EmbraceRace

Do some (white) parents want integrated schools?

In this hour-long episode of Talking Race & Kids (recorded on April 24, 2018), Melissa Giraud and Andrew Grant-Thomas of EmbraceRace are joined by Courtney Everts Mykytyn and Mindy Wilson of Integrated Schools. They are two white parents who have been actively wrestling with other white caregivers around the issue of school integration for some time. This one is deep, y'all. They share what they’ve learned, where they think the struggle is headed, and why you need to care. 

The video recording is glitchy but the content is well worth it! An edited transcript follows, starting with the framing conversation, and then to community Q&A further down the page

EmbraceRace: Let's just start with this very basic question. What is Integrated Schools? Why did you start it, Courtney? Who's in it? What are you trying to do?

Courtney: It started with a very not uncommon story. I live in a diverse neighborhood now very intensely gentrifying. And when my kids were little it became really clear that none of the white and/or professional/privileged families who were moving into this neighborhood were sending their kids to the local schools. And not only were they not sending their kids, they weren't even thinking about sending their kids to the local school. Not even touring.

Long story short, we ended up lobbying the district for a dual language program which sounded really amazing at the time. We live in a largely Latinx neighborhood. And so we thought having that Spanish/English dual language situation would be great because it would prevent the school from completely gentrifying and also would ideally provide some equity at the classroom level, right, because my kids are going to come in without speaking any Spanish.

The people who are undermining school integration are white and/or privileged families. So our work is really to change the way we talk about integration with white families in order to make it a priority. But also to ensure that the white families who are showing up to these majority schools show up in a way that builds equity ...

Courtney

It sounded really great on paper and in a lot of ways it is great but, what we really realized along the way is … if we're not talking about integration, we're not talking about integration. So while it works in some ways as a mechanism for integration, it can very quickly turn into opportunity hoarding. It can turn into gentrification of a school where we're not talking about integration.

So Integrated Schools was founded really to build out parent support for school integration as a priority. The people who are undermining school integration are white and/or privileged families. So our work is really to change the way we talk about integration with white families in order to make it a priority. But also to ensure that the white families who are showing up to these majority schools show up in a way that builds equity, that we don't just turn into colonizers. And there's a thousand things that happen along the way, the kind of fix-your-neighborhood-school, kind of well-meaning meaning, I want to support my local schools sort of thing that turns quickly into white savior - there's all these different ways that white families show up even when they're well-intentioned that do a lot of damage to schools at the classroom and campus level. So the other part of what we do is ensuring that families have resources to do that with equity in mind.

EmbraceRace: And we’re going to get into all of that. First let me ask Mindy, how did you get involved in Integrated Schools? Your short bio says that you were already doing this work where you live in Houston. Courtney's in L.A. How does that work?

Mindy: So I found my way into integration first through my educational advocacy. When my oldest child started to go to school when he was in PK-3 we did what all of our white friends, affluent friends did. We played this school lottery. We have a magnet program here in Houston where you submit your application and you try to get into the school of your choice.

And we won the lottery. We got into a Montessori which was a public school, not a charter - the regular public school. It was also whiter than the district was. And we started going to school board meetings and learning what the district actually looks like. I started to learn so much more about the schools outside of the gates of my school, across town from my school. As I was advocating at board meetings and giving speeches and paying attention to policy and trying to move the board to be more equitable, it became obvious to me that I needed to look inside of myself and walk that walk. I realized that the school I was in was getting more resources and it had a larger amount of affluent parents.

As a white person, you're hearing that you should always want to get as much for your child as you possibly can, especially in education. You should go for the school that has the most resources. You should go for the school that has the biggest PTA and has all of the bells and whistles. And that's what good parents do, right? But that narrative is really faulted and for lots of different reasons. ​

Mindy

So I decided to make a very intentional step to enroll my child in a school across town, not directly in my neighborhood. A school that looked more like the city, a school that looked more like the beautiful cultures around us. And so my child started last year in a school - it's about 1% white, maybe just under 1%, largely Latinx and black, and about 96 % below poverty level. It is an amazing, beautiful, little school. Really just an average school - it's great. I mean it's really wonderful.

But seeing the juxtaposition between that school and where we were, seeing the haves and have nots of the district, have allowed me to get more involved and has really opened my eyes to what segregation looks like in my city. It taught me what I could do to play a part in desegregation even if it's a tiny drop, a pebble in the lake. A friend told me about Integrated Schools online and about Courtney.

As a white person, you're hearing that you should always want to get as much for your child as you possibly can, especially in education. You should go for the school that has the most resources. You should go for the school that has the biggest PTA and has all of the bells and whistles. And that's what good parents do, right? But that narrative is really faulted and for lots of different reasons.

So I had to really look away from that and be honest about what was going on. Courtney was really instrumental for me as I know she has been for many other families in being honest about their circumstances and the education they truly want their child to be getting. So I had to really look away from that and be honest about what was going on. Courtney was really instrumental for me as I know she has been for many other families in being honest about their circumstances and the education they truly want their child to be getting.

EmbraceRace: So I want to add that I think families of color are also taught to do as much as they can for their kids. Sometimes it's not in reach but there's also this narrative that says, it's about academic excellence and the social emotional piece is secondary. But there's a lot of research that says you can't really have the academic rigor without having an environment that actually is welcoming for all kids.

Reading your bios and the description of Integrated Schools and what you believe in, you’re making these choices not only for social equity but also because doing so IS doing right by your kid but what that entails for you is different than most parents, of all stripes. It’s the norm to go for the high test scores as if that's all that matters. Test scores have determined a lot.

So you’re saying, Mindy, that you do your part, your the pebble that has a ripple effect in the lake. But what about other pebbles - is this a movement to integrate schools, and maybe in particular, among white families? If so, what does it look like? What more do we need?

Mindy: I'm not the only family at my school that's done it. It's mine and another family that have intentionally integrated. But more and more folks are asking questions. Questioning the narrative and making a different decision. I think there's a lot of great authors out there that have led the way and helped people start to take a step back and learn.

Until you're actually building out the desire for that it's going to be really hard to be able to do anything meaningful. We've seen attempts, whether you argue that they're great attempts or half-hearted attempts. But with every attempt, white families can get out of it. We'll do magnet schools. We'll move. We'll go to charter schools, whatever the story is.

Courtney

EmbraceRace: Courtney, do you want to speak to that?

Courtney: I have two answers to this. One is that, yes, there's a lot more talk of this. The conversations that I'm having now are really different than the conversations I was having a decade ago when my kids were little. And I think a lot of that has to do with the current administration. And I think a lot of that has to do with a post-Ferguson wake up, to speak very generally. White families are questioning their complicity in racialized problems. But we have a long way to go before we can have a full, deep movement to embrace all of this school integration fully.

But I also think that we're about to celebrate the sixty-fourth anniversary of Brown v. Board and we've had many years of policy trying to regulate and legislate integration. And ... it's failed.

Until you're actually building out the desire for that it's going to be really hard to be able to do anything meaningful. We've seen attempts, whether you argue that they're great attempts or half-hearted attempts. But with every attempt, white families can get out of it. We'll do magnet schools. We'll move. We'll go to charter schools, whatever the story is.

Also, we're talking about parenting slightly differently. We're living in more diverse communities, and yes, that means gentrification. But what does that mean in relation to schools? So there's a lot of things that are coming together at this point in time that makes it a perfect time to have this discussion. And I think building out that parent piece is the part that's been missing in our national push towards integration.

EmbraceRace: We’d love to hear about your families’ respective experiences with this. Mindy, you already mentioned that your two young kids are among the 1% of white kids in the school they go to. Courtney, I know you have a similar situation ...

Courtney: Yeah. My boy is now in ninth grade and I think he's the only white kid, although I've heard rumors of other white kids. And the school is over 90% free and reduced lunch. He's walked through very similar circumstances since kindergarten. And the girl is in seventh grade and there's a few more white kids in her class. But it's still largely Latinx and largely immigrant, Spanish-speaking families and free and reduced lunch.

​EmbraceRace: At the risk of sounding like a ridiculous softball question, I really am interested to know ... L.A. has more than a few percent white people. Houston has more than a few percent white people. You are obviously among a very small minority of white parents who could choose otherwise but are choosing to send your kids to schools where your white children are very much in the minority. What do we need to know to understand why you do this? Is there anything you can say that would let us understand why you're so strange?

Or why is it not happening more frequently?

Mindy: I can speak to why I'm strange. For me, it's not a superficial decision. It's trying to create something a little bit better and doing better for my children than maybe the opportunities I had. This is one of the opportunities I did not.

In the Houston school district, the biggest in Texas, it is 8 percent white. No surprisingly the city has quite a few more white children and white families. But 8 percent of the school district is white. There's a handful of schools that are more dominantly white, definitely more than the percentage of the district. Those schools typically have the highest proportion of affluent children. Our district averages 80 percent of the kids at or below poverty level, kids who qualify for free and reduced lunch. You would think that all of our schools in our district would be Title 1. There's actually a good handful of schools that are not Title 1 which means that less than 32 percent of their students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

There's this cushion of privilege that whiteness and middle-classness or whatever provides. That and just trusting that my kids aren't actually that fragile. They'll be able to do this. And I think that's a motivating piece for a lot of families.

Courtney

So you can see these pods of affluent. And the school we were at prior was closer to that. I think they were still technically Title 1. But I think the narrative is … you hang out with people, they say these are the good schools. These ones over here are good and we're trying really hard to get into those good ones. And these ones over here, the narrative is, they must not be good. Over here is my zoned school but I don't want to go there.

[The dominant narrative among white parents is] … we're trying everything and either we get in here or we go to private school. Either we get in here or we consider home school. So when I first stepped in and my oldest was 3, I was like, OK, I guess this is what I'm supposed to do. I came from a small town in Wisconsin and the culture was very homogenous. I put my child in school thinking that he would have this really beautiful, diverse situation. And I really started to have to be honest about the fact that it really wasn't that diverse. It was actually quite segregated compared to what I thought it should be. For me it became a small step in that direction.

My youngest child is not yet in that school. I'm hoping he gets in next year. It does require a principal transfer. But that school is under-enrolled. It's much easier to get in there. The school we came from had a waiting list. The year we applied there were something like 600 people on the waiting list. So that's what a "good" school looks like. That's what people think.

And then you have all of these wonderful neighborhood schools that have open spots. So that's what we're doing. We are intentionally changing some of that dialogue and having great conversations with people about the schools that they didn't even give a chance to. They didn't even walk through. They didn't even consider.So we're having those deep conversations.

Courtney: People are showing up in integrating spaces for a lot of different reasons. So Mindy came to it, seeing inequity and, not being able to solve it but certainly not wanting to contribute to it. And then there's people like me who ... I lived in this neighborhood and when we moved in here it felt like we should be a part of this community. And I learned what actually that meant along the way.

I think there's this piece of it that Mindy and I have talked a lot about that you just kind of believe that your kid is going to be fine! There's this cushion of privilege that whiteness and middle-classness or whatever provides. That and just trusting that my kids aren't actually that incredibly fragile. They'll be able to do this. And I think that's a motivating piece for a lot of families.

Community Q & A

EmbraceRace: Let's take some questions. Julie asks, what makes a good school to you now? If not test scores, lots of resources and clubs and AP offerings, etc. Related to that, what do you mean by integration?

Courtney: In some ways it's really simple. What makes a school good is that it has kids in it. And what matters to me most is that it reflects the city that we live in. It reflects the broader community, not necessarily just the neighborhood that the school is in, and that that piece matters. And that I'm not taking more than my fair share. It's really hard to know what that means. But when you're at a school that has a PTA raising four hundred thousand dollars versus four thousand dollars it is kind of easy to look at.

Mindy: I absolutely agree. And I have to say, a good school is a school with teachers who love those children. It's a school with people who want the best for their children. It's a school where children are having fun and playing and learning from each other. That's a good school.

When I hear parents are looking at different websites online to tell them if it's a good school, if there's looking at test scores or any number of data. People just love numbers. If that's the thing that's going to push you, you're missing what makes some schools absolutely amazing.

So when we're trying to work toward equity - if that's the goal of desegregation - it shouldn't be on the backs of people who have these things stacked against them because of the structural racism that we're facing down. So that isn't, I don't think, the work of families who feel like they're not going to be treated equitably. And it could be the same storyline for kids who are growing up in poverty kids, who are neuro atypical, who are facing down different challenges. But there are a lot of middle class white kids who are going to school. And that's the place to start this work.

Mindy

And then also you have to decide, what do you really want for your child? I know my child's going to be just fine. I can tell you I've seen the difference in my child and I wouldn't change that decision for the world. I would encourage any parent to consider it.

EmbraceRace: So let me push you both. One way that some people certainly could hear what you've both just said is - you're two privileged white moms with privileged white kids and it doesn't matter actually what school you go to. As long as your kids stay physically safe, you're going to be fine because it's already predetermined. Courtney, you used the term opportunity hoarding in your opening remarks. So for folks who don't know, in the racial context, privileged white people often hoard the opportunity among themselves and other people who look like them. So that's what elite private schools might do. Right, we're going to just take all that privilege and the social capital in those schools and we're going to keep it within our group.

If you are in a privileged group, your kids will be fine no matter what, is what you’re saying. So you can afford to make that choice to intentionally not opportunity hoard.

But if you're not in such a group, if you are perhaps a poor white family. If you're poor or of any kind or otherwise feel disadvantage in some way, well then education actually is more key to upward mobility.

You've heard all of these arguments and counterpoints but certainly they're worth mentioning - I will not mention them all. But there also will be people of color, right, parents of children of color who say, "Wait a second. Are these two well-meaning, white, liberal women really saying that my kids, my child of color, will benefit from being next to their white child? Noblesse oblige. And that's problematic. You know, why can't we have "segregated," predominantly people of color schools that also serve our kids. What do you say to those folks?

Courtney: I think the answers really depend. For families of color, it's real. Right. You're going to show up with your black daughter and the reality is she is more likely to be disciplined at higher rates than my white daughter. She is less likely to be tested for gifted than my white daughter. All of that stuff is really real, and yet, we've done desegregation on the backs of black and brown kids, for the most part.

So when we're trying to work toward equity - if that's the goal of desegregation - it shouldn't be on the backs of people who have these things stacked against them because of the structural racism that we're facing down. So that isn't, I don't think, the work of families who feel like they're not going to be treated equitably. And it could be the same storyline for kids who are growing up in poverty kids, who are neuro atypical, who are facing down different challenges. But there are a lot of middle class white kids who are going to school. And that's the place to start this work. And those are the kids who aren't going to integrating spaces.

Mindy: I feel that public school should be a reflection of what we want our society to be. And we can choose as white parents to keep our children in what would be considered more segregated [majority white, affluent] schools.

But at the end of the day our children are citizens. Our children are going to go on in the world and they're going to work with people and they're going to interact with people. And they are going to have meaningful relationships with people and they're going to make decisions. And I think that my job as a mother - I have lots of jobs - but one of them is to make just a really thoughtful citizen. Two of them - that are going to go into the world and try and learn from people.

My children are going to be white men someday. So they are already in a position of privilege. And so because of that, I want to do my best to make sure that they look at the world around them and the people around them and really understand. For them to be a minority for a second in their life. They're not going to be harmed by that. And the only good things can happen. So echoing some of the stuff that Courtney said here that we, as white families, we're set up to take more resources. That's how the system's set up.

And so I'm intentionally trying to raise children who might be more mindful and thoughtful of the world around them. I feel that has to start at school because that's the only way I can get them to a point where they can maybe be more thoughtful as they enter society.

EmbraceRace: Moving into questions we've received. Thanks for those great answers. So Jess asks, as we integrate schools how do we make sure we're not colonizing? You referred to that, Courtney, what are some strategies that you two have used?

Courtney: Yeah, I feel like that's the next EmbraceRace webinar! It's a many hours conversation. But there's a couple of main points.

The first is to not approach this school with a sense of risk. Just walk in there knowing that it'll be OK. Because they think that when we show up with this risk mindset like, "I don't know, I guess we'll try it..." You find the danger and the scary when you're looking for it. And so keeping that risk stuff at bay is helpful.

And the other is really thinking about your job on campus as one of advocating for all kids. So when you're talking about your kids, that's a parent-teacher conversation. And in public spaces you are talking about what's best for all kids, and probably really should just be listening to what other people are talking about.

It's showing up with humility, understanding that whatever parent organization is there that might be very small, tiny, haphazard - whatever - that might not look like the privileged, segregated PTAs. It might look different. But you have to be in it for a while without trying to make deep changes. There are a thousand ways to talk about this but those are the big two I'll offer.

EmbraceRace: So I know that Integrated Schools challenges white parents to actually go and walk into their neighborhood school - the school many white parents are not considering, literally not stepping foot into before they make school choices for their kids. I wonder if you could say a little something about that? I assume this is a challenge wherever Integrated Schools has as a footprint and has members. Tell us what you're hearing from parents who do that and if you can also pick up on this question someone asked of what are your experiences and your kids’ experiences at their schools? They're living the experience that a lot of white parents think they don't want their white kids to experience.

Mindy: I think the challenge of walking through schools is really such an important and really thoughtful challenge. As I've had conversations with parents, first off, many of the parents will ask me in the playground, where does your child go to school? And I'll mention the school we go to and they'll say, where is that? What school is that? Is that even in this district? I mean it's a school that they just haven't considered. Our school's a little bit further away from our house than most of the people we know would walk to for their neighborhood school. But I think a lot of them when they say they wouldn't go to that school because it's not a good school, I very rarely have found that they have walked through the school right down the street. It’s important to do that. To visit and see children enjoying themselves. You're forced to see them when you walk through.

I took my child out of the school we were at. The school we are going to had largely Spanish speaking PK-K classrooms and English speaking 1st grade classrooms. We don't speak Spanish in our house and I wanted him to have that opportunity. It's an 80/20 day.

So we were working on just a couple Spanish words at home during the summer and I dropped him in the middle of a classroom where 80 percent of his day is in Spanish. And it went amazing. Far beyond my expectations. I mean, whether my child speaks another language or not was just an opportunity at that school. But the most important things were the relationships he immediately started to form. and the smile on his face and him being very alive and light and happy and just realizing - kind of what Courtney said before - they aren't so fragile. My child did great, is doing great. Is so happy. Couldn't imagine leaving his school. And so I think that's really important, too. You know, we drop them off and we cringe and we wait, right? Thinking the weight of this decision as a parent when a child is walking from one school into another school, and their view on this is much smaller. And it's just been a really beautiful experience for us.

Not to say that it's easy. Of course, there are differences in every school and every situation. You know, at one school the school's really great at making sure that they have fruit as their only snack, and at the other school, most of their fundraisers might be selling candy.

You see the differences in, for example, this PTA or PGO can ... fill in the blank ... when there are budget cuts. This school doesn't seem to be affected as much because they can raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. This other school over here is very affected by any budget cuts that would happen from the district level. And these are important things that a lot of affluent parents, at least where I live, don't have eyes on as closely. It's hard to have eyes on it unless you're involved. So I think that's another reason why it's really important.

EmbraceRace: Courtney, what about you? Your kids are older and can express themselves probably a little bit better.

It was like every progressive parents pedagogical nightmare! They had behavior charts with the sad faces. They did worksheets every day. My best friend's kids were going to the Mir space station for field trips and my kids learning how to sit still, just a nightmare all the way through. And yet .... both of my kids still have interests in things and their curiosity hasn't been crushed and they are - I hate to say testing well because I don't believe in the test but - they're testing fine. Like all of this is still fine.

Courtney

Courtney: They express themselves a lot! My kids definitely see the differences between what some of their friends have at school and what they have. Mindy's school sounds a bit idyllic and my school is a bit of a mess.

Like we had five principles in elementary school. It was like every progressive parents pedagogical nightmare! They had behavior charts with the sad faces. They did worksheets every day. My best friend's kids were going to the Mir space station for field trips and my kids learning how to sit still, just a nightmare all the way through. And yet .... both of my kids still have interests in things and their curiosity hasn't been crushed and they are - I hate to say testing well because I don't believe in the test but - they're testing fine. Like all of this is still fine.

Middle school was really hard, especially for my son. The kids were like, "you're the rich white boy. We're not talking to you anymore." That was some real big times. And he came home one day and was like, "will you please send me to a white school?" Like - argh - you're killing me! But we talked about it. There's also this issue of middle school land where everybody is trying to define each other by their difference and what my kid wasn't hearing was how they were making fun of, you know, Jeffrey for always having bagel in his braces, or, you know whatever other stuff was going on. He's only hearing what's happening to him. And when he goes to a wealthy white school two miles away, they're still going to make fun of him, it just probably won't be that his parents have watched and made him watch Project Runway. Apparently that's rich, white TV.

But yet, a year later, he and his classmates have really worked through it and they're able to talk about that he is the white kid. And he crashed a quinceañera a couple of weekends ago and they've worked through a lot of things he wouldn't have had to if he'd been elsewhere.

“OK, the white lady needs to go talk to the principal.” There's racial and privilege strategizing that all the parents do together once you've built trust and community so that you can advocate for what the community feels is important. Whether it's changing the behavior chart system or advocating at the district level or whatever it is. Once you're in community, that's the place to begin.

Courtney

EmbraceRace: So let me just push you a little bit on that Courtney. Because what I heard there is a series of reasons why your son hasn't been crushed. And that last piece about middle school is, well you know, middle school students go through a lot of stuff and they would be going through stuff at a whiter school. And so let's not freak out about that particular thing, it has a particular cast on it.

I haven't heard you say, my son or my daughter, if they were part of this conversation, they would say ... “here's the plus in going to my school versus the alternative that my friends who visited the Mir space station go to…” Not putting words in his mouth, right, but we're distinguishing between what you see as possible benefits to your kids and what they recognize, especially yours, Courtney, as older kids, what they recognize if they do as beneficial to the experience for them.

Courtney: That's super real. Part of the difficulty is that they just don't have any other experience to compare it with really. So they never really lived in a super white world. And they will. Because they're going to grow up and they're going to be in other spaces. So it be really interesting to hear what they say in six years when they have a little perspective and distance. But we did give the boy some voting power. We retained veto power. But he chose this for high school. It wasn't even a question. We didn't have to pull out parent social justice stuff or talk anything. He was just clear. He's like, this is where I want to be.

So I feel like there's something in that. But trying to get a 15 year old, or my 15 year old, to talk to me about anything can be hard. So I don't totally know how to answer you.

EmbraceRace: That’s fair. So we're getting a bunch of questions. One from Megan. So you're confident that your kids will be fine - you two in particular - in their schools. But how do you advocate for resources for the schools that they're in? Yeah how do you work to change conditions that should be improved?

Mindy: I'm coming back to what kind of impact you make on a school so you aren't a colonizer. I think that the instinct at the old school would have been to just kind of march into that principal's office and demand these things or ask for these things. Not that there aren't situations that maybe you might need to do that, but they're probably far fewer than you might think. I would say that first listening, first asking, first kind of hearing from the community. There are times when, for example, we're in the classroom and they want to have an Easter candy sale. I don't particularly want to do an Easter candy sale for different reasons. But it's not about me. Where can I plug in if I can help, if this is something I can do, I can be a part of. Not coming in and saying, well I will do the Easter candy sale, everybody! I mean it's just finding out where to plug into these simple things like fundraising but also as in advocacy. If there's a way to advocate it's making sure to do that from the lens of the entire community and not just, "my child needs" or "this is upsetting my child." Yes having those conversations with the teacher, that's necessary. But I try to do those few and far between. I don't have to nitpick when I notice different things, tiny things. Will my child be fine? He will totally be fine.

Do I want candy as a reward when he gets a math question right? No, not necessarily! But if that happens sometimes, it happens. I think it's taking back that need to try and fix and control. Just kind of letting the reins go a little bit and realizing that that little horse will go in the right direction most of the time and things will be OK. Even if you get that initial reaction that you must get involved. It will likely be OK. There are times you need to help people advocate for your school if that's necessary on a district level.

If there are things happening and the district needs to know. If maybe the families within that area don't know where to plug in or how to advocate. Rallying people if there's something that you all have a very common concern about, if that's something that people are comfortable with, I think that's a really excellent place to plug in if that's necessary.

Courtney: I hear from a lot of families that once they've been in this school and really become a part of the community, it's just common discussion in a lot of ways like, “OK, the white lady needs to go talk to the principal.” There's racial and privilege strategizing that all the parents do together once you've built trust and community so that you can advocate for what the community feels is important. Whether it's changing the behavior chart system or advocating at the district level or whatever it is. Once you're in community, that's the place to begin.

EmbraceRace: We've had several questions about how to engage folks who are not the choir. And of course, most of the world is not the choir. And maybe a lot of the people, the parents, that you engage are not the choir. So how do you do that? Challenging them to actually walk in that neighborhood school and see for yourself before you make a decision is clearly part of that. I think folks would love to hear about more about how you do that and really how you have the conversation in a way that white people can hear.

I did want to ask one thing before that though which is, for us such a big part of what we do is trying to trying to be very real about the challenge of doing this work. And part of what's super real about school choice in particular is there are many parents who feel that it is the most important decision that they can make. And if they are two people, as there are two people in each of your cases, for making that decision. This is the power of the ideology. So many parents think that this is the way I express my love, by sending them to like the most expensive school, the school the highest test scores. It feels like a high stakes decision right for most parents.

I just wonder were your partners on the same page, if you don't mind sharing? Was there tension around that? That's just a very real thing most of us have to deal with if we want to make this kind of decision.

Mindy: I think that is such a good question because ... No! We are not always on the same page.

It's like any decision, you're making a life correction - I call it a correction - a change. You're looking at things in a different light and you have to decide this is really important to me and this is why and how do you feel?

So in my world, my husband also really liked Montessori. He thought, Montessori is just a great pedagogy for us. It works for us. It makes sense for us. So we're going to leave that and just go to some neighborhood school?

We're going to go to some school where our child is going to have to sit at a desk for maybe longer periods of time than he would in this other kind of environment? And so it was a very long conversation. It has to take place in a big picture kind of way, talking about the way it affects the community and then you need to drill down to, what do we want more for our a child?

But I think the really important thing is for you and your partner to walk through that school, or a handful of schools, so you both can kind of visualize the child you both love so much in that space. And then let go of that narrative and just kind of just let it happen. There's a little bit of blind trust there when you are walking away from what everyone tells you is the right thing and you are questioning what everyone says is right. It's a thing that both people have to reach.

I have some friends that are going to that exactly right. They are having that kind of conversation, they don't really know what to do and the couple are in two different places.

Courtney: I just talked with a dad who said that he divorced his first wife over this. I'm sure there must have been other issues, but he claimed that he wanted their kids to go to an integrating school and his wife didn't. There are really, real issues because there's not really an easy middle ground in most cases. I was sort of lucky in that my partner didn't care. He just really wanted me to stop talking about school!

I mean I think it's a really hard conversation in a lot of ways. The way we're looking at it at Integrated Schools is, we have so many people who are technically part of the choir who care about race and justice and social justice and equity and all of these things who are still not making this choice. So we need to tip in the people who are in the choir. The choir's bad right now. It's a bad choir, so we need to work on the choir!

When we have a solid, beautifully harmonic choir, then we can actually have different conversations in a much more broad and loud way we can do more changing and just disrupting the narratives that keep people from stepping into these integrating spaces.

I see a question in the chat: how do you talk about this without sounding sanctimonious? I love that question and Mindy does, too, as part of the "tiny sanctimonious army." It's hard and it's difficult and it's a lot about asking questions like, what do you mean that no one sends their kid to that school? Because there are kids in that school. Asking simple questions to get people to think about the assumptions that they made in that question.

And I think sometimes you have to kind of be OK a little bit with sounding a little bit sanctimonious - a little bit. It's about knowing when and where and how and what you're standing up for in what space.

[S]ending my child to a school that's not giving us the most privileges, not giving my child those additional resources, doesn't mean I love my child less. It doesn't mean that my child is a guinea pig. It doesn't mean any of those things. It means I'm giving my child a different experience and that experience is good. Because if my child's a guinea pig, then we have to say all of the children in that school are guinea pigs. And why should they be guinea pigs? They shouldn't.

Mindy

EmbraceRace: I love that question, too. And I think there's strong ideology around this. It's very radical in our culture to think that your kid is not more or less valuable than any other child.

We've been really taught that that's not true. And so it ends up feeling like you're doing this because it's morally correct - it's a noblesse oblige thing - and not also because it’s rewarding for you and your children, too. It's a hard thing to explain in our work as well because so often people of privilege think you're asking them to be nice or share a little bit. To “make a sacrifice for the greater good.”

When actually it's better for all of us, to have authentic relationships, etc. It really affects us all if we don't break down these barriers. It's hard to talk about and obviously the way that I'm talking it makes that clear!

Courtney: You have to have all the things in the air at the same time. It is the right thing to do if we actually feel we're part of a democracy and a society. But too far down that road quickly turns into saviorism, right? And yet if you're doing it because I want my kids to benefit on the backs of black and brown kids, that's also super problematic. But it is good for my kids to be in these spaces. And it is good for democracy to think about what it means to actually be together and grow up together. But it's none of those that much, but it's all of those a little bit, and it's hard to juggle that. We're not good at it.

Mindy: And I would take it a step further and say, yes, privileged people, give a couple things up. Do it. It's OK. Just give it away, a little bit. That's equity. I got to this point in life not just on my own hard work and pulling up my bootstraps, I need to be honest about that. There is a system in place that is meant for me to succeed. There's a the system in place that's meant for my children to succeed.

And by sending my child to a school that's not giving us the most privileges, not giving my child those additional resources, doesn't mean I love my child less. It doesn't mean that my child is a guinea pig. It doesn't mean any of those things. It means I'm giving my child a different experience and that experience is good. Because if my child's a guinea pig, then we have to say all of the children in that school are guinea pigs. And why should they be guinea pigs? They shouldn't.

Of course my child is special to me. I birthed my children and love them more than anything. But my child isn't more important. My child doesn't deserve more money. My child doesn't deserve more resources. They don't. Especially when we're talking about a public school education. Those are public dollars. For me it always comes back to trying to make a really good person, as best I can, a person who's got a better eye on the world around them. And who has more of those experiences and who kind of internalized more of that. And the only way I know how to do that is to start when they're very little and raise them that way.

It's messy and it's hard and I don't know how to do it. And I'm figuring it out and places like Integrated Schools is how I can plug in and say, oh my gosh, this just happened. Or I don't know what to do here, or my child has a really great question but how do I even address that? These are really awesome, beautiful, authentic things and these are things that I want my child to come and start talking about at 6 and at 8 and 10 and 12. Because eventually, I won't be the one answering them. And so I want to prepare that framework for my child to flourish.

EmbraceRace: Thank you, Courtney and Mindy from Integrated Schools. And I want to end on this note from Kristen, who says, "finding Integrated Schools was life changing for me. My kids are 15 and 18 and have attended minority white schools. We've had great experiences but felt very alone until we found Integrated Schools."

​Find out more about the Integrated Schools community - including their virtual happy hours, book club and resources - at IntegratedSchools.org

Courtney Everts Mykytyn

Courtney, a mom of two, founded Integrated Schools in 2014 after over a decade of working on integration in her Los Angeles neighborhood. Integrated Schools is made of White and/or privileged parents who care a LOT about sending their kids to school outside of the bubble, who believe that their kids are strong, and that growing up with children from all backgrounds is what makes great people.

Mindy Wilson

Mindy, a mother of two, is a member of Integrated Schools. She supports public education and integration through advocacy within her local school district in Houston, TX.
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