Monday, April 27, 2009

Our Kids

So there's this school. A public school. Let's call it Murroughs Elementary for the sake of anonymity. It has some of the nicest facilities in the city, including a state-of-the-art media center, a double-sized gymnasium, and a beautiful performance space. They recently raised over $90,000 in a book sale. Student's test scores at this school tend to exceed both district and national averages in reading and math. 72% of the students in this school are white despite the fact that white students make up only 30% of the district in general. A mere 6% of their students are African American even though African American students make up about 40% of the district. Native American students make up 1% of the school's population, Latino students make up 18%, and 4% of the children are Asian. The neighborhoods that this school serves are some of the wealthiest in the city. You know, the "good" neighborhoods.

Recently our district has been considering some major changes. They are thinking about adjusting the boundary lines that assign kids to particular schools in order to save money and also to integrate schools that have become incredibly racially and economically homogeneous. In a recent article about school segregation in the United States Matthew Bigg wrote: "the average black and Latino student is now in a school that has nearly 60 percent of students from families who are near or below the poverty line"(source) The article also mentioned that "39 percent of black students and 40 percent of students from the fast-growing Latino minority are increasingly isolated in schools in which there is little racial mixing".
To be honest, that seems like a modest statistic for me. Most of the kids who participate in Dinomights go to a school that is only 1% white and where 96% of the kids are economically challenged enough to qualify for free or reduced lunch. At Murroughs Elementary only 20% qualify.

Now when Murroughs Elementary heard that their borders might be modified, the school community had a panic attack. All of a sudden, they were faced with the threat of having to open their doors to "those kids". You know, those kids who live in 'bad' neighborhoods. Those Kids who speak languages like Hmong or Somali. Those kids who are poor. Those kids who are Muslim. Those kids who are black. Those kids who are 'ghetto'.

Of course, these politically correct parents didn't use the same language I did. They are much too liberal, open-minded, and progressive for that. They simply stated that their school would prefer to focus on the demographics they already have. They don't need to diversify any further because they have a program for Spanish speaking students, right? They have stepped far enough outside of their privileged white bubble, how could the city suggest mixing things up even more?!

Someone on the school board allegedly accused the school principal's position on the new policy of being racist. Uh-oh, he used "that" word. He "pulled the race card". Can you imagine the Murroughs Elementary parents NOW?? I mean, they have Latino students so they are clearly not discriminatory people. Heck, most of them probably even voted for Obama!
The first thought that came to my mind when I heard about this situation was that it was a modern day Little Rock Nine scenario. No, there is not an angry mob picketing outside the school, yelling racial slurs, and spitting on African American students (although there is certainly an angry mob of parents). But the message is the same. Keep those kids separate. Put them in their own school. Separate but equal! Sure, give them same amount of resources as you give us (we will be able to raise above and beyond whatever the gov't gives us anyway). Those kids will take away from the quality of my child's education. They are too different.

There are many things I love about the United States but our individualist attitude is killing us. Why can't it be our kids instead of those kids? Why can't some of the parents in this country who advocate for their kids to the point of excess share some of that advocacy with the underrepresented students in our schools? Life does not just revolve about you and your family. There is not an unlimited supply of resources on this planet. Your abundance directly affects another person's deprivation whether you choose to view the connection or not. If you need a selfish incentive, just remember that Those kids are going to be a part of the same adult community as your children. Isn't that enough of a reason to have a vested interest in the education of ALL of the kids in this city?

Those kids have names. Those kids are smart. Those kids have something to teach your children. Those kids have gifts and talents that will enrich your school community. Those kids need advocates. Those kids need people to walk along-side them. Those kids need to know that they are in a good school. Those kids need to be expected to succeed and given the resources to do so.

Your kids need to be exposed to wider demographics. Your kids have something to learn from children whose background is different from their own. Your kids need to learn not to fear. Your kids need to work alongside those kids as leaders in breaking down the racial and economic inequalities that are plaguing their world. Your kids need to know that despite what society subconsciously tells them, they are not better. Your kids need to share. Your kids need to know the poor--not by volunteering at a homeless shelter on Christmas when class lines are so visibly defined, but through genuine and personal relationships.

Let's combine these categories and embrace all children as ours and recognize the value and potential of each and every kid in this community. Let's get to know people and hear their stories. Let's acknowledge the invisible bat of privilege that white people are carrying around (it's especially dangerous when you don't know you are holding it). Let's get excited about educating our kids and share the *joy* of learning with all students! Let's realize how deeply injustices in education, housing, employment, and the environment are connected. Let's be realistic and face the complicities of race and class head on. Let's be vulnerable and honest in our effort to move forward. Let's SEE the overlooked children and empower them to take charge of their education. Let's do justice.

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Harman said...

THAT was AMAZING! Thank you SO much for writing that. You are awesome!

Harman said...

Right on! I couldn't agree more. You spoke this in a powerful way.

The other Harman

Anonymous said...

Beautifully done! You represent the very best of MPS.


Andrea H. said...

Wow I just love your new makeover on the top of your blog. And you look just stunning like a model. I don't you probably don't want to hear it but its true.

sarah bess said...


Leah Marie said...

LO VE LOVE LOVE LOVE it Kels... Thanks for writing this.

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Anonymous said...

Great blog. If we just realized that what is "best" for ourselves and our kids is making it just for everyone.