I am posting this blog entry for a second time. I first published it almost a year ago. In the aftermath of the presidential election the words of others don’t always resonate with me. I live in an extremely Democratic area with plenty of folks that might identify as being feminist, tolerant, progressive etc. My oldest graduated from high school this year. My youngest is still in high school. For both of them the majority of their school years were spent under the presidency of Barack Obama. Both of them attended the same elementary school, which had more minorities and more kids from disadvantaged backgrounds than most of the other elementary schools in the area. Nothing I have seen makes me think that any of Barack Obama’s policies have done anything to improve education, especially for those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Since I wrote this article originally there have been some allegations about our school district not appropriately serving children with special needs, especially in the elementary school my kids once attended. That to me is heartbreaking. I doubt Trump will do anything to improve education, and I think the same of Clinton had she won. They are all too far removed from reality.
This one will be a bit of a long rant, probably moreso if you don’t have school aged children and aren’t exposed to some of what I talk about here. So that is your warning to walk on by.
I walk into the gym of XYZ junior high for my eighth grade son’s basketball game. His team, from ABC junior high, are the visitors for this game. I feel a bit strange, in a way I don’t feel when visiting other schools. XYZ school appears to be more spacious, light and airy. ABC school is much older, designed for function but not aesthetics, and is in many parts poorly lighted and cramped. The gym itself is more spacious and seems more well maintained at XYZ school, than the school my son attends.
ABC and XYZ are both in the same school district. Which means they share the same pool of money. ABC is a much older school in a populous part of town, with many more students. XYZ is much newer school in a part of the district which at one time served mostly rural students. The construction of XYZ was in part driven by the behind the scenes machinations of real estate bigwigs who thought the school district was there to serve their needs. And based on their past behavior these people seemed to be right. The mantra of many of these people was “If you build it(the school), they will come(the students)” Of course brand new schools are attractive to many homebuyers.
Those who would send their kids to XYZ junior high are part of another crowd. This crowd has lobbied long and hard to get the school district to build another high school. Not only did they want the school to be built because of perceived overcrowding, but they were very specific in the kind of high school they wanted to be built. Getting the high school of their dreams to be built has been a long battle in our school district that has often predominated at the expense of other issues.
Let me tell you about the people that live in the boundaries of our school district. Some come from more rural backgrounds but most are city dwellers. Overall the population that lives here is better educated than the rest of our state, and more affluent. For the most part you simply won’t see a Republican run for any sort of local office. Some local politicians might attach an I after their name, but for the most part politicians identify as Democrats. For someone who is not a native of this area, the fact that so many people identify as Democrat is interesting in contrast to see how local politics play out in real life.
Our district is mostly white. African Americans are the largest minority in the district. If you are still following me, the kids who live in the part of the district with the newest facilities(the XYZ kids) have the fewest minorities in their school. The part of district I live in have the greatest amount of minorities in the school….this is where the ABC kids go to school.
When my family first moved to this area, and our oldest had started school , I began to hear whispers about the differences in the schools. The whispers didn’t stop. I heard enough whispers to gather that there was a lot of hidden racism in my community. The whispers were full of stereotypes of course. I wondered to myself, this area has always prided itself, even patted its back for being oh so progressive, crunchy, granola-ish, you name it. What are these whispers about? One time I sat next to a couple ladies while my kids were in swim lessons, one made a comment “The parents that send their kids to 123 elementary school don’t even buy their kids books or read to them, so we couldn’t possibly send our kids there.” 123 elementary at that time probably had the greatest percentage of minority kids in the district…so the woman’s comment seemed like racism to me.
I’d been raised in area which was more diverse. I didn’t recall hearing those sorts of comments and whispers so often. Now I should say here that I had attended Catholic schools for 12 years so perhaps I was insulated from commentary about the public schools. When I was a kid, and perhaps a young adult, I believed that those who ran the public schools would ensure everyone would get an equal slice of the pie in terms of resources and quality of education. Of course, as an adult with kids in public school, I saw that this was not true.
Back to those who live in the XYZ part of the district, and the fight for building the new high school. The parents wanted the school to be of a specific size. They wanted to specify which elementary schools would eventually feed into this new high school…coincidentally these were all the whitest schools. Most importantly(for them) they were looking to avoid at all costs, the possibility that their kids might have to attend the high school in my part of town, the one that has more minority students.
This all might be hard to believe, but for years our local newspaper had an anonymous comment section. The issue about the schools would often garner lots of hate, and lots of lies as well. If you’d have believed the comments, you’d think there were people brandishing guns in our part of town while the little ones were stepping off the school bus. Often times people would have more sophisticated reasons for why the new school should be built.
School funding is a funny thing. There is a different pot of money with which to build the schools than there is to run the schools. What no one could answer was, how were we going to pay the operating costs of the school…things like another principal, basketball coach, heating costs, etc. Of course the only answer would be to make cutbacks that would affect all of the schools…increase class sizes, cut after school programs, decrease the scope of course offerings, etc…
Our school board I don’t think could ever say no to this group of people, or at least tell them there was no way to possibly meet everyone of their demands. Our school board of mostly card carrying Democrats who might spout nebulous beliefs about equity for every child. Would they ever have a town hall meeting in one of the schools with the most minorities to listen to the concerns of those parents? No, no they would not. But they sure had a lot of time for the people who wanted a brand new school.
While our district has spent years on this issue, I think it has placed little focus on what goes on in the classrooms. I think that is a damn shame.
Back to basketball. As I sat in the stands at XYZ school I wondered if any of the parents in the stands were the ones who’d written the hateful online comments, or who had spent hours and hours lobbying for their brand new high school with one rationale or another.
I’d heard the teams from our part of town play “dirty”. You can be sure they have more fouls called on them, as if some of the refs are trying really hard to make sure XYZ wins the game. I can’t help but think that playing dirty, in the minds of others, is associated with the color of the players. You might think I am wearing my tinfoil hat while I write this piece. Who knows you might be right.
On the subject of playing dirty, the Catholic high school I attended rocked at basketball and they were also said to play “dirty”. And that school was mostly white…so who knows. All sorts of stereotypes followed the Catholic schoolers…that might be a subject for another post.
Had we not ended up living in this particular district, in this particular corner of the district, I might not have become so cynical. I don’t know if other districts in the USA face these sorts of issues, but I think they must.
I think it is time to rethink how we give people a voice at the table to ensure everyone is heard. Empty platitudes by politicians don’t seem like they have gotten us very far.