Magnet Schools as an Oblique Method of Integration


There’s been some good stuff coming out on the topic of integration and desegregation lately, in case you’ve had your head buried in the sand.* Here’s a quick link roundup:

Something especially caught my attention in Part 2 of This American Life’s series that relates to our past explorations of the principle of obliquity:

Enid and her staff show up at baseball games in the suburbs, talk to parents about Hartford magnet schools. They leave brochures in suburban libraries. They show up at Girl Scout troop meetings, Mommy and Me groups, the YMCA. They study this market meticulously. And they consult professional marketing firms. Not your little mom and pop places, either, Enid tells me proudly, but people who advise companies like Apple. . . .

This is how integration works in Hartford. Sometimes white families are happy to see it. But it’s not usually why they show up. Their neighborhood school is often pretty good. But they were looking because their kid was bullied, or there was too much standardized testing, or the other parents seemed annoying.

Enid, who is selling them on magnet schools, which exist to promote integration, also does not mention integration. The long history of segregated schooling doesn’t come up. The current reality of segregated housing is irrelevant. No one here is being moved by a sense of collective responsibility. It is as if John Brittain never happened.

Instead, the experience Enid is curating is for comfort. All the details she considers, like making sure there are white kids in the brochures. Or if parents do tour a school, Enid does her best to have their child shadow a white student. That way they can see they won’t be the only one. [Bold added]

This is fascinating, and insightful.

There’s a couple of ways to read this.

  1. All white people are inherently racist.
  2. Parents of all stripes don’t vote with their feet based on grand ideals, such as “collective responsibility” or “pluralistic democracy”***, but rather based on whether they think their child will be safe, welcomed, nurtured, challenged, and provided with opportunities.

I believe the latter point is true. This speaks to the universal desire of parents to seek better opportunities for their children.

I’ve talked about “forcing” integration before on this blog, and this is the kind of force I’m talking about. There’s an army of effort going on behind the scenes to make this effort at integration work. But arguably, such targeted marketing of magnet schools may ultimately be the most effective method, avoiding the ugly blow ups of mandated busing.

Instead of being explicitly about integration, it’s about providing an innovative opportunity for all kids. That’s something most any parent can buy into.

The grand ideal, the ultimate purpose, hides obliquely behind the machinations of brilliant minds, heroic hearts, and hard work of people like Enid Rey and John Brittain.

*might be literally true, if you’re a teacher or administrator! In the Bahamas, catching that last bit of sun prior to the onslaught of a new school year. Yeah, I see you.

**He’s the Council Member for my school’s district in the Bronx! Great to see him taking a stand on this.

***Though I certainly wish more of us did.

For more of my thoughts on integration and segregation, see the following:

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