Two years ago, WPLN’s Meribah Knight reported on how parents at one East Nashville elementary school were pushing to reverse a troubling trend: Despite the diversity of the neighborhood, it had almost no children of color anymore.
But as she continued to report, Meribah realized this was really a tale of two schools, because about a mile away was another elementary that had almost no white children. She’s now spent the last two years reporting on school resegregation in Season 2 of Nashville Public Radio’s podcast The Promise.
Listen to the interview with Meribah above, or read interview highlights below.
More: Listen to The Promise
On how these schools look so different
“Lockeland Elementary and Warner Elementary are just a little over a mile apart. They share a zone, but these two schools are quite literally the inverse of one another. Lockeland is 90% white. Just a few of its students live in poverty. It’s one of the top performing schools in Tennessee. Meanwhile, Warner Elementary is 90% Black, almost all of its children live in poverty, and it’s one of the lowest performing schools in the state. …
“It just really struck me as this American education story. You know, our schools are increasingly separated by race and by socioeconomics. And some notice and some don’t. But it feels like once you do notice, you really can’t unsee it.”
On the dynamics of the neighborhood
“This neighborhood is so divided along race and economics. Many black middle class families have moved out, and those have been replaced with white middle class and upper middle class families. Yet a lot of low-income housing has also remained. Those who reside in those low income housing projects are mostly families of color. … So as white families are clamoring to get into a school like Lockeland, they’re talking about it with their friends, they’re talking about it in their social circles. And those social circles and those friendships don’t touch families of color. When I met black families, many of them — most of them — didn’t even know Lockeland existed.”
On the role of white families in public education
“What I want people to take away from this is that the public education system really prioritizes white families, and it always has. You know, from the moment schools were formed, it was built on a racial caste system. And when desegregation was implemented widely, after Brown v. Board, white families just fled … and school districts began to bend over backwards to get those white families back and to keep them happy. And that has driven most every policy decision since then.
“I want white families to realize the power they hold when it comes to public education and how they wield that power. That can exist in just the decision that you make for your child and how that decision might impact a child in another household, another child totally different than your own. That’s something that a lot of white families have never really thought about.”
On reporting on this topic as a white mother
“When I started thinking about this story, I was pregnant with my first child. I went on maternity leave and I came back … and I realized that I had just changed completely as a human being. I now had this thing that I had created and I was responsible for. And I wanted to give him the best I could. But I also started to look at every single child and think to myself, ‘Could that child have been my child?’ …
“If it’s not good enough for my child, it shouldn’t be good enough for any child. And that this kind of social compact that we have, buying into this public education system — it’s not about finding the loopholes that are best for our kid. It’s about making possibilities for every single child. That’s the point of public education.”