Back-to-school is here, and I can’t help but feel anxious. Sure, my first child is only 2, and my second child is still cooking. But that hasn’t stopped me from being worried about school years in advance. Why?
Questions run through my head: How much longer will we live in this area? Should my son attend preschool or wait until kindergarten so I can spend more time establishing his sense of self? And will things be even scarier if the second baby turns out to be a girl?
I wonder these things because it’s 2018, and we live in an overwhelmingly red state. Many of my neighbors proudly wear red “MAGA” hats and drive cars with visible “Blue Lives Matter” bumper stickers.
We live in the type of place where, sure, it’s probably unlikely someone will verbally or physically harass us — but where everything around us makes people’s often racist ideologies painfully obvious.
I spend a lot of time wondering what all of this will mean when my children are school age. Surprisingly, our state’s educational system is one of the higher-ranking ones when it comes to funding. Teachers here are usually paid close to what they deserve, and our state allocates a good amount of its budget towards local children’s futures. But when you are a person of color and part of less than 1 percent of the state’s racial demographics, funding is only a fraction of what makes a quality education.
What good is a reasonable amount of educational funding if my children grow up the constant subject of microaggressions, stereotyping and invasive questions? As two of few children of color in our community, it’s likely they will experience unwelcome comments and questions about their hair, be at the mercy of implicit bias and have their cultural history all but neglected in their school curriculum.
As a mother of color, I am more than hesitant to allow Betsy DeVos to dictate how my son is educated on his past and future. I’m afraid that my children not being able to see themselves reflected in classroom materials will have long-term effects on their identity development. I’m afraid that, throughout their courses, my kids will be taught that Black people in history were easily captured and controlled. I often wonder if it’s best to leave school out of it and instead explain that legacy myself.
I am one of many parents of color who find ourselves deciding between participating in the traditional public school system — where their children may well learn an inaccurate and even damaging curriculum — or educating them ourselves.
As children, my husband and I were both independent and wildly curious. We asked questions that tested the boundaries of our teachers’ training, and we had no problem with being outcasts among our peers. And as I watch my son interact with other children and adults, it becomes painfully clear that he has inherited our legacies. He is beautifully curious and frustratingly hyperactive when left unstimulated. And hyperactive is something Black children are seldom allowed to be.
Most — if not all — of the educators my son comes across will be so overwhelmed with workload and reporting requirements that they won’t have the time to get to know him as an individual. And that lack of understanding can lead to long-term damage.
Going to public school as a Black child comes with the potential for lifelong consequences. According to the ACLU and the Government Accountability Office, the school-to-prison pipeline, which describes the way children of color are disciplined at disproportionate rates, leads Black kids to long-term interaction and overrepresentation within the criminal justice system — and it is alive and well in 2018. Data collected by the Department of Justice shows that Black and brown children are many times more likely than white kids to be suspended from school — or even end up dealing with police — for minor infractions.
Some of the stories of how children of color are treated are so ridiculous, you have to see them to believe them.
Of course, these inequalities would be difficult to deal with in any political climate. But in Trump’s America, we are also experiencing budget cuts and cancellations of nearly any program that would examine discrimination — and/or advocate for my son, should he find himself in a position of being discriminated against. Instead, we have a secretary of education who is vastly under-qualified and has no understanding of the public education system as a whole
Chances are, it will only get worse from here. And truthfully, I can’t say that I have enough faith in this nation not to vote for this administration a second time.
On the other hand, I can’t help but think that if all the marginalized people decided to isolate themselves and homeschool their children, the powerful elite would win. I don’t want to back down and have the right to education stripped from us. My ancestors fought way too hard for us to let go of that right so easily.
I’m left with a choice. Do I choose to homeschool to avoid many of the potential risks of public education? Or, do I keep faith in a nation that has historically not considered my best interest as a Black American — simply because my foremothers and fathers sacrificed their lives for participation? The answer seems so simple, but it’s not. I have two years to make a decision. I’m waiting anxiously to see if things will have changed by then.