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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