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Vergara v California: Local parents talk race in LA's classrooms

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The plaintiffs in the Vergara case are not the only people unhappy with today's public school system.

A new poll out this week from the Leadership Conference Education Fund reveals some troubling findings when it comes to schools and race. Nearly two-thirds of black parents and nearly half of the Latino parents surveyed believe students in their communities don't receive as good an education as white students do.

As part of our continuing Good Schools series, we wanted to get a better sense of how parents of color here in Southern California feel about educational opportunities.

Liz Dwyer is a former public school teacher in Compton and currently has two sons at L.A. public schools. Eugene Hung is a blogger and father of two daughters who are also in public school.

Interview Highlights

On the lack of funding for public schools:

Liz Dwyer: “The lack of funding has been really interesting because you get asked to participate in fundraiser after fundraiser after fundraiser, and yet you don’t necessarily see that translate in the classroom. For example, you spend a lot of time raising money for the school but then the teacher can’t contact you if your student isn’t doing well. So for example if my child isn’t performing up to expectations, I have a conversation  multiple times with teachers throughout the school year saying the very first time you notice something wrong, I expect an email, here’s my cellphone, text me whatever it is, send a note home. And when that doesn’t happen it makes me feel like they’re not expecting my sons to do well, that they’re just sort of assuming, ‘Eh, you know, maybe his family doesn’t care or maybe this kid doesn’t care.’ So I end up feeling like I’m harassing teachers about academics. So I’ve kind of gotten to a point this year where I’m kind of done with fundraising. I’ll donate money or whatnot, but I’m not going to come up and sell cookies or work a bake sale if you can’t have a conversation with me about what my kid is actually there for, which is to learn.”

Hung’s feelings on the study not including Asian-American families (the study cited a funding constraints):

Eugene Hung: “Disappointed, but I understand there’s only so much you can do with limited funding and grants and things like that. One thing that I would be very curious to find out — I don’t have any statistics for this — but, you have, sometimes Asian-American kids who are expected because of the ‘model minority’ myth — if teachers expect too much of them sometimes. They might look at them and see, hey, Asian-American kid, and they must be wonder whiz kids… It creates extra pressure and stress for some of these kids that don’t have to be there. Especially because the Asian-American community, like all communities, is very diverse, and you do have some kids who come from families that are better off and say that their parents are better educated, they came from overseas for grad school and things like that. And then you’ve got Asian-American kids who say their parents came with the shirts on their back, they came from war zones, there’s generational PTSD, and so they might be struggling even more with that because teachers might see them and say, ‘Asian-American kid must do really well.’ But they’re dealing with all this other stuff and they have a lot of the same struggles that, say, are often more identified with the black and Latino communities, but they’re very prevalent in these Asian-American communities too.”

On what role white families play:

Liz Dwyer: “Every employer, you know, they’ll say they’re looking for someone who can work in an increasingly diverse world. So it’s to the advantage of white parents if they say, just for employability and avoidance of future lawsuits for discriminatory things that are said on the job or whatever, it’s to their kids’ benefit to learn how to get along, to understand other cultures, and really know how to learn and work with other people, right? Just on that baseline. But studies have also shown that white children actually benefit psychologically, they learn better, when they’re in a diverse environment because all of these different neurons and different ways of thinking are stimulated, you’re learning different perspectives, you’re learning different experiences, different literature.”

Eugene Hung: “I think I would encourage those parents to talk with the principal, talk with a teacher. Another thought about diversity is for parents say of white families — this is easy for me to say, I don’t have that experience of being from the majority culture and being the suddenly minority, that’s got to be a shock to the system at some point for a lot of kids — I’d encourage those white parents to walk with their kids in terms of talking through what they’re seeing. I mean, sometimes we project our own anxieties onto our kids, and if our kid is not that worried about race, then maybe it’s just kind of not something that we have to delve too much into if I’m a white parent talking to my white child. But to explore that, to really make that a topic of conversation in the home. What kinds of things are you seeing, and how does that make you feel? I think those are the things that I might encourage. But again it’s easy for me to say.”

To listen to the full interview, click on the blue audio player above.