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When your family is integration

April 24, 2013

Those of us whose children are in schools where a Mandarin immersion program was placed to bring in middle class families know these issues well. It can work, but it’s hard work.

Beth

When the melting pot boils over

For parents and educators striving to create diverse schools, what happens when good intentions run into sobering realities?

Alisa Rivera with her husband and their son, Nathan.

By Carol Lloyd

“It was like a Jerry Springer show,” recalls Michelle Lutz of the school meeting when a mother began shouting about “equity issues” with the principal cheering her on. By then the school had become a tinderbox of vitriol and hurt feelings where the middle-class parents joining a community of mostly low-income African-American and Latino families had catalyzed what experts call a “diversity crisis.”

Schools have always been places where emotions run high, but never more so than when they travel the deeper arteries of equity, class, and culture. As the anxiety about educating your child ratchets up, poisoned by budget cuts and child-eat-child college competition, many middle-class parents enter public schools with a dogged determination to improve them. They want to do good, while also doing right by their children. Yet when such efforts — however well-meaning — carry the taint of entitlement, it doesn’t take much for the ordinary elementary school to become an ideological battleground waged around bake sales and play structures.

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