Asymmetrical Social Arrangements in School and Community

As in the discussions of the schools, notable tributes to shared values in the Shaker community were prominent; however, social and racial cleavages were woven into the shared fabric. Shared middle-class values and standards particularly in regard to education were readily acknowledged, despite mistrust around racism and social classes. Both Monique’s mom and Sarah Anderson were clear, “Did I feel like part of the Shaker Heights community? Oh, God, yes,” and Sarah reflected,

like the basic values of Shaker Heights, which was to accept everyone for who they are, and I was definitely raised like that.... Thinking about the Shaker lifestyle—the majority of America is very closed-minded and you know, they’re very intolerant and very self-absorbed. That’s the thing about Shaker that was a huge advantage, but also a disadvantage because you become ignorant to the fact that there are many people who are not in that same mind.

Melissa and Monica Washington’s mom felt that “for middle-class people, I think it’s expected for you to do certain things. Like in our family, you go to college and you’ve got that expectation or whatever.” Melvin Mitchell, who became a Broadway actor, credited his identity and values to Shaker community institutions, “two things that made me who I am...the love of theatre and the love of music...the faith, the values...

Negotiating with the Schools 95 growing up in Shaker and my church experiences at” [a Black church in Cleveland]. Jessica Green similarly credited “the community; between the community, people in church, people out of church, people that I couldn’t let them down.”

Monique and Gregg Edwards’ mom pointed to the double consciousness maintained by many parents about living in two worlds within the Shaker Heights community,

Shaker’s not the real world, but it’s not a bad world to grow up in, I guess. The majority of people are good, and they have the same values. They care for their families, even the racists.... Shaker White people...they love us.... We’re the good Negros! ... And that point was good with me. They just may not like me because I’m Black, but they care about their family. I think that living in Shaker, with all of its flaws or whatever,...there’s a comfort level that I have that I don’t think I would have the same comfort level if I were living in [two similarly high income, but less racially diverse suburbs on the westside of metropolitan Cleveland].

Throughout the conversations about the enriched schooling in Shaker Heights and about its community in general, troubling notes of everlasting inequalities and unearned burdens arose. Fundamentally, it was clear that Shaker was riven in two, “either you live on the rich side of Shaker, or you live on the poor side of Shaker; there isn’t one Shaker” (Kyle James). This recognition affected the experience in schools, “The teachers know where you are from and I think they kind of treat you accordingly, and I definitely think the rich kids were treated with kid gloves,” said Keisha Bell. These social-class disparities also took on a racial cast. According to Monique and Gregg Edwards’ mom, “In Shaker Heights, the vast majority...the white population is much more homogenous. They’re either middle class, upper middle class, rich, or white people, and the vast majority of them, I think, are college-educated as well. The African American population is more heterogenous socioeconomically,” and what she failed to say that on an average, the Black population of Shaker Heights was significantly less wealthy and earned significantly lower income.

Systemic discrimination and personal prejudices based on race, pervasive if veiled anti-Black racial bias and complicated intersections of social class and race inequality were forces that were well recognized by all the families and students. They saw the schools and themselves as embedded in the larger social framework of America. Its asymmetries in historical social arrangements were seen to play out in the school itself, in its educational mission, its learning processes, and in its culture. They also acknowledged the benefits of Black cultural and social capital. For students, inequalities were important in that they affected racial and intellectual identity development and peer affiliation. They aspired to become a whole person, which meant having acquired solid academic preparation for college and a wide variety of enriched capabilities, and not being identified exclusively and primarily as Black students.

 
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