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School Choice, Mom-Shaming, and My Conversation With a Genius

Shaming is bad.

Fat-shaming, skinny-shaming, slut-shaming, gender-shaming, victim-shaming, and, of course, mom-shaming.

Mom-shaming is the worst.

Except, of course, when it comes to school choice. Then, it’s genius!

After yet another speech where she criticized all parents (New York City parents, in particular) for choosing schools they believe are best for their children, MacArthur Genius winner Nikole Hannah-Jones and I had the following exchange on Twitter:

As of a week later, Ms. Hannah-Jones has yet to reply to my question.

Because kindergarten placements for September 2018 have already come out, I must assume that Ms. Hannah-Jones has already made her, if you will forgive the expression, choice. Her daughter will either stay at PS 207, the school where she attended Pre-K, or she will move to K at her zoned school.

But here is something Ms. Hannah-Jones does not seem to understand. I don’t care where she sends her child to school. That choice should be hers, not mine. I have no interest in shaming her for it.

Except, that is, when she does the same to other parents.

Hot on the heels of Ms. Hannah-Jones’ speech, The New School’s Center for New York City Affairs issued their own report, entitled, “The Paradox of Choice: How School Choice Divides New York City Elementary Schools.” (Laura Waters breaks it down here.)

The report criticized parents for making what they believe are the best choices for their own children, rather than for the school system as a whole. The blame falls primarily on those who opt to attend unzoned schools. (Read more about how unzoned schools operate, here.)

Education scholar Deborah Meier agrees that unzoned schools are the problem. The same Deborah Meier who founded the unzoned schools of District 4 as a way to bring progressive education to Harlem families unhappy with their local options.

Interestingly enough, the New School report found that “[a]lthough Black students only make up about a quarter of all kindergartners in public schools, they comprise over one-third of all school choosers.” Good job, Deborah Meier!

Currently, the Upper West Side of Manhattan is up in arms over a plan to set aside 25 percent of seats in high-performing middle-schools for low-performing students.

Let’s ignore the new school Chancellor’s assumption that those low-performers will, naturally, be poor, Black, and Hispanic. Or that merely sitting them next to high-achieving, white students will magically raise their test scores.  

(In the now infamous video of the mother saying she spent $5,000 on tutoring her child, everyone has been focusing on her white privilege. Nobody has pointed out that she had to get her child tutored outside of school. Which means the school didn’t get the job done. Which means her “high-achieving” school isn’t what’s responsible for those high test scores. Which means putting “low-achieving” kids in that school will do them no good without the same $5,000 worth of tutoring!)

Let’s, instead, talk about the Brooklyn mom, Kelly Bare, who thinks the Upper West Side plan doesn’t go far enough. She’s started a petition to “End the use of all middle-school enrollment screens…. These screens systematically isolate and exclude students of color, and must be removed.”

Perhaps she wasn’t aware that Black families have the highest proportion of students opting out of their zoned schools? But then, how would she know that? Her petition is only looking for “white-identifying parents” to sign. Who cares how parents of color might feel about her proposal?

Ms. Bare is proud that her children attend their local Crown Heights school. Which, in the noblesse oblige tradition of gentrifiers, she has worked hard for five years to “improve.” This family profiled in Chalkbeat is also proud of themselves for choosing their local (above 96th Street in Manhattan) school. And whichever choice Ms. Hannah-Jones ultimately made for her daughter, we’re sure she thinks she’s made the best decision, too.

As for those moms who don’t agree?

Shame on you.


What do you think?

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