Friday, March 29, 2013

White flight and school choice

“These data counter choice advocates’ claims that school choice policies will give less-affluent parents access to the same good schools that privileged parents with resources currently seek out for their children, as the most coveted schools are, from the most privileged parents’ perspective, those schools without low-income students or students of color” (Holme, 2002, p. 203).  

The decision where to send one’s children to school—whether to home-school, to enter a lottery for a charter or magnet school, to seek out a scholarship to a private school, or to choose the neighborhood school—is an intensely personal choice.  Perhaps there is nothing closer to a parent’s heart than the welfare and success of their children.  However, I have begun to come to a slow and grinding halt in my way of thinking about where I want my White children to go to school.  

I live in the city of St. Louis, which means that I have all of the choices I listed above.  My husband and I seriously considered homeschooling first, since that was what his mom did, as well as many of the people in our White community.  After we decided that we probably would go crazy staying home full-time, we started looking at charter and magnet schools.  Somewhere in the middle of reading about the social construction of “race” and racial inequality in education, I had an epiphany.  I realized that, in my mind, my child was more valuable than other children.  For example, I believed that while it was okay for other children to attend neighborhood schools, it was not right for my child.  After all, my child is “gifted,” above average, special.    

In Holme’s (2002) study, most of the White participants relied on the opinions and suggestions of high-status, White friends and families to help decide where to move in order to have access to the best schools.  Although it was framed in terms of wanting the best for the children, the parents’ discourse also revealed their underlying beliefs about the superiority of high-status families and children.  In essence, Holme discovered that parents valued schools based on where other high-status parents were sending their kids, not based on substantial factual information.  The perception of these schools was first socially constructed, then as Holme concludes, “the facts that the parents did obtain, which consisted primarily of test scores, confirmed what they had heard about particular schools through their social networks—that schools serving Whiter, wealthier students were, in fact, better” (p. 201).  

It seems like this would be a natural response for any parent.  In fact, this kind of thinking is all I had been exposed to in my White network of friends and family.  A common conversation starter among White people in the city might be, “Oh, you live here? So where are you going to try to send your kids to school?”  The expected answer is never “a neighborhood school.” 

The results of this kind of conversation are very real.  In the St. Louis Public School District (SLPS), only 13% of students are white; 80% of the students are Black.  Even further, most of those White students are in magnet schools, schools that were opened with the purpose of drawing White students into the city.  This leaves neighborhood schools with upwards of 90% Black students, racial segregation almost on par with the Jim Crow era.  This is "White flight" without even having to leave the neighborhood.

The situation is further compounded when one considers the free/reduced lunch (FTE) percentage, a common way to determine poverty levels.  Over 80% of children in SLPS qualify for free/reduced lunch.  Just as a reference, to qualify for free lunch, a family of four has to earn less than $30,000 per year.  Currently, my family would qualify for reduced lunch, but most of my friends and family are safely within the range of middle class.  This means that when we have hard times, we have resources in terms of money, food, transportation, and childcare.  Our family and friends are priceless, but their support has very real monetary value.  

In fact, social networking is a way that many schools make ends meet, as well.  Charter schools are not the only ones who survive on fundraisers, as Jonathan Kozol (2005) discusses in his writings on inequalities in education.  Districts which already boast high property taxes to support the local schools also have constituents who are able to raise large amounts of money, set up non-profits and charities, volunteer at the school, do pro bono work, or donate new or used materials, such as computers or photography equipment. All of this money contributes to schools with more resources, which then theoretically should help children to learn, thereby improving test scores.  Again, this money is over and above what the school district already pays per student.  Kozol (2005) reported huge disparities between wealthy school districts and segregated urban districts in terms of per-student funding.

It isn’t natural to have racially segregated schools, but it is the byproduct of a long history of systemic, institutionalized racism.  All parents want what is best for their children, and all children are equally deserving of a well-funded school with good teachers. Additionally, Kozol (2005) points out that we don’t even call our current state “segregation,” but instead use words like “diverse” or “urban” to talk about schools populated by children of color. 

The idea that Whiteness is privileged does not mean that White people are more important or more deserving, but it does mean that Whiteness carries with it prestige and power.  When all the White people or more generally, all middle-class people leave a school district, the children left in those schools are left without powerful advocates and a network for obtaining resources.  

How do I disrupt the patterns of racial segregation, use my privilege to advantage others, but without coming in like a “White hero”? These thoughts are still formulating in my mind, but these articles are so appropriate for the decisions I need to make in the near future.  Bottom line—I want to find a way to pursue education for my children in a way that does not socially reproduce racial segregation. 

References 
  • Holme, J. (2002). Buying homes, buying schools: School choice and the social construction of school quality. HARVARD EDUCATIONAL REVIEW, 72(2), 177–205.
  • Kozol, J. (2006). The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America (Reprint.). Broadway. 

What are your thoughts on school and neighborhood choice?  How do your choices impact your neighborhood? 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Why Gay is not the new Black

I haven't attempted to blog recently, mostly because of time.  In view of recent events, I have wanted to say things, but mostly felt out of my field.  I focus on the social construction of "race" and racial difference, and while I have opinions regarding marriage equality, I feel there are so many others who blog much more eloquently than I, so I just re-tweet and re-post shamelessly.

However, I saw an article on my Twitter feed today, and while I disagreed with many of the points, I realized that it might be important to further substantiate the author's main contention, which is that "gay is not the new Black."  And that is my field, so here is my blog post.  

First, "being Black" has not disappeared as a racial identity in the United States.  

I understand what people are trying to say, namely, that a person who identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered (LGBT) may experience oppression in various arenas of society much like African Americans have experienced and continue to experience. However, racial identity is a different facet of a person's identity than sexual orientation.

Sociologists talk about how each facet of your identity intersects with each other, mitigating how you experience oppression or privilege.  For example, a White, middle-class, heterosexual woman with a disability experiences oppression in certain ways as a woman and as a person with a disability.  However, her status of middle-class, White and heterosexual afford her privileges that somewhat limit the cumulative impact of the daily discrimination she experiences.

Further, racial identity is one of the more salient aspects of identity in our society, along with social/economic class. The discrimination that LGBT folks experience is very real, but can also be mitigated by other aspects of a person's identity. A White, upper-class gay man will have a very different life experience than a Black working-class lesbian woman.  The point is not that it's a competition of who is more of a victim, but to highlight that one aspect of a person's identity cannot be exchanged for another.

Secondly, Black folks still experience oppression and discrimination in our society. 

Again, the parallel is clear to me.  Like African Americans, LGTB folks are struggling to be recognized as humans worthy of equality under the law.  However, the struggle for African Americans is not over.  We have not reached an authentically "colorblind" society, but instead have daily evidence of how "race" still matters in terms of life outcomes.  In terms of movements, LGTB rights is more recent than the Civil Rights movement, it's true.  But one movement has not replaced the other.  It would be paramount to saying that the disability rights movement is the new feminist movement.

On the other hand, in some circles, such as in historic Black liberation theology, "Black" has come to mean "oppressed."  In this tradition, Jesus is considered "Black" because he took on oppression and suffering.  However, others argue with this definition, saying that it limits Black identity to that of a victim.  In any case, "Black" is not widely accepted as a synonym for oppressed, and so I think it shouldn't be used that way in this case either. 

Finally, the Church has still not figured out "'race' relations" any more than it has figured out if it even wants to have "gay relations" (in all senses of the term).

Throughout all spheres of society, well-intentioned, good people have been documented to have unconscious racial bias.  (If you don't believe me, you can test yourself.)  However, White evangelicals have been found to be the most racially segregated group in the United States.  If this is the very group that is most alienated from LGBT activists and allies, the "gay/Black" analogy is going to be totally lost.

Throughout the history of the United States (and other countries), the Church has used the Bible to prove all kinds of racial oppression, including slavery, anti-miscegenation laws, and apartheid.  Many people have pointed out this inconsistency in Church history, saying that perhaps the Church might also be misinterpreting the passages potentially related to homosexuality.  In fact, some Christian theologians realize this inconsistency, but instead of admitting, "We've been wrong before, maybe we could be wrong again," they re-entrench themselves in the old argument that slavery is "biblical" and some cultures are inferior to others.

Again, this might not be the best crowd to talk to on either point at the present time.  Nonetheless, it is important to note the discourse that surrounds both "race" and homosexuality in certain circles, so it will hopefully make sense why it doesn't help to conflate the two topics.

Postscript 

My last comment is on a more personal note, and that is to say that I really do understand and hear my brothers and sisters who are outraged, sad, and even angry at this moment because they feel like their whole world is falling in around their ears, the definition of marriage is being changed, and society is slipping even further into moral decay. Even as I wrote this blog, I sensed turmoil within myself as I thought, "Can I write that?  Is that what I believe?  If I say that, what will so-in-so think?"  I don't deny where I come from, but I know I'm not the only one who is changing. 

I am evolving.  My faith is evolving.  My sense of belonging to a greater humanity than just the people-who-are-like-me is growing. I feel that it is the most authentic and realistic response I can have.  My hope is that this post, along with so many others, will help to add clarity to the discourse surrounding the Supreme Court case, so that Christians can continue to find some common ground with each other and with others.