When parents ask me where my daughter is going to kindergarten, I tell them my local, public, elementary school. Many are surprised, and follow the question up with “Oh! Is that a good school?”
Sometimes, even though I don’t mean it, I say, “no.” I say that because I think based on the metrics most parents are using for determining a “good” school, it isn’t. It doesn’t have yoga, or a PTA, or art classes. It has uniforms, a meager budget, dwindling enrollment. They don’t offer organic lunch options, or structured after school enrichment. There is no knitting class, no circle time, no restorative justice conflict resolution programs. There is no dual language program, or foreign language program, no play structure or jungle gym. It is 72% Latino, 15% Asian/Filipino, 5% white, 5% black. It is 83% low-income. It is, and has been, historically ignored by the majority of affluent families and community members in our neighborhood. Year after year, it stands proud, despite the silent avoidance of many, a school desperately eager to serve the children of this community, regardless of their families social and intellectual capital.
We had options. Charter schools abound, and we got in to a lot of them. We are extremely fortunate and probably could have afforded private school. And this “Yay! First day of Kindergarten!”- complete with backpack, sneakers and a smile- post is meant to act as a manifesto, as a rallying cry, as no-holds barred monologue of our truth, of my truth, as a mother, a neighbor, a community member in a vibrant diverse, urban, Los Angeles neighborhood.
Here’s why we CHOSE this school.
Because it IS a good school, with loving parents, teachers, and administrators. Without the glossy brochures, the extra fancy professional development, the “team-building.”
Because there is no lottery, no admissions process, no waitlist. No back door secret enrollment policies. You live in this neighborhood; this school belongs to you.
Because it is a school brimming with potential and excellence, despite many families and people in our neighborhood who ignore it or don’t consider it worth attending and supporting
Because just as the grassy strip of parkway in front of my house is my responsibility to maintain for myself and my neighbors, my local elementary school is also that- my responsibility. My responsibility to patronize, to trust, to support.
Because unless I am intentionally placing my children in diverse settings, both socio-economically and racially, unless I am intentionally acknowledging and addressing the issues of school segregation that have divided this great city, I will raise a racist. I won’t mean to. But intentions are no longer enough. Unless I am forcibly putting her out in to the world, confident in her resilience, humanity, and grit, I will keep her cloistered and separate from the truth of what it really means to be an equal among equals.
Because unless my children grow up with peers who come from different backgrounds, families, experiences, they will normalize their white privilege and when it comes time (sooner rather than later) to educate them about structural racism and classism and their part and responsibility to dismantle that system, they will have no context if the only thing they have seen is tokenism, poverty porn, and “model minorities.” Filling a bag full of hygiene products for homeless people, attending a women’s march, donating toys or clothes to low-income kids at Christmas. Those are ego-inflating, guilt-assuaging attempts to to teach empty parables of gratitude, meritocracy, and capitalism. They are good things to do, but if that is the only contact my child has with the real world, no amount of “education” will undo the tacit biased social contract that this creates and reinforces.
I also then hear this, a lot: “Well, ultimately, if it doesn’t work out, then you can just leave and find a different school.” And they are right in theory; my privilege is my choice, that I have the intellectual and social capital to find a school that would cater to my liberal sensibilities (meditation club, no-homework and no-worksheet policies, opt-out testing options, gifted & talented education, writer’s workshop). However, in the practice of being a member of this community who cares about equity in education, in the practice of being an anti-racist ally who will use my privilege as a force for good, in the practice that my kid deserves as good of an education as EVERY kid in my neighborhood (nothing more, nothing less), it is no longer enough to condemn this two tiered, race and class based system of education. I refuse to propagate this system by being willing to sacrifice another child’s educational opportunities for my own’s.
And I am confident that things will be messy, fun, frustrating, exciting, boring, amazing, and imperfectly perfect. When I turn down the JAWS soundtrack that the only way to be a good parent is best preschool>best elementary school>best high school> best college> best life and if I haven’t done that I have failed, then there is joy to be found in simplicity, in adversity, and maybe even in a little HOMEWORK or a few WORKSHEETS. That maybe if my kids lives and educations aren’t perfectly orchestrated or curated or cultivated they could still be amazing humans.
Our lives begin and end the day we become silent about the things that matter. -MLK