When Everything Ain’t Enough

Why are the most privileged parents the ones who feel the most aggrieved by everyone and everything?

Adrian Mims is the definition of success: A first-generation college graduate and a Black man who earned a math degree before going on to study why 60% to 70% of students of color were dropping advanced math classes.

He discovered two problems: African American students did not have the same foundational knowledge as other students, which caused them to fall behind. And, Black students in advanced classes were socially and culturally isolated, a source of intimidation and alienation for them.

Mims hatched a solution. He founded the Calculus Project in 2009, bringing students of color and low-income students together for tutoring in advanced mathematics.

As a Black man, a father who bombed in math, and realized when I became a parent that I would have to take special, culturally-informed precautions to not pass on the gaps in my math knowledge to my kids, Mims is a hero. He's an inspiration that we can overcome ourselves and our barriers, and when we do, we can become a positive force for good even as our people face bad stats and low public esteem.

I want more African American students mastering math, beating the odds for people who attend schools with fewer opportunities to excel, fewer teachers who know how to reach us, and lower expectations for our achievement.

We all should want that.

So, it's more than puzzling to see the white mothers of Parents Defending Education lodging a complaint against school districts for administering The Calculus Project.

The miserable moms say Mims’ program is discriminatory because it allegedly excludes some students based on race.

By some students, of course, they mean white students - their children.

They argue a strict reading of the law says schools can’t provide programs based on race.

Erika Sanzi, a former colleague who used to write blog posts to support increased opportunities for Black and Brown students, now speaks for white moms. She says, “It is against the law to include or exclude students in school programs based on their race.”

I wonder what her white children lose when African American kids attend Mims’ program in an entirely different state. I try to empathize and think thoughtfully about it but come up with nothing.

A program at my kids’ schools is just for Somali students. My kids aren’t likely to use that program, and yet, I would feel like a whole jackass protesting its existence, knowing that Somali kids need the help and affirmation they get.

Somali families aren’t in power, centered or prioritized in our district, so I feel too privileged to stand in the way of anything that enfranchises them.

Because I’m human.

I’m also practical, so what bargain can we strike with the white women re-weaponized by right-wing politicos in the war against liberal schooling?

What must we all do for white kids, so their moms stop attacking us?

We’ve passed state laws to guarantee their children’s comfort will be centered above all else. We’re watching schools respond to rules that ensure their kids never encounter a story where they aren't the victors.

Wherever there is an attempt to diversify teachers, curricula, programs or schools so that children like mine can feel as if schools are about them, too, moms come to challenge.

We’ve watched as books aimed to make our kids enjoy reading are removed and scrutinized with a white tooth comb.

We’ve watched our educators and their scholarship devalued and put on ice.

We get it. You have power. Same as it ever was. But what do you want? What’s your demand? What's your end game?

That we eradicate every program that pays a particular focus to kids who are the furthest behind and have less opportunity to succeed, attributing your dubious moral case to a silly technicality of law?

My goal is for every kid to get what they need to grow. Like Mims, I see different kids have different outcomes because they have different needs. We would all do better to support them rather than make education a zero-sum political game.

Chris Stewart
Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of brightbeam. He was named CEO in April 2019, after formerly serving as chief executive of Wayfinder Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. In the past, Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, ...

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