June 27, 2024

Nikesha Elise Williams: ‘School choice’ hits different for parents of color

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Nikesha Elise Williams is an Emmy-wining TV producer, awatf winning novelist, and a parent in Florida, where the issues of choice hit hard. She writes about the situation in an op-ed for Jax Today.

All parents, no matter our political inclinations, want what’s best for our children. Especially when it comes to education, which can bear so much weight, power, and influence on their future. And yet as a Black mother, when it comes to this issue, it’s disingenuous to believe or even posit that the current assault on public education is divorced from race and class.

In the U.S., in Florida, in Duval County, segregation abounds. Seventy years after Brown v. Board of Education two-thirds of the nation’s Black & Brown students attend a school where the student body is 75% or more students of color. That’s evident in Duval, where nearly 70% of the students are non-white.

By virtue of my address, my son attends an above-average public school. He is one of the few Black students and has been subject to racial slurs and personal panics around Black History Month subject matter. Between the Florida laws that limit the instruction of race and gender, the book bans that culled classroom and school libraries, and my own concern with how my son and daughter will see themselves and their culture as they move through Duval’s schools under unspoken but easily recognizable conservative mandates, I have half-heartedly contemplated home-schooling.

And yet I keep my children in public school because it’s convenient (yes), there’s accountability, and as a product of public schools, and the daughter of a public school educator I believe there is value in public education. But in Florida that value is intentionally drained. And so frustrated parents, not unlike myself, buy into the buzzwords of school choice, sign up for vouchers, look forward to education savings accounts and participate in a self-perpetuating cycle of public education divestment wrought by race and class.

Just as there is now a mass movement of students migrating from public schools to alternative educational options in the name of better opportunities and outcomes, we have seen this before, albeit for different reasons. In the wake of the Brown decision, the backlash by some white parents was to move their children out of newly integrated public schools and newly integrated neighborhoods. This “white flight” is what ignited the segregation that continues today in schools, in neighborhoods, in Jacksonville, in Florida, in the nation.

We talk about choice. We talk about curriculum and subject matter. We talk about what we want our kids to learn and be exposed to but we don’t talk about why. The why is and has always been America’s origin. The construction of race, the altar built at the idol of white supremacy, and the back-of-mind belief that maybe we’re not all created equal and thus we all don’t deserve equality.

Read the full piece here. 

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