School has started and with it a clash of cultures and anguished kindergarten parents who are gnashing their teeth because our cafeteria doesn’t provide quinoa. On the other side, long time working class parents from the neighborhood watch as full-on gentrification comes to our school. As I mentioned in previous posts, our little neighborhood public school is ground zero for the relentless displacement that has happened in Williamsburg.
This year, the school has tipped. With an extra pre-k class and several new kindergarten classes. The kindergarten population has gone from being primarily low-income students of color to white, middle class, and heavily tattooed. The problem with this is myriad and complicated, but a big thing I have noticed is how this new crop of parents seem to view education as just another consumer item.
Because they see public education as something that they are somehow purchasing or acquiring, they want it to be the “best” product for their individual child. They don’t see or acknowledge that our school is a community or a social responsibility to each other.
They don’t understand that our school provides free breakfast and lunch to its students because many of our children won’t eat without it, and who gives a flying f*ck” about quinoa.
They don’t understand that through our collective efforts, now all the children of the neighborhood will be able to have access to a rooftop greenhouse- and not just the kids who can afford it. And the very least they can do, since they are here paying outrageous rents and buying boutique clothes, is contribute to the education of all the children in the neighborhood and not just their own.
They don’t understand that much of the benefit of public school for their children isn’t about i-pads and the latest fads, but about their children spending time and learning from kids from different race and economic backgrounds.
Studies have shown that we can’t educate our children out of poverty. Poverty and racism have systemic roots and can’t all be addressed by our public schools. But certainly schools can be a place where community resources and money can be redistributed to benefit all the children in the neighborhood instead of hoarding it for just the affluent.
And of course there is ton of stuff to say here about class privilege and white privilege. Some parents have already threatened to leave the school (week 3!!) if they don’t get their way – the epitome of entitlement & privilege.
But it hit me the other day, that another way to see this is that they are treating their individual child’s education as a commodity/a consumer product, rather than a collective effort. To them – teachers are just employees and the cafeteria food is something to complain about. They just don’t see the interdependent web of parents, aunties, grandmothers, teachers, cooks, janitors, school safety people, administrative staff, that makes this all possible. And that is a damn shame.