I have been doing A LOT of processing lately. This week marks my last week student teaching and, to sum it up quickly, it’s been rough. Don’t get me wrong, the school where I am at has a lot of good things going for it and I would never speak against it. However, just like any urban charter school (or quite frankly, any urban school), it is experiencing a lot of challenges, from little funding to high staff and student turnover to trying to be a Montessori school in a test-driven political climate where clearly no one in power ever went to Montessori school. It has been really really hard to work in a setting where I have no clue what happens in my students’ lives between the hours of 3:30pm and 8:30am and where there isn’t the money or resources for my students to receive all the support that they need or the education they deserve.
And to be honest, this semester has left me feeling fed up. Not with my students, who are so bright and beautiful and young, or the teachers who try their hardest to teach them, or their parents/family members who often times work two jobs, or with the administrators who do their best to keep the school afloat. This semester has left me fed up with other groups: with academics (for their myriad theories and scarcity of actions), with politicians (for caring about themselves more than their constituents), and, most of all, with one group in particular (the group I happened to have grown up with and still live within) people in white (middle class) suburbia.
Because you know what, friends in white suburbia?
The United States is still segregated.
And why should that matter?
Because you are helping to make it so.
Don’t get me wrong, I full-on grew up in white suburbia. The suburb I lived in growing up was something along the lines of 97% white, and pretty well off as well, with the median household income being $97,725. I went to a church that had about 1500 people worshipping a week, and, I kid you not, all but a handful of families I can think of were white. As someone currently living in an even more affluent, though slightly less white, suburb, I know what it is like to not live in the city. And I get just how white and middle class suburbia can be. But you know what I am fed up with? The fact that all of us in white suburbia are perfectly okay with how white it is. Why is it that white, guys? Who is choosing to make it that white (or that middle class)? Did we really forget, that easily, that we were the ones who made it that way? We chose to move into the suburbs. We chose to stay there. We chose to not have public housing built there. And we chose to take all of our lovely middle and upper middle class resources with us, and leave the schools in the city with nothing. (Whoever decided to have schools receive funding from property taxes was clearly not a proponent of social equality.)
I think what has made me so frustrated this semester, commuting back and forth between an urban school and my suburban college town, and what makes me so frustrated with all these dialogues regarding the achievement gap and urban ed reform is that, in my mind, the solution is so simple. It’s not school choice or charter schools or longer school days or “better” (less-prepared) teachers or more standardized testing. All it is is this:
Going back in time, stopping our white flight, and desegregating urban and suburban schools.
I’m certainly not the first to say this, and decidedly not the last. And I will keep saying it until the voice for it becomes stronger. If we, in white suburbia, really think schools in the inner-city should be better (maybe we don’t, but if we do), then we should send our white children, and not just checks or box tops, to them. We should bus our kids into the city, just like black kids, and only black kids, were forced to take the bus to far off schools in order to desegregate. Many people I’ve met and know in white suburbia have the idea that the U.S. is a post-racial society and they don’t think racism still exists. After all, U.S. law doesn’t “allow” for it, and look who’s President? A black guy. If that is so, and if we are a post-racial society, then we in white suburbia should have no problem sending our kids to schools that aren’t primarily white, and, in fact, might be primarily black or Hispanic. If we have no problem with people from different social classes, and if we truly appreciate the work Wal-mart cashiers or nursing home aides do (often times taking care of our own relatives), then we should have no problem sending our kids to the same schools as their kids. If we truly care about making urban education reform happen, then we should be okay with making it happen at the cost of our own children. We should be sticking our kids in the same schools that urban kids are being stuck in, because, after all, those are apparently good schools, or at least good enough for the kids in the city. To put it point blank: if we think those schools are good enough for those kids, then they should be good enough for ours. No questions asked.
And if you think these ideas are crazy, then you should check your privilege and post-racial society thinking at the door and realize that the schools we are sending urban kids to are not good enough. If they are not good enough for your middle class white kids, then they are not good enough. Don’t act as if more charter schools, longer school days, more testing, and less-prepared teachers are the solution. If you wouldn’t send your white child to a school that has ten hour school days, or teachers with only six weeks of training, or not enough money to pay for a decent playground, then your idea for reform is not the solution. Send your children to these schools. Have them be in the same classes as kids who haven’t had the same privileges they’ve had. Share your resources. See if there is enough to go around. And if there isn’t, figure it out so that it’s not just your own children getting everything, and children with much less still getting much less.
Don’t just accept white suburbia as the end all, be all for how society should look, and don’t expect others to make the first moves. We’re going to have to be the first ones to do it. We’re the the ones with privilege. We’re the ones with choice. We’re the ones who left.
And to my Christian friends in the suburbs who want to send their children to a Christian school, there are lots of urban Christian schools out there. Don’t let your faith stop you (especially, when, Lord knows, it should be encouraging you even more to create systems that are more favorable towards the poor).
Thoughts? Think this is the best/worst idea in the world? Post your reactions below! For reals, do it! I love dialogue.