Life, Liberty, and Options
By Porsche Chisley, The Mind Trust’s Senior Director of Special Projects
I was raised by a single mother alongside my three siblings. For as long as I can remember, my mom’s expectations for us in life and school were high. She wanted the best for her children and was persistent in pursuit of that. Growing up felt like a constant search for the “good school.” When I got accepted into a medical magnet program for middle school, it felt like our search was over. We lived on the east side of Indianapolis and were zoned to Arlington High School, but my mother knew it was worth us getting up at 5 am and hustling to the bus by 6 am so we could attend a better school on the west side of town.
Though I am grateful for the opportunity to have attended a magnet school still today, I’ll never forget the stark differences between the learning opportunities accessible to magnet students in comparison to what was offered to what the school termed the “regular students”. At the young age of eleven, I was confronted by the reality that expectations differed for the Black kids people thought could achieve versus the ones people thought couldn’t achieve or weren’t worth the effort. While I carry so many fond memories from middle school, those memories are coupled with a sense of guilt in knowing many other students may not remember their middle school experience as one of profound academic learning.
I’ll never forget the stark differences between the learning opportunities accessible to magnet students in comparison to what was offered to what the school termed the “regular students.”Porsche Chisley
The split between “magnet students” and “regular students” felt like a caste system. The expectations regarding student backgrounds and ability were implicit. Our hallways were cleaner on the magnet side. Our teachers had more experience. Our books seemed newer, we learned Spanish, and even had foreign exchange students. It felt like two separate worlds. Within the same building, I saw what it was like to have access to a quality education and what it looked like for those who did not. I know my professional aspirations began here, witnessing such gross injustice.
I went to college, joined Teach For America, and started out teaching in Missouri. My experience there crystallized my passion for education work. Here I saw not a difference within a school building. Rather, I came to understand the divide between rich and poor across a whole state. Entire worlds existed between the lower-income students I taught compared to the wealthier parts of the state.
When you become a teacher, I think it’s natural to reflect more deeply on your own experience as a student. I was a successful student, but not because I was particularly brilliant or brighter than other kids. Instead, I had role models like my mother who demanded and upheld high expectations and I was put in scenarios where educational resources were available. Trying to serve my students who did not have the advantages I had, I began to understand the systemic nature of education in our country. The system is producing what it is meant to produce in the places it wants to produce them. I wasn’t a silver bullet for my students but I was successful in the classroom because I had high expectations for all of them.
There’s a phrase that’s come to define my career. It’s a play on the classic “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Well, my version is “Life, liberty, and options.” Bad education means you have less options. Great education leads to job access and the chance to create generational wealth that leads to true personal freedom. My life experience has proven that as long as I have options, I can make happiness. Thus, I’m laser-focused on making sure the students I serve through my professional roles have options.
Bad education means you have less options. Great education leads to… true personal freedom.Porsche Chisley
Before joining The Mind Trust, I worked for a school authorizer in Ohio. The job regularly took me into schools for observations related to culture and academics. I’ll never forget one classroom I walked into. At first glance, everything was normal. White lady at the front of the room, teaching an elementary class happily seated on those multi-colored rugs every classroom seems to have.
But then I noticed three Black boys in the back of the room, apparently allowed to do whatever they pleased except participate in the lesson. The teacher simply went about instructing the students who were in front of her, ignoring the students she had ostensibly excluded from her lesson. So not only were these students not being given options, they were being treated like they didn’t exist.
America does this all the time to Black and Brown children. If they aren’t made invisible, they are feared. If they aren’t feared, they are excluded. Let me tell you something: I am over the neglect and disrespect. It is past time that our communities and systems, and the people who comprise them, cared enough to provide high-quality options for every child.
Honestly, that’s what brought me to The Mind Trust. It doesn’t hurt that it’s local. Indianapolis is my home. It’s a special thing to work at improving the place you were born and raised. But organizations like this are rare. I’m proud to work somewhere that is unafraid and unapologetic about calling out racial injustice when it comes to our children’s education. We tirelessly pursue better options and better outcomes for Black and Brown students.
The historical savagery visited upon this country’s Black and Brown students must be met with an equally tenacious passion grounded in the transformational possibilities available to us when every child is valued, encouraged, and honored as human. How much better could our city, our state, our country be if every kid had life, liberty, and options? Dream with me a bit. And then let’s make that dream come true, together.