Monday, June 12, 2017

Shino Tanikawa: Mayor's Diversity Plan is Meek

Shino, who we featured in a video I shot of her District 2 Diversity Committee meeting last month - here are our 2 posts on it

the direct link to the video is:

- is back in Sunday's Daily News with an article about the de Blasio diversity plan

We’re ready for real diversity: Given the depths of school segregation and the value of mixing, de Blasio's plan is too timid

Mayor de Blasio has released a new plan that would ever so cautiously nudge our city’s schools, which today are heavily segregated by race and class, toward more diversity. It’s far too meek a strategy for my taste. Here’s why.

Ever since my daughters, now 22 and 14, were toddlers, I told them it was more important to be nice than smart. First and foremost, my husband and I wanted our girls to be compassionate citizens with empathy for people, particularly those who are not like them.

I recognized my own affluence and its potential impact on my children’s upbringing. I wanted to do my best not to raise them into entitled Manhattanites, but to become clear-eyed about their own privilege.

I also wanted my daughters, who are mixed race, to recognize and embrace their Japanese heritage, and not be ashamed of it as I was in my 20s (a rather stereotypical Asian response to a white-dominant society). For this to happen, I knew they needed to be in a racially diverse environment where they were not the only ones who are “different.”

I knew that public schools are where my children could meet and befriend people who are not like them; there aren’t many other places like that, even in a city known as a melting pot. So I sought out schools with diverse student bodies, and that’s what I got — though in this city, where kids tend to cluster by background, it wasn’t easy to find.

Mixing works. Both my daughters learned a great deal from attending elementary schools where classes had two grades or students with and without disabilities learning together.
What they learned does not show up in their test scores. Rather, they have the ability to see strengths in all people, particularly the ones society might label “difficult.” And they have humility about their status in this society.

By the time my younger daughter started the middle school application process in 2012, I was consciously looking for schools with racial diversity.

My spreadsheet of schools (yes, I am one of those moms) had columns for racial demographics. She was offered a seat at a middle school with a student body that is representative of the whole district racially and socioeconomically, as well as in proportions of English Language Learners and Students with Disabilities.

The school also had a diverse faculty. Her eighth-grade academic teachers were all women of color (a magical year that was!). Being a parent in this middle school deepened my awareness and understanding of racial issues as well as my own racial identity as a woman of color.

I am enormously proud and grateful that both my daughters are now deeply compassionate people; sometimes it is a little too much. While my husband and I take some credit because of our dinner-table conversations, I must give bigger credit to the public schools they have attended. I was fortunate to have found schools that had many different types of students in a system that has been labeled one of the most segregated in the nation.

I know not everyone wants what I want. We, as a family, are privileged to live in Manhattan’s District 2. We have enough money to afford us the luxury of not worrying about standardized test scores and whether their children will go to college. Other parents, understandably, struggle with these concerns daily.

But this is all the more reason I have to make sure our daughters understand their responsibilities as citizens in a democratic society. We want them to become agents of change in whatever form that might take. After all, what can be more important than to nurture a future generation that can begin to heal our nation that is so deeply divided?

Many parents I know are distraught by escalating tensions and animosity in our country, including overt racism that is surging. We feel angry, sad, frightened and powerless.

There is something we can all do to help, and that is to have our children come to know one another from early on so that they grow up embracing and respecting people of all backgrounds. Giving our children opportunities to learn together in the same classrooms, taught by diverse teachers and with culturally relevant curriculum, is the best way to dismantle racism.

All that explains why, to me, the city’s “Equity and Excellence for All: Diversity in New York City Public Schools” plan, released last week, left me lukewarm. While it is a welcome acknowledgment that diversity is important, the plan will not lead to structural changes or produce many more genuinely integrated schools. It will only scratch the surface.

The time is ripe for a larger, bolder first step. Many of us parents are ready.

Tanikawa is a public school parent and Chair of the Diversity Committee of the Community Education Council District 2.

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