One mother’s story of enrolling her daughter in a local public school, and the surprising, necessary lessons in community and racial solidarity she learned alongside her neighbors.
From the time Courtney Martin strapped her daughter, Maya, to her chest for long walks around their Oakland neighborhood, she was curious about Emerson Elementary, the public school down the street.
Courtney, a Brooklyn transplant, soon learned that White families in their gentrifying neighborhood avoided the majority-Black, poorly-rated school at all costs. Instead, they enrolled their kids in private schools, which sell themselves as bastions of social justice, or strategized their way into a handful of overwhelmingly White, highly-rated public schools in other neighborhoods. The PTAs at these schools are known to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for innovation labs and diversity, equity, and inclusion training. Maya, now 7-years-old, has never set foot in an innovation lab. Instead, she’s spent three years learning in multicultural community, where some kids have no Wifi or food to eat when they get home, but the school strives to teach and love every one of them just the same.
Learning in Public is the story of how one family’s decision, undertaken to embrace the common good, can have profound and often surprising reverberations. School, after all, is more than just a building, or test scores. It is still, despite our collective failings, the foundation of our fragile democracy. And as Courtney Martin vividly brings to life in the story of her family’s entree into the Emerson community, school is the first place that children meet the world outside the home and come to know their place inside that world. As this funny, relatable, and revealing book shows, the choices we make for our children can also change us. And help us build a different world.