Support comes from better help online counseling, better help offers licensed counselors who specialize in issues including depression, stress and self-esteem, you can connect privately with a counselor through text chat, phone or video calls. For a special offer visit betterhelp.com/parents. Nice White Parents is brought to you by Serial Productions, a New York Times company.
I want to tell you about another old film I found during my research. It's from 1951. We see a housewife, a white woman. Everyone in this film is white. She's sitting in her living room with some neighbors. They're here to solve a problem.
A chain broke on a swing in a public playground, relatively unimportant, but a child might have been hurt.
They sit on couches with notepads deep in discussion. They will solve this problem together.
In another scene, a machinist in California approaches his boss, the factory owner, with a request from the workers.
I'd like to show you the new pension plan that we did.
I thought we had discussed the pension plan previously.
They had. But discussion requires listening, debating and waving your arms a lot, which they do in the film.
Not yet friends. They may never like each other, but they'll sweat it out together. The problem is, mutual. Much is involved. Developed within each citizen is the democratic spirit, the democratic method.
Where were they taught the democratic method, you might ask? Public school. Where were the housewives taught to problem solve for the safety of the community's children? Public school. This film was made by the National Education Association. It's a 25 minute promotional film that spends almost no time inside schools. Instead, it's all about the purpose of public schools, how they prepare us to live together as citizens.
We see Americans use their public school training in everyday life when they sit with their neighbors, debate their bosses when they go shopping and drive a car, buy a house. We are all part of a grand play interdependent, the senator, the homemaker, the factory worker
and Fred Gorman, the farmer of Pennsylvania. Are his decisions important? They are if the nation wants to eat.
Fred, the farmer has a nameless wife whom we see now standing next to him. Fred's wife is trying to resolve a problem. The neighbors want to build a drainage system into a pond. The lowest land for the pond is an orchard that belongs to Fred and his nameless wife. The wife understands that to prevent further flooding, she and Fred will need to sacrifice for the greater good. Fred is not so sure.
If we don't do something to help, our land is going to get like theirs and you know it.
I don't like the idea of losing those trees.
There's the problem in a nutshell, a tough one to crack his land and his neighbors needs. A dictator could solve it for Fred, but he prefers to do his own thinking.
Luckily, Fred has the tools to do it.
Those tools are sharpened in the schools of America
And thank goodness, because the stakes are high.
Problems every day and the way they are solved determines the way the country functions.
This vision of public schools, the same one laid out 100 years earlier by the founder of American Public Schools, Horace Mann, is that America and democracy cannot survive without public education. We need common schools where rich and poor come together to solve problems, generate fellow feeling.Public schools the great equalizer.
But I have made my way through the history of one modern American public school, and from what I can see, white parents are standing in the way of achieving this vision. Our schools are not an equalizing force because white parents take them over and hoard resources.
We're not learning how to live together as one society because white parents flee or cordon themselves off in special gifted programs. Even when we're not in the school building, funding and attention still slide our way. So I don't see how it's possible to have equal public schools, common schools that serve every child unless we limit the power of white parents. But how do you do that? In all my reporting around this one school building from 2015 all the way back to the beginning, I've never seen that happen. And then I did.
From Serial Productions, I'm Chana Joffe-walt. This is Nice White Parents, a series about the most powerful force in public schools: white people. Recently, I've come across two examples of schools that seem to be suppressing the power of white parents. Two examples I found in the very last place I expected: in the IS293 building, one upstairs and one downstairs. So today's episode: what does it look like to limit the power of white parents in schools? And does it work? Does it lead to an equal education for everyone?
I'm going to start downstairs. Eight years ago, the city put a charter school in the basement of IS293. It's called Success Academy. The year I spent following the new white parents upstairs at the School for International Studies, I would occasionally see Success Academy kids around the building in orange and blue uniforms. It was always a little startling because Success Academy is an elementary school, so they look tiny in a building full of middle and high schoolers. But mostly the Success kids stood out because of the way they moved through the halls.
They walk in single form, like they're in the army, like it's so weird. It's like and if they don't walk in single form, like they stopped the whole line.
Like Denaji is one of the many students from S.I.S. upstairs who is eager to tell me about the charter school and its rituals, their silent, controlled lines.
It's like it's like a a like a sense of like the children of the corn. Like, it... It creeps me out.
That's his friend Chris saying, "like storm troopers." Sometimes they'll hear Success teachers say, "Make a bubble in your mouth." And then a line of six year olds will close their lips and fill their cheeks up with air. That way, nobody's talking. Chris and Denaji told me they look like pufferfish.
I remember kindergarten very vividly, and I know if I was to have my face in a puffer-fish I would automatically just start making all types of like sounds and stuff and like, you know. So...
And they don't?
No, that's what's so weird.
Like, it just it just it like it helps me think, or makes me think, about like what happened, what really happened inside of the classroom for them to be coming out like that?
The year I was reporting it, S.A.S., The New York Times published a video that showed a particular and alarming moment inside one of the Success classrooms. It was secretly recorded by an assistant teacher who leaked it and it went viral.
You see a group of first graders gathered in a circle on a polka dot rug, sitting legs crossed, hands in their laps. And the teacher is asking one girl to correct a math problem she got wrong.
You cut her, you split. So count it again, making sure you're counting correctly.
The girl does not respond. The teacher leans in and repeats, "Count." The girl whimpers or says something so quiet you can't hear. The entire class is watching. It's silent, intense. The teacher is visibly upset, picks up the child's paper and rips it in half. Points an angry finger to the side of the room.
Go to the calm down chair and sit!
She goes. The teacher turns to the rest of the circle.
There's nothing that infuriates me more. Then when you don't do what's on your paper! Somebody come up and show me how she should have counted to get her answer. That was one in a split.
A boy rushes over to do it correctly. But the teacher is not done publicly reprimanding the girl who's now sitting to the side of the classroom in the calm down chair.
Thank you. Do not go back to your seat and show me one thing and then don't do it here. You're confusing everybody. Very upset and very disappointed.
The teacher is white. The girl whose work she just ripped up is not. The whole thing is hard to watch. When this video came out, the student was living at a homeless shelter with her mom. Success suspended this teacher, but didn't fire her. Instead, at a press conference, the CEO reprimanded The New York Times for not understanding that this teacher was having a bad day. When I asked about this incident, the CEO of Success told me the teacher's behavior was unacceptable. Teachers are not allowed to yell at kids, but it was not a fireable offense. She says the teacher made a mistake.
I've always been skeptical of Success Academy success has a reputation for being harsh and punitive. Especially unnerving, to me at least, is that their harsh, punitive approach is deployed in schools across the city that are almost entirely black and brown. Success students are generally kids of color from working class or poor families. The intense focus on policing kids bodies, on test prep drills, frequent use of suspensions. You don't see that in majority white schools. I've never seen a line of uniformed white students walking through the halls of a public school building with their mouths in bubbles or being told to "show urgency" when they dawdle unpacking their book bags or eating lunch.
Except for here, this particular success academy in the basement of IS293 is integrated. A quarter of the student body is white. And it's the first school I saw putting limits on the power of white parents. Success Academy is the city's largest charter school network. Forty seven schools, elementary, middle and one high school. They get public funding like all charter schools, Success Academy also gets private funding. The state oversees charters like Success, but it isn't run by the state or the city. It's run by a private organization. And Success is a choice school that means families opt in to Success.
The CEO, a woman named Eva Moskowitz, opened her first forty-something schools in largely working-class black and brown neighborhoods, where she imagined families would want a new school option.
Then, about a decade ago, Moskowitz decided she wanted to open an integrated school, a new Success Academy that was racially integrated and economically diverse. She needed a school building where integration was possible, where, perhaps half a century earlier, a group of white families pushed for a strategically located fringe school building between two racially segregated neighborhoods. And this is how Success Academy wound up here in the Old IS293 building because of yet another plan to integrate. Only this time it worked: white parents opted in.
The white families at this Success Academy, it's called Success Academy Cobble Hill, tend to come from advantage, just like the white parents upstairs at S.I.S. They're upper middle class and rich, doctors and lawyers, corporate accountants, people who walk into most public schools with a lot of power.
But the influence I had seen white parents wheeled upstairs at S.I.S., that didn't seem to be the case downstairs, I found that confusing.
Do you have a PTA?
We have a parent council, so it's very similar to a PTA.
This is Alyssa Bishop, the principal of Success cobble Hill. A parent council is not that similar to a PTA, though, because in the very next sentence, Principal Bishop told me that the parent council is not allowed to raise money, particularly this, I assumed was probably difficult for parents who are accustomed to fundraising for their kids schools.
Have you had parents who want to raise money like you, come to you and are like, I want to, you know, I want this thing to happen and I want to raise the money for it?
Not not anything like that. I have had parents come to me and say, like, I want to do a coat drive. They want to donate. You know, we do that stuff throughout the entire year. But it's never I've never had anyone approached me about donating money.
Wow, really? No parents have been like, I want to do a fundraiser for X, and you have to be like, that's not a thing that we do.
No, I've never had that.
Principal Bishop looks over at the PR person who's come from Success headquarters to supervise this interview, the PR person shakes her head, no, parents don't raise money.
And what if somebody did want to raise money for the school? A parent wanted to raise money.
We yeah, we don't. Against the policy. Yeah, we don't, we don't raise money,
Principal Bishop looks over to the PR person again as if to say, am I not being clear with this chick? Why isn't she getting it? But I seem to be unable to stop myself from listing all the things I've seen white advantaged parents demand in public schools.
If parents were like, we want this to be a dual language French school and we can help fund it.
I mean, we don't have our curriculum is is network based. I mean, we're given curriculum. We don't have a language curriculum in our elementary schools.
Or if parents were like, we want there to be less math or a different kind of math or we want there to be a film program or whatever, like any of those things, parents are like we want.
Yeah, I mean, this is our model. It's, it's our model across all of our schools.
No changes. The CEO of Success Academy, Eva Moskowitz, followed up later to tell me if parents want to give money, they can. But it will be distributed evenly across all of our schools. We can't have our Cobble Hill families getting more than our families in Harlem.
Here's what I started to understand about how Success Academy was limiting the power of white parents. Success was limiting the power of white parents by limiting the power of all parents.
It's a real good school.
I met a dad named Travias Sharp outside the building one day, a black guy who grew up in Brooklyn. His son, Ethan, is at Success.
We actually get graded.
You get graded?
You get graded as the parents. We get an email saying this is what your progress is saying, you know, but...
You get a grade like ABC?
Like it's a... a get like a meeting expectations or not. Not like, you know.
Upstairs, S.I.S. had tripped over itself to meet the demands of new white parents. Downstairs, all parents at Success Academy are being graded. Even day to day, the Success principal and teachers make sure to remind the parents when they're falling down on the job.
So we ran a little late, "Why is Ethan late. It's your fault why he's late. I think one day I was late and she texted and said "Ethan is not here yet. Any reason why?" And I felt like I wasn't the parent at that point. You know, that's their time. But it keeps you on your toes
And you felt like you weren't the parent?
I wasn't, I wasn't the parent and I felt like I was just dropping this kid off to his parents, you know? And, you know...
One day in the cafeteria, I met a white mom named Sara Stanich. Sara is a financial adviser. Her son's in fourth grade, and she was telling me she likes the school, even though -- and then Sara lowered her voice, pointed at her boy, and said, "He's been suspended."
Yeah, he's been suspended. Right. And I was not happy about that. And that I definitely never had that experience when I was a kid. But uhh
"How old was he when that happened?
Ummm. well, it's happened more than once. Embarrassingly
How many times has he been suspended?
A few times. A few times, probably probably three. But like like pushing, fighting. And he's really not a fighter. But, you know, they're boys and and sometimes I think is like kind of harsh, you know, like they're young kids. And I know that that's like a complaint about suspensions and the schools. But, you know, on the other hand, he had warnings and we you know, it wasn't I think that his teachers, you know, given him had given him space and slack in other areas. So I have no lingering anger about it. Yeah, it's over. Yeah. I mean, overall overall, I've been I feel very lucky to have been able to be a part of this community and be part of this school.
Sara later wrote me to say her kid was actually suspended four times that year. I've reported on discipline in schools and the use of suspensions a lot, I've talked to many mothers of children who have been suspended. Not one of them has been white. Black kids are suspended in New York City schools at five times the rate of white kids. After I met Sara, I double checked the numbers for the 2017 school year, just to be sure. In the regular New York City public schools that same year, not Success or other charters, but the traditional public elementary schools, that year there were 327 suspensions for non-white kids. For white kids, there were only nine.
I was so surprised after meeting Sara, when I left the building, I called two people who know a lot about education to say this is what's happening at Success Academy Cobble Hill. White boys are being suspended. Rich white boys. And they couldn't believe it, either. One of them, Noliwe Rooks, a professor at Cornell, said, "Well, well, how's that for equality?"
So white parents can't raise money, they can't ask for special programs and their kids get suspended. Why are they suddenly OK with the equality? I interviewed lots of Success parents.
We did get a flyer, they put them on the doors, they put them on the doors in the neighborhood.
Suzanne Gigliotti saw the flyer for success when her son was in preschool. So she looked into it. And every other possible school option she had.
It was in our neighborhood. But more importantly, we toured so many schools like, you know, public, private, parochial. We were slated for 58, which is an excellent school. And we did get in there. But Success was head-and above any school I had seen, just the level of excellence. And umm, nothing matched it.
The test scores. Almost every parent I spoke with said they were initially drawn to Success Academy because of the excellent test scores. If your measure of success in school is standardized tests -- and at Success Academy, it is -- this is one of the best schools in the city. The scores are truly remarkable. Success academy students perform twice as well on state tests as regular New York City public school kids. The vast majority of success, kids pass the tests, 95 97 percent.
In your average city public schools, it's less than half. And even more impressive to me, at least, is the kids of Success are doing well on tests, no matter if they're poor or rich or black or Latino or Asian or white. This is the problem that decades of public education reforms have tried to address: the achievement gap. Success Academy was pulling off not only an integrated school, but an equal integrated school that was closing the achievement gap. The way Success achieves equality, though... Some things give me pause.
That's my first expectation.
Clap your hands Kimara
Your first except... Expectation is read...
Last year I went into the success classrooms
Give Kimara two claps.
My second expectation is that...
I didn't see any teachers reprimanding kids or ripping up work like the one in the video. What I did see were teachers who issued a constant wall of verbal directions: where to look, what to do, how to sit, delivered in the same consistent, neutral tone. When a teacher calls on someone, she gives a direction to the class to track the speaker, look at the person speaking.
Meanwhile, a second teacher roams and hovers, issuing reminders.
Of the instruction of the importance of trying to straighten out Shayna answers correctly.
Nice job, Shayna. Scanning for another friend on the carpet who looks so professional, lock your hands, Joey.
Success achieves equality, at least in part through utter uniformity. Every Success Academy across the city uses identical methods, identical curricula in identical classrooms. The kids sit on the same polka dot carpet, hands locked in their lap, same signs on the wall, sing the same chants. Even the teachers look the same. They're almost all young white women in cotton dresses and ballet flats, just out of college. Sometimes the same college. I know this because the classrooms are named after teachers' alma maters and there are three Penn State classrooms.
What how did it go? We are Penn State. Yeah, we feel our way. Yeah, we can say yeah to graduate. Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah yeah yeah. Yeah.
Education people talk a lot about the difference between equality and equity to a point that I believe is tiresome, but I thought about this difference a lot at success. Equality means everyone gets the same thing. Equity means everyone gets what they need. Success is equal. Everyone is treated the same, but kids are never all the same. Some kids are chatty in the hallway or need a minute to think before answering a question. Some kids have a million books at home and some kids don't.
A black girl might respond differently than a white girl to being reprimanded by a white teacher. A single parent with two jobs might have a harder time getting their kid to school on time than, say, a stay at home mom with a partner. One of the main criticisms of Success Academy from public education advocates is that Success doesn't actually serve all students. That it has excellent test scores because it serves a select group of students, kids who don't test well or can't sit still, they're weeded out of the school. Success Academy vehemently denies this. They point out that they make special accommodations for kids with special needs, and they note that they don't get to choose students because kids get spots in their schools by random lottery. And that's true.
But it's also true that lots of parents don't apply to the lottery because they know the school's culture and the demands it makes of families won't work for them. And plenty of kids who do end up at Success don't last long. Maybe they get held back a grade or they're suspended. A civil rights complaint filed on behalf of more than a dozen families alleges their children were regularly removed from class and suspended seven, 10, 13 times at Success Academy. Most of those families eventually left the school.
I had a thought walking through Success. I suspected that the strict classroom control was partly what made white parents feel comfortable at Success Academy.
I'm speculating here. None of the way parents I spoke with told me they chose Success because the school polices black and brown students so well, and I don't believe this is a conscious thought for anyone. But I do know that white parents bring plenty of unconscious biases to public schools with black and brown kids, fears that the classrooms will be chaotic or not challenging, that the kids will be disorderly or threatening. White parents worry that our kids will be harmed. Success Academy completely controls for these fears.
Everyone gets excellent test scores. There's no room for misbehavior, no risk of disruption because there are no idle moments if 30 children need to move from their desks to the rug, it sounds like this:
On your bottom, on the black line in five, four, three, two, one.
Every kid is on their bottom, hands locked, eyes tracking the teacher. Except for one boy. He gets a correction.
Success operates on the principle that, with rigor and discipline, uniformly applied, all students will achieve equally well. It's a tempting vision, especially coming from upstairs, where the power of white parents seem to have no bounds.
But equality does not necessarily shift the balance of power.
White parents aren't running the show here, but success is run by a white CEO and a board that includes millionaire hedge fund managers sorry, billionaire hedge fund managers.
Board of Trustees is listed on the Success website, and the bios include Maverick Capital, Redwood Capital, Glenview Capital, Cumulus Media, Morgan Stanley, Facebook, Arnold and Porter. This is not exactly a disruption to the social order, is all I'm saying.
You can limit the day to day influence of white parents, but still rich white people control the agenda, the priorities and the money.
Back in 2015, the year of the white influx at S.I.S., toward the end of that school year, I was talking to Imee Hernandez. One day she was the PTA president at S.A.S..
And Imee told me, watching all those white parents come and take over, it was almost like watching tumbleweed move along in the wind. It was so quiet. That's how they moved through here, she said, picking up power as they went.
Like the tumbleweed, it starts really soft and slow and it keeps just picking up speed and getting bigger. So it's really soft and slow, but it's getting bigger. It's not like an avalanche comes at you. It's just tumbling along very slowly. So it's very light. You don't feel it comin' at ya.
Back then Imee told me, "There's no stopping it." She worried she couldn't protect what she loved about her school.
If you are right, and the worst case scenario happens, what does that look like in a year or two?
That there's no more color in the school. And there's no more community, which I really hope I'm wrong. That's my biggest fear. Then I would question if my daughter's coming back. I really would.
Imee feared that each year more and more white families come in to S.I.S until it just became like the other segregated middle schools where all the white parents fought to enroll their kids. Against the repetition of history, Imee was wrong. What happened at S.I.S. was nothing like she -- or I -- expected. That's up next when we go back upstairs.
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My name is Sarah Maslin Nir. I'm a reporter for The New York Times. I think there's a misconception that the truth is just out there floating in the ether, waiting to be plucked. True facts are hard to uncover and hard to get. It takes investment. And that's what we do here at The New York Times. I was sitting in the newsroom when New York State got its second diagnosed case of coronavirus, actually sprinted to my car and drove up to the city of New Rochelle, which had just gone on lockdown.
I spent day in and day out there covering the virus, trying to make sense of it before we understood much about this illness. It's worth it to get answers for readers because I think at this moment we need them more than ever and we need you. You can support us by subscribing to The New York Times. Go to NY Times, Dotcom subscribe. Thank you.
This past spring, a black teacher at Success Academy named Fabiola St. Hilaire publicly criticized the CEO for not taking a stand after the murder of George Floyd. We're acknowledging the effect police violence was having on the families and communities success serves. After that, more staff, families and alumni raised alarms about success, calling some of its practices racist and abusive, its discipline policies the way white staff and leadership speak to kids and parents of color. In response, the CEO apologized and success has released a plan that commits to mandatory bias and sensitivity training for staff.
The plan says they will create an equity team and review their culture, their relationships with staff and families and kids with, quote, an attention and sensitivity to race.
I read this plan and thought, hmm, there's a school that's already doing many of these things right in the same building right upstairs.
Well, thank you.
Yes, it's September twenty nineteen. I'm back at S.A.S.. It's been four years since the French gala and the drama with the PTA. Rob, the dad who fundraises, he's not here anymore. His son finished middle school. Amy is still here. Her daughter's a junior in high school and a new crop of sixth graders and their families are settling into the auditorium. Well, because. Well, for me, thank you.
The school is no longer called S.A.S., the School for International Studies. It's now because the Boerum Hill School for International Studies, they changed the name again.
It has a new principal, Nicole Lanza Plateau. She gets up on stage and the staff cheers.
Miss Landfilled welcomes the new families.
To be any school is a microcosm of the world and we are blessed with beautiful diversity.
Moulins Alero lists the ways the school reflects the world race, ethnicity, language, gender.
We are extraordinarily diverse community and it's a beautiful thing and we fight for it and we work on it.
Maslin's Alito says bitch is going for true equity. She says the word equity three times in this welcome speech.
This lends Alito is white, chatty, well-liked with black hair that styled straight up the hair is really Maslin's. Alito's defining feature picture boy band Pompadour. She's worked here most of her professional career. The year white families arrived at S.A.S., Miss Alotta was the assistant principal. She won't say anything bad about that year. It was a learning experience. It's a process her predecessor, Mr. Martin, talks about at the same way. Remember, principals, diplomatic, they're careful not to place blame.
But both of them said after that year it was clear they needed to intervene. One of the first things Miss Landslided did as principal was request special permission to reserve forty percent of the seats for kids who get free and reduced price lunch.
The majority of kids who get free and reduced price lunch are kids of color and Miss Landslided didn't want the school to flip. She didn't want black and brown kids to get pushed out. The assistant principal told me they wanted to make sure the school did not become colonized. Some things here have changed.
They got rid of the foundation, the Brooklyn World Project Rob and the other white parents had created this, grabbed some of the French programming, hired more teachers and staff of color.
And one of the most striking changes I notice, spend ten minutes at the school and you can't not notice. Miss Landslided is talking directly and constantly about race and equity. She told me everyone here needs to be on alert for racist habits and ideas. They need to aggressively address them whenever they pop up in the cafeteria, in the classroom.
Oh, there's a conversation happening in the school around the smart classes and the non smart classes. Let's talk about it. Where is that coming from? So I think it's really about being a beast. I think it's about everything we do, coming back to it, coming back to equity.
I could not get over how much time and energy the school puts into ensuring equity, not equality, equity. It's almost like the obsessive focus success puts on. Making sure everything is the same is exactly matched by the obsessive focus being just puts on. Recognizing everyone is not the same. Beach has formed an equity committee of staff and students a few years ago, they looked for bias in the curriculum and the signs on their walls and the books on their shelves.
They analyzed achievement data discipline data where they could clearly see that the school punished black boys more harshly than other students. So they revamped their entire approach to discipline, created a restorative Justice Department.
They applied for grants to help pay for this, to train their teachers on implicit bias and then train them again.
They brought in experts and here some things that I look for in transition. So how do kids engage with each other? Is it verbal engagement, not verbal engagement?
Last fall, I went to equity consultants Cornelius and Cass Minor show a group of teachers how to observe racial dynamics in their school.
This involved teachers walking around in a huddle with clipboards, taking diligent notes as kids walk through the hallways.
One fun lens to look at and I'm just kind of like naming things, though I often ask what a boy is doing, what a girl is doing, what her black students doing, what are students of color doing? Mr Minor is full of fun things the teacher should look for.
Here's another fun thing to do. Just because we're out here. I do kind of like drive bys in the hallway where I walk by classroom windows and I look in.
They all take turns peering through the small window of a classroom door. They take more notes. Later, the teachers meet as a group and one teacher, Staceyann Mansura, explains her observations from a math class.
And then in the math class in that we were in something that stood out to me.
So there was two white males, white, female, black male. And I'm walking around and a black male. He was finished and he finished early waiting for his peers to do the thing right per share. And when the timer went off.
The girl, the white girl he was sitting next to, he looked to her, but she looked to the two white boys and they formed the pair.
So it was like now she had to work with him, but she was sort of looking for the other two boys for validation for what this boy was saying. So, like, my teacher herself is like, OK, does this child not participate in class? And she doesn't trust that he knows what he's doing, or is it because she doesn't see him because he's a bad boy and she figures he's not capable?
The teachers talked about this moment in depth, like what it might mean, what messages the kids were picking up in their school, about race, about who's important, who's bad, who's smart.
And it's not just the staff, the administration is telling white parents that their mere presence in the school does not make it integrated, they have to work at making this place fair.
So this is our agenda today. We're going to start with a reflection and we're going to get into how we talk about race with our young people.
One Saturday morning, a group of two dozen parents gathered in the business library for something called the Family Academy. This event was open to everyone, but mostly white parents showed up. And then we're going to and many of them shared that they had never really talked about race very much when they were growing up like a show of hands.
If race was not talked about, only minimally talked about or sort of avoided in some way.
So just looking around the room, about half, about 60 percent of US Assistant Principal Megan Casey walks everyone through a workshop on race and racism in America and child development.
If you think about how just a few years ago, the buzzword in this very school was diversity, everyone is all about celebrating diversity.
But now Megan Casey tells this room of parents diversity is not the goal. Having a diverse school does not mean we have an integrated school. We need to work on that to get to an integrated school, mostly love.
They surveyed students last year asking them about their experiences.
And our white kids overall said it feels like I'm in a in a Benetton ad and it's so diverse and lovely and I'm not experiencing racism or racial bias or implicit bias here at school. It's it's great. And our kids of color were saying they feel less loved, less seen. They talked than though they didn't use this language. They talked about stereotype threat. They talked about implicit bias. They talked about moments with white peers that were uncomfortable with a French, felt a little strained and it was clear to them that their white friend just didn't did not have bad intentions.
Love them, good friend, but didn't know the harm that they were creating and just didn't have the same knowledge base that they had about race and about racial consciousness. I want to just make sure because. For whatever reason, I don't know why sometimes we think that things are better than they are. I just want to come back to our students. They are reporting that this is urgent and we need to continue to deal with it. And it's not a Benetton ad, even if some of our kiddos think it is.
It's a little jarring to hear school leaders telling parents, even though everything looks OK, it's not principal land. Xyloto says she knows it can be hard to hear some of this stuff.
And some people are going to feel pissed off about it and some people do. And that means some people are going to leave the room feeling like they're being blamed. But at the end of the day, this is about kids. This is about serving kids and including families and communities. I mean, what else is the point of a school? Right. That's the whole point of the school. Is that the point of a school when Mrs. Alito said this, I got stuck on the phrase, what is the point of a public school?
We don't seem to have any kind of unified vision. Maybe there was one back when they made that old film about public schools, teaching us about democracy and how to live together. But we don't have a shared vision. Now, what we have is choice. You can choose your vision for a public school. You can go to the test scores school like Success Academy or the Racial Justice School like VHS. There's no city policy that says every school needs to be integrated and equitable.
It's up to us. If we want that, we can choose it. For families with the most power, the most choices, that means we get to choose. Do we want to play fair or not? Abcess families were choosing equity, white advantaged families. I didn't see anyone leave the room at that parents workshop or seem upset or blamed at all. The parents I met a VHS of all races. We're pretty happy with the school, they seem.
But in meanwhile, the test scores of VHS have improved dramatically. There's still an achievement gap, but it seems to be closing. Black boys are no longer being disciplined at much higher rates than everyone else, and the kids seem happy, warm and confident and adept at talking about things like race and power. One day, though, I heard a rumor was going around the high school, kids were saying the PTA was stealing money from the high school and giving it to the middle school.
I heard it first in the library from a group of 10th graders. They said the PTA had taken 1500 dollars to create a garden and they were pissed. Leader heard it again from a 10th grader named Prasanna and it wasn't 1500 anymore.
Yeah, so they just received fifteen thousand dollars for gardening. What else can that be? Fifty thousand dollars can be used for so much more.
But yeah, this was meaningful because the Beach Middle School is much wider and larger than the high school.
And despite all the focus on racial equity for the past few years, the PTA leadership at BJ's is now almost all white. A lot of middle school parents, which has not escaped the notice of students who have been encouraged by their school to notice such things and call them out. A girl named Paola told me we have to keep watching them because there's no one there representing us. My mom works. She can't go to PTA meetings.
It's just very unfair. You know, the fact that. Your mom can be in the PTA and, you know, make all these rules and be like, no, like we want the money for middle school.
Yeah, they're like this all power thing that's like above everybody's head. I can just do, like, take this money and do this and like, young mean.
That's Jeremiah jumping in.
Jeremiah is a kid who jumps in, but he's the guy you go to if you're feeling angry about something unjust and what you want more than anything is someone who will feel just as angry as you do.
Jeremiah tells Paula, this is ridiculous. I'm going to go to the PTA and just tell them straight up, you guys need to stop taking it.
You stop taking money from this to put in that middle school program said to me, it's just too much like you're like middle school already has enough.
Why do you want more?
I wasn't sure they have the details exactly right. But I did think, yeah, here we go again. The mostly white PTA probably is manipulating where money goes.
So I looked into it and it wasn't true. The PTA did not steal money from the high school. It did get money for a garden, but it was grant money, not regular PTA money. Plus, the garden is mostly for the culinary program, which mostly serves the high school.
Jeremiah texted me a few days after we spoke to say sorry to bother you, but I think I might have been a little too critical of the school, is it possible to do a follow up interview? He was mad at himself and his friends for believing the rumor. He was mad that he said it to me and look stupid.
I think there was some leftover feelings. I honestly, I can't even say because I just I just.
What do you mean by leftover feelings? Because that's what we've been that's been the understanding for five years to me, and it's always been that it's always been that it took me a while to get Jeremiah to say more about what he meant by that.
Jeremiah is 15 years old when he was in third grade, the city closed his mostly black school, called it failing.
His mom, a black woman, fought the school, closing as hard as she could, went to every meeting. It happened anyway.
The city put a charter school in the building and it also opened a new small school designed to appeal to the newly gentrified neighborhood. It had a global studies curriculum and a dual language Spanish program. Jeremiah went there third through fifth grade. Then he went to S.A.S. for middle school the year the white kids came in. Suddenly, his science class was sometimes taught in French the after school programs he wanted to go to also French, which he didn't love for obvious reasons because I can't speak French.
So I was pretty annoying.
Right, Jeremiah, a black kid, believed a rumor that white parents in the PTA were stealing from him and his classmates because he understands that this is how schools work.
He has leftover feelings. Jeremiah likes the new VHS and he says it does feel more integrated and more equal.
I told him about some of the white parents I'd been meeting at the school who seemed truly committed to integration.
I think that for four white white moms just think I think it's like a I think it's like it's it's popular now. It's like yoga. It's like, oh, yeah, integration. I kind of like it's cool now.
It's a new thing.
And what do you make of that? I mean, yeah, you're a part of it. I thanks, but I just, you know, really, I was like, do you really genuinely care that?
Everyone's doing it. Yeah, I mean, when it's not beneficial to the white families, it's going to be changed and that's, you know, history repeats itself. So when this becomes not benefit, when this integration isn't beneficial, then it will it'll it'll go right back to where it was before.
History repeats itself is like a very central thesis of my story. Yeah. It's just true for life reanimates. Always history. Always. Just like I just I think it yeah. When the integration is not helpful, it can become segregated again.
That's probably true. Why parents are opting in to be a just right now, but they can just as easily opt out. Historically, they have.
When this school building first opened its doors years ago, black and Puerto Rican parents were demanding integrated equal schools citywide for everybody. They weren't asking for one curated school or a small network of schools where people could integrate if they wanted to. They were asking the Board of Education to have a plan for all schools. They were asking for things to go differently than they have for all of history.
Next time on NASA parents, things go differently.
Naseby appearance is produced by Julie Snyder and me with editing on this episode from Sarah Koenig and IRA Glass. Neil Drumming is our managing editor. Ewing is our editorial consultant, fact checking and research by Ben Phalen, additional reporting from Emmanuel Joce, Jessica Lesson Hop and Alvin Malath Music, Supervision and mixing by St. Nelson with production help from Aviva de Kornfeld.
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