A friend and colleague sent an article to me via text. The title immediately caught my attention: Two schools in Mississippi – and a lesson in race and inequality in America. I read further, “One is predominantly white, one is predominantly African American. The education, and outcomes, for students vary widely. A lawsuit is exposing the reasons why”
Those to things alone stopped me in my tracks. It caught my attention because my husband was born and raised in Mississippi, my mother-in-law is a retired principal in Mississippi, my father-in-law is a successful farmer in Mississippi, I lived in Mississippi and my elementary-aged kids were enrolled in public school and private schools in Mississippi. As I continued to read the article it was a comparison between two neighboring school districts, Jackson Public Schools and Madison Public Schools. My kids had been enrolled in both during our time living in Mississippi.
The journalist presents a kindergartner’s experience at an elementary school in Madison, Mississippi, in which the school is 70% white and having relocated for the next school year the student would then be zoned in a elementary school in Jackson Public Schools that was 99% African American. The focus of the story was on the stark contrast between the two schools in the neighboring districts. The article indicates that the mothers filed a lawsuit not about race, but about the inequity of the quality of education. “This case is about quality of education and making sure that quality is uniform no matter what color your skin is or where you live.”
I have written a piece on school choice and what it means for me, and this feels strikingly similar – yet very different. The irony is that my son and daughter also attended a school in Jackson Public Schools and we lasted less than four weeks. In four weeks they were in, it was awful for a multitude of reasons, and I snatched them out. We actually lived in Madison, Mississippi, same as this article, and chose to work to enroll our kids into the Montessori school in Jackson, Mississippi. One of the biggest educational missteps I have taken with my kids. We finished the year in a private school, before enrolling in Madison Station Elementary.
Here is the challenge. And, this is solely one mother’s experience and perspective. I am in agreement with the article in that the facilities were different. I am in agreement that the length of the building educators was different. I could even agree that the instruction was different. But, we had significant patches of pain while our kids were enrolled in a ‘better’ school. The patches had more to do with ‘non-conformity’ and he expectation that the teacher was right and knew what was best. My daughter experienced difficulty connecting in a class that had no diversity. I remember the conversation and one of the parent-teacher conferences with one of my son’s teachers that started off with him being a kid with more problems than any adult. I had to stop the conversation and help her to understand that we were going to crash and burn and every word about my son could not be negative. But, it was the same teacher that said he would not pass if he didn’t memorize his math facts for the timed test. It was the same teacher that said I, being of sound mind and body, could not take my son out of a gifted program.
I applaud the parents for fighting for some semblance of equity in education. Not only for their kids, but the fight to make a difference for the many. I am not that brave. One of the (many) reasons we left Mississippi was the education of our kids. It was a choice – school choice. We could have stayed. But, I believe that the fight would not have been about the quality of education, but the impact on my kids’ self-esteem and self-value. Where all teachers the same? Absolutely not. Both of them had wonderful teachers their second year at Madison Station. But, there was something systemic about the culture. While ‘we’ like it and it’s better than Jackson Public Schools, it wasn’t designed for ‘us.’ Which means that in order to do or be well, we must assimilate. It is difficulty to answer my daughter’s question when she says … “why am I the only brown girl.” It becomes more difficult when I, as the parent, have made the decision. And then – newsflash – she cannot assimilate. She will always be a brown girl.
We are all in search of the balanced educational experience for our kids — sometimes we may have to create it!