Sometimes I feel like we are playing a game of Monopoly when it comes to education. I believe as a parent, I am the gatekeeper standing at the corner of the game board deciding who gets to pass go and receive $200. In this instance, passing go means you have access to my children. I get to decide who and what they will be exposed to.
In Detroit, nearly two-thirds of their traditional public schools have copious amounts of lead in the water fountains that students are drinking from in schools. Prolonged exposure to lead can be irreversible and any exposure can lead to severe learning disabilities. Parents of the children in these schools trusted the personnel and the system to protect their children. Having an expectation that your child will have clean water to drink while at school is not unreasonable. In fact, it’s a basic need.
It’s because of instances like this one that I don’t feel comfortable leaving decisions about my children only to school personnel or systems. As I’ve told them, they don’t know my children like I know my children. This is about more than having access to clean drinking water for me. People who are put in front of my children every day don’t have to believe that my children are capable of achieving greatness. There’s no law that says just because you teach, you must believe. They don’t have to buy into our family core values if they don’t want to. Some have said things to me like “that student over there will never get ahead.” Or “I doubt if those two make it out of high school.”
Those teachers get left behind at the gate.
I feel like there are many parents who don’t realize that they are in fact, gatekeepers. That they have the power to decide who has access to their children and how much. They don’t know that, just as in Monopoly, there are levels to what’s possible in education.
For example, on the Monopoly board, the first “lane” just after “Go” is filled with all of the “cheap properties.” Baltic Avenue, Mediterranean Avenue, and Oriental Avenue are places that no one ever really wanted to buy because they were so cheap.
But sometimes, if you’re losing the game or look up and see that everyone else has bought property in the nicer lanes around the board, sometimes you have to settle for Baltic Avenue for $60. And if you’re lucky and save your money wisely, you just might have an opportunity to buy a house and raise your tariff to a whopping $2 should someone decide to land on your block who doesn’t live there.
Now let’s pretend that this first lane represents the low-income areas in most places. Rent is low, home ownership is scarce, and wouldn’t you know it? The end of the lane leads you right to jail.
I want to stay here for a minute because it’s lanes like this that our children who come from low-income socioeconomic situations often get stuck on. They live here. Create their experiences here. Go to school here. And, in some form or fashion, are expected to produce here – on the same level as the kids who live on other lanes around the board.
However, in order to get off of this lane, you either have to visit jail, be in jail waiting for your “get out free” card, or bypass jail altogether because you rolled a good pair of numbers and luck was on your side.
In real life, many people aren’t so lucky.
I think about how the second and third lanes represent upward mobility. For every lane you manage to pass, the closer you get to Park Place and Boardwalk. The Gold Coast. The two properties that signify you made it. You are successful. Visions of big houses, safe neighborhoods, high-performing schools with great teachers and students and virtually no crime, start to dance before your eyes. You can’t wait to get on that fourth and final lane because finally, FINALLY, you have arrived.
As a parent, that’s how I feel about choice. As advocates, we should walk down the first lane, pick up children along the way who might need us to introduce them to new possibilities so they can see what might exist on the other lanes. We should stroll on by the jail. Say a little prayer for the wrongly accused and remind ourselves that that jail is part of our community too. Let’s not forget that we’re all in this together.
As we move along the second and third lanes, things are looking up. Property values are increasing. In our minds, schools are getting better. Families are whole units. People seem happier. Those in power are keeping their promises.
We keep going around until we get to that fourth lane. However, before we can enter this lane there is the danger of landing on the “Go to Jail” square. Just when you think the coast is clear, something creeps up that could possibly send you straight to jail. Kavanaugh anyone?
I am an advocate for children, especially for children of color. Those who systemically have less and don’t ever seem to have a fair chance. Those who are left to drink lead-filled, brown water from the school water fountain. Those whose parents trust the powers that be to provide the basic necessities to keep their children safe while in school.
Children who are just like any other – young, full of hope, trusting, excited about and highly-capable of learning, who envision a future that offers more than their current circumstances. They are children who want to be safe and secure, loved and protected, fed and clothed, so that they can become productive citizens while disrupting the systems as activists that are trying to take away all of the things that I’ve listed above.
It is those children that we need to train up to understand that lead in the water is unacceptable! Having to take remedial classes is unacceptable! Being forced to believe the hype that our current systems care about you is unacceptable when proven that it’s not true!
It is okay to be a warrior. It’s time for warrior-type action!