The Integrated Schools Podcast

All I Want for Christmas is 3.5%

Episode Summary

Before we head off to spend the holidays with our friends and families, we want to end 2019 on a hopeful note. Creating enduring political change -- like an end to school segregation -- begins with just 3.5% of actively engaged participants. Can we do it?

Episode Notes

The work of creating a multiracial democracy - a democracy where power is truly shared, and equity is real - can feel overwhelming, depressing, futile even. But what if the tipping point for creating lasting change is only 3.5%?  Dr. Chenoweth (Harvard University) found that no civil resistance campaign across the globe over the last century “failed after they had achieved the active and sustained participation of just 3.5% of the population.” 

Now we are at a unique historical moment to harness changing mindsets, to build a 3.5% of actively engaged white and/or privileged parents practicing antiracist integration.


Join our Patreon to support this work, and connect with us and other listeners to discuss these issues even further.


Dr. Erica Chenoweth Ted Talk

Our Patreon Page:

Dr. Kfir Mordechay on gentrification

Matt Gonzales - “White Lips to White Ears”

Dr. Elizabeth McCrae on the Mother's of Massive Resistance

Professor Michelle Adams on Milliken v Bradley and the hope for a multi-racial democracy

Episode Transcription

Andrew: Welcome to the Integrated Schools Podcast. I'm Andrew, a white dad from Denver.

Courtney: And I'm Courtney, a white mom from Los Angeles.

Andrew: This is “All I want for Christmas is 3.5%.” While we are hard at work for episodes that will be coming to you in January, we wanted to take a minute and drop into your feeds before the holidays with a message of gratitude.

Courtney: What feels like a message of hope.

Andrew: Yes. I think that's something that many of us need heading into this new year.

Courtney: Yeah. So many of the parents that we've been in conversation with in person through email on our social media pages  have shared that they feel a sense of futility or perhaps a fear of futility in making any dent on school segregation. Like this is just too big of a project.

Andrew: Yeah., it is a big project. I mean, fundamentally this is a project to be part of building a fairer and more just society, right? A true multiracial democracy doing something radically different in our schools. And that can feel impossible and even hopeless - particularly if we feel like we're the only person thinking about educational justice and the role that we play in it, in our circles.

Courtney: Yeah. And I think, you know, that can not only leave us feeling isolated, but also  has a silencing effect. Because, if I'm the only one thinking about this, am I as likely to stand up? Am I as likely to share my perspective or embrace the vulnerability that comes with that?

Andrew: Yeah, Right? Mean, I think this like the self-doubt and the silence are, are dangerous to this movement. They can lead to throwing in the towel and doing nothing. Which really is sort of how we got where we are and where we have been for decades. Right. Watching school segregation happen, and at least for those of us who care about educational justice and see integration as a meaningful force to create it left just sort of sitting in lament.

Courtney: Yeah. But this is kind of a drag, Andrew. Where is it? Where exactly is this hope we were promising?

Andrew: Well, so I mean, I think the first answer is here in this podcast, right? When we started out a bit more than a year ago, we definitely didn't expect this podcast would have the reach that it has. To be reaching several thousand people a month all across the country is definitely more than we ever expected.

Courtney: Yeah, and you know, maybe it's that this podcast is so good (hahaha),

Andrew: Maybe…

Courtney: But I think that the growth speaks more to the appetite for these kinds of conversations. I think that the success is definitely not because of my melodious voice or interviewing prowess or storytelling magic.

Andrew: No, Courtney, you’re fantastic. Truly a wonder of audio met. Who wrote this?  No, I think, I think the audience is here and our audience is growing and it’s growing through word of mouth, right? I mean, we don’t have a marketing budget. And that part is exciting. And  you know, the other place for hope, I think is the blog post that you wrote the other day that I think speaks to this. About the 3.5%

Courtney: Yes.

Andrew: What the 3.5% is and why, why we should care.

Courtney: So, Erica Chenoweth out of Harvard University did a big meta-study of places around the globe in which civil resistance brought about enduring political change. And what she found was that there is a critical tipping point of 3.5%. That when 3.5% of the population was actively involved, change happened and it lasted.

Andrew: 3.5% of a country of a population.  But once that number of people are actively involved, then change becomes inevitable. Or at least possible.

Courtney: That's right... And once you have that 3.5% there's still a lot of work to do.

Andrew: Right.

Courtney: But that 3.5% is key.

Andrew: The visibility of 3.5% is enough to pull in other people who are maybe sort of sitting on the fence where maybe feeling ambiguous about it. They see a committed 3.5% and that is where you have a sort of tipping point. And then the societal structures begin to change.

Courtney: Momentum breeds momentum.

Andrew: Right? People have to believe in the change. In the context of this movement to build a more just and equitable educational system, where the job of white people is to ready ourselves to be part of building it, to be ready to engage in conversations in a different way, to be ready to redefine integration in our schools, what does 3.5% mean? Like in cold hard numbers. How many people are we talking about?

Courtney:  I did the math on that. So I went the US census website and crunched a bunch of numbers, and that 3.5% translates into give or take 3 million white and/or privileged families. Like that's all we have to get in the US to make a change, to actually do something different than we have ever done as a nation. All we need is 3 million white and or privileged people to potentially reshape how we are thinking about race and education and segregation. You know how we live. I mean, it could be really transforming and we don't need that many people to do it.

Andrew: There's a lot of people,

Courtney: But were we to get those 3 million people? We’d have a beginning.

Andrew: Yeah, and then the sort of change becomes inevitable.

Courtney: Yeah.

Andrew: Yeah. So what does, what does it look like? What does it look like to be part of the 3.5%.

Courtney: for Integrated Schools, to me it means 3.5% of white and/or privileged families who have desegregated their kids, who are working to integrate their families and who are having different kinds of conversations on the playground, who are willing to show up to board meetings to support equity driven policies. Who are activated around this. So, desegregate, integrate, and activate in social circles.

Andrew: And activate not to fix it ourselves or to ‘save’ the system. But to ready ourselves to be allies, to be co-conspirators, to build something with parents of color as advocates. But, but we have to start somewhere.  And it feels like a place to start at least is to actually talk about it.

Courtney: And be that momentum.

Andrew: Yeah. That, that to me is the, is the key piece because I feel like  it's a big step to take, to desegregate your kid. And, and this is, you know, one of the episodes that will be coming up in next year, but like, there's a social cost to that. A cost to making this decision and getting pushed out of social circles. And so I think the inclination then is to not talk about it. And so, to actually be part of the 3.5% means you've got to stand up and talk about it and be willing to say why you're making the choices you're making.

Courtney: Yeah.

Andrew: Because that's how you actually build momentum, and that's how you bring the person who is sort of on the fence and maybe thinking about it, but not quite sure if they're ready to take that leap themselves. That's how they feel more comfortable about it,

Courtney: And we know, we know how white and privileged parents make decisions around school.

Andrew: Right.

Courtney: You are looking at internet ratings and, but you know more than that, you're following whoever you identify with on the playground and where they're sending their kids. You're pulling the white and privileged families in your neighborhood.

Andrew: Right. It's what Matt Gonzalez said at the end of the last episode, right? White lips to white ears is very powerful.

Courtney: Right. I mean, I remember when mine were little, like we would be at the post office. I would be getting the oil changed in my car. You know, standing in line at the supermarket everywhere: “Where are you gonna send your kids to school?” Anyway, if we know that parents are talking to parents about schools. What if we had 3.5% of the parents speaking in a different way? Having these playground conversations very differently?

Andrew: At 3.5% of people who are willing to stand up and who are willing to make different decisions and, and be at the front edge of that, that that's what it takes. And I think to me, 3.5% feels, I mean, that's still a big ask. That's still a lot of people, but that feels attainable in a way that changing everybody's hearts and minds doesn't. Because I think that, you know, especially if you look at the stories recently in the news about attempts at redrawing school boundaries and their responses that those bring that it starts to feel overwhelming. It starts to feel like, well, geez, like there are people we're never going to reach. There are people who are never going to come along for this,

Courtney: And just, you know, when you're standing at your preschool pickup if you live in a diverse or gentrifying community, nobody's talking about your neighborhood school, it feels overwhelming to try to think of like, look across the room and say, okay, here's 40 parents we need, you know, like

Andrew: --And I just had a conversation with them and I can tell you like.

Courtney: They're not moving.

Andrew: Coming along.

Courtney: Yeah. Yeah.

Andrew: And so if you look at that room and you're like, Oh, actually I only need two of those parents. A whole different story.

Courtney: Right, and also that won't happen in a minute, right? Like one conversation is not going to make someone give up on their well-worn narratives around school and parenting, et cetera. But that's the beginning point. And I think if your beginning point is, in order to do anything, we have to get all 40 people to make a different choice, then that's going to always feel like spitting into the wind, peeing into the wind? What do you do into the wind?

Andrew: Shout. I think you shout

Courtney: Shouting into the wind? I knew it was better than urinating. But definitely the 3.5% - that's actually that is something that I could imagine working toward in a way that would feel productive.

Andrew: Yeah. So there have been people who have been talking about at least desegregation for many years, for many decades, and we maybe have not been talking about meaningful integration

Courtney: That's, yeah…

Andrew: We, we have not yet reached 3.5% of people to actually make our educational system equitable. So why now? Is there something different about right now that makes 3.5% feel more attainable than maybe it did 10 years ago or 20 years ago or 50 years ago.

Courtney: Yeah, so, I think that we are at a unique historical moment. And I think there's a bunch of different factors in play. So, our cities are gentrifying. We could call it diversifying, our suburbs are diversifying as our cities gentrify, right? But there are more places right now, arguably, in which neighborhoods are more diverse. And so just the geographic barriers aren't quite as insurmountable. And I'm not saying everywhere, but in a lot of places.

Andrew: The potential for more integration is greater now than it has been maybe at any time, but certainly in the past 50 years because of the ways housing patterns are changing.

Courtney: That's right.

Andrew: This, this was Dr. Mordecay's point back in the gentrification episode, right. Was like, the, the potential to harness that for good is here.

Courtney: That's right.

Andrew: We, we have to actually do it though.

Courtney: And I also think another piece to this, is, I think the pendulum is swinging on the intensive parenting helicopter parenting, you know, pop culture narratives around what it means to be a good parent. We're talking about failure. We're talking about letting go a little bit of these really hard and fast ways of making sure that everything in life is perfect for our kid. That that might not be the best way to be a parent. And I think that that pulling back on that, gives us more space to think about desegregation in ways that maybe 10 years ago we didn't have that space. And I think that there's more space to have a conversation nationally around desegregation because of the shift, the pendulum swinging away from intensive parenting.

Andrew: Yeah. It's nearly impossible to think about having this conversation if everyone thinks that they have to get the quote unquote best for their kids at all costs. And that the quote unquote best for their kids is the quote unquote best schools and, and if there's no space in that, then there is no space to have this conversation.

Courtney: Right.

Andrew: You're more likely to get to 3.5% in this moment where mindsets are changing and people are starting to think about these things in a different way.

Courtney: Right.

Andrew: There's also, I think there's also a conversation, a broadening conversation about what does school quality actually mean.

Courtney: That's right.

Andrew: What are like, what are we talking about when we say a good school? And I think that that is a conversation that is starting to happen in many more places, in a more helpful way, I think.

Courtney: Yeah. What are school ratings or test scores really telling us about quality?  These kinds of questions are, at the very least, on the table for discussion in ways that we weren't talking about a few years ago.  This makes room for examining our assumptions about what a good school is that makes room for thinking about desegregation.

Andrew: Right.  There is another piece of it in my mind that is: for so long, I mean, we talked about this in the Brown V board series, right? That, that the, the story we told was that we fixed the racist school system. And we white people didn't talk about fixing schools anymore in terms of race, right? We didn't talk about segregation and desegregation anymore because we had quote unquote fixed that we were over it. Right. And I think the last presidential election has made more white people more willing to confront racism in hopefully a more meaningful way.

Courtney: I think that's right.

Andrew: We're not going to change our schools if we ignore race and we're not going to actually move the needle on more equity, more ability to actually provide the sort of foundation of democracy to all people that public education is supposed to be without talking about race.

Courtney: Yeah. It's the 2016 election, and I also think Ferguson and the increased media attention and national attention and being paid to police brutality has really enabled  a larger conversation about race that white people are finally engaging in in ways that we weren't a decade ago.

Andrew: Right.

Courtney: And I think segregation is just a national talking point now. So I think, I think as far as this national moment goes, can we tie the little that we're talking about segregation in the media with the way we're really trying to grapple with race, with gentrification, with maybe a swinging pendulum around what it means to be a good parent, with how we're thinking about higher education and what our kids' future might mean, with school quality questions. This might be the time that if we pull this together, we can actually do something that we've never been able to do before.

Andrew: Yeah, I mean, I think so. So, so two, podcasts come to mind in this conversation. One is Elizabeth McRae. All of these things are bubbling up, but they are not going to fix the problem without intentional work because there will always be intentional work to push back. And so the forces who are fighting for segregation, who are fighting to maintain systems of white supremacy will always be at that work. And without concentrated effort pushing back against it, it's not going to just happen on its own. So we can't look at these potential trends that seemed to be maybe swinging in a positive direction and think, alright, well let's just like wait until these have swung in that everything will be fine. So it takes real intentional work and, and energy to actually move it in a positive direction. And then I'm also thinking about, Michelle Adams, who said, you know, if we are to have a multiracial democracy and maybe we aren't to have one, but if we are to have one, how can we do it without actually finding a way to come together and to, and to do something new? And that's something that we have, we have not yet done as a country is have a true multiracial democracy.

Courtney: That's right. And democracy is something you, you fight for and you have to stay fighting for it. Yeah.

Andrew: There. Right. That that also requires attention that doesn't just self-perpetuate. That actually needs intentionality.

Courtney: Right? We need, we need intentionality in this work and we need momentum. And I think that this moment is ripe because we have so many people in these different mental, emotional, intellectual spaces who would be willing to think about desegregating, who could build the capacity to have these different kinds of conversations, these kinds of conversations at the preschool pickup line, and who would want to think about what it means to integrate. I think, I think that 3.5% is gettable. This work, the work that you and I are doing here, the work that all of the volunteers,  that support integrated schools as an organization. The chapter leaders like Darcy and Lisa and Trevor who are working in their cities, even if it's just in small ways, it's ultimately optimistic. It's ultimately hopeful. I actually do believe that we have enough white and or privileged families who are willing to dig in deeply and rewrite who we want to be in America and rewrite that for our children. The point isn't that we are fixing it. The point is that we are working on ourselves. We are rewriting our way of being.

Andrew: So that we can be better partners.

Courtney: So that we can be reliable partners at all. So that we're not just sitting in in our closet hoarding all of our stuff.

Andrew: I think often the political landscape in general and particularly conversations around school integration feel depressing and feel somewhat hopeless and

Courtney: Insurmountable.

Andrew: Insurmountable. But I think there is a path forward and I think 3.5% makes it feel more attainable. We can't do it without that 3.5% being outspoken and willing to be at the forefront of something.

Courtney: And I think that requires skills, right?  It requires some developing of language around this. I know that's certainly been a lot of my personal journey. It's like, how do I, how do I both think about this and how do I talk about this?

Andrew: For sure.

Courtney: And you know, one of the great joys over this past year has been being able to talk with experts who are giving, giving us that language and parents who are willing to share and who are giving us stories to think with and language to think with. And this all feels really helpful to me in order to help me become a better part of that 3.5%. Because now I can have that playground conversation just a little bit better and a little bit more nuanced and with a little more clarity.

Andrew: Yeah. And I think, while holding on to the recognition that. It took you work to get here. It's going to take other people work in time, and people are all at different points along the journey, and there's got to be space for that while we continue to drive towards an ultimate goal of a multiracial democracy. And I think, we have clearly been on a journey, continue to grow and learn and I feel incredibly grateful for all the conversations, the people who are willing to share either their research or their personal stories with us. And  hopefully that's one of the ways that the podcast can reach different people in different ways,

Courtney: This is about doing our homework. Getting us ready to think about these issues for ourselves in a meaningful way that hopefully will translate into the ability to be meaningful allies or co-conspirators. This is us getting ready to be in community, be a part of a bigger us, and be a part of a real fight for educational justice.

Andrew: So, this will be our last episode before the holidays. We're going to take a couple of weeks off, and we're going to come back January 8th and then we'll be on a every two week schedule, , throughout the Winter and the Spring.

Courtney: Ish. Ish.

Andrew: Ish. Not a hard commitment,  so before we go and say goodbye for the holidays, we just want to take a moment and say thank you to all of you who have listened to all of you who have shared this podcast with your friends, with your family, with your parenting groups, to all of our patrons who have joined us, who have pledged some support financially to help keep this podcast free so that we don't spend time selling you toothbrushes. To, to everybody who has donated on the website and to all the volunteers who make integrated schools turn - from chapter leaders to our parent advisory board, to, , our board of directors. We are very grateful to all of you for helping us reach for that 3.5%. So as this year comes to a close, if you're thinking about doing some additional giving, we would be very grateful for your support. Can head on over to integrated and click the donate button or join our Patreon. If 3.5% of our listeners all chipped in.

Courtney: That gets us that much closer to building the 3.5% the 3 million white and our privileged families who are readying themselves to live differently.

Andrew: Indeed.

Courtney: So thank you everyone. Really looking forward to 2020. Happy holidays. And as always, we are happy to be here with you as we try to knew no better and do better.

Andrew: Happy holidays. See you next year.