By Haley Taylor Schlitz, third year of law school at SMU Dedman School of Law
Dear White Progressives,
I am moved to write this open letter to you today because I can no longer be silent on what I see as a growing theme in your posts around the public education system in our nation. Many of you are demonstrating by your posts and likes on social media that you have no idea how to be an ally. Many of you lack any understanding of the educational experiences of Black and Brown students across the U.S.
Recently the focus of much of the debate over U.S. education policy has been driven by the deliberate attacks by Republicans on education equity policies as a way to anger their base and boost their voter turnout in 2022 and 2024. The disingenuous attacks on fake issues such as Critical Race Theory and book-banning campaigns in public schools and libraries are deliberately designed to misinform their base voter and create outrage.
Yesterday, NBC reporter Mike Hixenbaugh shared his latest story on what is happening around diversity and equity issues in the Carroll Independent School District in Southlake, Texas. In case you haven’t been following this story, let me give you a quick recap.
The fight against racism in Carroll ISD started in 2018 when a video of white students shouting the n-word was shared across social media. In response to national pressure sparked by the video, the district’s Board of Education members reluctantly created a diversity council and charged them to draft a diversity plan. But parents pushed back, electing a new, anti-diversity school board and filing a lawsuit. This month, the new board settled the lawsuit. The settlement disbanded the Carroll ISD diversity council and rejected the diversity action plan.
Many Black commentators, myself included, observed that this settlement sends a clear message to Black families in the district that their children will be attending school in an openly hostile environment. It led me and others to suggest that Black families should consider pulling their children out of these openly hostile schools, showing we will not be held hostage by schools that decide we are not welcome.
No sooner had I posted my feelings and shared my gratitude that my parents had chosen to pull their children out of our local “good” public schools and homeschool us, than I received responses saying “public schools need support at this time.” These comments were liked by a few self-declared progressives, who either didn’t actually read the Twitter thread, or are honestly okay with Black students being forced to attend public schools, even if those schools have policies in place that are clearly anti-Black.
I have learned that we can not ignore these blatantly ignorant posts. I immediately engage with those who send me knee-jerk responses like “we must support our public schools.” I ask them if they really understand the issues we are discussing. Do these so-called progressives really understand that the story in Southlake Carroll ISD is one where the publicly elected school board is adopting clear anti-Blackness policies” Are they really saying just because they are “public schools,” we should still support them? Let me remind you that such so-called progressive are defending the very same public school system that told teachers to teach “opposing views” of the Holocaust.
We need white progressives to stop blindly supporting any action by “public schools.” How do you say you are an ally when you immediately fall back on the mantra, “support public schools,” even when those very same public schools are demonstrating an ongoing pattern of blatant discrimination against Black students? You may think you are being part of the solution, but what you are really doing is sentencing another generation or two of Black students to a substandard education.
“Too often, “public schools” are more focused on meeting the demands of the school-to-prison pipeline than protecting the basic humanity of Black children.”
As a Generation Z Black woman, I’m here to tell you these ongoing blind commitments to a public education system that continues to harm Black children are no longer acceptable. We will not sit here quietly and let you and your privilege force us to attend schools that discriminate against our hair. Regardless of your mindless commitment to “public schools,” we will not be bullied into remaining in classrooms where teachers adultify Black girls, disregard the humanity of Black boys and criminalize Black youth by over-disciplining them. It is OK, even progressive, to withdraw from a system that continues failing to create the much-needed diversity we need in our teacher workforce.
If you cannot see that your blind faith in public schools, even when they commit acts of racism, undermines our struggle as Black Americans to ensure equity in our schools, then you are a big part of the problem. I can assure you that Black families and their children have no intention of being held hostage by public schools that see us as less than human. We will not jeopardize our future as a community to comfort those who are so blind they will defend the indefensible.
“We will spend every moment using every tool available to us to ensure that not one single Black child is left behind in an education system that was always designed to see us as less than human and unworthy of a full education.”
If we have to create a new Underground Railroad for the 21st century–one that uses charter schools and homeschooling to lead our children to educational freedom–then we will. If Black Generation Z members have to become the Harriet Tubmans of our generation to achieve educational equity, we will fully embrace it. We will spend every moment using every tool available to us to ensure that not one single Black child is left behind in an education system that was always designed to see us as less than human and unworthy of a full education.
It is my hope that many white progressives will step back from their blind support for our public education system and take time to listen to the experiences of Generation Z Black students in our schools. You will hear how we are forced to cut our natural hair simply to comply with a public school’s racist dress code policy. You will hear how Black girls experience adultification due to deeply racist societal views that many white teachers carry with them into the classroom. You will hear how Black boys are only seen as worthy when winning athletic success for their schools. Meanwhile, Black boys who are not valued by schools are pushed out of school and into prison through disparate use of suspensions. You will hear both Black girls and boys share how they are constantly denied gifted and talented programs and forced into public schools that lack key education programs like AP and honors courses.
If you are truly an ally, then you will stop with your simplistic, knee-jerk response to any rightful criticism of a public school. If you truly care about equity in our schools, join with us as an actual ally. Support our efforts to ensure that public schools uphold the basic human rights of all their students.
When you blindly side with public schools, including schools that tell teachers to teach “both sides” of the Holocaust, you can expect Black Americans to push back. Black Americans will continue to challenge blind allegiance to public schools, and, if necessary, lead us on a path where we abandon public schools because they are a threat to our very existence.
See original opinion piece at Citizen Ed.
Haley Taylor Schlitz
At 19 years old, Haley Taylor Schlitz is in her third year of law school at SMU Dedman School of Law. In May of 2019, she graduated with honors with a bachelor’s degree from Texas Woman’s University College of Professional Education. Haley is the youngest graduate in the history of Texas Woman’s University. On February 28, 2020, Haley was featured by Beyonce as one of Beyonce’s “This Is Black History 2020” honorees. In April of this year, Haley was named the host of the new online show Zooming In w/Gen Z that focuses on the experiences of Gen Z and highlights amazing young people in our nation. This past summer Haley served as the legislative and policy intern for the Commit Partnership and as an ambassador for the African American Policy Forum’s Young Scholar Program. Last summer Haley served as a judicial intern for the Honorable Shequitta Kelly, Presiding Judge, Dallas County Criminal Court #11. Haley recently completed the 2021 New Leaders Council Fellow program. She is a proud member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Incorporated. Haley is pursuing a career as an attorney where she hopes to continue to advocate for education equity and greater access to gifted and talented programs for students of color and girls.