I haven’t been in school for over twenty years, but earlier this year I crashed into the reality of schooling today. As my wife and I prepared to discuss how to begin giving our two-year-old daughter a proper educational foundation, we like many other parents, started asking the typical questions: When should we start schooling? Where should we send her? What options are available within our community? As we began learning about the types of programs offered for toddlers, other questions arose: Should we go pre-school or should we explore city offered programs like daycare or universal Pre-K? What we soon discovered was frightening as it was cataclysmic. Our eyes were opened. Suddenly the dots connected, and not in a good way.
In East Flatbush we live in an education desert. It may sound strange at first, and if you ask yourself why I am making this argument, you would be right to doubt me. Nonetheless, the perception of schooling versus education is often easily confused. A quick survey of available daycare and pre-school options within our community will reveal substandard facilities, often crammed within someone’s home, or in some sketchy storefront easily blending in with neighboring bodegas. Other options were quasi-private “pre-schools” with fancy websites featuring “certified” staff and stock photography, but no actual facilities. For some parents, if these are your only options, faced with the obligation of working a full-time job, you’ll give up and let the system dictate the outcome once desperation sets in.
My family faced yet other daunting challenges because we refused the options available to us in our own community. Parents seeking alternatives for their children will wonder how to manage the charter school versus public school landscape. Others with financial means will explore private schools. Slowly as the contours of these schooling systems emerge, from early childhood through high school, the deficiencies become more evident, particularly if you are poor. As the neighborhood gentrifies more stress will be put on parents and the schools to resolve a conflict that seem to aggravate the very core issues our community confronts; poverty, violence, and ignorance. As if these persistent problems are not enough, the very influx of wealthier families will create an educational apartheid system that will accelerate the deterioration of public schools, the demand for more charters, and the syphoning of money out of underperforming city run programs targeting marginalized populations.
What can be done to improve education, when schooling in our community seems to be accessible but not effective? Why should parents have to accept sacrificing their children’s future to a public school system that cheats them, is economically and intellectually segregated, and seems to limit rather than expand opportunity and choice? It would not be fair to say that poor people do not want what is best for their children. What is cruel in its unfairness is when those of us with means charge other parents with limited resources and options for failing their own children. Those parents have not failed! – Our community has failed! Our churches have failed! Our politicians have failed! What is evident in the deterioration of the homeowner and family base in our black and brown communities has a direct correlation with the abysmal education our children are receiving, and their exposure after school to a landscape devoid of educational support services, community centers, tutoring or mentoring. On average our community has a 60% graduation rate, and of those children few have the skills to sustain a college curriculum no matter how basic. If you track this statistic over the last generation, the foreclosure rate in our community makes perfect sense. Schools are bankrupting our community, our families, and our financial futures.
In response, our community needs to move quickly toward creating new solutions and alternatives that address the structural deficiencies in our community. We need to chart a new course toward sustainable schooling and educational alternatives that expand parent choice, provide new revenue streams through public and private investment that are contingent on performance criteria, and economic diversity, not racial diversity. We need more educated black and brown people, with money, paying into and demanding results from educators in our community, while divesting from NYC Public Schools. To be clear, black and brown communities need to be about finding educational products that serve the needs of our children, rather than continuing to fight and beg for state funding.
We can achieve this. In the coming weeks we will explore the models and creative ideas that can change immediate outcomes in our community while we invest and build in the type of educational infrastructure our families desire and deserve.