Tag Archives: social justice

School segregation, pt 2: mitigating the effects/what we can do

20 Oct

The hardest post of this series will be part 3, delving into the problems that I ran into when thinking about where to buy a house without perpetuating systemic inequality by focusing on “good” schools, and also the problem of “safe” as a coded word to mean “predominantly white” when describing neighborhoods.  But this is part 2, which are small solutions to the as-yet-undefined problems.

Income disparities and property taxes mean unequal funding for schools.  I can live in a less-desired neighborhood (which I won’t do, because I want my short commute times and walkability and access to grocery stores etc. and I am unwilling to sacrifice those things for my ideals), or I can advocate for mixed-income housing on a local level, and be a YIMBY (yes! In my backyard!)  Especially in Charlotte, where the city has agreed to add 5000 affordable housing units within the next few years- but where?  We were looking at Cherry, a historically black neighborhood (literally where the black servants of the rich white people lived)- the builders there are building some number of subsidized houses along with the expensive fancy houses (as in this program).  What’s nice is that it’s the same builder, so you can’t really tell from outside who has the fancy expensive house and who has the subsidized house across the street (and everyone gets new houses!).  So we can be like the neighbors there and advocate for mixed-income housing, or we can be NIMBYs like in this story and say that affordable houses will “hurt our property values.”  If you find yourself saying “I’m worried that X will hurt my property values,” you may be part of the problem.

PTA “dark money” keeps “good” public schools “good” when state budgets are cut.  Rich people who do opt to send their kids to public school often give lots of money to the PTA- there’s some amazing examples in this Atlantic article (Taylor Swift ticket auction vs. bake sale?!) Of course you aren’t going to stop giving money to your kids’ schools so they can have better playground equipment or science equipment or books etc.  So one thing that we can do is match our PTA donations- for every $1 we spend at our local school, we can send $1 to the PTA of a needier school in the city.  It’s a small, band-aid solution, but when you’re not a policy-maker you do the best you can.

Shouldn’t these problems be addressed at the policy level?  What can I do as an individual?  Nikole Hannah-Jones, whose NYT magazine piece really started my spouse and I on this journey, stated it well in an NPR interview:

“It is important to understand that the inequality we see, school segregation, is both structural, it is systemic, but it’s also upheld by individual choices,” she says. “As long as individual parents continue to make choices that only benefit their own children … we’re not going to see a change.”

If you’re a podcast listener, Hannah-Jones also appears on this episode of This American Life talking about the same issue.  (She also just won the Macarthur so she is no lightweight).  So do the things I list in this post!

School rankings on real estate sites mostly show you how rich and white a school is. They use Greatschools.org info, which relies on standardized test scores.  So if you’re like my spouse and filter your real estate search by school scores, you’re just filtering for the white neighborhoods.  From this Washington Post article:

As research has found, school factors explain only about 20 percent of achievement scores — about a third of what student and family background characteristics explain. Consequently, test scores often tell us much more about demography than about schools.

Instead of relying only on a number, try visiting the schools and talking to the people there about your own kids’ needs.  My kids are very young, but based on the evidence we have we’ll want a school with some gifted and talented programs, and light on homework, and a lot of emphasis on social learning/getting along with others (I have a shy guy toddler).  So a high-power, worksheet and results focused school is probably not for us.

When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.  Corollary: naming a problem can make you feel defensive, like these Seattle white progressive parents .  Try not go be like them.  As I noted in a previous post, people don’t like being called racist- people didn’t even like it when I called myself racist!  Let’s try to quell our knee-jerk reactions to the problem of school segregation and think about what we can do.  To be clear, I am writing from a huge position of privilege.  You know what correlates strongly with kids’ academic achievement?  Their mothers’ education level.  My kids are maxed out on that.  So I can talk about these issues and freely decide what schools to send my kids to, and they’ll be fine pretty much anywhere they go.  Other people don’t have such advantages.  Here’s an anonymous quote that I loved about this topic, to finish off the post:

We have to balance many variables in making our choices. But there are others too–and they concern not only who we want our child to be, but the society we want our child to live in.

If you want to read more about the topic of school segregation, I suggest googling Nikole Hannah-Jones and checking out this great Facebook page (LA-centric), Integrated Schools.

 

 

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School segregation, pt 1: grappling with our racism

26 Jul

I’ve been trying to get this post out for a month and finally have decided that I’ll break it up into mini-posts in order to publish anything at all.  Yes, I finished my thesis and packed my house, but my mom was here to help with the kids during that time.  Now that thesis is done, mom is back in California, and it’s just me and kids and house-selling.  Mostly the kids part is what takes up my time and energy.  But they’re so cute!  Here’s a pic of me and baby napping on an air mattress during a trip to my brothers’ house.IMG_3825

We went on a house hunting trip to Charlotte, NC, where we’re moving at the end of the summer.  When my spouse was in high school there, Charlotte public schools were still integrated.  But in 2001, mandatory busing was ruled down, and now Charlotte schools are again segregated neighborhood schools (because housing is segregated/there are segregated neighborhoods): here’s the article summing this up.  As we looked at houses, we also looked at what schools they were zoned into, and the makeup of those schools.  I was amazed looking at greatschools.com how very close to 100% black and 100% white schools there are.  Public schooling is really important to us (we both went to public schools, and ideologically we believe in them), but when we consider school zones when choosing a house, are we being racist?  By which I mean, are we perpetuating structural inequalities based on race?  I think so!

We read the NYT Magazine article a few years ago about choosing a school in a segregated city, and the following quote is from a follow-up NPR interview:

 “It is important to understand that the inequality we see, school segregation, is both structural, it is systemic, but it’s also upheld by individual choices,” she says. “As long as individual parents continue to make choices that only benefit their own children … we’re not going to see a change.”

There’s a new, controversial book out called Dream Hoarders, which has as a thesis that the top 20% of Americans by income “hoard” resources etc. for their children and hence hurt the American Dream of upward mobility for anyone.  They also made a cute little game explaining it, here.  And here’s an excerpt from the book if you want more.

An excerpt from the excerpt:

There is clear danger of a vicious cycle developing here. As inequality between the upper middle class and the rest grows, parents will become more determined to ensure their children stay near the top. We will work hard to put a “glass floor” under them, to prevent them from falling down the chutes. Inequality and immobility thus become self-reinforcing.

Downward mobility is not a wildly popular idea, to say the least. But it is a stubborn mathematical fact that, at any given time, the top fifth of the income distribution can accommodate only 20 percent of the population. Relative intergenerational mobility is necessarily a zero-sum game. For one person to move up the ladder, somebody else must move down. Sometimes that will have to be one of our own children. Otherwise the glass floor protecting affluent kids from falling acts also as a glass ceiling, blocking upward mobility for those born on a lower rung of the ladder. The problem we face is not just class separation, but class perpetuation.

So so far we have two different but very related topics that are affected by my individual choice of where to buy a house and send my kids to school: perpetuating class inequality, and perpetuating racial segregation.  When it comes down to it, of  course we try to choose the “best” fit for our kids, but we need to really explore and come to terms with what we mean by “best.”  Do we mean best test scores?  Because those correlate with family income.  Do we mean best teachers?  How do we put a metric on teachers?  How do we put a metric on schools at all?

In this series I’ll write posts about how we address the two topics (sneak peak: we will do so by trying to mitigate our effects as gentrifiers in the neighborhoods we choose).  And I’ll post pictures of my kids!

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