Dear City Garden Community,
After witnessing the violent acts of white supremacists who gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia this weekend, we at City Garden feel compelled to publicly re-affirm City Garden Montessori School’s commitment to be an antibias, anti-racist (ABAR) institution and invite you to join us in this commitment.
It was deeply disturbing to watch young white men and women march with tiki torches and outwardly display hatred toward people of color. I am grateful to those who responded nonviolently with their protest and presence, and we mourn with the families of those who lost their lives and were injured in this terrible series of events.
We are, indeed, living in a new era of hate and resurgence of explicit racism. However, as we at City Garden are working to understand racism and how it shows up in our own school and in our own neighborhoods, we have learned that white supremacy has been embedded in the structures, policies, and institutions that have made up our country since its inception—that it is like “smog” that we breathe in, without even knowing it. Though the events in Charlottesville are a very visible example of racism, white supremacy exists in many ways in our society—including in our schools.
As we witness these extreme examples of hatred and racism, I believe it is important for us not to distance ourselves from these events or to see them as something happening “out there,” but to allow ourselves to feel the discomfort and horror and to reflect on where racism is showing up in our own lives and in our own institutions and communities. This is difficult, and yet necessary in order to begin to make change.
At City Garden, we have had to confront the reality that there is a significant disparity in academic outcomes between our white students and our students of color. We are profoundly dissatisfied with the differences in outcomes, and we take full responsibility to eradicate what is widely known as the “achievement gap” (but that we have begun to name as the “education gap,” or “opportunity gap”) in our anti-racist school.
This has forced us to acknowledge that, while our intentions and many of our actions are pointed in the direction of equity, inequity still exists in a very real way in our own school. We have spent this past year examining all of our programs and structures, working to identify how and where white supremacy is showing up, and working to develop strategies and actions to interrupt it and to create systems, structures, and programs that are equitable. We have begun this new school year by spending three and a half weeks as a staff learning, team building, and planning to create a more equitable school environment. We know that change will take time, and we humbly ask for your support, involvement, and accountability as we work to take our commitment to racial equity to another level.
In her book Can We Talk About Race? And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation (2008), Dr. Beverly Tatum says, “We must always begin by acknowledging the social and historical context in which we operate. That context shapes in powerful ways how we think and act. One important dimension of that context is the fact that American schools were never designed to educate everyone.”
Our work, then, is to create and to be a school that is, in fact, designed to educate everyone.
We at City Garden are sometimes criticized for focusing “too much on our ABAR commitment and not enough on academics.” Some of our supporters and parents have expressed concern that we get too political. Though City Garden is not in any way partisan, nor will we ever endorse a political candidate, I would assert that education is inherently political and that we cannot see these issues as “either/or.” Our educational institutions determine what our children are taught (including our country’s history), how our children are socialized, and how our children are disciplined. Indeed, the education our children receive impacts the very people they become and the opportunities to which they ultimately have access.
We in education may like to claim that we are “neutral.” However, schools are not and have never been neutral. The following statistics highlight some of the very real challenges we face in St. Louis:
- There is a $10,000-$15,000 funding difference, per student, between districts that are primarily made up of children of color and districts that are primarily made up of white children. For example, in 2013 the Clayton School District spent $19,681 per student compared to St. Louis Public Schools, which spent $9,826 per student. At City Garden, we receive roughly $9,200 in public funds per charter school student (You can read more here.).
- Elementary schools in Missouri suspended 14.3 percent of Black students at least once in the 2011-12 school year, compared with 1.8 percent of White students. The 12.5-point difference is two times higher than the national disparity (You can read more here.).
- African American students in the St. Louis area are five times more likely than White students to drop out of high school, and African American students in the St. Louis area are six times more likely than White students to score “Below Basic” in language arts on the state MAP test (You can read more here.).
- Just a few weeks ago, the NAACP issued a Travel Advisory Warning for the state of Missouri. The advisory, the first NAACP has ever issued for an entire state, came after Senate Bill 43 passed through the Missouri Legislature in June, which the Missouri NAACP State Conference called a “Jim Crow Bill” (You can read more here.).
Whether we like it or not, these issues are political. I want to urge all of us in education (and as parents) to let go of the notion that we are neutral and to recognize and embrace our critical role in shaping our society. The way we educate and socialize our children—at home and in school—directly impacts the way our society continues to be formed, and whether racism and inequity continue to be our reality.
I want to especially encourage my fellow White parents and educators to engage in this hard work. In an “Analyzing Systemic Racism” training facilitated by Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training, which all of the staff at City Garden go through when they are hired, we learn about the various ways racism shows up in our society. The extreme forms of racism, like what we have witnessed in Charlottesville this weekend, are the most visible. In schools, we often focus on interventions for children of color and how we can “help them.”
However, Crossroads describes these things as the “tip of the iceberg.” When you push beneath the surface, you see the next largest part of the iceberg, which includes how white people actually benefit from racism and inequity. If you keeping pushing further, you see the largest part of the iceberg (which is the part that took down the Titanic), which illustrates how racism damages all of humanity by keeping us out of connection with one another.
Speaking from experience, these are very difficult truths to face as a White person. However, if we want to create a world in which it is unheard of for white supremacists to march with tiki torches, is critical for us to acknowledge these realities and do our part to create something different.
I am including some resources below to explore (This list is by no means exhaustive!). I also invite you to come to our Colorbrave Series this year, to join a Witnessing Whiteness group, and/or to attend an Analyzing Systemic Racism training. We Stories is a great resource for parents and educators, and NCCJ and the Anti-Defamation League in St. Louis have regular opportunities for learning. There are many other groups organizing new things every week. You are also welcome to reach out to me or another City Garden staff member if you would like to learn more or just talk.
Thank you for being on this journey with us. Thank you for challenging us and holding us accountable. Thank you for your commitment to all of our children and for helping us make our school (and the world) a place where every child has access to freedom and opportunity.
List of Resources (Assembled by Adelaide Lancaster, Co-Founder of We Stories)
BEGINNING AN EXPLORATION OF WHITENESS
Waking Up White by Debbie Irving (book)
White Like Me by Tim Wise (book)
Peggy McIntosh’s “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” (article):
Witnessing Whiteness Program (20 week class offered by the YWCA):
Sign up for Witnessing Whiteness in St Louis →
Eula Biss on On Being (podcast episode):
BEGINNING A CONVERSATION WITH KIDS ABOUT RACE
Why Do It:
Books to Start With:
Shades of People
All the Colors We Are
The Skin You Live In
Ron’s Big Mission
Sign Up for We Stories in St. Louis if you are a family with at least one kid 0-7:
VISIT EyeSeeMe Bookstore:
“The Longest Shortest Time: How Not to Raise a Racist” (podcast episode):
“This American Life: Birds & Bees” (podcast episode):
Talk about Ruby Bridges with your children & watch real footage:
Learn about the Children’s March together (documentary clips):
SOME IMPORTANT HISTORY YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
“The Making of Ferguson” (article that applies to most every city and place in our nation):
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander (book)
Black Panther: Vanguard of the Revolution (PBS film):
KKK profile on Southern Poverty Law Center Website:
“The Racist History of Portland, The Whitest City in America”:
Black in America Since MLK by Henry Louis Gates Jr. (PBS)
FURTHER EXPLORATION OF ST. LOUIS HISTORY
St. Louis in Black and White on St. Louis Public Radio
Short 15 minute segments about local history from sundown towns to Pruitt-Igoe to Percy Green and the Arch. They were produced pre-Ferguson: http://www.stlpublicradio.org/programs/black-white/
We Live Here Podcasts:
Videos & Documentaries:
16 in Webster Groves:
Displaced & Erased: History of Clayton’s Black Neighborhood:
#1 in Civil Rights @ Missouri History Museum
STL REGIONAL RESEARCH AND LEADERSHIP
“For the Sake of All Report,” Dr. Jason Purnell:
Ferguson Commission Report, Ferguson Commissioners:
Profiles of #stlchange on Forward Through Ferguson’s Facebook page:
IF YOU ARE A TEACHER IN STL → EDUCATION FOCUSED RESOURCES
Educators for Social Justice (network & conference):
Racial Equity Curriculum Partnership:
Mentorship Program for Educators for Social Justice and We Stories
ExpandED Equity (network & events)
ADL’s website & tool kit
Teaching Tolerance (website and magazine)
Everyday Anti-Racism ed. Mica Pollock (book)
Can We Talk About Race? By Beverly Tatum (book)
VISIT EyeSeeMe Bookstore:
IF YOU ARE REALLY THIRSTY
one link but search for more: