How Are The Children? Find The Answer In Policies That Rank System Above Students

This morning’s headlines were so tragic that I had to cut short my morning Twitter curating time. Before I knew it I had slipped into darkness, enveloped by it, even as the sun was doing her best work.

On my timeline this morning: the heartwrenching video of a Kurdish mom holding her dying baby girl; a heart-stopping video recreated from a scene from the movie The Kingsman: The Secret Service where President Trump slaughters his enemies including news and social justice organizations inside a church; and if that wasn’t enough to make me wanna holla, the nonstop news about the unwarranted killing of 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson at the hands of Ft. Worth police sealed the deal.

Value Assignment

The thread running through each of these events is how little certain lives are valued. The president makes a move that puts Kurds’ lives in immediate danger. Americans enamored by a video that celebrates mass shootings and murder of journalists and Black Lives Matter. Atatiana Jefferson and several other Black women and men murdered for — breathing.

Last year, after reading Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities, I wrote about the value of certain lives as it pertains to education. In his book, Kozol brazenly asks, “Who Is Likely To Return The Most To Our Society?” and “How much is it worth investing in this child as opposed to that one?” It was clear to me then, as it is now, policy decisions are made based on who policymakers believe will return the most to society or even their own livelihoods.

Who is assigned the most value in the following scenarios?

North Carolina

Over the weekend, a group of North Carolina school choice parents crashed a symposium held specifically to denigrate charter schools. Edu-experts at the event torpedoed the crowd with scary words like “privatization” and “racism” to make the case against schools that are, in fact, changing the trajectories for Black and Brown students across the country.

California

Last week, Los Angeles resident Seth Litt tweeted an unreal bit of news about a pending Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) resolution that will assault parents’ rights to information about their children’s academic progress: On November 5th the @LASchools board will vote on whether or not to make student growth data available to educators and to families. Rather than just measure how many kids “pass the test” this data would show how much progress children make at each school.”

LAUSD is the second-largest school district in America and is 73% Latino, 8% Black, and nearly 80% low-income. LAUSD doesn’t think its parents deserve information about how well or if their children are progressing.

America’s Integration Games

I would be a wealthy woman if I had a dollar for every time integration is named the solution to Black and Brown children’s education woes. Look, I bought into the promise back in high school, so I’m part of the problem. It never occurred to me that the school district imprinted upon my psyche that my best opportunity for educational success was to strip me from my neighborhood, send me to a community that did not want me and spend 30+ hours a week with kids who believed I was out of place.

But, again, I bought into the whole damn thing. By our senior year, I believed we, the class of 1989, had figured out the race thing. Our senior class leadership was diverse as were our superlatives. We had a Black homecoming queen and yours truly was the first Black girl on the prom court. We did good. Or so I thought.

Three weeks ago I attended my 30-year high school reunion. My two besties and I walked into a room split down the middle with Black middle-aged classmates on one side and White middle-aged classmates on the other. Pam Rowe, an educator in Atlanta Public Schools, had this to say on Facebook:

Still reflecting on HLHS 89 class reunion and the things no one wants to say aloud… The more things change the more they stay the same. We weren’t integrated… we were desegregated. It was still great seeing everybody, but the reality of that experiment ain’t pretty.

In our case, the social aspect of integration was a failure. Are we smarter, wealthier, different because we went to school alongside middle-class White students in their ‘hood? No. However, we certainly had access to more classes, excellent educators, and MORE everything because we were in a majority White school in a middle-class community.

As Chris Stewart, CEO of Education Post wrote recently (just a couple of days after my reunion), Integration Is a Noble Goal But Obsessing Over It Shouldn’t Distract Us From Improving Teaching and Learning:

We know too much about the importance of in-school interventions to stand still while integration-or-bust zealots weaponize sociological research to distract us from the mission to improve teacher quality, pedagogy, curriculum, behavior management, science-based practices. Integration, nowhere on the horizon, lets education leaders off the hook for fixing their systems now.

I appreciate Stewart’s modern-day context for my high school experience and 30-year high school reunion, but it was his radio interview that forced me to confront what I had experienced only a couple days before. Please do yourself a favor and check it out.

Value Assessment

In each of the scenarios above, it’s clear that the powers make decisions based on who or what brings the most value to the system and agents of the system. We are talking about a system ill-designed to meet the needs of most of the students it serves. A system that caters to and mostly benefits the haves.

  • In North Carolina, school choice threatens the status quo putting jobs in jeopardy. Value is assigned to the system protectors.
  • In California, the LAUSD school district believes sharing student growth scores with parents could hurt schools’ reputations. Value is assigned to the system.
  • Throughout the country, integration is seen as the Great Savior placing the onus on Black and Brown families to leave their communities and assigning inestimable value to White bodies and spaces.

We need elected representatives who are pro-child. We need unbought public servants who believe all children can and will learn in a space equipped with a spectrum of resources and satisfied teachers. We need people who understand parents are equal partners and make it their mission to engage them.

How are the children? Just don’t ask the system-protectors.

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