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‘We,’ not ‘they’

School closings and restructurings naturally bring out the worst impulses in people. The desire to protect and preserve the familiar, even if it is somehow not to standard, is a strong one – who are these outsiders to judge our school? Our community? Are all schools being subjected to equally applied scrutiny?

Well, in the current round of proposed Seattle school closures, a lot of people feel that the answer is no, standards are being unevenly applied. Many of the proposed changes appear to disproportionately affect minority neighborhoods. They also appeared to target city-wide, alternative schools, such as The Boy’s.

If you’ve been following along, you know that The Boy attends Dr. X’s Home for Wayward Mutants the school district’s Accelerated Progress Program, which serves ‘highly capable’ students. A long-standing (and valid) critique of APP is that African Americans are underrepresented in the program. IIRC, the numbers break down something like this: kids from majority white neighborhoods who qualify for APP enroll at more or less an 80% rate, kids from majority Asian neighborhoods enroll at over 90%, and qualifying kids from majority African American neighborhoods enroll at slightly over 50%. It averages out to 80-ish% from each sector of the city, but clearly something is askew. Given the high correlation between socio-economic status and IQ scores, APP skews towards the affluent as well, with under 10% of the student body qualifying for free or reduced-cost lunches, compared to a district-wide average of about 40%.

Well, one of the proposals made during the current closure/restructuring plan was that APP should be split into two cohorts. Students from northern parts of the city would form one cohort, students from the central and southern parts the other. Both cohorts would be located in under-performing schools, both of which have majority African American populations. (To put it into perspective, the APP PTA typically raises 20 times as much money as the PTAs from either of these other schools.)

I’m sure you can see where this is heading… This went back and forth and back and forth, with additional proposals being made (one of which would have merged the northern APP students with students from another affluent, white school and left the southern students with the poor, black school – um, guys? you would have been lucky to even reach ‘separate but equal’ under that plan) until finally a compromise of sorts was hammered out.

As it stands now, some parents support the split; a few strongly, but most have been lukewarm but willing to give it a try. An apparent majority of parents are loudly and militantly opposed to it outright, and have said some ugly and clumsy things in the process of preventing the split. I think that most have been said out of ignorance and arrogance than out-and-out, full-throated racism, but the cumulative picture isn’t pretty: APP parents are coming across as spoiled, whiny, rich brats who resent having their white privilege threatened.

And then yesterday, the KUOW interview happened:

Rose Sanders knows what the Seattle School Board is going to vote on this Thursday (1/29): Her advanced program at Lowell Elementary, and the superintendent’s idea to split it. “The north end kids are gonna stay at the Lowell building, and the south end kids are gonna have to go to Thurgood Marshall. Nobody in my class is happy about that, except for me,” said Rose. Rose is a south end kid. She’s nine years old. The split of the Accelerated Progress Program (APP) is part of the superintendent’s school closure plan. Most parents who’ve testified at board meetings are angry about it. KUOW’s Phyllis Fletcher asked Rose why she likes the idea.

Why does she like the idea? In part because of comments like “[Y]ou’re not doing your work, so why don’t you just go back to your old stupid black school” from another student.

Now aint’ we got fun?

To be sure, the experiences reported by Rose don’t square with what I’ve seen in our three years there, but then again there haven’t been a whole lot of brown-skinned kids in The Boy’s classes. Rose’s story feels true. Unpleasant, but true. And as a result, the APP community is in damage-control/pushback mode (I sent a thank-you email to the reporter – I thought it was a good and necessary story, and I can only imagine the shit she’s being subjected to right now.).

When the initial plan was proposed, I wanted to find a local, African American perspective on the split, preferably online because, well, I’m a geek. Good luck with that – there are black Seattle voices online, but very few were discussing the school situation, and almost none were willing to engage the issue beyond reporting the basic facts. I did find one site willing to deal with the racial issues head on – Sable Verity. Throughout the process, her site has been a good additional perspective, which is why I was really disappointed to read this there today:

[T]his kind of behavior [(the blowback)] is exactly the kind of thing that is so wrong with the APP program. The attitude and mentality. They refuse to accept the fact that they take advantage of a system and a program that is not inclusive and that is not culturally competent, despite having a special committee with that token word “diversity” in the title.

When adults can’t see past their self righteousness, all of the kids suffer the considquences. [sic]

Here’s the problem: it’s not a ‘they’ issue, it’s a ‘we’ issue. How do we as a city-wide community make APP more accessible to the 50% of qualified black students who opt not to attend? How do we as parents from all over the city fix this? Do we even know what ‘fixed’ looks like? Are we talking ‘fixed’ like your leaky radiator, or ‘fixed’ like your cat? I’m a programmer, dammit – give me some specs or a requirements doc, and I can work with them. Until then, what can we do?

Nothing. We’re left with muddling along without an adequate response, to the bureaucracy, to the valid criticisms, to the bullshit and self-righteousness from both sides. Our kids and our community deserve better, and that’s something only we can provide.

All of us.

7 Responses to “‘We,’ not ‘they’”

  1. Seattlehorn Says:

    The KUOW spot was irresponsible, on all accounts, particularly for poor Rose, who is still dealing with the fallout. Divisive racial rhetoric, to what end? But yes, I’d like to know what success looks like, since we APP families are tasked with fixing the problem, at considerable cost, with a history of failure (Madrona) and little likelihood of success, grace a Al Sanders, et al. Exactly what percentage increase in black APP enrollment (no one talks about increasing female or Native American enrollment, but some kinds of diversity trump others in this city) will qualify as success?

  2. protected static Says:

    Oh, I didn’t think it was irresponsible – it told one student’s story, that’s all. The reporter certainly didn’t intend it to be a ‘gotcha’ – she gave a series of interviews with different students and their families about how the proposed changes were going to affect them. That Al Sanders happened to already be a lightning rod was, I think, an unfortunate coincidence; unfortunately, I don’t think the reaction from the Lowell community would have been all that different if the same interview (with the same story) had been conducted with a different child.

  3. Seattlehorn Says:

    If I had never heard of Al Sanders before the interview, I might share your equanimity. In a variety of forums public and private, however, he has promoted his singular views of Lowell’s racial climate.

    Further, if I did not know (1) the reporter’s perspective that APP racial problems have “worsened” since she was a student, (2) her educational background (not journalism), and (3) her comparison of Lowell parents’ defensive reaction to KUOW-members’ outcry over the replacement of Fresh Air with Travis Smiley (wha?), I might consider the piece just another in a “human interest” series.

    But no. It was muckraking that exploited a 9-year old and fomented racial tension, the impact of which is far-reaching. I heard that the relevant principals, black and white — tasked with bringing together diverse populations after the split — were heartsick over this story. Can you blame them?

  4. protected static Says:

    I’ve run across Al Sanders on the Lowell bulletin board, and he was an abrasive asshole. So what? I stand by what I wrote – if the story had been about any other black child, the reaction would have been largely the same. It hits too close to home, and raises uncomfortable issues around that Gordian knot of class and racial privileges. Al’s views are hardly ‘singular.’

    I have no way of knowing whether or not Phyllis Fletcher thinks racial problems in IPP/APP have gotten worse since she was a student. And I fail to see what the reporter’s educational background has to do with, well, anything.

    The story didn’t foment anything – it exposed tension that’s already there: in neighborhood gentrification, in busing, in school choice, in the racial tie-breaker, in the mergers and closures of schools… The reaction from Lowell parents wasn’t merely defensive – in some cases it was outright hostile. I’d call that indicative of pre-existing tension.

    And of course the principals were upset over the story – it was upsetting. But so was the reaction.

  5. Seattlehorn Says:

    I don’t disagree with you; there is simply more to this than racial tension. There was an agenda.

    As for Fletcher’s education, one expects less and usually gets it of people who are not trained in their field. (Not that computer geeks can’t write entertainingly, this blog an obvious case in point.)

    I see this story as another example of the Foxification of KUOW. Google for more.

    Thanks for chatting, in any case. See you around school. I’m the white lady with a chip on her shoulder.

  6. Botherinme Says:

    Rose Sander’s comments are only a reflection of her father’s. The quote from Rose: “You’re not doing your work so why don’t you go back to your old stupid black school” was supposedly said by another classmate,is NOT true! Rose told her classmates that she wasn’t doing her class assignment and interrupting others (as usual)and was told by another student that “you’re not doing your work… so why don’t you just go back to your old school” then Rose responed “What my stupid black school”. She was the only one to bring up race/color. Everytime something didn’t go her way she started fussing and playing the race card. Hmmm. Obviously, she is a reflection from her home environment.

  7. protected static Says:

    And you feel a need to make this accusation seven-and-a-half months later… why? Hmmm.

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