Will economic equity detract from racial & ethnic equity in independent schools?

courtesy of the oregonian.org

courtesy of the oregonian.org

As I look back on this school year I ask myself, once again, ‘why am I such a proponent of private, independent school education?’ I ask myself that question often as I justify the inherent challenges my family must address or ignore in an effort to acquire distinguished education for our kids. So, what are the reasons? Easy answers for me: independent academic rigor, exceptional teachers, access to valuable resources and safe & inspiring physical environments. But, one of the things I enjoy and look forward to the most is the high-touch conversations that are encouraged and fostered in many independent schools. Whether it’s the latest research about how our kids learn best; or considerations about what’s required to be a 21st century global leader; or thoughts on how to make our school communities responsive to the experiences and realities of our larger communities outside of school, we can absolutely count on thinking deeply and contributing to the conversation – often asking the really tough questions. Indeed, ALL of us have a say and something to contribute, even the tough questions about class, race, equity & social justice. And, if for some reason you don’t think you do, then you are doing the entire school community a disservice (see comments by Dr. Joe Cuseo on the dis-advantages of “group think” in blog by our multicultural advisor Elizabeth Perez-Azerad.

As a prospective family, even as a current family, when you walk into any independent school you’re immediately struck, or reminded of the apparent homogeneity of the community. As parents of color, we are straining to see reflections of our kids among the student body, and reflections of ourselves among faculty and administration. Yet, with eyes wide open we leap at the chance to contribute and benefit from all that a private, independent school has to offer. What does it offer my family? The opportunity to create and maintain an educational lifestyle that can transform the legacy of my immediate, extended, and global family. As we choose to make cultural, social, academic, emotional and financial investments in this type of an educational lifestyle (trust me, it’s a lifestyle – not to be confused with a trade off), RIISE supports hedging our bets for success, all the way around.

There have been a series of events this year that seem to be amplified every time I walk on campus or engage in conversation with my kids or other parents.

  1. 60th Anniversary Brown V Board of Ed, and the power of parent involvement. On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that with public education “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal”.( 6 Lesser Known Facts About Brown v Board of Education). I’m aware that my kids attend an elite private school, yet, as a parent I grapple with how I can help our schools look less, well, separate and more inclusive. It’s complicated, I know because our schools are not equal to that of public schools – the affluence and resources can’t compare and must be maintained by high tuition costs to keep our schools operating as we expect. Yet, are we being as courageous as the 13 plaintiffs (parents) in the landmark decision? Courageous enough to access, apply, and retain a well-balanced  private, independent school education/lifestyle? Are we, as current families of color encouraging our peers, friends, and families to consider and apply? On June 7, RIISE, along with The Bronx NY Chapter, Jack & Jill of America, Inc, we have the opportunity to do just that. We’ll be hosting the RIISE Parent Power Conference 2014 for prospective and current families of color and private, independent school education. Our keynote speaker will be none other than Dr. Howard C. Stevenson, whom I like to think of as the Godfather of Independent School Education for Families of Color!
  2. Affirmative Action & the disparity of racial equity in education – private or public. What does this recent Supreme Court decision mean for diversity recruitment in our private , independent schools? Particularly, recruitment for families of color? Will the decision ignite a quiet precedent for not admitting based on race and ethnicity? I continue to stumble on the most eloquent or least emotional way to dish on the decision. I breathed a sigh of relief when Elizabeth’s blog – Affirmative Action & the  Recent Supreme Court Decision, A multicultural perspective posted. The blog reminds us of the benefits of affirming & valuing racial equity, for the entire community. Thank you, Elizabeth!
  3. I could go on, but I’d like to end with the trending diversity conversation within independent schools, ( A Tale of Two Schools )and the larger community (Who Gets To Graduate?). Some would say, myself included, that perhaps the focus on economic diversity is a detractor to racial & ethnic equity – as Elizabeth mentioned in her blog, they are NOT mutually exclusive. The socio-economic conversation is, however inclusive of many people, regardless of race and ethnicity. Alissa Mayers, RIISE’s Research & Analysis Director, recounted moving to her private independent school from a predominantly white public school. For Alissa, it wasn’t racial disparities that impacted her as much as it was the staggering affluence she had to navigate in her new school. Parent attendees of a recent independent school diversity conference, which focused on class, shared this feedback:

“I think that the Independent School Diversity Conference was spectacular.  Charles Blow (NYT Writer/Riverdale Trustee) provided the keynote address and was captivating.  The breakout sessions provided an excellent opportunity to discuss both the positive aspects of private schools and to share some of the challenges.  One of the recurring themes included how to make children from different socio-economic backgrounds feel welcomed in an affluent atmosphere.  The highlight of the day included student volunteers sharing some important and valuable insights.”

“There is a misconception that all white families are wealthy, and all Asian kids are at the top of their class.”

“Events in the evening, childcare is provided.”

“My son is in the first grade and is becoming aware of socio-economic diversity. We pay full tuition, but don’t have as great a means as others. Giving my son a sense of pride in who he is , though he is not the richest in the class.”

“This is something really big and it is hard to talk about it. The tuition is so hight it is hard to maintain economic diversity among teachers and students.”

Do you think that economic equity will detract from racial equity? Do think they co-exist? Or are they mutually exclusive deserving separate, yet equal platforms in our schools?

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