I’ve been thinking a lot about why parents are so nervous about integrated/ing schools. In part, there is simply so much we are encouraged to fear (see You CAN be Too Careful). The heartbreaking and harrowing stories we hear about poor schools ensure that such places could never be safe enough for our kids (nor for anyone’s kid! but we can only choose for our own…).
But really, while the fear factor plays a part, the most common reason I hear why parents won’t send their kids to an Integrated/ing school is this:
I *just* Want the Best for my Child
I mean, I can’t imagine anyone saying that they DON’T want the best for their kid; talk like that is not only absurd, but would result in swift and severe parent-sanctions. But what we mean by THE BEST for our kids is the tricky part.
From my conversations with parents, the BEST is synonymous with the MOST. And the MOST refers to all the stuff that looks great on college applications and is will provide EVERY opportunity for a child to explore and grow and do and do and do (and keep them away from those daggum videogames) so that they will be successful adults in this crazy competitive world.
Perhaps it is because of my privileged position, but I am not terribly worried that my kids won’t “succeed.” Perhaps my white, healthy and currently middle class position offers me the comfort of not being nervous. I suppose if I were determined that my kids would become PharmaCEOs or senators, I might be gunning for the private school ivy-connects. But I figure if my kids want that life, they’ll find a way to get there. Otherwise, they’ll get where they need to be. Harvard or anystateU, they’ll get there. It’s my job to make sure they do so with the skills to be independent, thoughtful, aware, prepared with a good work ethic and a sense of joy about life (and, yes, a little dose of anger at injustice…).
(as an aside, there is some interesting work sort of on this topic about the real benefits of NOT going to the Best schools… that adults who attended colleges that weren’t as competitive were actually MORE successful than those who struggled through the Yales of the world).
Reading this NYTimes article (and the many others like it) is terribly disheartening. This narrowly-defined Achievement culture must also be a cause and consequence of our increasingly segregated schools. If Achievement with a capital A is this important, than the schools our children must attend must be high Achieving.
Integrated/ing schools are rarely that. They are other things, but rarely that.
Perhaps if we can get off the Achievement train, we can get back into the idea of going to school together – rich and poor, working class and middle class – and build a future of leaders and citizens who work together and know each other and fight for all as opposed to compete for one. Sounds a bit utopian-dreamy when I put it on paper this way, but I guess I would rather err on this side, with a greater possibility that everyone can win than scrap and scrum solely for the benefit of my kid.