Apparently, I’m a racist, classist pig

Dick Culbert from Gibsons, B.C., Canada - Sus Barbatus, the Bornean Bearded Pig

Well, not exactly.

Last night I attended a meeting held by Causeway, where they are looking for people to apply for $3,000 grants for projects to encourage parental involvement in education. Prior to the meeting there was a board where people could post “If Only…” ideas. I posted one of mine:

If only successful schools could adopt failing schools to share resources and insights.

After the meeting, I discovered that someone had left a comment, which I, unfortunately, neglected to copy exactly, but the essence was that I should leave my racist/classist ideas at home. At first, and for a while after, I was angry about this, because it was precisely to combat racism and classism in Hamilton County Schools that I made this suggestion.

Background

Zari attended a very good, but somewhat expensive, preschool. When it came time to try to figure out where to send Zari to kindergarten, we were most interested in the magnet schools. To apply for two of the magnet schools, Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences (CSAS) and Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts (CSLA), the school system created a series of hoops for parents, which required about eight hours of time to learn about the schools and their methods. After this, the lottery drawing admitted approximately 15% of the non-faculty, non-staff, non-sibling of current students applicants. We also put Zari into two other lotteries for schools that were part-magnet, part-zoned. (The school we were zoned for was also part-magnet, part-zoned, but we were in the process of moving to another zone with a poorly-rated zoned-only school.) Most of the parents of Zari’s classmates did the same thing we did.

None of us got lottery slots for our kids from the CSAS/CSLA lotteries.

At that time, I learned two things:

  1. A contact with the Hamilton County Department of Education (HCDE) told me that she estimated that there would only be a single lottery slot for one kindergarten student for Normal Park Museum Magnet.
  2. My relationship fell apart, so I needed to move.

The day of the Normal Park lottery, I signed rent papers to rent the house I currently own in the Normal Park zone. While I was signing, four other families called to inquire about the house.

None of Zari’s classmates’ parents had any inclination to move, so all of them–to the best of my knowledge–decided to send their children to private schools instead.

Over the summer between Zari’s kindergarten and first grade years, we took a long road trip to Las Vegas and back, stopping at many National Park Service sites. One site we visited was Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site. It was an enlightening visit, but after that trip I decided to follow all of the sites we visited on Facebook, and the Brown v. Board of Education Facebook page is particularly good at engaging the public with articles about the current state of race and education in America. A couple of years ago, they featured a ProPublica article on the resegregation of schools in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. After reading that article, I concluded that similar things were happening in Chattanooga and throughout the South.

I believe that the main reason Chattanooga’s magnet schools are successful is that there is enormous parental involvement, something often missing from the schools in low-income areas. I think there are several reasons for this: A missing culture of education–I read a study a few years ago where they found one in four households with children only had one book in the house, the Bible, a feeling of resignation, and a lack of time and financial resources. Two of the speakers last night addressed these issues, but a look at the audience illustrated the problem: 90% were middle-class white parents.

At the risk of going a bit conspiracy theorist, I have a few theories on why the system is moving in the current direction:

  1. A faction of the school board is mostly concerned with keeping taxes down, often to the detriment of our schools.
  2. This same faction believes that forcing students into private schools helps keep taxes down.
  3. Having a certain number of failing or barely passing schools encourages parents to choose private over public.
  4. I hate to say it, but there are racists in Chattanooga who would prefer to send their kids to mostly white schools.

Last year, CSLA applied to the school board to expand to K-12 from K-8. The request was denied, but I thought it was obvious that it would be. There are a ton of parents of students in private schools who resent that there are a privileged few in Chattanooga who get a quality inexpensive (not free, as fees run around $300 per year) public education while they pay thousands of dollars annually for the same quality. There’s a ton of resentment out there.

So, why did I make my suggestion?

Recently, I saw a post from a fellow parent asking parents at Normal Park to donate clothes to children at a nearby school, because there were a significant number of kids who did not have appropriate school clothes. The school isn’t a failing school–it actually falls in the midrange of Chattanooga schools–but it doesn’t have the level of parental involvement that Normal Park does. I felt that getting Normal Park parents involved with this school’s parents could help boost them from a mediocre school to an exceptional one by sharing with them some of the steps Normal Park has taken during its renaissance.

For historical reasons, Normal Park is whiter than this other school (80/20 vs 50/50), and, largely because of the renaissance of Normal Park driving real estate costs upward, Normal Park does have a slightly wealthier demographic. I can’t be upset that someone read racial and class undertones into my suggestion, even though my intent was the exact opposite. I don’t want magnet school parents to go out and tell parents at other schools how to do things, but rather, I want magnet school parents–and parents from other schools with strong parental involvement–to show parents at schools lacking in parental involvement how to get more of their parents involved in improving their schools. Hopefully, in the process, Normal Park parents would bring back good ideas as well. I think my big mistake was using the word “adopt” in my suggestion. That implies a parent-child relationship instead of a partnership.

Not that I expect the parent who wrote that comment to read this, but if they do, I apologize for creating the misunderstanding. I hope that the above clarifies why I wrote what I wrote. The incident reinforces a personal guideline I try to follow: Don’t judge people by their words or their actions, but rather by their intentions.

Thanks for reading.

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2 Comments

Filed under Chattanooga, Education, Listening

2 responses to “Apparently, I’m a racist, classist pig

  1. Gordon Aickin

    I recommend Our Kids by Robert D Putnam

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