By Heather Sobieralski, Owning Pink
Lately, I have been having the itch to move. I would like a fourth bedroom, a bigger kitchen and a second garage. Most pressing (or so I thought), I would like to get off my busy street so I can get rid of this permanent ball of stress in my stomach every time my children are playing outside. I have looked at several homes, and nothing feels right. I love our house, we have the world’s best neighbors, and quite frankly, I am not sure I am up for all the effort a move involves. The path of least resistance sounds pretty good to me right now.
But is there another reason?
For several months I was the one fueling this idea. My husband would humor me as I dragged him along to open houses and talked incessantly about the exciting possibility of a new home. Lately, the tables have turned. As I settled into the fact that we are staying, my husband now has a fire under his butt. He agrees that he would like more space and a quiet street for our kids to play in peace, but he is more driven by the fact that he doesn’t want our kids attending the high school for which we are slotted. He has been looking at he school’s profile, and it doesn’t look good.
Our elementary and middle schools have the reputation of having lots of parent involvement, low poverty rates and high test scores…oh yeah…and happen to be mostly white and Asian. The geographic boundaries change for high school, and our particular neighborhood goes to a school with high FARMs (free and reduced lunch rates), poor test scores, low parent involvement…and oh yeah…happen to be mostly African American.
Do I have hidden prejudices?
I listen to my husband as he talks about not wanting to go to a high school where SAT scores are 200 points lower then neighboring high schools. He has a point when he raises concern about the geographic location of the school being where the majority of the crime happens in our community. The statistisics are glaring when you look at the poor PTA (parent teacher association) involvement in our high school. He wants to optimize our kids’ potential for making good choices, staying out of trouble and avoiding dangerous situations. He wants to give our children the best education, the highest potential and a running start for their futures. I agree completely. But who is to say the other schools are any better? These recent conversations are challenging my values and belief systems. Is our school “bad” because we have a high percentage of poor, black students? Am I really as accepting and open to diversity as I thought I was?
My experiences with diversity
I grew up in a suburb of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and the suburbs of Pittsburgh were (and still are) very white. I had two children of color in my graduation class of 700 students. I went to college in rural PA, again very white. The first experience I ever had with diversity was when I dated a guy on the football team — his roommate and most of his friends were black. I went to grad school in the city of Pittsburgh — a bit more diverse. I now live in a suburb smack dab in the middle of Washington DC and Baltimore. This area is known for diversity in terms of race, religion, ethnicity, political affiliation and socio-economic status. I tell people that I love this area’s diversity, but do I? I like to think that I am an advocate of being in the middle of all of this flavor. But do I “like to think it” — or do I really think it?
Looking at schools internally
I am a counselor for a school system located just outside DC. I have worked in schools with high test scores and low drop out rates, and schools with gang problems and high poverty. I have seen “good” schools and “bad” ones too. Although there are issues of drugs, sex, and violence in every school, do I send my kids to a “good” one because I can? I have worked in schools where the students were afraid to go the bathroom for fear of getting jumped. In these schools it was hard to be the smart one — as refusing to do your work and cussing at the teacher was more the norm. Do I want to send my kids to a school like this if we don’t have to?
Yet, I want to teach my children about all people, not just the “well-off” educated ones. I don’t want them to live in a world of white middle to upper middle class folk. A friend of mine who went to our slotted high school had nothing but great experiences to share. She remembers going to a friend’s apartment in a section of low income housing, and thinking how cool it was that her friend had her own bathroom. Money was never an issue because her parents didn’t make it one. At our high school there is room to “stand out,” to be great at something, to be recognized. But perhaps most importantly, the ability to experience diversity and to get a realistic glimpse of the world. While our school may have a host of issues, other more well-to-do schools have undesirables as well. In these “good” schools there is enormous academic pressure and stress to be someone other then a number. These students are self-medicating and seeing therapists because they are having meltdowns from all the internal and external unrealistic expectations. Is one school really better then the other?
So now what?
I swing back and forth with my thoughts. Do we stay? Can I practice what I preach in terms of tolerance and acceptance? Do I have enough confidence in teaching my children well enough to make good decisions no matter what their environment may be? Do I scum to my hidden prejudices — that somehow schools with low test scores and high poverty are “bad” and that I am not providing every opportunity that I can to my kids if we don’t move to a “better” school system?
I am really looking for someone to challenge my thoughts. What are your values around education and school demographics? Do you have any personal stories to share? What would you do?
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