Washington, DC – Coinciding with the start of the new school year, educational and racial justice advocate Susan Naimark will speak on Monday, August 27th at Busboys and Poets Bookstore at 2021 14th St, NW. The evening is co-sponsored by the Institute for Policy Studies, Teaching for Change and Many Languages, One Voice. The event begins at 6:30pm and is free to the public.
Naimark will discuss her new book, The Education of a White Parent: Wrestling with Race and Opportunity in the Boston Public Schools, published September 1, 2012 by Levellers Press. Told in the form of a personal narrative, Naimark guides readers through her twenty-five year pursuit of equal opportunity for all children in Boston’s public schools. “One of my most difficult lessons,” says Naimark, “was to understand that racism not only disadvantages people of color but advantages white people. And these privileges are particularly pronounced in our schools.’”
White privilege – commonly defined as the implicit, unearned advantages that white people hold in our society – often plays out in subtle and unconscious ways, especially in schools. For example, while the population of her son’s elementary school was eighty-five per cent children of color, white students overwhelmingly held leadership roles in student organizations. Fitting the pattern, her sons were actively encouraged by teachers and staff to join the student council and to work on the school newspaper. Says Naimark: “While I wanted them to develop good leadership skills, I also wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just the white kids being groomed to become leaders. And for that to have happened, we adults needed to recognize and change some very basic beliefs about who can succeed.”
The Education of a White Parent takes the complex subject of white privilege and translates it into everyday stories that demonstrate how it hinders the development of all children, even kids who receive the benefits. For children of color, self-defeating beliefs based on longstanding questioning of their abilities can inhibit them from reaching their full potential. For white kids, it can set them up to believe that their thinking is the only way, and it deprives them of learning to navigate when confronted with different modes of thinking or to manage when things don’t go their way. Still, it’s not easy to change generations of thinking and entrenched behavior. Naimark recounts the story of a young white mother who approached her after a recent public talk. “She confided that while intellectually she understood the need to do things that support all kids, her gut still told her to help just her kid succeed,” says Naimark. “I don’t think she’d ever had a conversation like that before, and it was an important first step.”
After devoting years to educational advocacy and guiding both of her sons through public school, Naimark has come to a few conclusions. First, when school reform is coupled with conscious change in entrenched beliefs about what all children can accomplish, schools can truly succeed. Second, when the solutions to failing schools are created with the people most impacted and not just for them, everyone benefits. While it may still be a lot of work, it actually is that simple.
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Author Susan Naimark lives in Boston and works as a consultant in community and grassroots development, public education and racial justice organizing. She was a co-founder of The Boston Parent Organizing Network in 1999 and served on the school board for the City of Boston for eight years.
Institute for Policy Studies (www.ips-dc.org) is a community of public scholars and organizers linking peace, justice, and the environment in the U.S. and globally. We work with social movements to promote true democracy and challenge concentrated wealth, corporate influence, and military power.
For more information, to request a review copy of The Education of a White Parent or to schedule an interview, visit www.educationofawhiteparent.com or contact Claudette Silver at 828-318-3233.