Recently the Huffington Post published a blog piece entitled “Why White Parents Won’t Choose Black Schools”. The author touched on some of the themes and discussions that are taking place in our community; in particular, school assignment. It also resonated personally with Council’s executive director, Bob Simmons, who shares his response here.
Although this column was not written by a CMS parent, it could have been. Charlotte’s emergence as a commercial and financial center has drawn people from all over the country and all over the world to our community. But without the relatively peaceful and relatively successful court-ordered desegregation of our consolidated city/county public schools beginning in 1974, Charlotte would likely still be a small southern city of little distinction.
That relative peace and relative success were the result of a relatively few but noteworthy residents who were willing to lead by investing themselves and their families in the future of our community. Like the author of this column, they understood that the real community we all share in any city is not limited to people who look the same or live the same. They understood that the good of the community and the good of their children were intertwined, not mutually exclusive.
That is more true now even than it was then.
When we moved to Charlotte in 1986, one of the principal reasons was the successful desegregated school system. We knew that we could live anywhere in the County and send our children to public schools that would prepare them at the highest level for their lives. By the time our first child approached the age to enter kindergarten in 1992, we had heard all of the stories that circulated among white parents about how CMS could not provide for their children’s educational needs because of the effects of desegregation on the classrooms and the curriculum. So we hedged our bets with private school applications. When our child was offered admission, we had to make a choice.
We remembered why we had chosen Charlotte as our new hometown, and we chose community over fear. We chose to follow the example of those early pioneers of desegregation. We made the same choice for our second child and our third. They thrived. They excelled. We were active supporters of their fully-desegregated standard assignment schools, and our investment of ourselves and our family was rewarded.
But at every step along that journey, we were told by neighbors, colleagues, and friends that we were making a mistake. That we were risking our children’s futures. Even that we might be risking their lives. Many of them did not even try to engage with public education in one of the best school systems in the nation. Many of them looked for reasons to withdraw their children, communicating their wariness and distrust at every step. Some of them even chastised us for not doing our duty as parents by sending them to the private schools we could afford.
They received not only a great academic education that prepared them for admission and success at the State’s most competitive public university, but they received an even more important social education in the diversity of humanity, acceptance of differences, and cooperation for mutual success.
Not every school setting is going to work well for every child. Private schools and various public options meet some important needs. But community public schools serve a uniquely American value of democracy that has produced both our national and our local success, and no parent should choose to discard that community value based on fear born of ignorance.
If today’s young parents do not at least make an attempt to invest themselves and their families in the future of our community – the successful community that drew them to a new hometown – then they are compromising both their own children’s best interests and the common good.
This blog post is a timely reminder of community values as we approach an election in which three new at-large members of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education will be chosen. They will choose a new Superintendent. They will determine new student assignment patterns. They will determine our community’s future. Please vote.