I clicked on the link right away. The very title in my New York Times news alert email drew me in: “An Education in Equality” and I was intrigued by the TImes’ move into video work as part of their reporting. The brief description promised that I would learn about an African American boy admitted at age 4 to the prestigious Dalton School in Manhatten.
In the initial scenes we see the child’s family in a large and beautifully equipped kitchen, then the child leaving for school through large beautiful wooden doors of his large home.
We soon learn that his father is a Stanford educated physician, and his mother is a lawyer.
I applaud the accomplishments of this young man and the ambitions of his parents. I fully acknowledge the many questions that come with formulating dreams for one’s children, especially as people of color, even if I will never fully know the emotional weight of those questions myself. I fully acknowledge the racism that permeates the daily lives of young Black men.
And what’s troubling me now as I write is the title of this piece.
This story has little to do with equality.
This is about the challenges of an upper middle class family who, in spite of their accomplishments, still face obstacles as they seek the most prestigious education possible for their son.
That is an important story, and one that needs to be told. Racism is real, even among the highly educated.
But I’m unsettled by the framing of a story of education at the upper levels of economic privilege as being about “equality”.
I’m reminded instead of Seamus Khan’s similar story of diversity in an elite school being framed for what it was: An education for privilege and elite status.
But it was not a study about equality.
UPDATE: The movie is now out, and the New York Times’ review is here. One sample:
“Expecting great things,” it reads, “we set out to document the boys’ entire education.” What follows is an intellectually murky look at two children that hovers around race, class and gender and consistently fails to take the child’s point of view as each faces a rigorous academic regime, demanding parents, disorders and worse. By the time Idris and Seun are preadolescents, they’re struggling, and so are the filmmakers.