[Written by Love Isn't Enough contributor Liz Dwyer; Originally published at Los Angelista's Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness]
“How was your first day of school?”
That’s the question every parent asks their child after they pick them up at the end of the first day back on campus. I asked my two sons that question today, eons after most other parents across the United States have already asked and been answered.
In case you’re wondering, our super late start this year is because of the school year being shortened due to budget cuts. Budget cuts – and the requisite staff layoffs in the face of a brand new $578 million RFK education complex opening it’s doors- have made this school year’s beginning all the more controversial.
But today I didn’t really think about budget cuts or whether Los Angeles’ kids deserve a $578 million school.
Today I thought about the fact that I have two black males enrolled in a public school in the second largest school district in the United States.
Today I thought about the fact that my eldest is now a fourth grader, the grade where most tracking really begins – and black males are disproportionately tracked into special education.
Today I thought about how the State of California makes prison construction projections based off of fourth grade reading test scores.
Today I thought about my ultra creative, rambunctious second grader and how when I supervised beginning teachers I sometimes sat in classrooms where the teacher would harshly punish black children for talking out of turn or getting out of their seat. Black kids always seemed to need to be rapidly escalated down a serious of consequences if they stepped out of line even one bit. Warnings were skipped in favor of the more drastic “call parent” or “go to the office” options. I guess because those little black boys were soooo scary and they needed to be put in their place before they got any ideas.
And what happened to the kids who weren’t black if they got out of their seats or talked out of turn? Not a gosh darned thing.
These are the things I think about when my sons start a new school year… and just when I’d started to talk myself down from the ledge, just when I started to believe that everything would be alright for my boys, I had to go and check and see what was happening on Twitter.
Not the kind of statistic that puts a smile on my face. It was such a dose of reality, that I “retweeted” that info and the person who writes the GetSchooled Twitter replied to me, saying, in part, “FYI LAUSD only graduates 40% of it’s black males.”
That means 60% of black males in this district aren’t graduating.
Yes, let that number sink into your psyche for a moment. Ask yourself why there isn’t more of an outrage over 60% of black males in this city not graduating. Could it be our society’s collective racism and lowered expectations for black males? Hmm?
Sure, I can say that won’t be my boys. My boys are whip smart. They’re going to be in the 40% that do graduate no matter what.
The thing is, I’m sure every parent says that. I mean, really, what mom or dad of a black male child in this city says they hope their child ends up dropping out and becoming a negative statistic?
This afternoon when I asked my boys, “How was your first day of school?” I wanted to know more than whether the teacher seemed nice. The stakes are outrageously high for my sons and for every other black male in this district. The deck is stacked against their success, and it often seems like no one cares.
Of course, my sons aren’t thinking about any of that. They’re full of tales about the other kids in their new classrooms and talking about whether or not they made any friends. They’re full of excitement, and that makes me hopeful that everything will be alright.
But those statistics still exist. They can’t be ignored… and we should all be ashamed of them. LAUSD should be ashamed.
I need – we all need – this district to address this directly and openly, and to say what they’re going to do about it. And then, they need to do it. Now.