educationvirtual children by Scott Warnock

With education, good intentions aren’t good enough

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Okay, there are some mean, nasty people out there with bad ideas, and I think it might actually be a turn of good fortune that we’re seeing them so publicly lately. In general, though, I think people have good intentions. But often, good intentions aren’t good enough.

Especially when it comes to education. A friend of mine sent me a great piece, “Civics, Community, and Allyship: Why We Chose Our Local Public School,” from the provocative site IntegratedSchools.Org, which has the tagline “families CHOOSING integration.”

The writer, the Los Angeles-based and enigmatically named ILOVECAKE, starts off by talking about sending her child to kindergarten and getting that awful question, “Is it a good school?” Teachers work there. Kids learn there. What do you think? She describes her school:

It is, and has been, historically ignored by the majority of affluent families and community members in our neighborhood. Year after year, it stands proud, despite the silent avoidance of many, a school desperately eager to serve the children of this community, regardless of their families social and intellectual capital.

Her school doesn’t have “glossy brochures.” But it does have “potential and excellence, despite many families and people in our neighborhood who ignore it or don’t consider it worth attending and supporting.” (Myself, I’m keeping a file of such brochures created by the marketing engines at local private schools. Some of these are nicer than college materials I receive. I wonder if school metrics include a “glossy brochure” category — ’cause that sure don’t seem like education to me.)

Similar to maintaining that strip of grass in front of her house, the writer says her “local elementary school is also that — my responsibility. My responsibility to patronize, to trust, to support.”

We have to do better than good intentions, she writes. We have to manifest our intentions in our everyday behaviors:

Because unless I am intentionally placing my children in diverse settings, both socio-economically and racially, unless I am intentionally acknowledging and addressing the issues of school segregation that have divided this great city, I will raise a racist. I won’t mean to. But intentions are no longer enough. Unless I am forcibly putting her out in to the world, confident in her resilience, humanity, and grit, I will keep her cloistered and separate from the truth of what it really means to be an equal among equals.

Sometimes you have to act for the good of all. Words aren’t enough. The things you don’t do are as important as the things you do.

She says that her white children have to grow up in with difference, because if they don’t — well, I’m going to quote her at length again:

[…] they will normalize their white privilege and when it comes time (sooner rather than later) to educate them about structural racism and classism and their part and responsibility to dismantle that system, they will have no context if the only thing they have seen is tokenism, poverty porn, and “model minorities.” Filling a bag full of hygiene products for homeless people, attending a women’s march, donating toys or clothes to low-income kids at Christmas. Those are ego-inflating, guilt-assuaging attempts to to teach empty parables of gratitude, meritocracy, and capitalism. They are good things to do, but if that is the only contact my child has with the real world, no amount of “education” will undo the tacit biased social contract that this creates and reinforces.

The writer lives in a place with charters and other “choices,” and she recognizes that her “privilege is her choice”:

However, in the practice of being a member of this community who cares about equity in education, in the practice of being an anti-racist ally who will use my privilege as a force for good, in the practice that my kid deserves as good of an education as EVERY kid in my neighborhood (nothing more, nothing less), it is no longer enough to condemn this two tiered, race and class based system of education. I refuse to propagate this system by being willing to sacrifice another child’s educational opportunities for my own’s.

I don’t know your reaction to this piece or the material I’ve quoted from it, but it’s worth remember that, powered by central politics, the re-segregation movement is finding new life, as U.S. News & World Report reports in this piece.

In the end, ILOVECAKE sent her kid to school realizing it would be “imperfectly perfect.” She concludes by saying, “That maybe if my kids lives and educations aren’t perfectly orchestrated or curated or cultivated they could still be amazing humans.”

Our intentions aren’t good enough. We need to engage fully with our society — and schools are at the foundation of this.

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the University Writing Program. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.

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9 Responses to “With education, good intentions aren’t good enough”

  1. Read this three times. Thought provoking piece. There is something to be said for “imperfectly perfect.” Keep writing my friend. Keep writing.

  2. That US News article on white wealthy communities seceding from their poorer neighbors is truly disturbing. Thanks for writing this, Scott

  3. Not sure of the point of your article. Did you intend to call all parents that send their kids to private schools, and their children as a result of their schooling, racist? That is essentially what you just did by endorsing the article you quoted. So let me try to understand by reading between the lines of your quoted article and your few comments what you are endorsing. It seems that this is an attempt at a guilt trip article to make all parents feel they have a responsibility to send their kids to Public Schools. If this is the position you are pushing and endorsing, I couldn’t disagree more. I pay my taxes and I’m a good citizen of my community. That is where my responsibility to my schools end. I am actually paying for other kids to attend those schools and I am taking nothing.

    There is not enough space here two respond to this self-serving article. As an elected official you should know better then to introduce this topic in this manner and take such a position. This has to be the biggest disappointment of your many blogs. Any consistent reader of your material is well aware of your position on public schooling. Occasionally though, you should take a step back and allow for the possibility that other positions may have Merit. Freedom of choice and all that my brother.

  4. What many readers of Scott’s article may not know, is that the town he lives in sees many families choosing private school over the public school. So this is a sensitive topic here. I would go as far as to say, if all the kids in in this town sent their kids to the public school, this article would have never been written.I believe that Scott and many of the individuals who support his thinking, chose this town because it’s a nice place to live with good schools.That is privilege.You are living, breathing privilege and you exercised that right by moving here. I’d like to see you move to the poorest section of any major city and send your kids to those schools. Walk-the walk. Rather than focusing on our right to choose the school we feel will benefit our kids most, focus on improving the public school system in areas were it is needed most. And for the record, your public school is doing great, some might say, privileged. After all, you chose it.

  5. I agree with, at the very least, C W’s first paragraph, although I’ll certainly stop short of you implying that parents that send their kids to private schools are ‘racist’. I think this only throws fuel on the fire that is already burning across this country under the current Republican administration.

    We have sent our children to both public schools & private schools – we pay our taxes and don’t bitch about it in the least. Where we live is a wonderful community, and we are thankful for differing points of view. I think they call that ‘diversity’ …..

    In the end, we the parents reserve the right to do what we feel is right for our child. If parents are fully informed of the options – pros & cons, and private school of some sort, be it Catholic, Friends, Military, etc is a better option than the public option, then said parents should not feel guilty in the least sending their children to a private institution.

    We think the bigger issue is our nations private universities. University’s such as Drexel. The cost to attend Drexel as an undergrad – room and board – is north of $65K. This is certainly well out of the reach of many minority groups located in the city and in the region. So I ask you this – Does this make Drexel racist too?!?

  6. As an individual who has attended both public and private school, I can’t help but disagree. You mentioned in the beginning of the article, “I wonder if school metrics include a “glossy brochure” category — ’cause that sure don’t seem like education to me.” To answer this thought of your’s, no, a glossy brochure does not equate to a stellar education, but that doesn’t mean that a school that chooses to advertise this way doesn’t offer an amazing education. Is every school perfect? No. That goes for both public and private school. My private high school offered me opportunities and viewpoints that I may not have experienced at my public school option. An education is not only academic rigor, but social experiences which will shape our identity as we (teenagers) continue to mentally develop. Who is to say that my private school experience is less than the public school experience ?

    As I mentioned above, I was introduced to a magnitude of diversity in private school. Diversity of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, gender identity, and political values. My parents thought that private school was the best option for me, and I wholeheartedly agree. Just for the record, they aren’t racists and neither am I. My education was well rounded, rigorous, and quite frankly, eye opening. The school encouraged open conversations of race. In my history class we had a candid conversation following the shooting of Michael Brown. We discussed racial issues, and white privilege. We were not educated to be ignorant; we were educated to be aware and to be accepting. That is why my parents and I decided on private school. For you to assume that because of their choice to send me, and my choice to attend a private school, that they have a racist agenda, is purely insane. My private school taught me respect and love for everyone; it taught me to see people as equals. From my perspective, racism can happen anywhere, and yes, private schools can be isolating for some minorities. However, if public school is based on a geographic range, with some exceptions, wouldn’t a racist area breed a racist public school? Public school doesn’t always guarantee the lack of racial discrimination, just like private school doesn’t always guarantee racist undertones.

    While I’m sure you meant well, you did mention that “good intentions aren’t good enough”. Generalizing doesn’t progress the conversation, because each school has a different process. Some private high schools may be worse than public, and vice versa. To take my experience and apply it to be true for all private high schools would be idiotic, but bashing my parents’ choice to send me to a private high school, and then accusing them of being racists in any way, is on a different level of idiotic. I respect your freedom to voice this opinion, but you should also realize that it is none of your business where I go to school. Not to mention that Drexel is a very expensive, dare I say it, private university. College is a different level of diversity, and a different level of financial isolation for minority groups of low socioeconomic level. It isn’t fair to isolate others, but this is a rather a hypocritical statement to make considering where you are employed.

  7. I posted this on FB in response to a dialogue about this article; it has relevance here I think:
    “Thanks for the robust and mostly constructive conversation. I liked ILOVECAKE’s piece because it took on the challenging, painful topic of structural racism in a personal way. So no one feels assailed, here’s a definition of structural racism (from here:…/rac…/how-structural-racism-works): ‘the normalized and legitimized range of policies, practices, and attitudes that routinely produce cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color.’ My piece was not personal, folks, because in America, we are all involved with inequality in various ways. Your own participation in, culpability with, or victimization through structural racism covers a wide range of possibilities, and the ILOVECAKE writer poses just one, through the very specific tale of a schooling decision for her kindergartner in a very specific place, L.A., where ‘choice’ schools and charters abound. The writer talks about, and I am forced to quote her again, ‘intentionally placing my children in diverse settings, both socio-economically and racially’; for her, her ‘settings’ boiled down to schooling. Posters here pointed out that no single type of schooling has the market cornered for diversity: In other words, your results may vary. I do not think you are racist for choosing a private school (I’ll contact personally some folks here). However, I believe we would all do well to consider structural racism and how it affects and is affected by where we live, where and how we work, and, yes, where and how we educate our children. As for my article being ‘dangerous’ because through it an elected official thinks about structural racism, inequality, and diversity, I think it is far more dangerous, in 2017, to have an elected official who doesn’t think about these things at all.”

  8. The point of the article is not to call people racists, but to highlight how structural racism works. Two concepts that always help clarify the difference between racism and structural racism are:

    “A society, even a “colorblind” society, can be structured in a way that perpetuates racism and racial inequality even if its individual members do not hold bigoted views about members of other racial groups. Society can still effectively exclude racially disadvantaged people from decision-making or make choices that have a disparate impact on them.” and,

    “Structure and agency are opposites. Agency is the idea that a person’s life outcomes are due entirely, or significantly influenced by their own individual efforts. Social structure is the idea that life outcomes are due entirely, or significantly influenced by the individual’s race, class, gender, social status, inherited wealth, legal situation, and many other factors that are outside the individual’s control. ” (both wikipedia explanations)

    I believe Scott is merely asking us to consider the larger impact that not utilizing the community school has on our society as a whole. Not just our own children, but ALL children.

  9. You keep a folder of glossy brochures from local private schools “‘’cause that sure don’t seem like education to me.” I’m sure you can see how some locals may have taken this article personally. We support your school choice through taxes and other means. Some of us more than others. Please support all schools by keeping the conversation positive.
    Thank you for responding

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