a gamma ray burst for 10 seconds which is “the most distant object of any kind and also the oldest known object in the universe.”
But let’s get to the important stuff. On that same day there was a near riot at Minnesota’s one Popeye’s Chicken franchise. The company had advertised an 8-piece meal for $4.99, but the local store was not honoring the deal. Cars backed up in the drive-thru, customers became angry inside the restaurant, and the police were called to stop a melee.
The great chicken riot of Minneapolis made the news.
A local reporter talking about the hubbub said “I haven’t seen people this passionate about something in a very long time.”
I made fun of this incident for years. Mostly because it conflicted with a truism I hear in community meetings all the time about how we aren’t showing up for school meetings or city planning meetings or policy debates because we’re busy working two jobs.
Marketing folks seem to generate a ton of passion in our communities when a dollar is involved. In this case chicken skirmishes have become such a mainstay that it’s created a genre of YouTube videos.
Enough to have videos titled “The Best of Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich Fights.”
The “best of,” really?
Lowbrow, but funny. I grew up on Popeye’s chicken. Loved it as a fat kid in New Orleans does. It took a long time (and some health concerns) to figure out it ain’t food as much as suicide.
Today, what was funny has turned serious. It popped up in my feed that a 28-year-old (the same age as my oldest son) was stabbed to death over a damn Popeye’s chicken sandwich.
Stabbed. To. Death.
Stories like this always make me think about how a person gets to the point in their life where they explode with anger over something trivial and then commit an act that irreversibly ruins their life and the lives of others.
What happened when that person was a teenager, a middle-schooler, or a baby?
There must be a story there. A traumatic one.
I can only imagine.
My guess is that when a child receives endless messages telling him he has little value, he comes to believe it. When he is told that his mind is immaterial, he either responds with anger because he knows it isn’t true (and that it is massive injustice to say it is), or he absorbs the critique and lives it out.
When he’s told he can’t read, he doesn’t. When he’s told he isn’t beautiful, he hates beauty. When he’s told injustice is equity and crooked is straight, as our society so often does to the people it wants to gaslight into a life of subservience, he becomes a violent truth that pays us back for our mannered delusions.
Our children know when the world has pushed them into an unjust corner. They are smart even when the tests they take in school doubt it.
Even as those of us in education activism harp on the idea that our kids aren’t learning, the truth is they are learning every day, but they are learning from our absenteeism and negligence and dedication to mass-consumerism rather than our values and love.
It doesn’t let us of the hook. Chicken fights, social absurdities, and moral laxity are explainable by our history and social conditions, and by our lack of access to the precursors to healthy development (such as home resources, healthcare, and education), but we are not the revolutionaries we think we are if we aren’t calling out and defeating the self-destructive behaviors endemic to our communities.
Every child is born with unsurpassable worth afforded to them by a mighty God. We fall short of our faith if we allow friends, families, or the broader society to rob our kids of that worth.
If they’re ever in a Popeye’s Chicken injuring others over a heart-attack, hypertension, and diabetes inducing sandwich, the trail of their tears leads back to us.
How are the children?
ACT NOW: What does this blog post mean? I could just be me making sense of the needless suffering in our world. It may not be profound. Yet, if forced to think of an action to take that would make this post more than a meaningless buffet of words, I’d ask you to…
…commit to a course of action today that changes our culture of neglect of children. Affirm every child you come into contact with by telling them “you are so amazing, I know you are going to do great things in life” – or something like that.
Or, as always, pray (here).
A short note about Kamala Harris’s integration opportunism
No one should discount the possibility that a little black girl or boy might succeed in life without bathing in whiteness.
Earlier this summer Kamala Harris and Joe Biden had a terse exchange about integration and public school busing.
An article in The Atlantic described it this way:
“There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day,” Harris told the former vice president, her voice quaking. “That little girl was me.” It was the defining line of the debate, inspiring the creation of a T-shirt Harris’s campaign is now selling for $29.99. The point Harris was highlighting was clear: When busing would have mattered most as a method of desegregating schools, in the 1970s, Biden didn’t enthusiastically support it.”
We love a good come-up story, especially when it invokes the morally superior virtues that define a beloved community.
I can almost feel the warmth of Harris’ torch for the power of white acceptance, and the disdain for Biden’s blue dog resistance.
And, I could tell you a very different story (that won’t sell T-shirts) about a little black boy who was once bussed three hours a day, away from neighborhood friends and familiar surroundings, to a white school in the hills where moneyed white students and their teachers dislike school busses and students invading “their” school.
That little boy was me.
I turned out ok. Even grew up to have children, who are multiracial like Harris, proving I ardently support integration.
But, I am here to constantly challenge the incessant and dangerous romantization of simple integration stories. While most people called the Harris/Biden tussle in favor of Harris, I still call her rehearsed passion play phony baloney.
Which is why I appreciate this Washington Post article that goes a long way to add context to the oversimplified “I was bussed therefore I am” claptrap that intoxicates the best of audiences.
Especially this part…
Kamala Harris wanted to go to a black school. That’s what black folks called Howard University in the early 1980s when Harris was a teenager considering her future.
Harris, she would say later, was seeking an experience wholly different from what she had long known. She’d attended majority-white schools her entire life — from elementary school in Berkeley, Calif., to high school in Montreal. Her parents’ professional lives and their personal story were bound up in majority-white institutions. Her father, an economist from Jamaica, was teaching at Stanford University. Her mother, a cancer researcher from India, had done her graduate work at the University of California at Berkeley, where the couple had met and fallen in love. And Harris’s younger sister would eventually enroll at Stanford.
Harris wanted to be surrounded by black students, black culture and black traditions at the crown jewel of historically black colleges and universities.
In this we see something curious, but not uncommon, which is how sending children of color off to majority white schools can cause dissonance in the face of microagressions and culture stripping.
Maybe Harris wouldn’t admit that, but she wouldn’t be the first to see an HBCU as cultural finishing school for proper black people.
Indeed, the stories of black integrationists who are celebrated by white media are often punctuated by the fact that they only discovered their blackness in college and now they overemphasize it as the false currency they use in minstrel fashion to Afrocentricize white progressive ideals.
I name no names. I just admit what I’ve seen.
No one should discount the possibility that a little black girl or boy might succeed in life without bathing in whiteness.
Maybe a bus saved Harris, the daughter of privileged middle-class professionals.
Or, maybe, it’s just a good story to gather votes from an electorate that loves simplicity.
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