Reactions and Responses

Hi Friends,

I have been trying to write about what has been unfolding in the Middle East for a month. I have drafted and edited and asked friends for feedback and edited some more. And during this process, most of you have heard nothing but silence from me, and for that, I apologize. I condemn antisemitism, Islamophobia, dehumanization, and oppression of any kind.

I have been grappling with the frenzy of urgency and the complicity of silence. Harm can be caused by both. The rush to “take a stand” has caused many to pick sides and to feel isolated or divided from their communities. Pain upon pain upon pain. One person I read noted the additional spiritual violence many are experiencing. I want to validate how complicated and confusing many of our feelings are right now.

I have struggled to write this post. (I acknowledge the privileges that I have that allow me space and time and distance from what is happening.) I have wanted to avoid making mistakes. I have been confused about how to talk about a situation in which two systemically impacted groups of people have been positioned against each other, resulting in mutual dehumanization and violence. I have been worried about calls for unwavering loyalty to one group over another to justify violence instead of validating the shared humanity of each and every one of us.

Many of us have been reactive and in pain and seeking unequivocal validation of our sense of threat. Most of us are not skilled in validating someone’s feelings even when we do not agree with those feelings, and so many messages and articles and posts have contributed to binary thinking and people choosing sides. Cycles of dysregulation and spirals of emotions. Division and fear compounded.

Each of us respond to perceived threats in different ways and it is important that we continue to show compassion, love, and curiosity about each other and resist pulling away or turning toward despair, hate, or violence. These moments of panic challenge us to respond rather than react, something that takes practice. I have been reading Valarie Kaur’s See No Stranger and it has been very meaningful as she speaks about the aftermath of 9/11 and the reactions that followed against anyone who could be remotely associated with terrorism. I fear that we are repeating those mistakes.

Recently, public reactions are shifting. Many more people are denouncing violence and are calling for a ceasefire. Many more people are responding with compassion and love and understanding while still holding the line of human rights as a baseline.

I am so grateful for the thoughtful people who have reached out to their communities quickly and with compassion. I have so many examples now of how to hold space for grief, how to express compassion for suffering, and also how to hold the line of the value of all humanity and human rights, ideally bringing people together in the process.

We must resist the forces that seek to divide us from each other. Most of us are harmed by fights for power and dominance by governments/states/organizations that are not motivated by shared humanity. While a power imbalance exists between Israel and Gaza and should be acknowledged, the power imbalance I want to highlight is between those in positions of power who are willing to use violence to harm civilians and the rest of us who want to live our lives in peace and do not hate each other. (Credit to the last paragraphs of Robert Hubbell’s post here.)

If you have also been feeling confused or hesitant or doubtful, I recommend the following resources, action items, etc. There are many roles to play in changemaking. Consider your capacity and preferences and jump in wherever the opportunities present themselves — donating funds, mutual aid, writing to media and elected officials, marching or protesting, educating yourself about the history and context of Israel and Palestine, and amplifying voices that are not reflected in our mainstream news sources. We can hold each other and build our connections with each other because so many forces right now are trying to divide us.

If you want to learn more about how to support Palestinians in particular, here’s a resource document that several people have put together and is being updated frequently. I was given permission to share it with you.

These resources have been helpful to me; maybe they will be for you, too:
- Nicholas Kristoff’s “We Must Not Kill Gazan Children to Try to Protect Israel’s Children
- Iman Jodeh’s “Opinion: Human rights for Palestinians should not be controversial
- The Anti-Racism Daily’s “Recognize state-sanctioned violence” and “Solidarity Isn’t conditional
- Kurt Streeter’s “‘I Love You. I Am Sorry’: One Jew, One Muslim and a Friendship Tested by War” and NewGround’s website
- Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg’s “a lot of things are true
- Ryan Grim’s “Gaza and the Empathy Gap
- Valarie Kaur’s work, including this quote
- Solutions Not Sides “Avoiding Antisemitic and Islamophobic Hate Speech
If Not Now
Standing Together
Peace Now
Friends Committee on National Legislation
The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories
Ali Abu Awwad
The Jerusalem Youth Chorus
Jewish Voice For Peace
Rabbi Angela Buchdahl
There are many more out there.

Please, do not lose hope and do not turn from each other. There are so many examples of people working together for peace and standing in the name of humanity. Find something that you can commit to and keep going. You are not alone.

Listen. Amplify. Follow. In Solidarity.

Freezing, Silence, and Shame

Hi Friends,

Happy Fall! I hope your school years have started well (for those of you caring for school-aged children) and that things are settling into a new routine.

I have been reading a lot and remembering some experiences and wrestling with the fact that there have been several times when a White person has acted in a racist way towards a Black person and I have been silent/frozen in the moment. I have not been walking the walk of my anti-racist talk. In response, I have been educating myself about bystander interventions and other strategies I can use to show up differently in public.

I’m finding that silence is really common, especially among White women. From my own experience, I have been socialized to avoid making anyone else uncomfortable (read, other White people) and I often feel socially disempowered in public spaces even though I’m not. My socialization can cause me to question what I’m observing and to make excuses or explain away someone else’s harmful behavior (read, if they are White). My/our tendencies to not get involved, to freeze or stay silent, need to be unlearned.

One of the books I read recently that really focuses on “nice White silence” is White Women: Everything You Already Know About Your Own Racism and How To Do Better by Regina Jackson and Saira Rao. I recommend this book with a caveat: If you are a White woman, this book will challenge and disrupt you. You need to have people or resources in place so that you do not get stuck in a disrupted state of shame or guilt. Before you read it, make plans to move through those feelings (advice heavily informed by Shelly Tochluk).

In my own processing of White Women, I turned to Brené Brown and her book, I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough.” Brown focuses on the role of shame in our lives, particularly for women, although also for men, and I have found her insights to be absolutely essential for understanding my own journey of self-work in anti-racism and in understanding other White people’s barriers when doing this work (or to starting it in the first place).

For example, when White people start to learn more about their complicity in upholding White supremacy structures, they often respond with denial, bargaining, guilt, and shame. Brown says, “When we are experiencing shame, we are steeped in the fear of being ridiculed, diminished or seen as flawed. We are afraid that we’ve exposed or revealed a part of us that jeopardizes our connection and our worthiness of acceptance.” (p. 20) Fear of being branded as racist is very strong.

One of the things I have encouraged my readers to do is to always continue with our self-work, our own growth and healing. Brown says, “Empathy and connection require us to know and accept ourselves before we can know and accept others.” (p. 49) If we truly want to be in relationship with people in our communities, we need to be kind to ourselves and work on our own barriers to empathy and connection. And, it turns out that being afraid of saying the wrong thing to someone is a barrier to empathy and connection (p. 56).

Brown has struggled with the same things we do: “I’ve learned that it is better for me to accept the fact that I struggle with many of the same learned biases that other people do. This has allowed me to spend my energy unlearning and changing my prejudices rather than proving that I don’t have any.” (p. 59)

Beyond looking at how we treat ourselves when we are experiencing shame, we must also look at how we are treating others. Do we use shame to try to change someone else’s behavior? It won’t work. Brown says, “Are we using shame as a punishment because we think it will foster real change in people? Or are we shaming others because it feels good to make people suffer when we are in fear, anger or judgment?” (p. 66)

This past weekend, I participated in a “Depolarizing Within” workshop through Braver Angels. I’m still learning about this organization, and I found a lot of meaningful tips for rethinking a lot of my own polarization and how I can address that. One of the things I learned is how, even though I have diversified my media intake and authors I read from a racial/cultural perspective, I still mostly read people who I agree with. This reinforces my ability to “other” entire groups of people and is something I can and must address.

This is not a “both sides” argument. It simply means that if my goal is to encourage White people to engage in anti-racist/anti-oppression work in themselves and in their communities that I need to ensure that I approach those connections with respect and accuracy. If you want to learn more about the workshop, you can access the handout here (this is shared with their permission).

I would love to hear your thoughts about any of this. If you want to learn more about shame and the Black experience, I’m currently reading You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience by Tarana Burke and Brené Brown and it is such an important collection of work. And if you’re ready to move “away from individual learning and practice and into collective action that builds power,” check out this article from SURJ and/or find ways to support the UAW strike.

Listen. Amplify. Follow. In Solidarity.

I Still Have Hope

Hi Friends,

I hope you’re all having a good summer so far. I’m sorry I’ve been quieter than usual since I wrote last. Some really impactful things have been happening for me lately.

I have been engaging with some really wonderful growth and healing work since December and that has included some restorative justice training in the last month or so (shout out to the DC Peace Team, and thanks to Leah for sharing their info with the group!).

I have continued exploring my ancestral roots and the strong connection of that work to anti-oppression work, wrestling with harm caused and harm experienced, and gaining a greater understanding of my own identity and opportunities to shift the trajectory of my lineage.

I was a witness to a family experiencing a life-changing, life-ending time in their lives, watching people who could help refuse to do so. I am still processing my role in seeking justice for this family, finding my way along the path of next right things.

I have accumulated so many amazing resources to share with all of you that I’m feeling a bit buried and I don’t want to dig out by blasting all of you with an overwhelming amount of information (we get enough of that from the daily news cycle). I’m also feeling sensitive to the constant bombardment of the challenges our world faces — climate change, oppressive and dehumanizing systems, significant power in the hands of the few, threats to democracy, intense polarization and so much anger.

While the truths about what we are facing feel insurmountable sometimes, I still feel hope. I want my updates to you to reinforce the sense of community that you are part of as a changemaker in this world. I want you to feel connected and resourced and encouraged. I want you to know that you are enough, that you do not have to do this work to make you a “good” person, or to deserve humanity.

We do anti-oppression work because we know that our own well-being is tied up in the well-being of everyone, not because we feel guilty or ashamed. We have chosen to incorporate justice and solidarity work into our lifestyles because that is who we are. We understand that this is lifelong work and that our own individual growth and healing contributes to our abilities to effect change in our communities.

We believe that how we take care of each other in this world is one of the most important things.

Nicole Cardoza of Anti-Racism Daily said recently, “I can’t wait for motivation to make a difference. And quite frankly, our world can’t wait for that either. I’ve made this work part of my daily practice, just like brushing my teeth and walking my dog. I’ve set routines and habits that ensure it’ll get done, regardless of how motivated I feel. … Part of that practice is the reminder that nothing will change unless we try. Mariame Kaba famously said that “hope is a discipline,” and that resonates with me. If we only believe in change when we see progress, we’ll lose our way.”

Michele Chang and Lisa Cohen from Kitchen Table Conversations about Race & Belonging shared this in one of their recent newsletters: “Something that I found particularly helpful is the idea that the “window of opportunity” for advances in equity and inclusion is not closed; it is merely not as wide open as it was in the summer of 2020. This perspective allows us to realize that our efforts are still needed, that we can still get through the window to minimize the harm of the “fire” inside the house (representing racism and other oppressions). Michele pointed out that as we consider how to show up now, we may want to lean into the ways in which we can be more agile and creative. We may need to “limbo” our way through the window or look for alternative ways into the house around the side or back. Also, we don’t only need firefighters for this effort; we also need architects, engineers, water carriers, and those who can help us to rest and recharge, among others.” (They gave me permission to share this and their contact info, asking me to invite you to join the Table!)

Raising our children (or interacting with children in general since I know not everyone here is currently in this stage of life) can be an essential form of changemaking. Here’s encouragement from Anti-Racism Daily about talking to kids about race.

Community Safety Agenda was created recently by a whole bunch of human rights/justice organizations that provides a clear model of what our communities need and how to get there. Let this guide you in your work.

Did you know that July is Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month? Learn more here.

At the risk of seeming too optimistic, the National Governors Association announced a new project called Disagree Better: Healthy Conflict for Better Policy. Tell your governor that this is the kind of politics and discourse that you want to see.

Listen. Amplify. Follow. In Solidarity.

Objectification and Dehumanization

Hi Friends,

I hope this finds you well and enjoying spring! I have been growing and learning in some new directions over the last few months and I am excited to share with you as we all move forward in this essential work together.

Today, I’d like to discuss one of the stuck places for white people in anti-racism work, which is (subconsciously) seeing BIPOC as objects to collect or to serve us in some way. It is very easy, when we make choices about the communities we live in or the schools we send our children to, to see these decisions as ways of showing our antiracist credentials, reducing the people in those scenarios to objects in our space that contribute caché and don’t warrant further connection or acknowledgement of humanity.

Unfortunately, the way we describe these choices often takes the perspective of what we get from proximity to BIPOC (besides feeling good about ourselves), which can demote the people who are our neighbors or community members to being objectified rather than individuals with inherent value of their own. It’s a bit like patting oneself on the back when one says “I have a Black friend” or when companies tokenize their BIPOC employees or DEI hires.

A friend of mine wrote a great scenario to consider:

— — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Take for example the sentence, “I love my daughter’s day care. They have diverse caregivers there. There’s a Muslim woman who wears a headscarf.”

Now, what comes next?

“I’ve always considered converting to Islam, and so I was glad to have a chance to talk to her about her faith in an environment where she could answer my questions better than a stranger could, because of how well she knew our family, having been a caregiver to my daughter for the past year.”

Yeah, that’s probably not what comes next.

But if it did, that kind of statement would reflect a recognition that the Muslim caregiver has a point of view (she has opinions about my family), has autonomy (she has made choices about her faith that I might value and want to emulate), and she isn’t fungible (one Muslim isn’t replaceable with another Muslim in this context, because she has relevant information about my family that others don’t).

What usually comes next after a sentence like that? Maybe nothing really at all, which reveals that there’s nothing to the comment other than the sheer novelty of the situation. If you could substitute, “There’s a dog who stands on its hind legs” for whatever reference to BIPOC or diversity you are making, and the result communicates the same thing (well, I’ll be damned!), then that’s objectification.

Maybe what comes next is a generic sentence like, “and it’s so great that my daughter can learn about other cultures.” Well, your daughter can learn about other cultures regardless of whether this person is there or not. If you could substitute “Look, sweetie, there’s a giraffe, remember, we talked about those” for a BIPOC, then that’s probably a sign of objectification.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

This awareness isn’t just about individual perspectives that might cause individual harm. Even subconsciously viewing people as objects is dehumanizing — it upholds systemic hierarchies of value that devalue some people and uplift others.

If we are only thinking about ourselves (understandable in our culture of hyperindividualism, the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” myth, and the consumerism we are constantly breathing), then we are prevented from truly being in community with others and our efforts to connect will be shallow and temporary. Engage with the people in your life not because of the group they might belong to, but because they have inherent individual value.

Let us commit to building relationships, growing solidarity with people of many experiences and perspectives, and taking action in ways that serve the greater good and not just ourselves.

Listen. Amplify. Follow. In Solidarity.

- ACLU’s tracker of legislation attacking LGBTQ+ rights
- Supporting the teaching of accurate history
- In.Visible Paradigms created a Social Justice Terms document
- Use the HEAL Together toolkit for community organizing

Safety Through Compassion

Hi Friends,

It has taken me time to write this, as I have grappled, as I’m sure every person who cares for children has done, with the reality that they face danger, even in places that should be safe. I also realize that I am somewhat new to this experience since my children are white and that schools and the education system in general is structured in a way that my white children are more likely to feel safe at school than BIPOC children.

As tempting as it is to imagine that others are to blame for gun violence in schools and in our communities and that those individual others should be removed/expelled/jailed/excluded from our communities and that that is what will keep us safe, that is exactly the opposite of what we need to do. First, gun violence is systemic and needs to be reported and understood as such. The normalized gun violence threat has been present in BIPOC communities for longer than many of us realize and does not receive the public attention and advocacy it deserves.

The response to shun or isolate anyone we perceive as threatening is a long-standing strategy to divide and control members/groups in our communities. When schools or districts respond to threats by criminalizing students, our schools and communities become less safe. Often, those who are most likely to perpetrate violence are those who have already been excluded or sent away. These strategies of division undermine the village or community that must be strong in order for every member to be safe and valued.

The overculture we all live within, the powerful structures around us, inundate us with messages that divide and control us. Garrett Bucks wrote about this in January, saying:

“We have been told — both by what we are asked to pay attention to and what we are asked to ignore — that everything is basically fine, save for occasional aberrations.
“We have been told that we can move forward with a system built on stolen land and lives, that those sins require mere acknowledgment rather than redistribution.
“We have been told that it is inevitable that a small number of people get to be very wealthy and that a much, much larger number of people have to be poor.
“We have been told that all that poverty is only a problem if poor people don’t stay in line.
“We have been told that crime happens on the street and not in boardrooms.
“We have been told that criminals are irrevocably bad people who are not your neighbors and that you and your more worthy neighbors will be safer with just a few more cops, just a few more jails, just a few more televised reminders of who is to be feared.
“We have been told that none of this dehumanizes us — those that are surveilled, those that are loaded up with fear, and those with badges who are asked to embody an entire nation’s isolation and inhumanity.”

The solutions to fears around safety are much more time consuming and challenging and infinitely necessary. It has everything to do with how we care for each other and understanding interconnectedness. It is unavoidable in our society that another person’s struggles will stay contained and that their challenges will not affect us. Advocating for a shift from over-policing to robust public services is one way to ensure that everyone can feel safe.

This means that even when we disagree, even when we cannot understand why someone else could possibly believe whatever they believe, we must do the compassionate work of validating each other as human beings first, and then seeking to understand each other. Each one of us has come to our values and understanding of the world through our individual perspectives and experiences. Listening to each other, having open conversations to learn about each other and WHY we have reached these conclusions is the path to finding common ground and creating meaningful change.

I should be really clear here about the difference between compassion towards the humanity of another person and addressing harmful behavior.

We talk with our kids about this often, that we love them unconditionally, but that we don’t like their behavior sometimes, and that those are two different things. One of our kiddos was struggling with controlling her feelings recently and she said through her tears, “You don’t like me!” It was both heartbreaking and easy to respond to, to reassure her that her behavior did not define her or determine how much we love (and like) her.

Sergio Peçanha writes, “It is natural to want to brush off those who fall for the kind of lies spread by the Jair Bolsonaros and Donald Trumps of the world. It’s an understandable defense, but it won’t make the problem go away. What if, instead, we pull them in closer? Draw them to us. Look them in eye. My sister-in-law’s wish for a better country is real. Her pain is real.”

Our binary thinking leads to polarization and undermines compassion because it leads us to believe that there are only two options, often divided between good and bad. Binary thinking is an essential part of white supremacy and contributes significantly to dividing and controlling people in our society. Our politics and the way the media has contributed to the perception that “the other side” is evil has made binary thinking even harder to resist.

From Garrett Bucks again, “depending on your political beliefs — you’re supposed to sympathize with Black people drinking poisoned water in Flint, Michigan or White people drinking poisoned water in East Palestine, Ohio, but not both.”

Since I know most of the people likely to be reading this are progressives, let’s do an experiment. Imagine a gun owner in your head. Feel your body respond and make assumptions about this imaginary person. What characteristics does this person have? How does your narrative about this person change if I tell you that they are a white woman? How does your narrative change if this person is a black woman? How does this narrative change if this person is a veteran?

Every single one of these imaginary people have experiences and perspectives that have guided their decisions through life and every single one of these people is likely doing the best they can with the circumstances they have faced. Every single one of these people deserves our compassion as a fellow human being and every single one of these people deserves to have their needs met.

If we want to live in a world in which everyone is cared for and has what they need, we have to be able to imagine the world we are working towards. That’s where hope comes from. We also have to know where we have been, unflinchingly aware of our past failures and successes.

Theodore R. Johnson writes,

“Our politics seem increasingly to demand all of one and none of the other. But reasonable people, whether pride or reckoning resonates more with them, can sincerely ask: How can we take pride in a nation with a history of such injustice and unfairness and inequality? How can we reckon with a nation that we refuse to take pride in? The truth is, the two are inseparable. Pride includes a faith in the nation’s ability to learn and improve and atone. Reckoning implies faith in a fundamental goodness to which the appeals of justice can be made. … Nearly every American alive today descends from a race, ethnicity or nationality that was excluded in some way, at some time, from the full rights of citizenship and barred from participation in our democracy. … But the nation we have today, with all its imperfections, is a product of the energy and work of previous generations who insisted that the nation do a better job of living up to its promises. We should be proud of those who came before and bent the nation, often against its will, toward equality and justice.”

So much polarization is happening right now (as it has before) linked very tightly to white parents. One more from Garrett Bucks,

“It may not be new, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not in a moment right now. If you are a parent in a state that has a Republican controlled legislature, you have been invariably assaulted this year with a slate of legislation purportedly enacted in your name: Book bans, attacks on trans kids and adults, public school-eroding vouchers for increasingly wealthier and Whiter populations, assorted anti-Critical Race Theory nonsense. And even if you’re a good liberal White parent who wouldn’t be swayed by all that far-right red meat legislation, there is no shortage of appeals to your self-interest as well: Article upon article about how the “defund the police” movement went too far and how your kids now aren’t safe, the whispered assurance from friends that you’re not really selling out if you enroll your kids in private schools or in a ritzy suburban district, the pervasive (but implicit) myth that parenting while privileged is all about maintaining your own family’s class and racial position.”

If you see yourself in any of this, have compassion for yourself, too. Acknowledge what you want to change and work towards growth. Everyone makes mistakes in this work because we’re all conditioned to participate and perpetuate the systems in place. Over time, they have changed in a more inclusive direction, but only because of people like us who are pushing the boundaries, practicing compassion, and finding our way forward together.

Listen. Amplify. Follow. In Solidarity.

- I want to highlight “10 Young Racial Justice Activists You Should Know
- And great news! “Perfectionists: Lowering your standards can improve your mental health
- Here’s a lovely example of what solidarity can look like.
- I really enjoyed another article by Theodore R. Johnson about why discussing race is essential to our love of America.

Interconnectedness and Public Schools

Hi Friends,

I have been thinking a lot lately about isolation, fear based parenting, and the disconnectedness we experience from each other. This trend started before the pandemic and then was made much worse as we separated ourselves from each other out of necessity. As we process these shifts in our lives, our survival and our well-being continues to depend on strengthening our connections to each other and on building communities that are interconnected and resilient.

Our public schools are an important part of this community building and interconnectedness, and not just for those of us who have K-12-age children. American democracy depends on a citizenry educated in civil discourse and, ideally, empowered with critical thinking skills and a community-mindedness that leads to positive outcomes for everyone.

Segregated schools threaten democracy. Conor P. Williams writes “Our Failing Democracy Simply Reflects Our Schools’ Limited Ability to Deliver on the Promise of Opportunity” (EdPost, 11/4/22) “But that segregation — separating children by race and class from the beginning — is amply threatening to American democracy. A country that purports to value the merit of individual hard work cannot long tolerate a rigged educational system that’s deeply intertwined with access to economic opportunity. A country premised on the value of public discourse between equal citizens cannot survive yawning educational gaps.”

Unfortunately, we have a conflict with the ideals of democracy because of American myths of opportunity and a capitalist hierarchy build on systems of oppression. The myth of hyper-individualism, the idea that any individual’s success is due solely to that individual’s hard work (and conversely that less successful people must simply not have worked as hard) and that we all start our lives on equal footing, contributes to our strong aversion to interdependence. Our culture has perpetuated the idea that to depend on others is a weakness and that if we are struggling, it is because of personal failings, not systemic inequities.

Alissa Quart writes “Can We Put an End to America’s Most Dangerous Myth?” (New York Times, 3/9/23) about the myth of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps and her alternative approach called “the art of dependence.” She writes, “Part of acknowledging the art of dependence means we release people from shame about their needs for others, and expose the lie of being self-made as it is propagated publicly by some of America’s wealthiest people. … Dependence is, if you think of it, a form of connection and social cohesion. It brings us closer to others, which at this moment in America might be the thing we need most.”

Challenging this idea of hyper-individualism can be threatening to those with the most power and wealth in our society. Often, the more a person is committed to upholding the structures of privileged wealth acquisition in this country, the more they are divided from their communities and the well-being of the broader population. For example, Jon Schwartz writes about the causes of inflation, saying “The people running things almost always would rather be firmly in charge of a weaker institution than be part of a stronger institution in which their power can be challenged.”

To bring this back to public schools in particular, we see this tendency happening with private fundraising. The impulse to fundraise as much as possible because one CAN leads to a feeling that what you have is never enough. This scarcity mindset leads to fear-based choices and resource hoarding, the feeling that you have to get as much as you can for your kid/your school because if you don’t, you’ll lose something.

Steven Evangelista writes “I know how unfair NYC school fundraising is — and why that’s so hard to change” (Chalkbeat, 2/27/23) “There is a frequent sense that we aren’t doing as much as we can, that we are leaving resources for our children on the table by not pursuing donations more aggressively. At our last board meeting, the chair made the point that we may need to add another fundraiser to the calendar since we are meeting staff and parent requests at a higher rate than expected.”

These ideas also apply to issues of public school segregation. Erika K. Wilson writes “Monopolizing Whiteness” (Harvard Law Review, 5/10/21), especially: “When white students cluster together in public schools, it creates school-based economies of agglomeration. Examples of the agglomeration benefits include an increased ability to attract high-quality teachers, concentrated pools of middle-class and affluent students with greater social and political capital, and greater per-pupil funding. The agglomeration effects not only advantage students in the predominantly white and affluent districts, but they also disadvantage students in the neighboring, predominantly low-income and nonwhite districts. The net effect is to allow students in predominantly white school districts to hoard the best educational opportunities.” (The full PDF article is available here.)

These are not new ideas. What I am finding, however, that is new, is an increase in the number of families wanting to choose integrating schools and those advocating for more equitable policies and structures to support them.

For example, a colleague of mine this work, Beth Cavanaugh, writes “Opinion: Portland Public Schools should adopt a more equitable district-wide fundraising model” (The Oregonian, 3/12/23). “For 25 years, resourced parents working in fundraising silos to supplement staffing in their own schools has been a distraction for the PPS community, keeping us from advocating together to reverse decades of disinvestment in our schools. In light of inadequate state education funding, we cannot perpetuate a system where parents with economic and social capital provide for their schools in ways that others cannot.”

She continues, “Some people have argued against changing the current model because schools with robust fundraising often receive lower per-student funding from the district than those that receive grants. This is true, but not because predominantly white, low-poverty schools with high test scores are expected to make up the difference. Rather, PPS uses a differentiated funding model with equity at its core to determine school staffing. Schools where students face more barriers to success intentionally receive more per-student funding from the district with the goal of closing the persistent gaps in outcomes tied to student demographics. Allowing wealthy parents to supplement their own school’s staffing allocation undermines that intentional work and maintains the achievement gap.”

Supporting the need to focus on advocacy to change the culture of catering to what administrators and policy makers believe privileged families want, Allison Roda & Amanda Vender write “3 Myths About White Parents and School Choice” (EducationWeek, 2/22/23). They say, “Policymakers and school officials must design more equitable school choice plans that promote integration through controlled choice with weighted lotteries; geography-based enrollment policies, such as magnet schools that break the ties between neighborhood and school segregation; and phasing out separate and unequal gifted or other academically selective programs within schools. Officials can play to parents’ recognition that their school choices do, in fact, have social impact.”

If we want public education to not only receive the increased funding it so desperately needs and to improve the quality of the education students are receiving, we must be the voices that demand integrated schools and equitable policies so every student receives the education they deserve. We must shed the expectations of competition and fear, find connection with our common goals, and advocate for a cultural shift that our children (and school staff) so desperately need.

Listen. Amplify. Follow. In Solidarity.

Additional Resources:
- Some shifts in the ways in which school districts are funded are happening across the country. Dale Mezzacappa writes “Pennsylvania’s school funding system violates state constitution, judge rules” (Chalkbeat, 2/7/23). And if you want to dive even deeper, here’s a list of “Landmark US Cases Related to Equality of Opportunity in K-12 Education” (Stanford University).

- Related to class hierarchies and access to “free time,” Andrew Lee writes “Outsourcing Drudgery in the Servant Economy” (Anti-Racism Daily, 2/16/22), including a link to the Living Wage Calculator. “But those that have extra capacity to create more time in their day should consider doing more than just making a one-time donation to charity. They can redistribute some time to directly support underserved communities.”