Us v. Them

Credit BGN News

Credit BGN News

I don’t spend a lot of time bemoaning the state of the world. As overwhelming as the news can be, I believe that the world is a good place worth bringing children into. 

That is not to say I am immune to fear.

I worry about climate change and the growing power of ISIS. Like the rest of the world, I saw those babies’ lifeless bodies on the shores of Turkey and thought, “How could things have gotten this bad? What kind of world are we leaving to our children?”

Yet, there is an undercurrent of fear I’ve noticed when people discuss the problems plaguing our planet and its people. I’ve noticed it when people talk about the refugee crisis in Europe. I’ve noticed it when people talk about Kim Davis. I’ve noticed it when people talk about the Black Lives Matter movement.

Then, as I listened to an episode of This American Life, it hit home.

Entitled “The Problem We All Live With”, the episode examines failing inner city schools and the one solution that has worked.


Credit Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Credit Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Nikole Hannah-Jones, an investigative reporter The New York Times, has spent her career reporting on failing schools and has seen integrating schools work. She shared the story of the Normandy school district outside St. Louis, MO. The school district Michael Brown graduated from before he was killed in Ferguson.

That same year the district lost its accreditation. Students could chose to travel 30 miles to the predominantly white middles class school district of Francis Howell. This American Life shared the audio recordings of the Francis Howell school board meeting, where parents shared their “concerns” over the integration. It made me sick to my stomach. 

Here’s the transcript:

Woman 1
My question is when a child who is coming from an under-performing school with low test scores comes into a math class at Francis Howell, how will they ever possibly cope?

Woman 2
Once Normandy comes in here, will that lower our accreditation?

Nikole Hannah
The woman says she was an education professor and warned Frances Howell officials not to be naive about the type of students they’d be receiving.

Woman 2
So I’m hoping that their discipline records come with them, like their health records come with them.
Woman 3
Years ago, when the MetroLink was being very popular, Saint Charles County put to a vote whether or not we wanted the MetroLink to come across into our community. And we said no. And the reason we said no is because we don’t want the different areas— I’m going to be very kind— coming across on our side of the bridge, bringing with it everything that we’re fighting today against.

Nikole Hannah
A mother named Beth Cirami approaches the microphone

Beth Cirami
This is what I want to know from you. In one month, I send my three small children to you. And I want to know, is there any metal detectors?
I want to be clear. I’m no expert. I’m not you guys. I don’t have an accreditation. But I’ve read. I’ve read, and I’ve read, and I’ve read.

So we’re not talking about the Normandy School District losing their accreditation because of their buildings, or their structures, or their teachers. We are talking about violent behavior that is coming in with my first grader, my third grader, and my middle schooler that I’m very worried about. And I want to know— you have no choice, like me— I want to know where the metal detectors are going to be. And I want to know where your drug-sniffing dogs are going to be.

This is what I want. I want the same security that Normandy gets when they walk though their school doors. And I want it here. And I want that security before my children walk into Francis Howell, because I shopped for a school district. I deserve to not have to worry about my children getting stabbed, or taking a drug, or getting robbed because that’s the issue. I don’t care—

Nikole Hannah
To be clear, Normandy did not lose its accreditation because of violence. It’s easy to judge these parents. But I think part of what makes it seem so startling is that we rarely fight these battles anymore.

The reaction to large numbers of black children moving into white schools would probably sound no different in New York or Chicago or Boston. It’s just that in most of the country, no one is even trying. These parents don’t want to try, either. So one of them offered a helpful solution.

Man 1
You’re absolutely right. We have to do this. We have to follow the laws. We don’t have to like it, and we don’t have to make it easy. Has anyone considered changing our school start times, moving start times up 20 minutes, maybe 40 minutes, making it a little less appealing?

It’s there. It’s in every statement.

Us v. Them. The poor kids. The black kids. The immigrant kids. The refugee kids. The kids of gay parents or gay kids themselves.

THEY ARE NOT MY PROBLEM. All that matters is that my child has the best. All that matters is that my kid’s life is safe and clean and perfect.

We all want what is best for our children BUT…

I don’t want my children to just have a better life. I want my children to live in a better WORLD.

Because my children - your children - live in the WORLD. No man is an island, even if that man is a little man with a very, very protective mom with plenty of resources. 

If the neighborhood across town is filled with black and brown children suffering under the burden of poverty and racism, that matters to your kids. If families thousands of miles away are risking everything to escape civil war, that matters to your kids. If the children of gay parents see their family derided and condemned, that matters to your kids.

The first thing to remember is it’s not you NOW. 

As Glennon of Momastery masterfully put it, "Let us all quit acting like we have anything to do with the fact that we were lucky enough to have been born on third base, while millions are starving outside the stadium."

You’re safe in the stadium NOW, but that might not always be the case. Most of us live within a small margin of error. An illness or job loss or natural disaster could change everything we know to be true very, very quickly and then it will matter how others respond to your suffering.

Suffering is not a character flaw. I understand that it makes all of us deeply uncomfortable. To see other’s suffering is to tap a deep vein of vulnerability. We don’t really want to wonder “What if that was us?”

However, it could be us and - even if it NEVER is - it still matters. 

Because the problems of poverty and racism and war will affect our children one way or another because they affect EVERYTHING. They affect the economy and the crime rate and our education system and they will touch in small ways and large every aspect of our children's existence. 

Also, I have faith in our children. I have faith that these little people we are raising are up to the challenge. That - if we let them - they can learn how to deal with difference and change and even suffering.

That, by exposing them to the real problems facing all of us, they might even be the solutions.

But, we have to teach them there is no us... no them... only WE.