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by Susan Naimark
Wrestling with Race and Opportunity in the Boston Public Schools
From the August 6 review in Publisher's Weekly: “In this engaging and thought-provoking memoir, Naimark describes her gradual discovery of the intertwined racial and social inequities that permeate the Boston public school system. As a child, Naimark witnessed the 1967 riots that ravaged Detroit and the ‘white flight’ that followed, but she didn’t appreciate the causes or social implications of those events until she enrolled her own children in the Boston public school system. A school secretary’s peremptory command to sign her son up for a certain school because ‘they need whites there’ prompted Naimark to question the demographics, funding, and academic performance of different schools. She found that, although the civil rights movement has improved diversity, racial divisions still exist, and public schools are still plagued by inadequate funding, low expectations, subtly ingrained racism, and apparent bureaucratic indifference. Later, as a participant in school governance, Naimark found the system crippled by a lack of trust, lack of cooperation, and indifference on the part of the wealthiest and most influential voters, many of whom send their children to private schools. With advice from other parents and considerable personal involvement, Naimark was able to make the system work for her children, but as she observes, this is not a systemic solution and isn’t possible for all parents.”
Soon after enrolling her older son in a Boston public elementary school, Susan Naimark began to see that opportunities offered to her kids were often unavailable to their classmates of color. In The Education of a White Parent Naimark candidly describes her sometimes faltering efforts to create change in the school system, tracing what turns out to be the gradual transformation of a dismayed parent into a parent leader, school board member, and advocate for equal opportunities for all students. She acknowledges that the problem of racial privilege is overwhelmingly complex and freighted with awkwardness and frustration, but she asserts with humble confidence that it is not intractable.
Alongside compelling stories about her experiences, Naimark discusses numerous national studies, identifying the pattern of inequities in public schools and some signs of progress. In a clear, conversational tone, Naimark shares what she has learned about navigating school bureaucracies, collaborating across race, and achieving results that benefit all kids.
SUSAN NAIMARK is an independent consultant who works with public school parents, grassroots groups, and nonprofit and public agencies to create responsive community institutions. She was a founder of the Boston Parent Organizing Network, a member of the Boston School Committee, and has served in leadership roles with several national nonprofit community development organizations. Susan’s home since 1977 has been the Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain, where she and her husband raised two now-adult sons.
Advance praise for The Education of a White Parent:
“It’s often said that in school we need to treat all children as if they were our own. Susan Naimark takes this command seriously. Her extraordinary memoir chronicles a life of commitment to racial equality and social justice. With honesty, humility, and urgency, Susan Naimark takes us from her work as concerned parent to Boston School Committee member and shows us how she enacts what she calls her “compulsive sense of fairness.” Naimark’s life work has been to expose and combat white privilege. Anyone concerned with schools and equality will be challenged but also inspired by the stories in The Education of a White Parent.”
Editor, Rethinking Schools
“Finally! A courageous, honest and open discussion of the overt and subtle ways that race, class, and privilege play out in our education system. Naimark masterfully presents the story of her transformation from a white observer of the racial and class inequities faced by certain families and children in the Boston Public Schools to a white, public school parent and full-throttle activist fighting for educational equality and equity. This book is a must-read for all those looking for a frank and refreshingly candid conversation about racial and class dynamics and politics in America.”
—Karen L. Mapp, Ed.D.,
Lecturer on Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education, and co-author of A Match on Dry Grass: Community Organizing as a Catalyst for School Reform