I’ll never forget the interaction with a parent of two boys who came to a school closure meeting to have her say about our district’s plan to shutter what looked like a failing school.
I was suit-and-tie school board member full of school reform vigor. She was a homeless mother who presented visual cues of a person going through some things. Yet, she still made it to our farce of
“It’s the only good school we’ve had,” she told me.
That was an incredible comment. Good school? It’s test scores were subzero and it’s principal out of prayers.
Why would she stump for this terrible school?
Even more baffling, as her story unfolded I learned she took two buses each day to get her kids to this school.
“We come all the way from St. Paul,” she told me. After her transitional housing shelter moved across the river she was determined to keep her boys in this Minneapolis Public School even if it meant a long and winding road there.
As she talked I realized how easy it is to miss our blind spots when planning.
She said one of her boys had been kicked out of several district schools until they found one that worked. It happened to be the only school on the poorer side of town that had an autism program (at the time it was assumed that 80% of autism cases were in the wealthier part of the district – go figure).
For this mother, the choice of a school my board saw as being academically inferior was actually a smart choice informed by her experience. It was rational, logical, and purposeful.
She was not a passive actor or the hologram we hold up in discussion of parents in poverty.
Or so I thought. What I hadn’t considered at the time is that the reason she chose this school was that she was just plain stupid and woefully disengaged.
Wait. What? I know, that’s a harsh turn for this story to take? Hear me out.
To clarify, her stupidity it’s the logical outcome of a powerful narrative carelessly abounding in education rhetoric.
As an example, look to Glenn Sacks, a Los Angeles teacher, whose OpEd in the Washington Examiner recooks the classist trope about district parents in low-income schools being less acute than those who opt for schools of choice.
You will have to read closely for it because it’s so slight you might miss it in the hackneyed word soup he’s boiled, but it’s on the flip side of his claim that charters “boast of their innovations and ideas, but they “win” because they cherry-pick their students.”
More than being selective, he means charters draw better parents than the
The pursuit of a charter school is powerful evidence of a student’s and family’s commitment to education — a factor strongly correlated with academic success. Even fervent charter advocate David Osborne acknowledges “families have to choose charter schools, so kids with disengaged families are more likely to remain in district schools … this gives charters an advantage.”
[Sacks truncates Osborne’s quote, which says the supposed advantages of parents who choose charter schools rather than be assigned to district schools disappears when you account for the $2,000 less funding charters get in comparison to district schools.]
Both Sacks and Osborne – though nations apart on charter school policy – arrive on common ground with the integrity and intelligence of low-income parents buried beneath them.
To be fair, Sacks’ argument has valid claims for thinking people to dispute: Charters use sorting tactics when recruiting, enrolling, and dismissing students. They hire young teachers who are willing to work long hours for less pay (oh jeez!). And, because money follows the student to charters it leaves districts with deficits.
That last claim is important because when we say charters take money from cash strapped districts we’re not being specific enough. If the money moves from this place to that place, what is the vehicle?
Of course, it is the parent who chooses a non-district option. Normally that parent, especially when low-income, would be a sympathetic figure. She loses that sympathy when she threatens the livelihood of public employees who have a vested interest in preventing parents from seeking educators outside of
Sacks and others separate the charter-choosing parent from the district-assigned parent and then speculate a wide difference in their parental engagement, motivation, and sadly,
The charter-choosing parent is assumed to be smart enough to get their kids out of declining schools, and they probably have better kids – those worthy of “cherry-picking.”
By contrast, the district-assigned parent is a wretched leach with kids nobody wants.
Though 99% of their demographic characteristics may be the same, one becomes imminently more qualified as a parent simply by the act of filling out a charter school application.
The other is invisible and a burden.
It should be shocking that middle-class educators with college degrees and above average occupational benefits trade in these hasty, dehumanizing generalizations. Even you the reader might harbor similarly classist stereotypes about the low-income parent who passively allows their kids to be redlined into the dark underbelly of public schools. Please, reconsider.
No blog post I could write will move you from that position, but I’m compelled to ask you to consider the choosing versus assigned parent trope might be more projection than the inerrant word of scholarship.
In fact, charter enrollment in Sacks’ state is similar to traditional schools.
Even if they weren’t it would be inappropriate to say a class of parents should not have a choice because it burdens other systems with the wrong class of students. That’s injurious to the former and insulting to the latter.
The choice of parents isn’t a toy of social engineers no matter how well-meaning, and public employees and their systems are not entitled to our loyalty. Public education should be done to people, and in fact, it should require the consent of the governed. A child may not be fully capable and authorized to determine how, when, where, and what she will learn, but the next closest agent of her overall care and welfare, her parent, should be sovereign in the decision-making process.
And no “public” servant should stand in her way simply to profit from her trapping.
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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