Dear Governor Ducey,
On Sunday, Erik and the kids and I stopped by the grocery store to buy ingredients for chili verde. Hatch chiles are at the Farmer’s Market Store, as they are every August. I could write a whole letter about the Farmer’s Market Store—how it’s the place where you can ask the owners when the Utah Peaches are coming in and she’ll give you an hour by hour play and even invite you to call her to see if they’ve made it. It’s the kind of place that sells pinto beans in bulk and cantaloupe for a dollar. The Farmer’s Market store provides an excellent slice of Flagstaffian demographics. Navajo, Hispanic, Hopi, Korean, and white customers all line up to buy cases of roasted Hatch Green Chiles.
When we were at the not-Farmer’s Market Store (Whole Foods. Farmer’s Market does not sell fish or pork, cage free or otherwise), I saw the Arizona Daily Sun headline: “Flagstaff Charters Lacking in Diversity.” I read the article. I choked a little. My daughter is going to go to a charter school this year. I’m already struggling a bit with this idea. My dearest friends and one of my sisters are public school teachers. I am conflicted about the way charter schools have more flexibility in the students they admit. They don’t have to teach everyone. They don’t have to provide buses or lunches. And, they aren’t subject to charges to desegregate. Flagstaff Unified School District is working to desegregate their schools in an attempt to bring equal opportunity to every student.
My daughter is moving from one of the most diverse schools, Puente de Hozho, to one of the least. 80% of the students at her new school will be white. On the one hand, this goes against the grain of what public education should provide. An equal opportunity to learn. On the other hand, when the FUSD schools developed programs to retain students who they had been losing to the charters, those programs filled with also white people.
Unequal access to education is entrenched. I work at NAU. I have colleagues who reminded me of when I needed to get on the charter school list. I have time to make my kids’ lunches. My husband has time to drive them to school. I can pick them up. My privilege makes it possible for my daughter (and later son), to go on to greater privilege. This privilege hands its misery onto the next generation.
According to key findings of a new study of the racial wealth gap released this week by the sponsor of Economic Hardship Reporting Project, Institute for Policy Studies, and the Corporation for Economic Development- If current economic trends continue, the average black household will need 228 years to accumulate as much wealth as their white counterparts hold today. For the average Latino family, it will take 84 years.
There’s no necessary correlation between being minority and poverty—except that the United States is built upon the backs of that inequality. My daughter, at Puente, worked with students who did not have all the advantages she does. In so doing, she learned that not everyone learns the same way or thinks the same learning system is the only learning system. She wants to go to a charter not because she doesn’t want to learn alongside these students. She wants to go to a charter because this particular charter sets the bar very high.
What I want is that very high bar be made available to everyone. I don’t think Charters make it impossible but I don’t think Charters make that the primary priority. They can’t, I guess, to do what every school should be able to do: maintain small classes, focus on academics rather than sports, prepare students for a wildly changing global economy. The small academies within FUSD, like the one my daughter would have entered if she had stayed at FUSD, have those opportunities as well.
I think all schools should be as small as the charters. I think everyone should have access to them. So my daughter and I agreed that we would work at the charter to find ways to make it more accessible to people who don’t already have her economic privilege.
The first plan? Maybe I’ll make an additional lunch and send it with her every day. Maybe I’ll offer to pick someone up from school. But obviously, the change needs to be a fundamental one. An acknoleggement that a rising tide raises all the boats. To make it possible for her Latino counterparts to accumulate as much wealth as she in fewer than 84 years, we’ll have to be the flood.
This post strikes so close to home for me. I have an ongoing inner conflict about teaching in a private school. My school is education the way I think it should be -- small classes, lots of freedom for the teachers, attention to how kids are doing all the way around instead of just in my class or just on a standardized test, ethnically diverse student body -- but also exactly what it shouldn't be, which is financially accessible only to some students. (We have students who get financial aid, including some who get a full ride, but the students are mostly financially privileged.)
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