Transracial Parenting »

Why my Black son cannot go to a mostly white school

A lot of my friends want to send their children to a diverse school. Some do. Some don’t. In New Orleans, the most elite schools from Country Day to Newman are predominately white schools with little to show for diversity – some say these schools have too much green and not enough brown. The reasons for this are many but suffice to say without a concerted effort to change who the schools are from the inside, little will be done to change who they are on the outside.

As the white parent of an African American child, I do not have the luxury of choosing pedagogy over culture. It is imperative that my son be in a diverse school, have diverse teachers, absorb a diverse curriculum because my son comes home every day to a mother who does not match him. He cannot grow up seeing only white people in authority and learning from only white colleagues.

My African American friends who grew up in mostly white schools regretted it in their adult years. They sought Black colleges and universities and associations to fill in the gap of what went missing from years of looking through a white lens at the world. One friend said, “I got so tired of being the only Black kid on the bus day in and day out.” Yet their parents sent them to white schools because they wanted them to have the best education and more often than not, it was white children receiving the best education. 

Like many things regarding race that I have learned from parenting a child who does not match me, I know more today than I did yesterday. While I believe our transracial family presents its own set of circumstances, I think everyone’s lens could stand to shift to see what I now see. No child benefits from being at a school that is dominated by one race over another, especially in a city that is as diverse as New Orleans.

There is no doubt that the school system all across America is broken – FUBR – fucked up beyond recognition. When I focus solely on our city, I see the top schools dominated by a majority white student body. I see the lower performing schools dominated by African American students. I see African American teachers dismissed and ignored in favor of young white transplants. I see a lot just here in our little city that gives me pause about why I would even want my child to be in a traditional school setting.

The 2005 Federal Flood gave New Orleans a reason to change, but the change itself has been challenging. There are pockets of resistance – home schools that have cropped up every where, but even in those I see a lack of diversity. There is the private versus public school challenge that continues to dog every American city. There are standardized tests designed to put everyone in a little box that will soon suffocate the creative life out of them or keep them in a perpetual down state.

Yet, there are success stories that abound. Teachers who bring the joy of learning to students. Principals who steer institutions to the light. Nonprofits engaged as swat teams teaching kids anything from drumming to sewing. Everywhere there are helpers and mentors and those who stand up for children. All of these mighty efforts are in place to counter balance the state of education today.

My son has left his 90% white school to start kindergarten at a school that reflects the cultural diversity of our city. Check? I think not, his new school is young and growing, it’s staff I hear is young and growing. He is leaving a tried and true pedagogy that, while flawed, carries many of the tenets of my own beliefs. He is entering an international baccalaureate school that endeavors to create lifelong learners out of its students. I’ve yet to learn what I will find there as a parent or him as a student. It will be a learning process for both of us.

Did I make the right decision? Check.

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+ - 6 comments

May 30, 2014 - 3:01 pm

Rachel - The reason Franklin is segregated is that the people there – families and teachers and staff have most likely not acknowledged institutionalized racism and its affect on their lives. Harvard’s Kennedy School of Business has just made mandatory Checking Your Privilege 101 for all entering freshman. So the world does turn, by degrees, and the knuckledraggers will not inherit the earth. What is so horribly sad is that any child would sit next to my dark skinned son in class and think something is wrong with him because of his skin color.

May 30, 2014 - 2:56 pm

Mark Folse - Never happen. Newman and Country Day are part of the path of white privilege. Franklin is “integrated” in name only. Socially it is self segregated, with cliques along ethnic lines. Still, you don’t always get to pick who younsit next to pr who your class partner is.

You’ve made me think about my son’s Day One friend in sixth grade at Lusher, if my North Dakota son saw nothing wrong with im, immediately bonding with a young Black boy while kids raised here in the culture of racism–however progressive their parents– would not.

May 29, 2014 - 5:11 pm

Rachel - I hear you too Mark – and what gets me is all my friends who I know to be smart and progressive get it and don’t act on it. How radical would it be if Country Day, Newman, and other schools that are all white saw a mass exodus of parents who said the reason is the lack of diversity? Similarly, there are all Black schools that parents, African American parents, don’t want their kids to go to either. So this is not about anti-white – it’s about anti-right. Monocultural schools fail to educate our children for the world they will be living in – which will be very different from the one you and I grew up in – because the new world is not white and that’s all right.

May 29, 2014 - 5:07 pm

Mark Folse - One of the best things to come out of raising my children in Fargo (besides shielding them from a childhood indoctrination in institutionalized racism) was the diversity of the still mostly-white public school they attended. Thanks to Lutheran Social Services program of refugee resettlement, and the three local universities and two major hospitals that attracted many Asians), there was a map of the world with dozens of pins representing where the kids were from.

With the end of the draft military, the only institution that provides full-immersion training in getting along with and respecting everybody is the public school. Sadly, not in the south, and the entire program of privatization here is to continue segregation with exceptions along class lines. My daughter’s first boyfriend here was the one token Black kid in his class at Country Day on a scholarship. He HATED it. His unfortunate luck was a full-immersion experience in White Privilege.

May 29, 2014 - 5:06 pm

Rachel - I hear you loud and clear Ricardo. My life is oriented to being that drop of water that exerts the most force. Tin was complicit in changing my direction and now there is no looking back.

May 29, 2014 - 4:47 pm

Ricardo - “his new school is young and growing, it’s staff I hear is young and growing” You have chosen to change his school environment to one that reflects the community in which he is growing up. Entering a “young organization” with a young staff you have a much better chance of shaping the pedagogy to ensure a quality education in his school. Others can then use your successes and challenges to replicate what you are creating in other learning environments.

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