Monday Reading List: Sometimes, I Need to Drop the F Bomb

Emily DeRuy starts our week at The Atlantic with a deeply reported examination of how American schools support students who come from Central America unaccompanied:

For those who succeed and make it to the States, the end of their journey means integrating into a totally unfamiliar community with parents they may not remember at all. Some will meet siblings or stepparents for the first time. The trauma and culture shock doesn’t just disappear. It can weigh on children and, without intervention, manifest as post-traumatic stress, according to mental-health experts who work with undocumented minors. Some kids get depressed, which few schools are equipped to handle. Meanwhile, in addition to the immense hurdle of learning a new language and new academic expectations, children may be grappling with nightmares about their trips through Central America and anxieties that can make studying all but impossible.

DeRuy looks at how different school districts in the New York City vicinity deal with these challenges, and how the educational system intersects with other social services in the pursuit of supporting vulnerable children. This piece also is a good reminder that there's no simple way to pigeonhole "immigrants" or "English language learners," and that each student has a unique set of needs, which hinge on both his/her prior academic exposure and life circumstances.

Christy Stewart's life circumstances led her to raise children in New York City as well. In the process of searching for schools she, as a White woman, confronted her and her peers' own prejudices about schools that serve large numbers of children of color:

I remember another conversation with a friend over a cup of coffee in Brooklyn Heights. I asked, what kind of school do you want your child to go to? It was a heated discussion with lots of words dropped: safe, nurturing, inquiry, project-based. The more I dug into my soul, the more I come back to the idea that choosing a school is essentially about choosing the class you want to belong to and not about education at all. The truth that nobody wants to talk about is they want their white child to go to a white school. They want to go to a school where everyone eats Pirate Booty instead of Cheetos, where parents send their kids to New York Kids Club instead of Chuck E. Cheese’s. I bring my own desires and biases to this, too. I am an educated, white, privileged woman.

Stewart's article is strikingly honest, and I salute her for making herself vulnerable enough to tell this story.

Segregation in schools is supported by policy, but it is enabled by the aggregation of myriad individual decisions, like Stewart's. More families need to be honest not just about their choices, but also about the mindsets and beliefs underlying those choices. If you'd rather send your kid to a school with 20% greater average proficiency on a state test, but 50% fewer students of color, you should articulate that choice. If you'd prefer your student be in a school with a wrestling team, but no children living in poverty, you should be transparent about that fact as well.

Speaking of segregation and the racial politics of schooling, Kate Zernicke at the New York Times did the real work and dug into the debate about charter schooling among Black leaders in education:

In separate conventions over the past month, the N.A.A.C.P. and the Movement for Black Lives, a group of 50 organizations assembled by Black Lives Matter, passed resolutions declaring that charter schools have exacerbated segregation, especially in the way they select and discipline students ... Black leaders of groups that support charter schools have denounced the resolutions, saying they contradict both the N.A.A.C.P.’s mission of expanding opportunity and polls showing support for charters among black parents. The desire for integration, the charter school proponents say, cannot outweigh the urgent need to give some of the country’s poorest students a way out of underperforming schools.

Bravo to Zernicke and her employer for striking the right balance on this piece. Based on anecdotal evidence (read: my Facebook and twitter feeds), individuals on either side of this debate are sharing the piece with equal frequency. Some of the commentary around this issue has been shockingly tone deaf, with folks like Diane Ravitch and her followers questioning the legitimacy of the leaders who have opinions they don't like. I have an idea: what if White folks shut the fuck up for a second and took a moment to consider that education leaders within communities of color have legitimate philosophical differences among each other about the nature of public schooling? Relentless intervention by, and accusations of illegitimacy from, White folks are insulting, privileged, and counterproductive to the success of whatever arguments leaders of color are advancing. Also, in case it wasn't obvious, I'm talking to White folks on every side of this.

Elsewhere on the internet, Katelyn Silva wants educators to do a better job with the girls in their classrooms:

Words matter. The words of teachers matter, especially. I never forgot the words of those teachers. And, in ways big and small, they have had a role in shaping me. I have cared too much about my appearance although intellectually I know it doesn’t matter. I have fought a nagging voice that tells me I’m not enough. I have often said “Sorry,” when I should have said, “I’m speaking now.” Stories like mine are but a few points on the timeline of any woman’s journey through sexism. Too many women pile up these moments of snide comments and seemingly small injustices until they cumulatively turn into an avalanche.

Finally, the high school from which Philando Castile graduated is creating a scholarship for students who want to pursue careers in education and child development. Castile, as regular readers of this blog remember, was killed by police in Minnesota during a traffic stop in July, all of which was caught on video. Check it out, and have a great day.