I’m new to the “Black-ish” bandwagon.  So far, I appreciate how the show utilizes humor to discuss real issues.  Like the episode that tackles Columbus Day, which in my opinion, could be used in a cultural competency course.  Most recently, the episode titled, “Public Fool,” which addresses private versus public schools and the dilemma that many families face.

Before I proceed, let me say, “spoiler alert.”  In this episode, Junior gets expelled from his private school.  After failed attempts at gaining access to another private school, Pops says, “You should send Junior to the local public school.  What’s the point of spending all this money to live in this damn neighborhood if you’re gonna turn your nose up at the school that’s right down the street?”  The fictional Johnsons are a wealthy family, led by a mother who is an anesthesiologist, and a father who is an advertising executive.  They can afford to live in an area with quality public schools.

Sadly, this predicament is not a fictional one.  It reminds me of a conversation I had with a parent who said it cost a pretty penny to send her child to a local school.  I agreed, then did a double take because I remembered her child attended a public school.  The parent then replied, “I was talking about the mortgage to live near a quality public school.”

Even 63 years after Brown v. Board, all public schools are not created equally.  As Dre put it, “Black folks got hit with the okey doke,” which Urban Dictionary defines as a scam, an untruth, fraud.   In some areas, public schools look more like private schools.  In other areas…well, let’s just say public schools look nothing like private schools or public schools in more affluent neighborhoods.  The okey doke, indeed.

As an educator who spent my teaching career in Title I schools, this is a topic that is near to me.  Most recently, I taught at a 40-40 school in the nation’s capital, which means that according to district accountability measures, we were one of the forty lowest-performing schools in the DC Public School system.  My favorite section of my classroom was a little corner with a poster that reads, “No matter who you are…or where you’re from…your future is up to you.” I coupled the sign with a Stanford banner, to remind my students that one’s zip code does not determine his or her future.  I’d like to believe this sentiment is true, but it can be hard when there are so many obstacles.  Nonetheless, I continue to believe that it is important to encourage young people to believe and dream beyond their circumstances …beyond their present comprehension.

During a recent visit to my former students as I prepare to move to California, one student that I taught two years ago asked to come with me so she can go to Stanford.  Of course I know how much positive impact our school has on our students and their families, but at times it just didn’t feel like enough.

As I watch this episode of “Black-ish” and type this, I feel guilty that I’m taking a break from the classroom because I feel like my students need me.  Unfortunately, the state of education that results from being separate and unequal is the reason why I felt the need to take a break.  Lack of resources, lack of support, growing demands, lack of time, the emphasis on mastery without celebrating growth.  The list goes on…and on, and on.  These circumstances impact our work as teachers, which then affect our students.

In the end, Junior is a fan of the public school.  For the first time in his educational career, he’s not one of the only Black students, he has Black teachers, and a vending machine with soda (insert side eye).  While this episode was intended to make light of a situation, it sheds light on the state of education.  I believe public schools have potential that has yet to be realized.  Maybe it can be attributed to institutional racism, or maybe it’s merely a matter of not knowing where to start.  Either way, something needs to be done.   

All this to say that we are still separate, still not equal.  But at this point, would equality be enough? That’s gonna be a hard no for me.  We need equity.  

~ Marissa

20 thoughts on “Separate and Unequal (Black-ish Spoiler Alert)”

  1. Snaps!!!

    I went to private schools my whole life and now I’ve spent my teaching career in public schools. I was asked by friends who I attended school with where would I send my own children, private or public? This was hard. I made life looking friendships and relationships attending private schools and have very fond memories. However, I see the painstaking hard work and effort of myself and my colleagues in public know that there are thousands more out there fighting the odds of low funding, pay, respect and all that comes with those three. There are excellent public school teachers and schools however like mentioned in the show they tend to be in more affluent neighborhoods or those on the cusp. Thankfully, I decided long ago that I wouldn’t worry myself with futuristic questions and would instead worry about it once I arrive at that crossroads. As pops said in an earlier episode “why borrow troubles?”. It’ll depend on the options available to me at the time.

    1. Thanks for sharing your take on it, Kara! A futuristic question but a good one. Whether or not teachers send their own children to the schools where they teach, or comparable public schools can be very telling. I agree, there are excellent public schools. I wish the odds you mentioned weren’t stacked against them. Maybe (hopefully) that will change in the near future.

  2. I think this was a very good and much-needed post. Our education system needs A LOT of work! I’m from a rural part of PA and the quality of the schools where I am from are terrible. Especially the ones further out in the country. My parents obviously didn’t want to (and couldn’t pay) the huge taxes to live near the “good school district” (it’s not even that good). It was cheaper for my parents to send me to private school than for them to pay the taxes. That being said, I can only imagine what it is like in other parts of the country. I think America is making great strides, but there is definitely A LOT more to be done. There are some really good non-profit organizations like Teachers for America that are trying to make a difference. I also really like the picture you had at the bottom saying that your future is up to you. Great post!

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience! I rarely hear about experiences in rural areas. Wow, I can’t believe attending private school was less expensive than paying taxes to live in a “good school district.” You’re right, we have a lot of work to do. I’m hoping it gets done in the near future.

  3. I agree there needs to be change and equality. I grew up in a public school system – and my mom has been a teacher in one in rural NC for over 20 years – with that being said there definitely needs to be a lot of change. I think some of that can be attributed to those in administration not recognizing the problems as well as not knowing where to start on the ones they do recognize. Either way, a lot of work needs to be done.

    1. I definitely agree with that!! It’s a combination of not recognizing the problems and not knowing where to start. I think teachers, parents, and students should have input. If all stakeholders come together, maybe something can be done.

  4. Love this post so much and totally agree with everything you’ve said. I grew up in a private school and I did all of my teaching in public schools. There definitely needs to be a change. Beautifully written!

  5. I used to teach in a very large Title 1 school district. It was very challenging on so many levels. I ultimately ended up leaving teaching to be a stay-at-home mom due to several factors. But partly because it was so draining and at the end of the day I had two little ones at home that I couldn’t give my 100% to. I haven’t watched Black-ish but have heard good things!

  6. First off I love this show! Second I am a special ed advocate and we constantly discuss the equality vs. equity and how different they are! I completely agree I believe there needs to be a movement in search of equity for all!

  7. Thanks so much for sharing this issue, Marissa, and sharing a piece of yourself. At 43 I am finally learning that things are not as I understood them to be. I am a homeschool mom myself. We base our learning out in the world. Every day I wish that every kid could have this opportunity. While I know that is not possible, there is SO MUCH between every kid have a private teacher and where we are in our educations system now. Thanks for this post <3

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