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The Problem of White Parents


I have not listened to the New York Times podcast Nice White Parents, simply because it would get in the way of me listening to music 14 hours a day and that’s not going to happen. But I have had many many people recommend it to me due to it reinforcing my long-standing arguments about white parents, inequality in education, and structural racism. Here’s a review:

People often ask me how to fix public education. I usually answer with a long list of problems, but I don’t have the answer. What I have never said, however, is: “If you want to understand why schools aren’t better, you have to look at White parents.”

Nice White Parents, the new podcast by Serial Productions, boldly and unapologetically goes there. It’s a tale of White parents with benevolent intentions clumsily wielding their power without even knowing it. It’s the story of White agenda-setting with little attention to the needs or priorities of anyone else.

But it’s far more complicated on the ground. White parents bring connections and money with a desire to improve schools — on their terms. Black and brown parents see them as interlopers, coming to save their poor little school with their money and vision.

The juxtaposition is illustrated when a White sixth-grader claims, “It used to be a bad school. We turned it around. Now it’s a top choice. Its status has changed.” On the other hand, the Puerto Rican PTA president felt like she was being saved against her will. “Money twists everything around,” she says.

When I first opened a public charter school in Los Angeles, it was located close to rich and poor, White and non-White neighborhoods. The first class was about half White. The next year the White population decreased to 40%. That’s when the White flight began. Within a few years, the school only had 10% White students, and soon after, just 2%.

This is not unique.

So, how many White kids are needed at a school to make other White families feel comfortable? In my experience, the comfort level is at about 50%. It’s where White parents still feel in control, where teacher requests and special treatment are their realm.

There’s a code White parents often use when talking about largely segregated public schools. During my time running schools, the code most often showed up as, “it’s just not the right fit for our family.” Joffe-Walt reflected on what White parents say to other White parents about the decision not to send their kids to majority non-White schools. “It’s too strict, too chaotic, or too disruptive…the test scores are bad…we want more play, we want fewer worksheets, we don’t want to ride a bus, we don’t want uniforms, we don’t want tests.” In more candid moments, I’ve heard White parents say that they believe in public education, but they don’t want to ‘sacrifice’ their children for it.

I’ll leave out the fact that the reviewer is a charter school guy for now. He’s not an ally of mine. And that actually helps here. He’s someone though who realizes that the major problem in equitable education in this country is that white parents will either withdraw their students from people of color or simply take them over. Both circumstances show massive amounts of white privilege that replicate a racist society over and over and over again across the generations. When the students themselves see that them entering a school makes it “good,” that shows how the kids have already have both internalized and are articulating white privilege at a young age. This is another demonstration of Margaret Hagerman’s point in White Kids on how parents and schools replicate white supremacy in white children, very much including liberal parents.

And how is this all manifesting itself in the age of COVID, with school closures?

Not even paying in cash. UberEats. The new personalized education company scrip!

And sure, yeah, the racists are obviously rural Republican voters in Alabama, not the person next door. Or you. Or all of us whites.

…And sorry for the bad block quoting here. For some reason, I had to do a different block quote for each paragraph.

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