What If Black People Had a 'Green Book' for Finding the Schools Our Kids Deserve?

Aug 2, 2019 12:00:00 AM


Black families should not be forced to choose between schools that challenge them academically and schools that nurture and love them for who they are. Yet, this is the choice so many Black families make every day because very few learning spaces are truly committed to meeting the needs of Black children. 

It is painful to think about the conditions that lead to the creation of The Negro Motorist Green Book. With Blacks regularly facing exclusion, humiliation, and violence on buses and trains, the growth of automobile transport was a welcome liberation. But for Black people, it turned out that "getting your kicks on Route 66" meant getting kicked around and getting kicked out. The Green Book helped “The Negro” traveling by car navigate this issue by sharing safe places "that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trip more enjoyable."

The right to travel is considered a fundamental right. But so is the right to a free and appropriate public education. What if Black families had a guide to tell them which schools would provide them the learning they deserve without getting kicked around and getting kicked out? [pullquote]Until we can send Black children to any school knowing they will learn and thrive, we need an Education Green Book.[/pullquote] We know schools that literally beat us down, criminalize our children as early as preschool and have academically failed our kids for decades. Let’s put those aside and ask a more pressing question: where can Black children learn without facing soul-crushing racism?

This is Personal

We were so excited when we found a gem of a school for our young children in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona. Arrowhead Montesorri had almost everything a parent could ask for. Beautiful learning spaces. Personalized learning that had our daughter reading at 4 years old. A completely ridiculous outdoor learning environment filled with all sorts of animals and opportunities for project-based learning. 

Like many suburban schools, there was very little diversity. This was not surprising in a city where Blacks make up only 7% of the population. It was surprising, however, for children in this supposedly progressive learning environment to tell our children “I didn’t invite you to my party because we aren’t allowed to have brown people over,” or “that’s why nobody likes brown people” with no accountability or real consequences. 

The supposedly colorblind leadership at Arrowhead Montessori did not have the skills to address this. But sadly, they also lacked the will to address this, ignoring our offer to set up their staff with free training on anti-racist practices after the first incident occurred. To ensure our children will be protected from further unacceptable racist acts, we were forced to pull our children out.  

Education 'Green Book’ Schools

With all of the degrees we have between us, we are utterly clueless when it comes to figuring out how we are supposed to discern the answer to what should be a simple question: [pullquote position="right"]where can our children learn and be truly loved at the same time?[/pullquote] The truth is, we are in an amazing position of privilege when it comes to answering this question.

Arizona is a 100% open-enrollment state, meaning that we can send our children to any district school we want as long as there is space. Arizona also has the highest number of public charter schools per capita. And we are privileged to have the means to practice the oldest form of school choice by just picking up and moving wherever we want. So, in theory, we have hundreds of options of where to send our children. But there are far fewer options once we consider the two main criteria that ought to make a school Education Green Book-worthy:

  • A demonstrated commitment to successfully educating Black children
  • A demonstrated commitment to anti-racist practices that affirm the inherent worth of Black children.

To be clear, schools that have mostly Black student populations and mostly Black school and teacher leadership would not automatically be included in an Education Green Book. And schools with mostly White student populations and mostly White school and teacher leadership would not automatically be excluded. 

Whether a school is in a traditional district, a public charter school or a private school would not be decisive either. The deciding questions should be whether this school is truly a place where educators believe in the unlimited learning potential of Black children and whether this school is truly a place with policies and practices that affirm their dignity and inherent self-worth.

As the 1948 printing of the Green Book stated in its introduction, "There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States." We are not there yet; definitely not in education. So, until we can send Black children to any school knowing they will learn and thrive, we need an #EducationGreenBook. Who’s in?

Carrie Sampson, Ph.D.

Carrie Sampson, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Division of Educational Leadership and Innovation at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, Arizona State University. Her research focuses on educational leadership, policy and equity from three interrelated perspectives—democracy, community advocacy and politics.

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