A perfect metaphor for white privilege, courtesy of Quora

Answer by Omar Ismail, Stand Up Comedian, on Quora.

I am white. That's all you know about me. Am I privileged based on that alone and assuming I am, should I feel guilt and what should I do about it?

Absolutely.

Consider it this way. All I know about you is you’re tall.

Do you have any advantages?

Yes.

Does that mean you don’t deserve the can of tuna on the higher shelf? No. Nobody is saying that. Eat away mighty giant.

Should you feel guilty about getting the tuna from the top shelf? No. Nobody is saying that. Lighten your soul’s burden and let it fly free in the clouds beneath your knees.

Does that mean short people can’t get the tuna? No. Nobody is saying that.

Does that mean there aren’t disadvantages of being tall? No.

Nobody is saying that. You have our sympathy for your poor bruised knees.

What people are saying is:

  1. Denying you are lucky is silly.
  2. Stop looking bewildered every time a short person can’t reach something. We’re sick of explaining this incredibly simple concept.
  3. We know there are things you do not have (i.e. even higher shelves).
  4. We know there may be other things preventing you reaching the high shelves. Maybe you have bad elbows or arthritis. Short people with arthritis are still below you. You are still lucky you are tall.
  5. It works out well for most people, for the grocery store to put most things on medium shelves.
  6. If you can help shorter people with things on higher shelves, do so. Why would you not do that? Short people can help you with stuff on lower shelves.
  7. We are annoyed that the people who run the grocery store put all the best stuff on the top shelves.
  8. There are a lot of people who are putting things on higher shelves because they hate short people. Don’t associate with those people. They want everything to be about this height:
hitler stands with arms outstretched.jpg

 

Same with white. Advantages. It doesn’t mean you’re rich. It doesn’t mean you’re luckier than a lucky black guy. Nobody wants you to be crippled with guilt. Nobody has ever wanted that, or means those things.

It means you have an advantage, and all anyone is asking is that you *get* that. Once you get that, it’s pretty straightforward to all the further implications.

 

This question originally appeared on QuoraI am white. That's all you know about me. Am I privileged based on that alone and assuming I am, should I feel guilt and what should I do about it?

Guest Post: Remembering Edith Windsor, 1929-2017

edie-windsor.jpg

By Beth Hawkins

Look at this photo of Edie Windsor. When was she ever photographed looking anything other than confident and jubilant, arms extended and something bright, some swath of super-saturated color breaking up her otherwise conservative attire?

To me, photos of her are invariably mesmerizing. What does it feel like to be so free? So utterly at home in your skin and alive in your world?

For a moment when I saw a photo of her standing in front of the U.S. Supreme Court flash by this afternoon I was elated and then confused. And then of course it was clear, without so much as a headline, why: Windsor died today at 88.

I have of course read tens of thousands of words about Windsor, whose effort to recover the estate taxes she was forced to pay following the death of her spouse, Thea Spyer, turned into United States v. Windsor, the 2013 case in which the high court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act.

But tonight reading the New York Times obituary made me sad on a new level. Windsor’s life story is so remarkable, her willingness in an era when it was very unsafe to be true to who she knew she was, to be out—truly dramatically out—and to occupy roles women did not play.

An even more compelling read: In an example of profile-writing at its best, in the wake of DOMA’s demise The New Yorker profiled Windsor and her lawyer, Robbie Kaplan, describing Windsor’s days as an LGBT activist and chronicling her relationship with her attorney.

It’s a wonderful piece, colorful and unabashedly gay. Sample: “Provided that Kaplan kept her client muzzled on the topic, Americans could imagine that Edie Windsor had aged out of carnality.”

I am sad because I know that it will likely be a long time before Windsor’s story is presented as part of the canon of American history. Because I know how many young people—girls especially—would be more likely to embrace their sexual orientation or gender identity after learning about Windsor’s fierce and colorful life.

A little of this sadness is for me—what would life have been like if my classes had been filled with tales of heroes I could identify with? But mostly I am sad that we told our children that all families are equal and it’s love that makes a home, but we can’t get LGBT stories into schools.

There are lots of curricular resources and classroom guides out there for teachers who want to teach gay history or create LGBT inclusive lessons. I had to hunt a little to find it, but there’s even a resource (outdated, but hey) for teaching about the DOMA decision and about Windsor.

Yet we also know that teachers in the main don’t touch LGBT topics. Many worry they will face student or parent pushback, or do not believe their administrators will back them if they do. Many feel unsure about everything from proper terminology to fear of the imagined sex part of sexual orientation.

There are eight states where it is illegal for educators to talk to students about LGBT topics–to mention that Oscar Wilde was gay or Freida Kahlo bisexual. Illegal. So why should it surprise us that in most school’s there’s silence?

Whatever the next chapter of the LGBT fight for equality and inclusion, I have a feeling we’re nowhere near helping the adults in our schools feel safe enough to offer a safe space for the kids. Mostly I just pray we’re watching the dinosaur’s death rattle, you know?

In my fantasy version of reality, where marriage equality was followed by affirming classrooms, tomorrow Windsor’s bold and joyful photos will grace whiteboards throughout the country for one more reason: Because she was living proof that it’s possible, simply by refusing to shirk your truth, to shape history.

Windsor waited 40 years to marry her love. And she insisted on pressing her estate tax case at a moment in history when lots of LGBT rights organizations demurred on such challenges, wanting plaintiffs who presented as pure and perfect political timing.

And she won. Near the end of her life, she was present as the Supreme Court agreed with her argument in the case bearing her name that discrimination can’t be enshrined in U.S. law. She got to hear that news, field a phone call from Barack Obama, and—the only dry-eyed person in the room–to ask to celebrate in front of the nation’s first LGBT national monument.

I leave you with her beautiful photo, and with a particularly lovely passage from Ariel Levy’s New Yorker story, “The Perfect Wife”:

Finally, Windsor was taken where she really wanted to go: Stonewall. When she got out of the car, at Christopher Street, there were hundreds of people chanting her name. Windsor got up on the podium, in her shiny purple shirt, with the pin on her lapel, and, as she looked at the crowd, she said, “Now’s the part when I try not to cry.”

 

An original version of this post first appeared on Beth Hawkins' blog.

My only honest opinion about Washington’s ESSA plan is to reject it entirely

Check out this blog post from the Washington State Superintendent’s Office (OSPI). It’s supposed to explain how our state will hold public schools accountable for educating all kids.

Thanks to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), each state is required to have a plan for this if they want to continue getting money from the federal government. But instead of clarifying anything, their blog post reads like a user’s manual that’s been translated from English to German and back to English again.

Here’s an excerpt (if your eyes start to cross, just skip to the next paragraph):

In order to measure school performance and identify schools who need further support, the Accountability System Workgroup voted to recommend that each school’s performance be measured on a 1–10 scale for each measure. These scales will be frozen, allowing schools to move around as they make progress between years. The multiple measures that make up this performance framework will be calculated for both the school as a whole and for all subgroups, which will unmask student subgroups. The lowest performing five percent of schools will be identified for comprehensive support, and any student subgroup that falls below the five percent threshold will be identified for targeted support, separate from comprehensive support.

Then, with no further explanation, we are given this equally confusing graphic to look at:

oblique ESSA graphic

 

What About Parents Like Me?

This is all supposed to provide clarity for parents like me who send their kids to schools like Emerson.

Emerson is our neighborhood elementary school, and my son is a third-grader there. He and the vast majority of his fellow students are students of color, and it’s one of just a couple schools in Seattle whose free/reduced lunch percentages are so high that every kid gets to eat for free.

We are starting this new school year with our third new principal in four years. We’re excited about the new leadership, and we love the diversity of the student body and the staff. But the fact remains that we don’t have the resources or the outcomes at Emerson that more affluent schools enjoy in Seattle.

Ours is a school that has been neglected by the system for decades now. So you’ll excuse me if I have a hard time seeing how this chart will do anything to change that. (Also, for what it’s worth, it looks like they chose the chart’s color palette from the patterned Crock-Pot my parents got as a wedding gift in the late ’70s.)

I’m Losing Faith

It makes me question the whole premise of creating a “state accountability plan” under ESSA. Why are we investing all this time and effort in creating a system that has no backbone, that doesn’t even try to solve our greatest issues?

As a parent of Black children, as a parent feeling concerned about the significant equity issues in our schools, this plan doesn’t connect to reality for me. It assumes the status quo is a reasonable starting point.

Seattle has the fifth-worst achievement gap between Black students and white students in the nation. We’ve been found guilty of disproportionately disciplining Black students across the district. These are not abstract figures. These are real kids, people’s beloved children, being chewed up and spit out by an unfair, racist system. How is this state accountability system going to help me as a parent?

The truth is, it can’t help me. It can’t help my kids. Because that’s not what it was designed to do.

Washington State was given a chance to redesign what we do in our schools by asking and answering some big questions: What will we reward? What do we truly value? What will we do to make sure our systems and our schools and our teachers treat all kids and families fairly and with respect?

But instead of meeting these deep-seated issues with vulnerability and courage, we buried them in the weeds of our ESSA plan, slapping a new name on the same limited scope and timid vision that have been guiding our schools since forever.

It’s not enough.

Sure, the plan acknowledges our opportunity and achievement gaps, but it takes only the smallest of steps toward closing them. It will give Emerson slightly different amounts of money for slightly different reasons. But it fails to address the source of Emerson’s neglect and instead merely changes the bandages on our gaping wound. It can only hope to stop the bleeding, not to actually heal anything.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I need Washington’s ESSA plan, frankly, to read like an anti-bias manifesto, or I don’t care about it. I need it not to simply acknowledge and pay lip service to systemic racism and classism and the gaps they create. I need our state’s plan to acknowledge that nothing else matters until these gaps are closed -- that if our schools are setting some students up for success at the expense of others, then our schools are part of the problem of systemic division and oppression that plagues our country as a whole.

We know firsthand in Washington state what’s possible when you take bold direct action in the name of human rights. Our voices legalized gay marriage and public school choice. We’ve been a standard-bearer for the rest of the nation in standing up to oppressive federal legislation this year.

But when it comes to our kids and our schools, we’re quiet. We’re accepting of milquetoast. We’re willing to let our schools be so much less than they must be.

An inequitable school system fails everyone by perpetuating disparity and discrimination. Our statewide school leaders are failing us in the same way by accepting this incremental, play-it-safe plan. It’s time to start thinking differently about “fixing” education.

We don’t need education reform. We need an education revolution. And maybe that starts by more boldly and more strongly rejecting the systems that keep us from realizing those changes.

Washington’s ESSA plan is the latest and greatest extension of that willingness to make slow, barely noticeable “progress” at the expense of our currently vulnerable students and families. It’s a written testament to our passive approach to school reform.

So, my only honest response to Washington’s ESSA plan is to say, no. Our kids need a revolution and you’re offering a clean band-aid. It’s not enough.

I'm glad I found this event flyer from Seattle's 'Radical Women' in the street today

I'm glad I found this event flyer from Seattle's 'Radical Women' in the street today

"

I was walking across the street in Columbia City with my younger son today when I saw a yellow flyer sitting face down in the road. It caught my eye for some reason, so I doubled back a couple steps and grabbed it.

Lo and behold, it was about two events being put on by the Seattle chapter of Radical Women. Here's the mission statement from their Facebook page, if you don't know about them. It's one of the best things I've read in ages:

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With opposition fading, charter schools in Washington continue to grow to meet growing demand

With opposition fading, charter schools in Washington continue to grow to meet growing demand

"As we greet a new school year and say goodbye to another summer, I can’t help but notice that the rabid fervor over charter schools in Washington State has mostly flamed out.

At this time last year, everyone was still up in arms. The Washington Education Association had just led the filing of another lawsuit against the charter sector in an effort to maintain its monopoly on free public education.

Our state attorney general had just entered the fray, and the NAACP had issued its first suggestion of a nationwide moratorium on charter schools.

By February of this year, however, a judge had ruled in favor of charter schools, and the several months since have seen them slip — at last — out of the limelight for a moment. "

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Our country is in chaos, and I still took my sons to their first day of school

At this time last year, I wrote about Julian’s first day of second grade. I can hardly believe how different the world seems just a year later.

For one thing, Julian wasn’t the only one who started school this fall. My almost-three-year-old son Zeke went to his first day of preschool yesterday, too. We found a brand new preschool in the south end of Seattle basing its program around an anti-bias curriculum, and Zeke will be spending a few hours there every morning now.

That also means, of course, that I had three childless weekday hours to myself yesterday. Unheard of. I went to the bathroom without being interrupted for the first time in weeks. I played the piano for almost half an hour without anyone sneaking up behind me, grabbing my shirt and trying to yank me backwards onto the floor. I did some writing and answered some long-overdue emails. You know, the exciting stuff.

But it’s not just in my own home and my own routines that things have changed. Our country is in obvious chaos.

Flood waters are covering the Houston area. Hurricane Irma has already claimed lives in the Caribbean islands and is headed next for Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

Wildfires are ravaging vast tracts of land throughout the Northwest, leaving us safe in Seattle but blanketed by an eerie haze of smoke, an ominous film that matches the feeling I have that right now, every day in America is a loaded gun.

Our government is openly sanctioning racism, police violence, oppression and suppression. Basically, it's doing what it's always done to us, but it's not even having the decency to try to cover it up anymore. Most of us are responding by feeling like deer in headlights, wringing our hands and talking angrily and feeling appalled, but ultimately carrying on as though the system will change itself, or at best spinning our wheels trying to resist something so monolithic.

It feels like something is about to break. Like America’s bubble is stretched thin and about to burst. And maybe that’s a good thing, as tumultuous and painful as it is in the meantime, because for all its faults, the Trump administration did not invent racism and division in America. The Republican regime is only vocalizing and expanding on our racist past and present, stoking fires from coals that have never stopped burning hot.

And with all this happening, I dropped my son off at public school yesterday. Government-run, government-mandated public school, in a country whose government is openly oppressing people like my son and operating on systems I don’t believe in and can’t support.

I wanted to write about my hopes and dreams for Julian and Zeke for this school year. I wanted to think of their beautiful faces and their beautiful futures. Instead, I feel fear and conflict. Am I sending Julian into the belly of the beast? Am I contributing to the system and complicit in its ills?

I believe that I am, if I'm being truly honest with myself.

So, what then? When will enough be enough? When will I be willing to make changes as drastic as the depth of the problems we face?

Longer school days are about to start in Seattle

Longer school days are about to start in Seattle

"A new school year starts next Wednesday for Seattle Public Schools, and our kids will spend 20 minutes longer in class each day than they have the past few years.

The district says the change will give teachers more time for collaboration and students more time to be schooled."

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Time is running out! Public comment on ESSA in Washington State ends Tuesday

Time is running out! Public comment on ESSA in Washington State ends Tuesday

"This is our last chance to ask the important questions. Does Washington's ESSA plan protect our most vulnerable students? Is our plan bold enough to truly eliminate our state's significant opportunity and achievement gaps? Will every student genuinely have the opportunity to succeed under this plan?

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Mark your calendar for a national live TV event to take our schools back to the drawing board

All four major TV networks will simultaneously broadcast the same live event next week, a special called XQ Super School Live that aims to rethink high school in America.

Tune in Sept. 8 at 5 p.m. Pacific on NBC, ABC, CBS or Fox (but preferably not Fox, since they're ultimately more tied to this Fox News nonsense than the other networks) for XQ Super School's live event.

Some super famous people — like Tom Hanks, Samuel L. Jackson, Common and Jennifer Hudson — will join students, parents and educations to rethink America's high schools. Viola Davis and Julius Tennon are executive producers.

XQ Super Schools is an organization run by Russlynn Ali, former assistant secretary of civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education, working to transform schools into Super Schools, equipping students and teachers for what's yet to come in a way that's never been done.

"For the past 100 years, America's high schools have remained virtually unchanged" reads the XQ Super Schools website. "Yet the world around us has transformed dramatically. It's time to turn the American spirit of ingenuity towards our high schools and come together as a nation to give our students the education they deserve."

I have no idea how this will go, but there will be music and comedy sketches, and in general I love the spirit of it. It's almost hard to believe that all four major TV networks are together pausing to acknowledge that we need to completely redesign our system of education. I also appreciate that the cast of celebrities are majority people of color. These kinds of conversations will help to normalize the reality that our schools need drastic changes.

Find out how to host a viewing party in your community!

Guest Post: I Was a Racist Teacher and I Didn’t Even Know It

Guest Post: I Was a Racist Teacher and I Didn’t Even Know It

"I was a racist teacher and I didn’t recognize it.

At the time that I taught, I would have argued that I was the opposite. I was a progressive, a Democrat. I campaigned in my progressive town in Western North Carolina for the first Black man to run for the U.S. Senate against a notorious racist from our state, Jesse Helms. I voted for Obama, even volunteered in his office during the 2008 campaign."

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Can ESSA encourage more social-emotional learning in school?

Can ESSA encourage more social-emotional learning in school?

"Students don't fare as well academically when they're not able to handle the emotional rigors of being a human, or the social pressures of growing up. When their basic needs aren't being met, or when they're consistently the targets of racist thoughts, words and deeds.

Schools won't be able to fully address students' social and emotional development without acknowledging race and inequity. If they're forced to improve SEL, it may gradually force schools to create a better environment for students of color and students from low-income families -- those typically on the wrong side of the opportunity gap.

Pushing schools to focus on SEL could be a sneaky tool for equity in the end."

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This Mom's Letter to Her Son Starting Middle School Is All You Need

This Mom's Letter to Her Son Starting Middle School Is All You Need

"Remember that we will always love you. Dad and I are here for you anytime you need us and there is nothing you can say or do that will make us stop loving you. If you have questions, we will find answers. If you are unsure how to handle a situation, we will gladly give you guidance. If your heart is breaking, we will dry your tears. If you have made a mistake, we will help you amend it. If you are about to explode with joy, we will share your happiness. All you have to do is talk to us. We are NEVER too busy for you, and your 'problems' are NEVER too small or too big. All you have to do is talk. We will listen. I promise."

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Get a firsthand look this week at Summit Atlas, Seattle's newest public charter school

Get a firsthand look this week at Summit Atlas, Seattle's newest public charter school

Summit Public Schools is inviting the entire community to join them in celebrating the official opening of Summit Atlas, their new public charter school in West Seattle.

In addition to a tour of the building, students and families will be on-hand to discuss why they chose Summit Atlas, and the new school's founding principal will be there to answer questions as well.

Lots of folks with lots of different opinions about charters have never actually been inside of one. I think it's a great opportunity for folks to get a firsthand look at what a charter school really looks like and to hear from the real people involved in making it what it is.

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An Eckstein Middle School parent asks: 'What about red and black or yellow and white and black? How does supporting Black Lives Matter help that gap?'

An Eckstein Middle School parent asks: 'What about red and black or yellow and white and black? How does supporting Black Lives Matter help that gap?'

"This sounds a lot like nitpicking from the sidelines. It’s all too easy and all too common for folks to stand by, knowing something is unjust -- such as the unjustified and unpunished murders of Black men and women by police officers, or the violent danger that comes with branding Black teenagers as criminals, or the unfair treatment Black kids are receiving in our schools and courtrooms -- and then judge the particulars of the people who chose to take action.

Supporting Black Lives Matter helps all gaps because it acknowledges injustice and seeks to change it. Nitpicking Black Lives Matter supports injustice by taking the side of the oppressor.

Remember, there is nothing violent hidden in the phrase 'Black Lives Matter.' There is nothing inherently threatening about it. It doesn’t suggest that Black Lives Matter more than any other lives, or that they matter at anyone’s expense."

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Guest Post: What Seattle can learn from the L.A. parents who 'spoke up' and got a school board that puts kids first

Guest Post: What Seattle can learn from the L.A. parents who 'spoke up' and got a school board that puts kids first

"School board leaders have ignored parents, we argued, because parents rarely hold them accountable for their actions by showing up to vote. The way to change that, we suggested, was for parents to get educated about the issues, get organized and to make our voices heard loud and clear at the ballot box.

And that’s exactly what we did."

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Kids get hurt when the adults can’t stop playing with their double-edged swords

This in-fighting has no end in sight.

While we all agree that our kids are not being treated equally, that our systems do not value us all equally, we labor and argue over exactly how and when and what to change, continuing along each day in the same systems we talk about changing, perpetuating them by our presence.

Along the way, we get distracted. We form opinions and positions. Sides and factions develop. Suddenly, we find ourselves in a little mini-struggle that most people don’t know much about. We in education are debating about the everyday lives and futures of American kids and families, and the in-fighting is costing us time and energy and money that we can’t afford to waste on each other.

For instance, some say that charter schools undermine our public education system. Randi Weingarten, head of our nation’s teachers union, actually said recently that school choice is a “polite cousin” to segregation.

Others of us contend that our public school system has already been undermined by its own failure to adapt, and that we need new and different kinds of public schools. And we remind folks that school choice really just means a belief that parents should be allowed to choose what’s best for their kids.

Things have gotten so twisted up that some folks oppose charter schools for literally the same reasons people open them. It’s weird. It would be funny, actually, except that it’s no laughing matter.

We only first started trying to force schools to integrate in 1954. That’s only 63 years ago. Think of the change in demands on the system between now and 1950. We've needed to find ways to change with it, but we’ve tended to be inflexible, rigid, afraid. Those with privilege have clung to it, resulting in a mostly white teaching force, achievement and opportunity gaps along racial lines, and generations of kids who have grown up in schools that treat them unfairly.

I see charters offering that opportunity to innovate, to consider alternatives, to serve long-neglected students (and when I say charters, I only mean public charters. For-profit charters are corporate nonsense). If we limit our schools only to operating within the same framework they always have, how can we expect them to produce different results?

We can't.

Some decry charter schools as an attempt to privatize our public education system. I suppose that’s got a twisted legitimacy to it, in its way. People are basically asking, why should Bill Gates have so much influence over things?

Well, he shouldn’t — none of us should, unless it happens organically as opposed to financially.

But they’re missing the point: this isn’t Bill Gates’ influence. It’s the influence of many, many advocates and parents and students concentrated and magnified through Gates’ extraordinary wealth and power.

And here’s the extra-twisted-up part: limiting public charter schools actually does more to privatize our system of education as a whole, because you’re working to limit school choice only to those parents who can afford to exercise it. You’re setting up a profitable private school sector to thrive unchecked, and to entice a larger percentage of students than it would if there were more free public school options available.

If you want to keep as many kids in public education as possible, then you have to expand the options. Too many parents are already choosing out for us to pretend this isn’t the case.

Speaking of choosing out, we find another double-sided coin in the debate over standardized tests known as the “opt-out movement.”

Some parents say standardized tests put too great a burden on students. Others say the tests are inherently biased, written and administered in such ways that favor white students and perpetuate gaps.

They might have a point. The creator of the standardized tests himself said, “These tests are too cruel and should be abandoned.”

And on the one hand, yes! We grade and evaluate students from the very beginning as if they are products, conditioning them to judge and compare themselves to each other. We consider whether or not kids have hit our invented benchmarks at the “appropriate” times. We subject kids to hours of monotonous testing that is for the edification of adults, not the kids themselves.

Yet without those tests, we would never have had the evidence we now have of the opportunity and achievement gaps. And how do we measure progress without them? How will we know if those gaps are closing if we do away with the tests? How will we be able to prove (to skeptical white folks, mainly) what most low-income families and families of color already know from experience?

There’s no single solution. Charters, Montessori, home school, traditional public school, outdoor education, project-based learning, whatever. Families need freedom. They need high-quality, free options for their children’s education.

In the end, all the arguments about education are two sides of the same coin. So, maybe it’s something to do with the coin, you know?

Let's be clear: 'Brown v. Board' was about school choice as a civil rights issue

Evidently “school choice” is a complicated idea.

I thought it was pretty simple. Parents should be able to choose a good school for their child. Seems it’s easily misunderstood though.

For instance, members of an NAACP task force wrote this week about being "concerned that the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education victory that promised a quality education for all was at risk” because of charter schools and the expansion of school choice.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, even went so far recently as to suggest that school choice’s roots are in racial segregation.

Brown v. Board of Education was not about saving Black children from inferior schools, as Malcolm Gladwell discussed recently on his Revisionist History podcast, even though that’s the version of history we were all taught in our traditional public schooling.

Brown v. Board was about school choice as a civil rights issue. It was also a case of Black children being left on the front lines during a fight between the adults.

 

Act I: Meet the Browns

In the early 1950s, Oliver and Leola Brown’s daughter, Linda, was a student at Monroe Elementary, an all-Black school in segregated Topeka, Kansas. To get to school each morning, Linda had to walk seven blocks and cross a busy street, often in cold winter weather, and then take a bus from there to Monroe. An all-white school, meanwhile, was four easy blocks away.

Some of these details are probably familiar.

At the urging of the NAACP, Oliver Brown walked into that white elementary school one day and tried to enroll his daughter. But it wasn’t, despite the popular narrative, because the all-Black school with its all-Black faculty was sub-standard in some way.

“We didn’t have any bone to pick with our school as far as education was concerned,” said Leola Brown in a 1991 interview, “nor with the teachers, because they were qualified and did what they were supposed to do.”

Leola Brown had attended Monroe herself as a child, so she knew what she was talking about. She gave her supposedly inferior elementary school rave reviews — not only for the quality of the education, but also for the quality of care she received:

“I loved it. I loved it. The teachers were fantastic. We got a fantastic education there. This case wasn’t based on that, because we learned. We learned a lot and they were good to us. More like mothers. They took an interest in you.”

She felt seen and valued by her teachers, which makes all the difference. She also felt they knew their stuff, and history tells us she was probably right. Because most professions were fully closed off to Black people in those days regardless of their qualifications, a huge number of highly educated Black folks became teachers.

The lawsuit, then, was fully a matter of principle. The Browns weren’t trying to escape some ghetto-school nightmare. They just thought they should be able to choose the school they felt was best for their daughter. They thought the school board, which the white principal blamed as objecting to integrated enrollment, shouldn’t be limiting their daughter’s options, especially based on the color of her skin.

The Supreme Court reached the same conclusion. Sort of.

The Court agreed that the Browns should be able to enroll Linda wherever they saw fit, but its reasoning gave birth to a whole host of unintended consequences. Or at least, the Browns didn’t intend for any of them. It’s not clear what anybody else expected.

See, the judicial branch of the U.S. government concluded that segregation was inherently inequitable, but they claimed this was because it was deeply harmful to Black students to be educated separately. Continued segregation, per the government, would continue to “retard the educational and mental development of Negro children.”

That’s a galaxy away from Leola Brown saying, hey, Monroe was a good school, and the teachers were great, but as a matter of principle, we should be able to choose our daughter’s school.

Let’s act it out for effect.

 

The Man: Monroe is a bad school.

The Browns: Uh, no, not exactly. Monroe is a fine school. We just believe we’re entitled to choose our daughter’s school. It’s a matter of principle that we be allowed to decide what’s best for our own children.

The Man: No, you don’t know what you want. Your educational and mental development has been retarded by your inferior schooling. Someone get a gun and escort these poor Black kids into our hallowed white halls!

Narrator: And then they all watched as most of the Black teachers were fired and most of the Black schools were closed...

End of Act I


 

Act II: The Grass is Browner on the Other Side?

If we’re wondering where all the Black teachers went, well, they got fired in the wake of the Brown v. Board decision, and the profession hasn’t recovered. It hasn’t helped, though, that other reforms and so-called improvements have managed to escort more black teachers out of the profession along the way as well, seeming like a good idea at the time. A large number of Black teachers were replaced in New Orleans, for example, after Hurricane Katrina, primarily by young, well-meaning white folks.

Black teachers being squeezed out of schools is certainly problematic in its own right, but the real trouble here is that this isn’t just an issue of adult discrimination. Our children have been impacted by the ripples for decades. Studies and anecdotes alike indicate that Black students were often faring better academically prior to integration, which seems counter-intuitive. Kind of like how Massachusetts’ literacy rate was 96% in the year prior to compulsory public schooling, and has never been as high since. Is anything what it seems?

Anyway, getting more teachers of color into the classroom is widely known as one of the most effective ways to close the opportunity gap between students of color and their white peers. A study in North Carolina showed that Black male students were 39 percent more likely to finish high school if they had one Black teacher between third and fifth grade. That’s it.

It’s not usually intentional racism that produces these discrepancies. Teachers are often unwitting interpreters, an act that relies heavily on our implicit biases unless we are consciously self-monitoring. Was that kid’s behavior an act of menace or of innocent energy? Whose struggles are due to a lack of effort and whose come from a lack of potential? Which kids just need to be challenged and which kids just can’t handle more advanced coursework? Who gets your attention as opposed to your indifference? Whose culture is reflected in the curriculum and whose is othered? Whose is erased?

Through constant subjective decisions and interpretations like these, teachers have the subtle power to shape a child’s education — and often his or her future. Think about your own experience. We know when someone doesn’t believe in us, no matter what they say. We know when we’re being paid lip service. Having someone take a genuine interest in you as a student can have a profound impact on your outcomes. It’s not that this can only happen with same-race teachers, just that it’s statistically more likely.

“Once you grant this idea that a teacher is a gatekeeper and a child needs a teacher to take an interest in them, it changes integration,” said Celestine Porter during an interview as part of Duke University’s “Behind the Veil” project. “Teachers should have integrated first, then students. Instead, we sent all these Black students to white schools, fired the Black teachers and closed the Black schools.”

Instead, white folks interpreted and implemented integration.

Who, as a result, truly saw the sharp edges and dark corners of integration? Black children.

Who was coddled and allowed to continue in their privileged ignorance? White adults.

Ever since, we’ve had everyone, regardless of race, getting schooled in white, government-run institutions.

Everything is more complicated than it appears.

Let’s act it out again. I think you’ll like Act II. This is where we start to introduce the more fantastical elements of the drama.

Our cast of characters has expanded to include the representative for the white schools and white teachers, whom we’ll arbitrarily name 1950s Randi Weingarten, as well as ageless Al Sharpton as himself. Here we’ll also meet Time-Traveling Mr. T, a spirit being who leaps eternally throughout the web of time pitying the fools who perpetuate racism on the backs of innocent children and occasionally laying the smack down.

 

1950s Randi Weingarten: Well, Black children, ye whose development has been so unfortunately impacted by your perfectly capable and loving teachers and the ill-advised choices of your perfectly capable and loving parents, we have been instructed to allow you passage into our lily-white sanctuaries of learnedness. Black parents, please find an appropriately white manner in which to express your unquestioning gratitude.

Time-Traveling Mr. T: You are a fool. I pity you.

Al Sharpton: The note I wrote to myself on the back of this large check from the white teachers union says that I agree with Randy Wine Garden.

Time-Traveling Mr. T: Reverend Sharpton, I respectfully disagree with your purchased assessment. I’m going to lay the smack down now.

End of Act II

 

Act III: Back to the Future

More than 60 years after Oliver and Leola Brown decided they wanted to choose a different school for their daughter, genuine school integration remains elusive. We continue to battle the demons of opportunity gaps and structural racism. But perhaps most puzzling is the fact that we are still squabbling about school choice. If nothing else, shouldn’t Brown v. Board have put that issue to rest?

Last fall, the NAACP called for a moratorium on the expansion of school choice in the United States, viewing the charter sector as a threat to our hallowed system of public education — as though it’s ever been what it claims to be for Black students and families — and drawing an inexplicable line in the sand between two parts of itself. After all, more than 800,000 Black students attended charter schools in the United States this past school year. That’s more than 25 percent of charter students, even though Black children account for just 15 percent of the total student population nationally.

Let’s be clear about a few things: I am not advocating for segregated schools, by any means. My son attends our “low-performing” neighborhood public school specifically because of its exceptionally diverse student body. And I understand that schools, in our capitalist present, are often where people make connections and build social capital. Schools are power hubs, like it or not.

I’m also not strictly “pro-charter,” to be frank. I’m also perfectly opposed to for-profit charter schools, and I do not support charter schools that are just more of the same — schools that claim to be different, but are run by white adults who don’t understand what’s at stake and don’t genuinely know how to educate kids of all races.

Honestly, I’m not pro-charter any more than I’m anti-traditional public school. My bone to pick is with the status quo, the one that has been perpetuating discrimination against kids of color and, thus, has led to inequitable outcomes. The status quo the unions are paid to protect. I’m opposed to bad schools and the bad propaganda that perpetuates them. I’m opposed to dogma that limits dialogue and progress. I’m opposed to ignoring the truth about our public schools.

See, I’m not saying I have any answers, but goddamn do I have a lot of questions. And instead of sitting in our respective corners waiting for the next bell to ring so we can knock each other’s lights out over nothing, why not sit down and have a conversation about some of these big questions? Why not talk through some of these real issues and strange truths and move forward together?

We’ve not only been wasting our time and money and resources in a fruitless argument, but we’ve been gambling with kids’ lives in the name of this intellectual debate about the minuscule difference between public charter schools and traditional public schools.

Enough already.

I’m calling for a moratorium on petty bullshit, on self-righteous adult egos getting in the way of what’s long been settled as a fundamental right for children and their families.

Let’s act it out one more time.

 

Matt Halvorson: Dear government and your compulsory schools. Dear teachers unions and your compulsory memberships. Dear NAACP and your pointless bought-and-paid-for squabbles. First do no harm. Then I will be open to your opinions.

Crickets: Chirp.

End of Act III

 

Why does skin color matter, asks a white Laurelhurst Elementary parent. Let's discuss.

KUOW’s Isolde Raftery wrote something recently that Seattle needs to hear. Maybe all “liberals” need to hear it.

Please just give it a quick read. I’ll wait.

 

 

Done? Thanks.

So, you just read Raftery describing the backlash in some of Seattle’s “whitest, most affluent corners” to the day last fall when a couple thousand of the city’s teachers wore Black Lives Matter shirts to school. She shares snippets of emails from parents expressing fear and anger to their school leaders, and it paints a pretty intense picture of what is actually happening inside the minds of so many “good” liberal parents.

Seattle is plagued by the privileged white moderate, the wolf in liberal clothing who has all the right yard signs and claims all the most inclusive beliefs, but whose actions reflect fear, privilege and an urgent need to not feel upset. Stephan Blanford, the only true voice for equity on the Seattle school board, calls it “Seattle’s passive progressiveness.”

“We vote the right way on issues,” Blanford told Raftery. “We believe the right way. But the second you challenge their privilege, you see the response.”

Honestly, reading the emails, most of these parents just sound scared and confused. They genuinely don’t understand the impetus and the meaning behind the Black Lives Matter movement. So, I’m going to do my best to answer their questions, starting today with this one:

 

Wrote a parent at Laurelhurst Elementary: “Can you please address … why skin color is so important? I remember a guy that had a dream. Do you remember that too? I doubt it. Please show me the content of your character if you do.”

 

Dear Laurelhurst Parent,

Skin color is important because our weird society -- yours and mine -- has made it so. People who cannot pass for white, which is itself a social construct and not an actual race, have always been treated differently in America. Always, up to and including today. Slavery was replaced by Jim Crow, which was replaced after the Civil Rights Movement by the War on Drugs and the mass incarceration of our Black brothers and sisters.

Did you know that Native Americans were not legally allowed to practice their traditional religious ceremonies in the U.S. until the ‘80s? We’ve been doing our best as a nation to eradicate their culture from this land as well as their bodies, from the genocide of “manifest destiny” to the shame of our state-sanctioned brutality at Standing Rock.

We have a president now who is encouraging hate and discrimination against immigrants of any origin, but especially against Mexicans and Muslims. Did you know that a mass grave filled with bodies of immigrants was found in Texas a few miles from the Mexico border? The state said it found “no evidence” of wrongdoing.

On a level that is super local to you, Seattle Public Schools discipline Black students at a disproportionate rate -- so much so that the federal government had to come down on them a few years back. The district still shamefully boasts the nation’s fifth-worst achievement gap between Black and white students, and similar gaps exist for all non-white student populations as well as for low-income students regardless of race.

The Black Lives Matter movement started after a teenage boy named Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a white guy for the crime of wearing a hoodie while Black. It has been sustained by continued police violence against innocent Black men and women, with police officers continually acquitted.

So, because it sure seems like our society doesn’t actually believe that Black Lives Matter, people felt the need to say it. It’s not that white lives don’t matter. America already obviously values white lives. White lives and white safety are not particularly at stake here. Black Lives Matter mentions color because it has to.

The next time you invoke Martin Luther King, Jr., I suggest you better familiarize yourself with his beliefs and his non-whitewashed legacy. Start here: Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Have you ever read it?

Please do. If you have anything you’d like me to read up on, please pass it along. Then let’s talk. What do you say?

 

Best,

Matt

 

Up next, from Eckstein Middle School in Wedgwood:

“What about red and black or yellow and white and black? How does supporting Black Lives Matter help that gap?”

Stay tuned.