Last year I read an article in the New Yorker The Rise of Black Homeschooling by Casey Parks, about a spike in the numbers of black families taking their children out of public and private schools and providing them education at home. The pandemic and online schooling going into the mainstream have only prompted what, for many, was inevitable. The article describes pervasive racism and inequities that Black students face at schools prioritising whiteness. For many Black students, homeschooling is not only a way to avoid bullying and all too frequent punishment and suspensions but also to study at their own pace, with a curriculum of their choice. I thought it was an insightful read, and when I came across a six-part podcast, Southlake (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️), I was ready to dive into the topic deeper.
Southlake, Texas, is a small, largely white suburb town 30 minutes from Dallas. It offers some of the best public schools in the country, which guarantee access to top-tier universities. Mike Hixenbaugh and Antonia Hylton are investigating what happened after a 2018 video showing white Southlake students chanting the N-word went viral. At first, families and school officials developed diversity and inclusion programs to better educate students and staff on issues of race, culture, sexual identity, and gender. An obvious solution in the 21st century, one might think. But then some conservative parents pushed back, exposing the much darker side of the public education system and the power they held in it.
The podcast chronicles the shocking events in Southlake during the global pandemic, following George Floyd’s murder, and at the height of the U.S. presidential campaign. That’s why I am inclined to think about Southlake as a microcosm of today’s America. We often hear only the big, international news. Still, this podcast describes the racial and political turmoil we are witnessing on a local level and allows us to hear from people directly affected by it. It is an absolute must-listen.
If you, like me, would like to hear more about the public school system in America, I can only recommend another thoroughly researched story, this time by Chana Joffe-Walt. The Nice White Parents (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️) podcast is a piece that concludes her 5-year investigation in which she follows one Brooklyn school’s efforts in building a better school system. I was astounded to discover that despite racial segregation in public schools being unconstitutional since 1954, there are still public schools in the US that are intensely segregated. According to Civil Rights Project, New York remains the most segregated state for African American students and California the most segregated for Latinos. Chana Joffe-Walt focuses on one particular school based in Brooklyn, I.S. 293. She follows the changes it undertakes in its desegregation efforts over time. Most of the changes, however, are introduced (and fundraised) by white parents – often well-meaning ones – who, in effect, hold power in this integration process, further marginalising the less privileged students.
It is captivating listen that finishes on a hopeful note. But since the podcast was produced before the pandemic, I can’t wait for a season 2 to follow at some point. I would love to hear how white parents responding to the rise of homeschooling and the budget shortfalls reshape public schools creating an equitable education system for everyone.