Race relations are at the center of political discussions these days and that is no less true than in our little city of Falls Church, Virginia. Signs stating “Black Lives Matter”, “Love is Love”, and “Diversity is Caring” have cropped up all over the city as people make visual statements about their views on these stirring issues of the day. Divisions run deep as the community debates and considers a proposal, in public meetings and comments to the school board, to strip our high school of its name. Community members feel strongly that it is inappropriate to have George Mason, a slave owner himself be the namesake of our public high school where all children should feel safe and welcome. This issue is personal, raw for many and seen as superficial virtue signalling and nonsense to others.
Falls Church was founded after all by gerrymandering, by drawing an artfully chosen boundary to create not only an independent city and high quality school district, but to also create a predominantly white high school in 1948. That was the virtue signaling of that generation and surely then, we broke away based on our “community values.” Many argue that the virtue signalling continues today rolled out under new cover in the form of other current political flavors or “signals” such as the pinwheels in the park to signal awareness for National Child Abuse Prevention Month and the new law passed banning guns in parks, public lands and in city public buildings. Those gun restrictions have a deep longstanding history in limiting blacks’ access to guns, yet in today’s new landscape, it signals an effort to rid our society of the violence that plagues our larger cities and nation as a whole. The City Council unanimously passed this legislation with no discussion or public acknowledgement of this racial history. Where was the outrage while we disarmed our minorities on city land?
Given the winds of the times we think that our city leadership both the City Council and the School Board should do something more than change sign posts if they want to really address race relations. Any solution to any problem starts with awareness and then education. This time let’s actually do something, not just signal that we are concerned.
Falls Church City should implement an Exchange program to
begin in the Fall of 2021
We have exchange programs with Chile, France, China and other schools as we know the importance of immersion to increase understanding. We should create a semester in a school that has a different cultural, racial and economic makeup than our predominantly white population. This would be in keeping with the ideals of our international Baccalaureate curriculum that “aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people … to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect” We can’t think of a better way to do this than a more local exchange program by giving students a better opportunity to meet students with a different background than their own. This idea could transform the educational experience of each exchange student at both FCC schools and the chosen participating school.
What better way for students to learn to be ambassadors of racial peace and multicultural understanding than to walk the halls potentially as a minority in a more racial diverse student body. Students would gain a fuller perspective and their parents would have the opportunity to learn from their children how different schools employ education in a more diverse environment. Students could come back from the experience and pass on what they learned to other students and the greater community.
If there is a fee associated with this exchange, we challenge the school board to exchange this program for its current mostly white educational experience at Thomas Jefferson High School in Fairfax County. Better yet, phase out that exchange program of privilege and ask that families compete for and self pay to experience this opportunity of a lifetime at a nearby diverse school.
In addition to this exchange program perhaps our community can create a fund to finance the tuition of a student or students of color or minority from an underprivileged school in our metro area to attend our mostly white, affluent and elite schools in Falls Church City.