Thursday, February 24, 2011

Race, socio-economic status and schools..oh my

Of all of the topics I have blogged about - this is probably going to be the post that makes the most people upset with me, heck I may even lose a few friends over this opinion. But I need to express it, one of the my goals is to live an authentic life and be true to my beliefs.

Once again, my neighborhood, county and city are in an uproar about school redistricting. A new high school has been built and needs to be filled, the theory is that it will relieve overcrowding. The school is in a wealthy, primarily white area of my community. The trickle down impact, of course, is some kids currently attending other high schools will change schools and the feeder middle schools and possibly even elementary schools will be impacted. Nobody likes change, especially when it impacts their kids.

One of the outcomes of these changes could be the movement of some of our community's kids who live in apartment housing and are mostly hispanic to other schools. A few years ago, the same process took place for our elementary schools and all hell broke loose as parents in all the area schools fought to prevent this from happening. One of the main reasons for the issue is that we have one elementary school in our area that is 90% hispanic. Any guesses as to why that is? When boundaries were formed- parents once again fought to make sure that those kids did not get sent to their children's schools, so a funky school map was drawn and a majority of these kids were grouped together. Guess what -those kids need to go to middle school and high school also.

One of the current fights/plans is to take some of the single family/majority white neighborhoods out of our high school district and move them over to another school- also and white and wealthier...hmmm. I live in one of those neighborhoods. What I am observing from the fracas, emails and conversations is very interesting. One email stated that we do not want the kids from "transitory housing" to be redistricted to our school or to "lose kids from the nice, single family homes to be sent somewhere else." What does that really mean? In this case it means kids in apartments, poorer families, kids with single moms and those who are hispanic. Another email said the real problem is the blight of "apartment housing" on one of the main roads in our community. Guess what, not everyone can afford a house, particularly in these tough economic times. Heck, a lot of us, including me, are one paycheck from living in an apartment. For many, living in an apartment makes financial sense- they don't want to mortgaged up to their eyeballs, might be single parents starting over, have dealt with job changes, just moved here or don't want to deal with home ownership at this point in their lives. Surely the kids in apartments are no less valuable? Should we move all of the apartment kids together and create a school for them??? Oh wait a minute..Jim Crow laws were abolished a few years ago. And here is a crazy thought - what if those kids whom we do not value for our schools are brilliant, have great potential, include the next violin first chair, football star, valedictorian?

I am located between two elementary schools - one is 95% white, one (the school my kids attend(ed), thank God) is very diverse. Why? During redistricting one year, the parents fought to keep it that way. During the last battle, one parent at the other school even said, "your school already has a lot of hispanic kids and you have the ESOL programs, you should take them." What are they afraid of?? And it is not a matter of geography because both schools are of the same distance to where the majority of the hispanic community live. The maps for our school districts are quite interesting and seem to be drawn without much logic and to keep some kids in and some kids out.

What the heck is wrong with a school that has a mix of kids - all socio-economic backgrounds, races, cultures, religions and academic ability? Why don't all the schools share in teaching the kids who may be in a minority or have fewer resources? I appreciate that it puts a burden on the school - more ESOL teachers, special classes- so why not share that effort?

Why this need to create lily white, wealthy bubbles to isolate our kids from anyone who is different? The implication of course is that these kids are somehow not as good as other kids, as valuable as students, deserve a lesser education and fewer resources. It is racism in disguise, the white flight of 2011. Maybe it is "class-ism" as much as racism, amount of money in your pocket or home value matter most. We would not even be facing the current problem of balancing our schools and the needs of some kids if we had created an equitable and reasonable map for our schools to begin with - but fear and racism prevented that from happening years ago.

But, Laurie, I will hear, you are being idealistic, those kids drive down our test scores and our home values and there is less parental involvement. Psst - your home value is already in the tank and this wouldn't make an impact if the resources and needs were addressed in multiple schools - but some parents will not let that happen. The biggest losers in this entire battle are the kids. All of them - including the ones in those lily white, resourced, wealthy schools. Why? Because life and the world are not white and wealthy. What happens when those kids go to college and/or get in the working world? The bubble will burst- big time. We live in a global economy and a diverse country.

One of the most important purposes of school is to prepare kids for life. It is more important than test scores. Learning to get along with, share a table with and working with kids who are unlike you - richer or poorer, of different religions, races, cultures and ability. The ability to do that will help you succeed in life. One of the purposes of all of those group projects is so that our kids learn how to work as a team and that everyone will have different things to contribute (just like real life work projects.) Sheltering our kids from reality prevents that from happening. School as a microcosm of our world is a very good thing. So why wouldn't the parents be fighting for diversity in the student body not against it? It is actually good for their kids and their school experience.

I, for one, hope that we are not redistricted out of our diverse schools. I love the fact that my Asian daughters have friends and classmates who are white, Asian, hispanic, black, Christian, Jewish and Muslim.

This will be an interesting process...wonder what our kids will learn from watching.