The night before I wrote this post, I got a present. The present was that the National Geographic website dropped some of the HELOC residential security maps, commonly known in the profession as the redlining maps, into an article, highlighting the amazing work done by the Mapping Inequality Project.
If you haven’t already, go to that site and play with their maps. I was able to grab Kansas City.
They left out Durham on this version of their maps, but here it is
And my current place of residence, which I happened to snap a shot of here, when I was at another event where another group of folks pulled together a wonderful exhibition of why this happened and where.
This is why I talk about “redlining” when I talk about the creation of the hood.
The “hood”. The “barrio”, the “Whitetopia”, the “ghetto”…
…are real and they are real on maps and sadly, we are nowhere near getting away from these barriers. Yes, even in areas that are gentrifying and moving from red to yellow and blue.
The one key reason that those maps haven’t changed that much.
Education, namely education of our children.
But you say, we have so many choices and there are so many educational providers and I really just want my kids to get their best shot. Oh and my neighborhood didn’t exist back then. And we have black and brown neighbors and they are so nice. We let their kids play in our sunroom and on our wooden swing set.
Your kids, but what about all kids. What about that abandoned school down the block. The one they said was “low-performing” and had “low-enrollment”? And can we mention the mere fact that you have a sunroom and one of those wooden swing sets from Home Depot puts you in a different class level than quite a few Americans? Where did the remaining 5 kids go? You would hate to have a rotting building sitting in your neighborhood waiting for development, so why let that other neighborhood have one too. Or not turn it into the condo building that the “hipster” neighborhood did.
Ok, it’s “Kristen’s Personal Story Time”.
Today, I’m going to tell you about how I came out alright, despite starting my schooling in what were legally the “inner-city” schools when I started kindergarten in 1991.
My first caveat is that in North Carolina, we actually go to public schools under one county district, but many different zones. When I started school, I was still in the Greensboro City Schools District. My parents worked in the Guilford County Schools District and there was a High Point City Schools District. That all changed in 1993 when all the schools merged into one county district under the Guilford County Schools banner.
Yes, people fought. But fast forward 23 years and the Guilford County Schools district has an 86% graduation rate and we now have a program to ensure college gets funded for all kids. Oh and some schools, the ones we consider our high performing ones, graduate 100% of their students. And they pull students, by their personal choice and test scores, from across the entire county. And some of those schools are housed with students deemed troubled by their home schools. Others are your typical extremely “gifted” student holes. Others, the directionals, one which I’ll talk about going to in a bit, are what have become the “suburban” districts through migration, both of locals and of transplants used to a more segregated and suburbanized school environment.
However, that’s at the high school level. What about the elementary level? When I went to kindergarten, my school was up the street and around the corner. I could have walked and sometimes we did but my mom was waiting for me most days in the car rider line. I wanted to ride the school bus, but we lived to close to the school.
However, my mom, who had taken a break from her own classroom teaching of middle schoolers and was raising and pre-schooling me at home while my dad continued to go work for the school system as an electrical maintenance man and wire homes and do other residential and small commercial electrical contracting jobs on the side, didn’t like my school.
I know I was getting teased a bit and I was also easily distracted, to the point I had to start going to school earlier, so I could adjust to my surroundings. My mom also tells me my classmates bothered me a whole lot more than I remembered. Plus, my teachers wanted me in “gifted” classes and my mom wanted me to be in a regular classroom, where everyone had a fair shot at learning the same things and I wouldn’t feel like I was so “gifted” I couldn’t learn anything any more and that I was too perfect to learn.
Rather than ship me out to the suburbs, which in reality, were just the 1990s subdivisions being built on old farmland around the existing farm towns and their respective “county” schools, I got moved to the school zone right next door. School became a 15 minute walk instead of a five-minute walk, but my mom was right there with me in the car rider line. Mom also made cookie bags for my classmates at Christmas, became friends with my teachers and was on the PTA, with a handful of other working class parents, some of color, some with English as a second language, all upwardly mobile in their own way.
In fact, many of those parents moved on, much like my mom and I did, but we moved on for a different reason and we now live in a similar, but further out neighborhood. Ok, she lives there, but that house in the neighborhood I went to my final elementary school in, is still there. Had we lived there and not the apartment we lived in when I was in the fourth and fifth grades, I could have walked to school, because the school is behind the houses on the next block. Or I could have stayed in our old house with dad and stayed in my same school. Gone to middle and high school not too far away.
However, for middle and high school, I got a special exception to join my mom in the county “suburban” school zone where she was teaching middle school. My own mortification and fear of failing in front of my classmates, many who my mom taught their seventh grade year, and in front of my mom’s teaching colleagues, kept me in line. At the time I attended my high school, it shared one of its buildings with my middle school and I went to my high school classes upstairs and came back to my mom’s classroom in the evenings to wait to go home. On 9/11/2001, I ran to my mom in the covered walkway between the high school and the shared building after school relieved that she and I was still alive. There was not a cloud in the sky that day…and as you see, I’ve digressed greatly.
However, a few things to wrap up my personal story. I had involved parents, who didn’t let their financial means keep them from trying to be engaged parents. But, both parents weren’t working and my mom had an education degree and still commanded even her PTA meetings much like she did her various classrooms over the years. There was funding for the special program at my second elementary school. By the time I got to my third elementary school, my mom was working again due to my parents’ divorce and my dad was servicing the schools in my zone of the district. People knew my parents and they knew me and they knew our struggles and they wanted to see me succeed.
However, there are other classmates of mine, especially at the second elementary school whose parents weren’t as involved, yet they still managed to find a way to success. I attribute it to the values set by the administrators and teachers at that school, to love us all equally. Plus, that neighborhood is one of the unique neighborhoods in Greensboro, in that it houses so many people of all races, income levels and education levels, it has resources and it has a people committed to political unity. If we want to put it in DC terms, I was in Takoma Park. And if that neighborhood (which will remain nameless, because things have changed a bit and I want this to be a universal story) and Takoma Park could do it, there are others that can too.
However, we need neighborhood schools, run by a central district over a reasonable geographic area, and we need diverse neighborhoods. Also, the other caveat, in the map above, some of our Takoma-style neighborhood was blue and some of it was green and yellow. It was never hazardous. Why Takoma was hazardous baffles me, but so do a lot of the maps.
I’d like to think that my parents beat the odds. I’d like to think my neighborhood was special. But it isn’t.
NPR recently reminded us of that when it talked about how much our school choice is dependent on the old redlining maps and is solidified by the loss of schools or the lack of investment or completely homogeneous by both race and class and language skill schools. And many of you have heard the This American Life episode series about the Chicago schools.
Many of you, who otherwise support walkable communities, transit improvements, diverse types of housing and other things seen as urbanist, get stuck when it comes to the schools. Even those of us of color get stuck, much like in this well known New York Times article.
I do think we can start chipping away at the education paradox of urbanism. But we have to start somewhere. Otherwise, those maps will forever be rainbow-colored and not in a good way.
I’m Kristen. Six years ago, I started blogging here to make sense of the built environment around me. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can find out more about me at my main website, www.kristenejeffers.com.