“Separate, but equal”

Today, to pique my kids’ interest in the government of the burgeoning kingdom of France (currently in the Medieval Europe Unit), I began by posing the question of, “How does the US organize its government?”  We meandered a bit as we broached upon the three branches, and in efforts to explain the power of the judicial branch and to connect it to the thoughts we discussed yesterday about Martin Luther King Jr., I gave a quick rundown of Ferguson v. Plessy and Brown V. Board of Education.

It went something like this:

“So Ferguson versus Plessy was the ruling that made it okay to give white kids and minority kids different schools.  That’s where the whole “separate but equal” idea came from.  So that’s why there were different seats on the bus, different water fountains, different schools.”  

I noticed that most kids were steadfastly listening, but to drive home the point I continued by making it more personal:

“Guys, look.  We’re all minorities.  None of us would’ve been allowed to go to a school with the white kids.  Even if you look white, your last name gives you away!”

I added the last part because some of the kids were sort of shrugging because they were “white.”  Then, I continued.  

“But THEN Brown versus Board of Education showed that it actually wasn’t equal.  So they overturned it and now,”

I triumphantly faced the class,

“schools aren’t segregated and…”

I faltered as I stared at the sea of–what I had just mentioned two sentences ago– minority faces,

“white kids and minority kids can now go to the same school,” I finished lamely.  

I managed to spin this last bit by talking about grown-up stuff (California taxes etc) that made school funding more equitable so even if you don’t go to school with white kids, you still get the same resources (which was a lie, I admit).  Yet I’m sure some of the keener kids got the situational irony: sure Brown V. Board of Education happened; and yet more than half of them have never attended an “integrated” school.

It’s strange – lots of recent issues have surfaced concerning charter schools and segregation.  It’s no lie that certain low-income areas have a predisposition to certain ethnicities and races — and that’s usually where charters go.  In Oakland, families who care about education either go to charters or independents.  The richer kids go to the independent schools and the poorer kids go to the charter schools.  And that’s that.  Having taught in both types of schools, I have to say, the kids are the same.  But, the way they’re handled and disciplined is different (which makes my heart ache a bit when I see kids at my school).  Parents from independent schools know how to advocate for their kids (sometimes to their child’s detriment), whereas the best of parents at my school don’t really know the ropes of US education and most parents are really busy with other things.

At school, I have to tell myself everyday to focus on the heart of every issue, to not get caught up in practices and processes, but to remember the why behind everything my school does.  As I continue with my kids, I’ve been giving myself more liberties from the way our school does things.  Also, as the kids have accustomed themselves to the behavioral demands of the school, I, in turn, can also be more lax with them.

I see this as one stage in my life.. I’m not committed to this profession; if anything, education sucks.  However, I am committed to my students.  I really don’t want to lose any of them to God knows what’s out there.  So even if for now, I’m teaching in a segregated setting due to socioeconomic and political factors, I’m blessed to be an Asian with immigrant parents, with family in South America, who grew up in a lower economic bracket, who struggled in math and didn’t know English in kindergarten, because as “a privileged minority,” I get to cash in on my benefits while still empathetically let them know where they ought to be and where they can go.  [whew, run-on].

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One response to ““Separate, but equal”

  1. ” I’m not committed to this profession; if anything, education sucks. However, I am committed to my students.”

    I think a lot of teachers feel this way.
    -A fellow teacher, in Berkeley.

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