Interview: Ways to Include and Engage the Men in Your PTA


Byline: LaQuisha Anderson, Family Engagement Commissioner

The California State PTA Family Engagement Commission sat down with PTA dad Murali Vasudevan to discuss his experience serving in the PTA at his daughter’s schools, ABC Council PTA, and Thirty-Third District PTA for many years. Watch the video interview to learn more about Vasudevan’s experience and find ways you can include, create engagement, and involve men in your PTA. 

Do you have a great Family Engagement story, practice, or idea for building parent and caregiver involvement? Please share it with us and you may be featured on our social media.

Six Ways to Fix the “Everyone Welcome Sign” on Your PTA

By: California State PTA Leadership Services and Family Engagement Commissions

You’re in the PTA to do good things for all kids and families. You might think your PTA is a place where everyone feels welcome, but others could see it differently because of popular media stereotypes, hearsay, or even personal experiences. These steps can improve your welcoming and inclusive environment and might even grow your PTA and attract some more great volunteers. 

  1. Create a welcoming committee

Jennifer, a kindergarten mom, goes to a PTA meeting for the first time. No one greets her, and the officers do not acknowledge her. When the events chair gives a report, she uses acronyms and makes references to activities Jennifer has never heard of.

Why people might feel excluded: Jennifer was interested in the PTA, but at the meeting, she didn’t know who the members were or what they were talking about. Not only did she feel like an outsider; she also felt like she didn’t know how to contribute.

The way to fix it:  Form a welcome committee or assign an officer to greet newcomers at each meeting. Wear name tags. Avoid using acronyms or jargon. Follow up with new attendees after the meeting to answer any questions they have about the PTA or learn whether they have any ideas about how they can help. Welcoming everyone is the first step in the PTA Family-School Partnership toolkit – find more info on this research based family engagement resource on the California State PTA website.

  1. Recruit everyone

Several seasoned PTA volunteers are setting up at the annual back-to-school night. As they unload decorations, they walk by the playground where a new parent at the school is playing with her kids. They invite her to the event but don’t introduce themselves or ask whether she’s interested in getting involved.

Why people might feel excluded: This new parent might have been looking for ways to get involved and meet new people. By walking by and only asking her to participate without telling her what they were doing, the PTA volunteers missed an opportunity to engage and invite a new volunteer into the group.

The way to fix it: It’s not always easy to know how your PTA is perceived. But consider every meeting with a new family an opportunity to talk about what your PTA does and to invite them to get involved. Remember to ask again later, too! If someone isn’t available the first time, they may be more receptive to a repeat request for help. Find recruitment ideas, tips, templates, and resources on the California State PTA website from the state Membership Services Commission!

  1. Be available

The PTA doesn’t communicate well with parents and there’s no list of officers on a bulletin board, website, or in a newsletter. Parents don’t know who runs the PTA or how to contact them.

Why people might feel excluded: Being unavailable makes the group feel exclusive as if members don’t want to share the information because they aren’t looking for new help. If it’s too hard to get “in,” some people will just stop trying. When you give up the chance to tell your own story, folks can make their own. Remember the adage that negative news travels twice as fast as positive.

The way to fix it: Find a volunteer who can keep your website updated regularly with every officer’s contact information. Link your PTA information to the school website, and supply the school administrators with the most updated list of officers, including email addresses and phone numbers, as parents will often call the school looking for information. The California State PTA Communications Commission has monthly meetings to support local leaders in their communication efforts – register now!

  1. Always follow up

The PTA asks parents to fill out a volunteer interest survey, but no one follows up with them. Parents who were willing to give their time assume that the PTA doesn’t need or want their help after all.

Why people might feel excluded: If someone offers to help and isn’t contacted, it feels like rejection. Rejection is key to the clique culture and breeds resentment and negativity. It can stunt further involvement by the potential volunteer (and their wider group of friends).

The way to fix it: Be diligent in following up after asking for input. Whether it’s on a fundraising survey or volunteer sign-up form, remember that parents took the time to respond to your request. You’ll be asking the same group for their help again in the future (maybe even next week!) and you’ll want their participation again. Try an online volunteer sign-up and management system; it makes following up much easier. It’s also okay to say sorry if you’ve dropped the ball but make a commitment to do better next time.

  1. Include New People in Decision Making and Leadership Roles

When the same people have been officers for years, newcomers feel like they’re not wanted or shouldn’t bother because they don’t have enough experience to take on a leadership role. When you do need to fill a volunteer position, you offer it to a friend.

Why people might feel excluded: The doors appear to be closed to new volunteers and their fresh ideas—which they might take to another organization if you don’t offer them an opportunity to get involved with your group. By not sharing information about volunteer openings, people who might want the job feel excluded.

The way to fix it: Set up a succession plan for the major roles on your PTA board. Use committees to allow volunteers to “ease into” learning about your PTA’s work and to provide places for them to engage between elections. A new leader might be interested in being an officer, so keep that in mind. Keep new volunteers informed by providing job descriptions including the time involved, so parents can choose what fits their schedules and interests best. Also, include a timeline of when new board and committee chairpeople are selected. You can find information on PTA elections, job descriptions and so much more in the “Run Your PTA” section of the California State PTA website from the Leadership Services Commission.

  1. Build diversity

You’ve held the same event for years, run by the same tight-knit group of people, and attendance has been dropping. A whole group of families have never partici­pated because they don’t feel like the event includes them.

Why people might feel excluded: When different voices aren’t included in the planning and execution of an event, the ideas get stale and only appeal to a select few. For example, Doughnuts with Dads excludes any student whose father isn’t involved in the family or one who has two Moms.

The way to fix it: Invite idea-sharing and feedback from people outside the usual circle of leaders and volunteers. Take notice of parents who don’t usually get involved; talk with them and personally invite them to share opinions and join committees. Make sure you have a wide representation on your board and in your committees including parents with kids in different grades, in different activities and caregivers who might not be parents or speak different languages. And don’t be satisfied with contacting just one member of a new group; no one wants to be a token, so invite three or four new people at minimum. And ask them to invite some friends. You can find information on how to build a more diverse, equitable & inclusive PTA on National PTA’s website. 

Takeaways

Getting involved in your school’s PTA should be open to everyone and feel welcome and inclusive.  It shouldn’t bring back memories of cliques, popu­lar kids, or being left out. Here’s your to-do list when you are trying to break the per­ception (or reality) of a PTA that doesn’t feel welcoming to everyone:

  • Remind officers to socialize outside of their “officer” circle at meetings and school events.
  • Have a greeter at the door of your events to make newcomers feel welcome.
  • Use name tags so that newcomers will know better who’s who.
  •  Always explain business items and acronyms even if they’re held over from previous meetings. Don’t presume everybody knows.
  • Make people raise their hands and be recognized before they speak. Otherwise, meetings can devolve into chitchat, almost always among the “regulars.”
  • Set up simple ways for everyone to get involved. Make it easy for volunteers to see what type of help is needed, along with specific time slots.
  • Include current PTA leader contact information and planned events on the about page of your website and social media accounts. Consider the addition of brief job descriptions for officers and committee chairs.

How Your PTA Can Engage Even the Busiest Working Parents

By Heather Ippolito, Vice President for Family Engagement 


To be as inclusive as possible, every PTA needs to provide opportunities for all parents and families to be involved. So far on the blog we’ve given you some ideas for engaging middle school families, men, high school families, and military families. Today we want to share some ideas for including on your campus working parents whose schedules are inflexible or particularly demanding.

Provide creative ways for working parents to donate time and participate.
They can help complete tasks at home that still benefit the PTA. Helping your PTA create fliers, social media posts, or plan events are all things that working parents can do on their own time, off campus. Offering hybrid meetings using Zoom or other teleconferencing platforms helps parents who want to attend meetings be present at your association or school meetings.

Be realistic about your expectations for your volunteers, especially working parents.
Don’t schedule meetings or events at 10 a.m. and then bemoan the fact that the same parents keep attending. Try to not only vary your meeting times, but also provide opportunities for volunteering and participation at different times of the day mornings, afternoons, evenings, and weekends to give working families more chances to help out and participate.

Make sure Communications are clear and transparent.
All parents are busy but working parents especially don’t have extra time to figure out where or when your meetings are happening. Have a one-stop shop where parents can find information about events, volunteering opportunities, etc. this could be a website, Facebook page, or using an app that parents have access to.  

We have loads more ideas for you in our communicating effectively blog post. 

Be generous with your gratitude.
All PTA volunteers should be recognized and thanked for their time and talent regularly. As previously noted, working parents may not be able to attend meetings to hear thanks given to those at the table. To be as inclusive as possible,  consider new ways to acknowledge everyone who contributes publicly in your newsletter or listed on your association agenda.

Remember to ask even the busiest working parents to help.
Sometimes these parents think that you don’t need them or that you don’t want their help.   You can fit the request to the parents’ specific interests. For example, if there’s a parent in a top executive position, ask them to share their skills during a job fair or to connect you with their business for donations or services. When your PTA branches out and seeks volunteers beyond “the usual suspects,” you make it clear that you value and appreciate assistance from every family at the school..   

Every parent wants to feel connected to their child’s school, let’s work together to give them that opportunity and make every parent a part of PTA.

Celebrate Inclusive Schools This Week — And All Year Long

By Derby Pattengill, Vice President, Health and Community Concerns

During the week of December 6, schools across the country will be raising awareness about how to make sure every classroom offers opportunities for ALL children to succeed. The national Inclusive Schools Week celebration offers ideas that local PTAs can use throughout the year to create fun inclusion programs, examine your own practices, and encourage school leaders to do the same. 

Inclusive Schools Week is an annual event sponsored by the Inclusive Schools Network (ISN) and Stetson & Associates, Inc., which is held each year during the first full week in December. As the sponsors explain, “For 20 years, Inclusive Schools Week has celebrated the progress that schools have made in providing a supportive and quality education to an increasingly diverse student population, including students who are marginalized due to disability, gender, socio-economic status, cultural heritage, language preference, and other factors. The week also provides an important opportunity for educators, students, and parents to discuss additional steps schools can take to continue to improve their ability to successfully educate all children.”

This year, the Inclusive Schools Week’s theme is “Rebuilding our Inclusive Community Together.” Join us in celebrating Inclusive Schools Week December 6-12, 2021!

In inclusive schools, the shared ownership for student success extends throughout the entire school community – from bus drivers to crossing guards, from administrators to custodians, from cafeteria workers to front office personnel, and everyone in between. Together they work to foster relationships within the school and create awareness of effective inclusive practices. For example, research has consistently demonstrated that inclusive teaching practices that present information in ways that are relevant and meaningful to each and every student can improve academic achievement for all students. 

In celebration of the week, your PTA unit, council or district could send out a press release, announce your celebration in local media outlets, and post updates on your school website, etc. Even better, consider ways to promote inclusive schools all year long by:

  • Convening a planning team of faculty, students and family members. 
  • Creating excitement by hosting poster and essay contests, hanging a banner in your school lobby or appropriate virtual location.
  • Utilizing ready-made resources and materials to support your celebration and continuous efforts to promote and develop practices in your community.

You’ll find a wealth of resources and ideas on the Inclusive Schools Network website, including this year’s Featured Activities.  School administrators play a crucial role in creating and supporting inclusive schools. Additional information and activities for them are available on the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) website here.

We encourage you to share your successes with the California State PTA. Click here to share your success stories!

Book Club Discussion: “Strangers from a Different Shore” by Ronald Takaki

Members of the California State PTA Board of Managers have been reading books that give us a deeper understanding of the effects of racial prejudice on our minority populations. We have read eight books including The New Jim Crow, The Color of Law, How to Be An Antiracist, and White Fragility, among others. These books all dealt with the experiences of African Americans in the US. We decide to broaden our scope to other minority groups impacted by racism in America. The most recent book we read was titled Strangers from a Different Shore by Ronald Takaki.

Strangers from a Different Shore is the story of Asian immigration to the U.S.

When Chinese began to immigrate to the U.S. it was because we needed them as laborers. They built the Central Pacific Railroad line, worked in mines digging gold and ore out of the ground, and tilled the fields.

But many Americans saw them as competitors for jobs. Thus, they were denigrated and described as heathen, morally inferior, savage, childlike and lustful.

They came to America for a dream – the dream of a better life. What they found was bigotry and racial discrimination. They were seen as different and inferior; they were strangers, strangers from a different shore. They were different from the European immigrants that Americans were used to. They could not blend in like European immigrants could. The shape of their eyes and the complexion of their skin immediately identified them as different. The individual could not remake himself by shedding his past, language, custom and dress.

For survival and protection, they banded together, thus reinforcing claims that they could not be assimilated, and therefore, could not be Americans.

Eventually other Asian groups immigrated to America. They were not all Chinese, even though many accused them of being so. There were Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, and Asian Indians. All experienced hostility and racial prejudice.

Laws were enacted prohibiting Asians from becoming U.S. Citizens:

  • The 1790 Naturalization Act, which restricted naturalized citizenship to whites.
  • In 1882 Congress enacted the Chinese Exclusion Law.
  • The Immigration Act of 1924 included the Asian Exclusion Act and National Origins Act. It was a law that prevented immigration from Asia.
  • The Gentlemen’s Agreement (1907) was a series of informal arrangements in which Japan agreed not to issue passports to emigrants to the U.S.

From 1790-1952, Asian immigrants have been defined as racially ineligible for citizenship and subject to severe immigration restrictions. Stereotyped as a “yellow peril” invasion consisting of slavish “coolie” labor competition.

After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. and China declared war on Japan and the two countries became allies. President Roosevelt commented, “By the repeal of the Chinese exclusion laws, we can correct a historic mistake and silence the distorted Japanese propaganda.” Japan had been appealing to Asia to unite in a race war against white America – condemning the U.S. for its discriminating laws and the segregation of Chinese into ghettos.

During World War II, America could not oppose the racist ideology of Nazism while practicing racial discrimination at home, and therefore laws began to change. But guarantees of equal protection under the law had little effect on what happened in society. Asians were often persecuted not for their vices, but for their virtues (hard working, devotion to family, stressing the importance of education.)

Asian immigrants endured discrimination that still resounds years later. Many Asian Americans suffer inequality and feel as though their roles in U.S. history have been overlooked.

Our book group readings on current and historical racial discrimination have inspired our legislation advocates to select legislation that seeks to address some of these wrongs. California State PTA has taken support positions on the following bills:

  • SB 693 (Stern) – This bill would establish the Governor’s Council on Genocide and Holocaust Education to establish best practices for education on genocide, including the Holocaust.
  • AB 57 (Gabriel) – This bill would require a basic course for law enforcement on the topic of hate crimes.
  • AB 101 (Medina) – This bill adds a one-semester course in ethnic studies to graduation requirements commencing 2029–30. The bill would also require schools to offer an ethnic studies course commencing with the 2025–26 school year.
  • SB 17 (Pan) – This bill would establish an Office of Racial Equity tasked with coordinating, analyzing, developing, evaluating, and recommending strategies for advancing racial equity across state agencies.

We encourage our PTA members and all parents to educate themselves regarding issues of racial discrimination. We hope that by educating ourselves on these issues we can become more understanding of the issues facing many in our country today.

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Addressing Microaggressions to Make PTAs More Welcoming

We all want all families to feel welcome at our schools.

An active middle school PTSA was committed to including all voices in their PTSA planning. They worked with their school’s Spanish-bilingual and Chinese-bilingual family liaisons to engage the English-language learner communities at their school and to provide interpretation at their meetings. At every meeting, the Spanish-speaking and Cantonese-speaking families had interpretation and a familiar face to welcome them to the meetings. Before the meeting started, they felt included and welcome to their PTSA.

Yet, when it was time to discuss the budget and upcoming events, the PTSA Board described the events that they had planned and didn’t ask for feedback from all members at the meeting. The Spanish-speaking parents were confused. They had come with their ideas for community events and were excited to share their ideas, but, when they suggested new events or programs, the PTSA Officers asserted that they had already decided what the community events would be.

Do you think that the Spanish-speaking families returned to the next meeting?

“Welcoming All Families” is the first standard of Family Engagement in the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships. Our PTAs provide Welcome Back to School events, mentor families and many other terrific programs, strategies, and initiatives that are described in the National Standards Assessment Guide. We can make our schools even more welcoming by watching for micro-aggressions in your PTA meetings and activities.

Microaggressions are indirect, subtle or unintentional instances of discrimination against members of a marginalized group. Although they are thought of as small actions, microaggressions can have a tremendous impact. In a short PTA video, you can learn how to recognize microaggressions, respond to them and repair relationships in situations where we’ve committed them.

Continue your learning and reflection on micro-aggressions with these questions and resources.

For self-reflection:

  • Are you more often an observer, perpetrator or victim of microaggressions? What does it feel like for you in each of these roles?
  • Which of your identities (i.e., race, immigration status, language, religion, gender, sexuality, ability, household status, etc.) tend to have more “power” and could lead you to unintentionally commit a microaggression? What would it look like in those instances?
  • How does intent and impact show up in how you respond to microaggressions?
  • What has worked and has not worked when you have responded to a microaggression?

For your PTA to discuss:

  • Where have you seen microaggressions play out in your PTA? In your school community?
  • Who is affected by these microaggressions? What is the impact for these people?
  • How can you recognize, respond and repair microaggressions when they occur within your PTA?

Come to the Family Engagement Meet-up during Convention 2021 on May 14 at 4:00 p.m. to reflect on how you and your PTA may become more aware of and address microaggressions at your school.

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Book Club Discussion: “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo

Our Legislation Team decided that a book club would be a good way to begin discussions around race, equity, inclusion and justice. They created a list of books dealing with these topics and began to read down the list. To read more about this process, please read our previous blog post about the book club.

Today we are going to share the resources and study questions from the book White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. In this book DiAngelo examines how white fragility develops, how it protects racial inequality, and what we can do to engage more constructively.

The primary goal for white people working to understand racism is not to learn how racism impacts people of color. The primary goal is to recognize how the system of racism shapes our lives, how we uphold that system, and how we might interrupt it.

Definitions:

Prejudice is prejudgment about another person based on the social groups to which that person belongs.

Discrimination is action based on prejudice.

When a racial group’s collective prejudice is backed by the power of legal authority and institutional control, it is transformed into racism, a far-reaching system that functions independently from the intention or self-image of individual actors. Racism is a structure, not an event.

Questions for Discussion:

1. “We are taught to think about racism only as discrete acts committed by individual people, rather than as a complex, interconnected system.”
“Only bad people who intended to hurt others because of race could ever do so….any suggestion that we are complicit in racism is a kind of unwelcome and insulting shock to the system.”

“Our simplistic definition of racism – as intentional acts of racial discrimination committed by immoral individuals – engenders a confidence that we are not part of the problem and that our learning is thus complete.”

“Racism goes beyond individual intentions to collective group patterns.”

“If I understand racism as a system into which I was socialized, I can receive feedback on my problematic racial patterns as a helpful way to support my learning and growth.”

How can we use this definition of racism as a systemic structure, and not acts of individuals to create awareness and acknowledgement that racism exists and how we might work to interrupt it?

2. DiAngelo suggests that one of the most effective barriers to talking about racism with white people is the good/bad binary. How have you seen this binary underlying common white responses to charges of racism? How might you respond when the binary surfaces in discussions about racism?

3. “Most of us can acknowledge that we do feel some unease around certain groups of people, if only a heightened sense of self-consciousness. But this feeling doesn’t come naturally. Our unease comes from living separate from a group of people while simultaneously absorbing incomplete or erroneous information about them.”

What can be done to change this?

4. “While implicit bias is always at play because all humans have bias, inequity can occur simply through homogeneity; if I am not aware of the barriers you face, then I won’t see them, much less be motivated to remove them. Nor will I be motivated to remove the barriers if they provide an advantage to which I feel entitled.”

“To understand race relations today, we must push against our conditioning and grapple with how and why racial group membership matters.”

How do you see these statements applying to PTA?

5. If we accept that racism is always operating, the question becomes not “Is racism taking place?” but rather “How is racism taking place in this specific context?” How does awareness of that change how we think about our lives and our actions?”

6. “Individualism claims that there are no intrinsic barriers to individual success and that failure is not a consequence of social structures but comes from individual character.”

Does this perception play into societies misunderstandings about affirmative action and why affirmative action programs haven’t changed our racial outcomes? How can we work as individuals or as PTA to change this world view?

7. “The metaphor of the United States as the great melting pot, in which immigrants from around the world came together and melt into one unified society through the process of assimilation, is a cherished idea. Once new immigrants learn English and adapt to American culture and customs, they become Americans. In reality, only European immigrants were allowed to melt. regardless of their ethnic identities, these immigrants were perceived to be white and thus could belong.”

Why is the idea that the U.S. is a “melting pot” problematic?

8. Anti-blackness – the ultimate racial “other”!

  • Kidnapping & 300 years of enslavement
  • Torture rape and brutality
  • Medical Experimentation
  • Share cropping
  • Bans against testifying against whites
  • Mandatory segregation
  • Bans on black jury service & voting
  • Lynching and mob violence
  • Imprisoning people for unpaid work
  • Bans on interracial marriage
  • Redlining
  • Employment discrimination
  • Educational discrimination
  • Biased laws and policing practices
  • White Flight
  • Subprime mortgages
  • Mass incarceration
  • School to prison pipeline
  • Disproportionate special ed referrals and punishments
  • Testing, tracking, school funding
  • Biased media representation

It’s a system, not an event

The concept of anti-Blackness pushes back against the idea that all ethnic minorities have the same lived experiences and can be shoved under a singular umbrella” Simply put: All People of Color (POC) do not face the same gravity of harm. The sooner we recognize the extreme barriers facing Black POC, the sooner we can address the anti-Black narrative and policies that are disproportionately killing them.

Thoughts on this? Were times tough for your immigrant ancestors? If so, in what ways does DiAngelo say this is still not the same as being Black in the U.S.?

9. As I move through my daily life, my race is unremarkable. My presence is not questioned. I belong. Try to identify at least 3 ways white racial belonging has been conveyed to you in the last week.

Once we have been made conscious of what has always been all around us – the consistent reinforcement of white superiority/privilege – what are the options you can generate in your life to challenge and dismantle this historical and dominant view system?

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Leg Con 2021 Wrap-Up: Bringing Equity to California Public Schools

This article was written by Kitty Cahalan, President of Blair School PTSA in Pasadena (First District)

“A Path to Equity” was the focus of this year’s Legislation Conference, which I attended as a local PTA leader and advocate, but also as the parent of two public high school students. Bringing equity to California public schools has long challenged our educational leaders, and the pandemic has highlighted vast inequities in the system and left millions of California students more disadvantaged than ever. From access to mental health care and meals to the widening of a vast digital divide, the conference underscored that the prospect of getting students back on track is daunting. Far from being pessimistic, however, the conference presented information and opportunities that we as parents and PTA advocates can use to disrupt ineffective old practices and bring public education into a new era in which all are included and empowered, and in which the needs of all are seen and addressed.

State Superintendent Tony Thurmond opened the conference and focused on restorative justice and increased digital access and literacy as examples of measures needed at the state level to increase inclusiveness and access for all students. President Celia Jaffe shared CAPTA’s ten recommendations for the timely and safe reopening of schools. Director of Legislation Shereen Walter shared CAPTA’s legislative agenda and the critical need for “our collective voices to influence legislation and the state budget to improve equity, access, and opportunity for all of California’s children.” Then, National PTA President-Elect Anna King shared her personal stories of witnessing how racial and economic inequities affected her own children, injustices which led directly to her involvement in PTA and her work to bring a collective voice on behalf of all children to our nation’s leaders and educational decision-makers. This was a powerful start to the conference.

Equity best practices were discussed in sessions about equity in the arts, community schools, and schools as incubators for democracy.

  • Tom DeCaigny, California Alliance for Arts Education, stated that even though the arts are shown to be effective for development of motor skills, a powerful educational tool for students with disabilities, and are mandated by the state, arts education implementation continues to fall short in districts throughout the state. DeCaigny identified PTA as a key messenger and urged coordinated messaging for the arts, especially during remote learning.
  • Michael Essien, a middle school principal, shared how adherence to the school’s North Stars – whole child, student voice, belonging and rigorous education – combined with ongoing staff training in implicit bias, as well as community partners to bring tiered interventions to students, helped the school meet students and their families where they are. When students feel healthy, safe, and included, he said, they will be ready to learn.
  • John Rogers, UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access (IDEA) examined mission statements and LCAPs from districts across the state, looking for indicators that districts consider themselves responsible for the civic education of their students, and found very few districts include keywords such as “democracy” and “civic participation.” Rogers encouraged participants to consider their school districts’ role in furthering democracy and to encourage students to learn how to participate in their communities’ civic lives.

Each of these speakers gave clear, actionable information for the advocates in attendance to use to further the call for equity.

The news on the budget front was encouraging, as California has an unexpected budget surplus. Budget experts discussed the state government’s priorities: addressing the digital divide, helping students who have been the most affected by the pandemic catch up, and providing for an increase in mental health services. Many of these allocations will come in the form of one-time funds and will challenge districts to rapidly deploy services to our most at-risk students. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, pushing for the additional revenue to go to education, especially early childhood education. He said that PTA is best positioned among all advocacy groups to disrupt the layers of abstraction between what is decided in Sacramento and what is happening on school campuses. He challenged us to communicate specifically what is needed in schools. Brooks Allen, Education Policy Advisor to the Governor, made clear the breadth of the challenge – nearly two-thirds of the state’s students, about 3.7 million children, come from economically disadvantaged homes – and the state must focus on these students or the additional funds will not have the impact we wish to see.

The theme of equity echoed throughout the conference: access, inclusive approaches, and listening to all the voices in our communities. Our path toward equity requires that our local and state leaders share a coherent, unified message that puts the needs of the most vulnerable first. Not only was this message shared in multiple legislative meetings, but PTA participants left the conference with the tools to continue to forge this path forward for our students.

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Book Club Discussion: “The Color of Law” by Richard Rothstein

Our Legislation Team decided that a book club would be a good way to begin discussions around race, equity, inclusion and justice. They created a list of books dealing with these topics and began to read down the list. To read more about this process, please read our previous blog post about the book club. 

Today we are going to share the resources and study questions from the book The Color of Law, by historian Richard Rothstein. In The Color of Law, Rothstein lays out the history of de jure segregation. Laws and policies were enacted and enforced at the local, state and federal level that promoted discriminatory housing practices. The result of these laws and policies not only created the segregated communities we now have, they are a primary cause of the wealth gap we see today between whites and African Americans in the United States as whites were able to take advantage of wealth building in homes whose value has soared over the decades. Rothstein argues that racial segregation is the deliberate product of “systemic and forceful” government action, and so the government has a “constitutional as well as a moral obligation” to remedy it.

Discussion Questions:*

    1. What surprised you as you read The Color of Law? Was this history known to you?  
    2. What do you know about your own community and your local zoning policies during the 20th century? How segregated or integrated is your community? What would it look like if your community were required to have its “fair share” of middle-class, minority and low- and moderate-income housing?
    3. Textbooks typically used in middle and high schools don’t describe government’s role in creating residential racial segregation.  Rothstein writes, “If young people are not taught an accurate account of how we came to be segregated, their generation will have little chance of doing a better job of desegregating than the previous ones.”  What can each of us do in our own communities to change how this history is taught in our schools?
    4. Chapter 8 example: How did you feel about the several cases where people tried to do the right thing and failed because of the way the system of laws and policies and pressure worked to keep racial segregation? How did reading about this history of racial segregation make you feel?
    5. The impact of government-sponsored segregation has had tragic consequences and impacted generation wealth for African Americans.  Some think that the government should concentrate on improving conditions in low-income communities, not try to help their residents move to middle-class areas. They say that easing the movement of minority and low-income families to predominantly white neighborhoods will meet much resistance. Yet others say that low-income communities have too little political influence to ensure follow-through in attempts to improve conditions in segregated minority neighborhoods. What are your thoughts? Can we fulfill our ideals as a democratic society if it is only more equal but not integrated?
    6. Difficulty of Undoing Residential Segregation
      – The multigenerational nature of economic mobility
      – The substantial appreciation of homes created a large racial wealth gap
      – The substantial appreciation of homes means homes are now unaffordable to many African-Americans
      – The mortgage interest deduction increased subsidies to higher-income suburban owners
      Should we and how can we remedy residential segregation?  What are your ideas for making change?
    7. We typically expect to understand two sides of a story.  Is there anything missing from The Color of Law that might modify its argument?
    8. After reading The Color of Law, a young African-American high school graduate sent an e-mail to the author:
      “As I was growing up, I looked at the racial segregation and accepted it as how it has always been and will be; I equated white neighborhoods with affluence and black neighborhoods with poverty. I didn’t think about the major role the government had in hindering the equity accumulation of African-Americans. I think I ingrained this inferiority complex and that is why I did not excel in school as much as I could have.”
      What is your reaction?

* In our one hour and forty-five minute session we were not able to get through all eight questions.  

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Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Book Club Suggested Reading List

Book clubs can provide PTA leaders and families in your community a chance to have discussions on important issues. The California State PTA Legislation Team wanted to further their understanding around the issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and justice so they began a monthly book club. In the new year we will be sharing with you their discussion questions and resources for each book here on the blog. We hope this will inspire you to make 2021 a year of learning, collaboration and growth in the areas of diversity, equity, inclusion and justice.

The team’s first task was to create a list of books, then they set to work reading them. Every month they come together to discuss one of these selections:

  • How To Be an Anti-Racist, Ibram Kendi
  • The Color of Law, Richard Rothstein
  • The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander
  • White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo
  • Ghosts in the Schoolyard, Eve Ewing
  • So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo
  • White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, Carol Anderson
  • My Grandmother’s Hands, Resmaa Menakem
  • We Gon Be Alright, Jeff Chang
  • A More Beautiful and Terrible History, Jeanne Theoharis
  • We Want to Do More than Survive, Bettina Love
  • Dying of Whiteness, Jonathan Metzl
  • Stamped from the Beginning, Ibram X. Kendi
  • Caste, Isabel Wilkerson

Some general notes about the book club:

  • We meet once a month via Zoom to discuss the books.
  • The book club is optional for our team, but we found that most wanted to participate.
  • After two books we realized that this discussion should be larger, so we invited the entire California State PTA Board of Managers to join us.
  • Our format for the hour-and-a-half* book study is:
    • Welcome and short book summary: 5 minutes
    • Housekeeping: 5 minutes
    • Questions and thoughts: 75 minutes
    • Wrap up and introduction of the next book: 5 minutes
  • We have found many resources online, including videos from the authors that help to ground our discussions
  • As part of our housekeeping conversation we discuss the technical aspects of holding a discussion on Zoom, but we also share how these conversations may be challenging and while we might not agree, but we need to remain respectful.
  • We do not record these sessions — attendees need to be present to participate.

* Our discussions have been so good that we have gone over time, but we make sure that the bulk of the discussion is done in the time allotted.

Sample of our housekeeping language:

Raise your hand (either using the Zoom “hand” icon or your actual hand) if you want to speak and watch the chat box for the order of speakers whose hands I have seen raised. If I miss you, keep your hand up. I encourage everyone to get a chance to speak, so it is possible that if you have spoken a few times, I may skip over you to give others a chance to say something!

Before we begin the book discussion, I want to say that this topic and many of the topics that the Leg Team is reading about in our book club are hard, difficult and emotionally charged issues. We are discussing issues that we may not all feel the same way about. California State PTA has more liberal leaning members and more conservative leaning members….and that is the beauty of our organization. So many people from different perspectives and beliefs, coming together for the good of children and families. So, I want us to be cognizant of that in our conversation today. Please let’s make sure that we respect, listen and value each other’s thoughts and feelings on this topic and keep the conversation thoughtful, honest and civil. While the nation may be struggling to communicate on troubling issues, I truly believe that PTA can rise above that and we will be able to have a meaningful conversation. So let’s get started.

What’s next?

Stay tuned for The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein. In January we will be sharing with you our resources and discussion questions for this book.