“Is it your passion or something you just fell into?” he asked.
I’d met him in the past half hour. We were hiking at the same pace and quickly fell into conversation. It was the type of conversation that you have with a friendly stranger. Openly sharing details of your biographies without exchanging basics. He didn’t know my name, but was asking about my motivation for starting graduate school.
“How about a passion that I’ve fallen into?”
We laughed, but it’s as good of an answer as I can come up with.
I don’t remember when I first heard the terms “educational inequality” and “achievement gap,” but I have been learning about them all my life. Growing up in the small-town South, I attended schools on both sides of the divide. From an elementary school in a condemned building to another school in brand new building with computers in every classroom. From reading The Best School Year Ever in my eighth grade Advanced Reading class to studying different theories of literary analysis when reading Hawthorne and Fitzgerald two years later.
A generation after Brown v. Board finally took effect (my dad was integrated during high school), I knew that the downtown school where I started my elementary education had been the white school and that the school on the far side of town had been the black school. Even though integration meant that the schools were divided by age, the neighborhoods surrounding them continued to fit the racial categories. Further, though my schools were integrated, my tracked classes were disproportionately white.
It’s a passion that grew out of those experiences. It’s something that I’ve fallen into again and again.