What is School Really?

“But all our phrasing—race relationsracial chasmracial justiceracial profilingwhite privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.”

-Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Hey all! Welcome back to my pink room.

Grab a seat, get comfortable… we might be here for a little while. We have officially made it to week 2 (wohoo!) so a big shout out to those who have stayed along for the ride and again welcome to any new visitors.

On Friday, in “COVID and Our Roots” we talked about how COVID did not only end life as we knew it but more importantly forced us to reckon with our roots. We talked about how the choices we have and will make both personally and institutionally during COVID exposes our beliefs about what is essential and just as important what is not essential. In this particular post we will begin to investigate the now exposed roots of the public school district in my hometown. (However, a slight disclaimer this investigation will need to be split up over a few days so stay tuned)

Okay today let me first establish a little bit of legitimacy in talking about the values undergirding the school district I have come to know very intimately.

I spent my whole childhood literally from 0 to 18 years old , in the same northeastern white suburban town. Unlike most Black children in America, most of my neighbors did not look like me, they were white because I lived in a town with “good” schools. I grew up going to summer camps, bookstores, community sports teams and summer vacations every year. I was always considered a star student in school, selected for nearly every talented and gifted program that my schools would offer. I never got in trouble. And built many strong relationships with my teachers and peers. And I finally left my school district, as valedictorian of my high school class and off to an Ivy League institution. I was the poster kid for a post-racial world where anyone can succeed and even be the the best if they just work hard and follow the rules.

But I also left my post -racial “diverse” white good school district, 18 years later, shattered and disembodied.

This of course was all before COVID hit but something happened when it did. Something strange, I saw that they, my post-racial diverse good school district, were attempting to steal my brother’s Black body too. Since college, I could never rid myself of this nagging feeling like something was wrong and I just couldn’t figure out what. But one thing I never doubted was that it had to do with the body. There was something gravely wrong with my body.

And so when I got home, set up my bedroom to become my “everything”-room, I also began notice little things things that I just hadn’t before. While I mourned the deaths of thousands of nameless Black bodies deemed only essential enough to work rather than to live, my brother’s teacher was busy renaming him lazy, uninterested and delinquent. While I watched the humanity violently ripped off of a human being, my brother’s administrators were busy remaining unavoidably silent and his teacher busy docking off points for tardiness. While I medicated an unrelenting banging from my zoomed out eyes to my temples, my brother’s teacher was busy telling him better luck next time, A’s are just not in everyone’s cards.

Something just didn’t sit right with me. I had seen the world end… twice but my brother’s teacher and administrators had not. They saw undeserving Black bodies pulling one over on them. They saw an uncontrollable truancy epidemic. They saw the hard work of the compliant student and the delinquency of the working student.

Remember how I said our choices reflect our roots. Well, come end of May, I wanted to test this theory. Perhaps the snippets of choices I had seen vicariously through my brother were just flukes. No one could have imagined the shutdown of public schools across the globe. No one was prepared. Perhaps these were just mistakes that come with unknown territory. So I started showing up.

I began regularly attending Board of Education meetings, parent sessions, and local community district sponsored events. I spoke with several administrative leaders and staff. I read suggested COVID learning plans and listened carefully to public community voices. Simultaneously, I was listening to the words of scholars centering Black students in their discussions. I was learning from young school age teens of color about their lived experiences during the pandemic. I was reading predictive analyses of a learning loss crisis exploding especially in Black and brown communities across the nation.

And the whole time one question kept nagging at me. It was one I had expected to have a simple answer but the deeper my investigation the more and more elusive its solution seemed to be .

What is school really?

Think about that for a moment. What is the point of school? And you could say something like so you can go to college and maybe get a good job that pays good money and then live a longer and probably even happier life. The end. And in one way you would be right but you would also be missing the point of the question.

You would be answering with the function but not the what. Yes, a minimum of high school diploma is required for nearly all jobs now. And yes, a high school diploma is required for admittance to college. And yes college degrees do often give you access to higher paying and likely better quality jobs. But the question is not what school gives you access to its what is it supposed to teach you. Why do you need school for a better job? What at its core is school?

And it turns out that this question is much harder to answer. Yet, its answer is required for the creation of “remote” school, or better yet pandemic schooling. In every conversation, book or article, I realized it was this question that we were all trying to answer. And it was precisely this question that revealed our roots.

Unfortunately, we have made it to the end of our time together. Join me back in the pink room tomorrow at 11 am ET, and we will take a look at some of the ways my school district tried to answer that infamous question, “what is school really?”

Till then!

One thought on “What is School Really?

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