Best For Me or Best For All?
September 14, 2018 9:04 AM   Subscribe

 
Thank you for this. My fiancée and I are completely on board with making macro and micro decisions that privilege diversity and equality and advantage for all, over securing narrow positional advantages for our not-too-far-in-the-future children. I think this article and book gives/will give me a framework and language for talking about these issues with other whites that I don't currently possess.
posted by Kwine at 9:54 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]


God, I see so much of my upbringing reflected in this article.

I really think—and this might sound kind of crazy—that white parents, and parents in general, need to understand that all children are worthy of their consideration.

So my parents are upper-middle-class, but I was a little different from my sister in that my friends often came from backgrounds that were less wealthy than mine. And so I spent a lot of time in my adolescence and early adulthood arguing very explicitly with my parents that yes, it matters that other people's schools were shit while I went to a very well-provisioned one, and yes, their actions were fundamentally incompatible with the meritocracy that my parents also would say they believe in and support.

I have been told many times, when I say that I don't deserve such-and-such access to $RESOURCE that other kids don't have and that we need, say, educational funding that isn't tied to parent income or neighborhood income, that "it's not wrong to want things to be better for your kid!" Which, you know, it's not but also I'm your kid who sees the unfairness up close, in the people I love and the people I am friends with, and I'm saying that I think this is unjust as the beneficent of the head starts you're passing out here.

It's such a headfuck of a conversation, and I think it comes from the cognitive dissonance between being egalitarian in the abstract and greedy for one's children in the specific. I agree completely with the author: these are totally opposed concepts, and resolving the tension between them can only happen when one value or the other is reduced.
posted by sciatrix at 9:55 AM on September 14 [42 favorites]


I think you can help to resolve it by having a wider sense of what is "good" for your kid. Is it good for your child to grow up in a homogeneous, sheltered environment? What do you consider a "good" outcome for your child?

Personally I will be happy if my daughter is as empathetic and open-minded as an adult as she is as a six year old. This seems like a harder and more worthwhile goal.

Also, I swear to God... So, we have a few elementary schools in our town. School A is where most middle-class white parents maneuver their kids. School B (where my kid goes, and admittedly I wasn't thinking of having kids when I moved here) is thought of as less desirable. I have been inside both of these schools and I know people who teach and volunteer and have kids there. They are both good schools that draw from the same budget and have good (and underpaid) teachers. They are functionally the same, except school B has more black kids.

When you are shopping for a neighborhood and someone says "I've heard School A is better" where do you think they heard that from, and why?
posted by selfnoise at 10:12 AM on September 14 [58 favorites]


Parents here in the SF bay area can be very focussed on API scores for schools which are really, really racially biased. I don't have any reason to think the tests are biased but that's mostly out of ignorance - I've never taken a California public school API test. I've never even read one. But the outcome is certainly biased.

In 2012 (the most recent data I could find for some reason) the overall score for black students was 709 vs 855 for whites and 906 for asians.

I mean, you either have to believe some pretty unsupportable things that link race and intelligence or accept there's several biases that lead to this outcome.

When you look at a school's overall API score it's inevitably a direct reflection of the racial makeup of the school. So people will say that "oh, school A is better than B because it has higher API scores." Well, no. Almost universally it's because school A has more Asian students. It's really rare that the racial groups scores are very far from the mean. I have not seen full data on score distributions but I'd love to see it. A school where white kids score 2 sigma lower than the mean on API scores would say something meaningful about the quality of the school. Or, more likely, it would say something about the socioeconomics of the parents in that school district. I guess if you don't want you kids to go to a school full of poor kids that's your prerogative, but let's not pretend it's about "school quality" or some other bullshit.

Funnily enough I am not actually opposed to standardized testing, but I think that the test scores get misread and used to justify things that aren't true.

The school my kids went to was not the local maxima for test scores, but it did have a nearly-equal mix of Hispanic, Asian and White kids with a small number of black kids and other reported groups (think there was an unusually high number of pacific islanders, although they're still a tiny absolute number). It was a great school, it had good teachers, my kids were very happy there. But if all you looked at was test score you might not see that and it's 100% because of racial bias.
posted by GuyZero at 10:25 AM on September 14 [6 favorites]


But if all you looked at was test score you might not see that and it's 100% because of racial bias.

And let me name names here - people who move into the area (used to) ask if Cupertino or Palo Alto schools are better than say Sunnyvale or Santa Clara.

The real answer is that Cupertino schools are like 98% asian and Palo Alto schools are like 80% white. The better test scores reflect pretty much that and nothing else.

People don't ask that question as much anymore because no one with kids can afford to move into Cupertino or Palo Alto anymore or if they can they don't bother asking because they're wealthy enough to not really care - they'll just bail to private school if they don't like their public school. But like 6-8 years ago people were asking this regularly.
posted by GuyZero at 10:29 AM on September 14 [11 favorites]


.... cognitive dissonance between being egalitarian in the abstract and greedy for one's children in the specific.

More generally, this is the entire tension of trying to be ethical in a world with both real and generated scarcities, right there.
posted by lalochezia at 11:40 AM on September 14 [9 favorites]


Couple of points:
Parents here in the SF bay area can be very focussed on API scores for schools which are really, really racially biased.

Yes, but assuming that Asians are going to perform better than others on standardized testing is equally racist, simply because white people within the same social strata/class don't have to work as hard to achieve the same professional results, so the testing is less important. This paragraph totally illustrates that point, which is racist:

I think part of it is how we choose to define “the best.” Some of the parents in my book, they rejected the idea that their child needed to be in all the AP classes. They valued other elements of their children’s personalities, such as their concerns about ethics or fairness or social justice.

Like you can either be smart and do very well in school or you can be educated about ethics and social justice. Is that point she means to make?

Where I live it is starting to loop back that an 'Asian takeover' of a school means that sports/extracurriculars will be de-emphasized and that just to compete white Johnny or Jenny will have to do endless afterschool learning activities just to keep up, so the whites are further segregating based on income.

Also I used to be against police officers in schools, but then in interactions with them at this age, this might be the only positive regular interactions with a police officer a person will have in their entire life if they don't personally know a cop. So I'm for them.

Also and more generally, even determining which math teacher in a school (or even which school) is 'best' is due to education's relentless focus on ranking and ordering everything for raises and metrics of performance, so schools shouldn't be surprised that parents weaponize that data.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:49 AM on September 14 [4 favorites]


Also I used to be against police officers in schools, but then in interactions with them at this age, this might be the only positive regular interactions with a police officer a person will have in their entire life if they don't personally know a cop. So I'm for them.

Those interactions are only likely to be positive in wealthy school districts where the school-to-prison pipeline doesn't run.
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:53 AM on September 14 [36 favorites]


Those interactions are only likely to be positive in wealthy school districts where the school-to-prison pipeline doesn't run.

That is definitely true, but even in those schools, the School Resource Officer cops do less policing than you might think, or at least in my experience. When there is a crime, it's beat cops that drive up, not the on-campus cop that busts heads.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:57 AM on September 14


This is so my childhood growing up. I remember in high school, someone suddenly noticing that we didn't have any black guys in our honors classes. And it ended up being a short discussion because that couldn't possibly be true. But the few black classmates we knew were athletes.

It was the first time I really noticed I was in a much smaller school that existed in a large 4000 student population.

And I definitely grew up with this mixture of relief and frustration that we had solved racism and large scale conflicts. I might actually get to be part of a peaceful generation, but I was missing out on doing something that really mattered. I went to college for political science because I really thought we just needed targeted programs so other communities could catch up to where I was privileged to be. I'm still a very technocratic thinker, thinking we all agree on what the world should look like, but can't agree on how to get there. So our current political climate is a great unmooring of my sense of the world.

I knew the world wasn't perfect. But it just seemed like it was putting out the last fires of messy social upheaval. Uneven but manageable.

Looking back, I always blame the fact that American History always petered out after WWII. We defeated evil. We cleaned up our backyard with civil rights. It makes sense. Getting much closer with the 70s and 80s invites parental disagreement. I've since realized many of my peers got their understanding of that timeframe from their family. But mine just didn't. There's a bit of comfort in this article that I'm not alone in that, even if I see it as a real legitimate failing that I'm working to correct.
posted by politikitty at 11:58 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]


Oh man this conversation. If you ever want to see which of the white parents of your kid's friends or classmates are as progressive they claim strike up this conversation. It is remarkable how polarising it gets and how quickly.

I live in a mixed inner city neighbourhood that is gentrifying very slowly. Houses in the neighbourhood are still not too badly priced (compared to the suburbs) and there is a decent amount of rental places. I don't know if the test is biased or not but the poor test scores completly illustrate issues not initially apparent in the numbers. The school's poor testing scores completely comes from the fact that it is an inner city school with a diverse population with substantial struggles - poverty, war trauma, inability to speak English or French fluently... you name it. I have known a number of (white, middle class) people who have moved out of my neighbourhood and into the cachement areas of other schools because of the "low" scores that my local school gets on the standardised tests.
posted by Ashwagandha at 11:59 AM on September 14 [5 favorites]


I grew up in an affluent, mostly white area and went to a magnet public high school which had a blind admissions process. Over the course of my childhood, the demographics of the county shifted, such that the formerly-mostly-white magnet school was suddenly seeing a lot of Asian kids -- and that prompted a lot of handwringing about "diversity," mostly from the sort of well-intentioned white liberal parents described in the article. It got ugly for a while.

I moved away from the area about 15 years ago, but I was talking with a couple high school friends a few weeks ago and apparently it's now embarassing to "admit" you went there.
posted by basalganglia at 12:05 PM on September 14 [2 favorites]


Oh Chicago.
posted by PMdixon at 12:13 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]


The way education is fianiced in this country creates and perpetuates these biases and homogeneity. And that’s a feature, not a bug. ( private evangelical schools didn’t really take off until public schools were desegregated.)
posted by The Whelk at 12:29 PM on September 14 [10 favorites]


Those interactions are only likely to be positive in wealthy school districts where the school-to-prison pipeline doesn't run.

That is definitely true, but even in those schools, the School Resource Officer cops do less policing than you might think, or at least in my experience. When there is a crime, it's beat cops that drive up, not the on-campus cop that busts heads.


school resource officer assaults student
posted by ActingTheGoat at 12:36 PM on September 14 [11 favorites]


"The way education is fianiced in this country creates and perpetuates these biases and homogeneity."

That, and zoning.

I mean, apartment buildings are literally banned in large swaths of our cities, and we think that's normal. And if you talk to your supposedly progressive neighbors about this, suddenly the conversation is all about greedy developers and nobody wants to hear about race or income.
posted by floppyroofing at 12:42 PM on September 14 [20 favorites]


Yeah, but then you get into the tension of whether we can fix the society without the help of people who are relatively powerful within a relatively more stratified and harsh society. We need buy-in of as many people as we possibly can if we're going to fix that loss of dignity, respect, and the possibility of a decent life for other people. And when you have the folks with most grimly fighting not only for the little advantages for their kids, but also against the systemic changes that level the playing field for everyone because those would lose the little advantages... well, they start to look an awful lot like a piece of the problem that is big enough that it will need addressing.

I mean, I'm coming from a background where I would explicitly hear "well, those people aren't my priority, my children doing well are my priority, and I should be allowed to do what I want with my money, including pass it on to my family members." You have to understand, in the context I'm from, you don't necessarily even get as far as "segregation by wealth is a problem" or "access to high-quality education really needs to be freely and evenly accessible to all" or "racial equality is a net good worth paying something for." You stop at "but it's my money and I want it to go to my kids."

And I mean, people will certainly say they favor these values! But I do think it's fair to say that if you really favor education equality (for example), you need to think about what those values are worth to you. I see articles like this which focus on the effect of people's actions rather than the motivation as attempting to nudge our Overton Window a little bit more in that direction.
posted by sciatrix at 1:05 PM on September 14 [7 favorites]


I found this part interesting and I wish they had unpacked it a little more:

Hagerman: One of the things I was really struck by was how frequently some of these children used the phrase That’s racist or You’re racist. They were using this word in contexts that had nothing to do with race: They were playing chess, and they would talk about what color chess pieces they wanted to have, and then one of them would say, “Oh, that’s racist”—so things that had to do with colors, but also sometimes just out of the blue, instead of saying, “That’s stupid.” These kids have taken this phrase, That’s racist, and inverted it in a way such that it’s become meaningless.

It’s hard to get a sense of the author’s true analysis from this brief comment, so I’m not sure if I’m disagreeing or agreeing with her here, but my read on this dynamic (which I have also witnessed among kids) is not that they’re passively/inadvertently watering down the concept of racism by attaching it to random things, but rather they’re actively playing with or making fun of racism. It’s the kid equivalent to “did u assume my gender?!?” ‘jokes’. Actually, I can easily picture an adult reactionary making the exact same chess-piece comment to similar but maybe more intentionally malicious effect.
posted by dusty potato at 1:21 PM on September 14 [6 favorites]


for a lot of affluent white parents, diversity is something that can be toggled on and off as they please?

What a good way of putting that, I say as an affluent white parent.

> Also I used to be against police officers in schools, but then in interactions with them at this age, this might be the only positive regular interactions with a police officer a person will have in their entire life if they don't personally know a cop.

You're presuming it will be a positive interaction.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:30 PM on September 14 [13 favorites]


I think part of it is how we choose to define “the best.” Some of the parents in my book, they rejected the idea that their child needed to be in all the AP classes. They valued other elements of their children’s personalities, such as their concerns about ethics or fairness or social justice.

Like you can either be smart and do very well in school or you can be educated about ethics and social justice. Is that point she means to make?


I think the point she was trying to make is that white kids have sufficient privilege that they can opt-out of traditional markers of academic success (AP courses) and not suffer long-term effects in terms of things like university entrance.
posted by GuyZero at 1:37 PM on September 14 [4 favorites]


The can in the title makes it sound like a how-to.



ok, now off to read it.
posted by dame at 1:40 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]


When I was in HS, we didn't have social justice classes. But we did have after-school activities like Habitat For Humanity, Amnesty International, etc., which did not interfere with the taking of AP classes. Are those sorts of things now mutually exclusive?
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:41 PM on September 14


Are those sorts of things now mutually exclusive?

Only in the sense that there are a finite number of hours in a day. Taking 5 or 6 AP classes is a lot of reading and writing outside of class time.
posted by GuyZero at 1:45 PM on September 14 [3 favorites]


Trust me, those kids are not being starved of the opportunity to engage in civic volunteer efforts like Habitat for Humanity. I was a member of Habitat myself back in the day, with enthusiastic parental support. What they are almost certainly missing is much, if any, exposure to people whose class level (and probably race) is not very similar to their own. If they are volunteering with their communities, they are not volunteering in such a way that they work alongside poorer people as peers. Full stop.
posted by sciatrix at 1:58 PM on September 14 [9 favorites]


This observation is not exactly about education, but I think it's a correlating data point.

I live in a historically black neighborhood that has started to gentrify - it's seen as a budget Brooklyn, and you regularly hear conversations of "Oh my god I can't believe how cheap it is here!" The local front yards are filling up with impeccably progressive yard signs. The owners of these yards/signs show up increasingly to local community association meetings, including planning/zoning meetings. They are also impeccably racist, for example promoting block re-development (such as apartments for grad students and 'young professionals') as something that will make the area "safer/brighter/more attractive/etc." and that will "positively impact property values." Existing local stores and delis are characterized as dirty, sources of litter and trash, not used, etc., which should be replaced by boutique coffee shops, a Trader Joes, and a gym.

Their progressive values are mainly focused supporting developers to get zoning variances to build ever larger buildings, in return for which the developers pinky-promise to include some 'affordable' units.

As with many of the comments above, these people have no conception of structural racism, structural poverty, white privilege, and the ideology of supremacy. What they do have(unfortunately) is the racial and class cultural capital to push their agenda through, over the opposition of local residents who are to busy or too tired to go to the constant (poorly-advertised) meetings.

/vent
posted by carter at 2:38 PM on September 14 [15 favorites]


"Their progressive values are mainly focused supporting developers to get zoning variances to build ever larger buildings"

That could be me.... Attempts to preserve the physical feel of the old neighborhood, choking the housing supply even as demand goes up, is part of what increases prices and drives out the original population.

The new residents will happily pay top dollar for old small places and renovate them, if that's the only choice they're given.

I'd be happy if I never had to hear about "property values", though. The word they're looking for is "housing prices", and increasing them isn't a virtue.
posted by floppyroofing at 2:59 PM on September 14 [6 favorites]


I have known a number of (white, middle class) people who have moved out of my neighbourhood and into the cachement areas of other schools because of the "low" scores that my local school gets on the standardised tests.

I'm not asking this as a gotcha, but do you send your kids there?

As someone who, partially through parental incompetence/dysfunction, partially through parental idealism, spent several years in what is still today one of the worst public school systems in the United States (and I'm not using that as code for "blackest," though in fact they coincide for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with any inherent intelligence or diligence of any race), my feelings on this are...complex. Are there Mefites actually sending their kids to what are openly acknowledged to be "bad" city schools right now?
posted by praemunire at 3:18 PM on September 14 [9 favorites]


As pertains my upper middle income white collar co-workers who talk about how they're going to need to move to the suburbs "for the schools," I don't buy your analysis. They are absolutely doing it for a marginally higher status employment outcome.

Eh, I think there are a lot of conscious and unconscious motivations but that the outcome ends up being divided along income and racial lines.

I don't really have an apples-to-apples comparison but I moved from central Toronto to suburban California. Obviously a lot of variables at play so you can't draw too many universal conclusions. BUT.

Urban schools are usually older and in relatively poor shape. They're built to older standards, often inaccessible, crowded and usually give off an underfunded vibe. Sometimes they're legit expensive to maintain. Suburban schools look nice, are more spacious, often have amenities that urban schools lack. I honestly don't know what suburban Ontario schools look like these days but even a middle-of-the-pack US suburban school looks like what I, as a central Toronto dweller, would have called an "olympic training facility".

So lots of people want to get out of urban schools. Except that a lot of people can't afford to for a variety of reasons which creates a de facto segregation. And there are sometimes things like cultural groups who for a variety of reasons want to live together. For example, there are a lot of Tibetan people in Parkdale in Toronto and I'm sure a number of them would prefer not to send their kids to Parkdale Collegiate but they don't want to leave their local community. (Not that there's anything wrong with Parkdale Collegiate, all the kids I ever met who went there were nice and they offer IB so I don't think anyone who goes there is really suffering, it's just my stand-in for a generic urban school. Maybe this is a bad example)

There's also the stereotypical "urban problems" which are both overblown and at the same time very real. I would have been fine with my kids going to Parkdale Collegiate but Parkdale is still a tough hood. There are people living on the streets and there are junkies in the neighbourhood, neither of which I think are really dangerous to kids, but not everyone sees it that way. Suburban schools are blissfully free of any reminder of humanity's failings.

So I think it's about avoid a little daily unpleasantness rather than expecting any better overall life outcome. Maybe people think a cleaner high school will lead to higher grades and a better job but I dunno. I think it's simpler than that.

I knew people that raised their kids in central Toronto and it's definitely not the same as being in the suburbs. AT the same time, it's not really that different. I think people think it's more different than it really is.
posted by GuyZero at 3:21 PM on September 14


Also, all that said, I am 100% sure that there are people who move out to the 'burbs to get their kids away from kids of different ethnic groups & skin colours. I think people as a whole are complex, but there are absolutely individuals who are simple & idiots.
posted by GuyZero at 3:34 PM on September 14


I'm not asking this as a gotcha, but do you send your kids there?

Yes, intentionally and it isn't because I didn't have a choice. I went to a French school as a kid so we could have pushed to have my kid placed in a school offering French Immersion courses (generally schools with French Immersion are often in more affluent areas and are often populated by a largely white student base). To clarify, I'm in Canada but I think the problem exists here just as it does in the US.

Maybe it's the Mennonites I've hung out with over the years but a philosophy of their's that has rubbed off on me is the idea of intentional living. Which I think, in my case, has manifested as "instead of thinking about ME I try to think of WE" when I make a decision. Or as sciatrix puts it better above, QFT - '[w]e need buy-in of as many people as we possibly can if we're going to fix that loss of dignity, respect, and the possibility of a decent life for other people."
posted by Ashwagandha at 4:06 PM on September 14 [8 favorites]


Are there Mefites actually sending their kids to what are openly acknowledged to be "bad" city schools right now?

I had a really long answer to this typed out but in a much shorter nutshell my kids went to a school that's ranked in the top quartile of US high schools. If we had spent a lot more on housing we could have lived in a district with schools that are in the top 10%, 5% or 1% of US public high schools. So sort of. But hardly.

But for real people around here ask if the school my kids went to was OK or if it had problems. People are bad at evaluating relative worth. I'm a big satisficier.
posted by GuyZero at 4:18 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]


So we are currently living this. We made the choice to send our son to a city school (it's a magnet but it's blind lottery admission where extra entries are made for students coming from low income homes and neighborhoods) which is 75% Black and is a Title I school. Last year my son was the only white kid in his class for most of the year.

We aren't upper middle class, just regular middle class, so fancy private schools were never an option realistically, but we still have the resources to make up for the stuff that his school doesn't offer that most of the suburban and private schools do. But that's approximately zero consolation because while we have those resources, most of his classmates don't and that's infuriating and awful. This is our son's first grade year and my husband and I have decided to try and do PTA this year. I'm interested to see what goes down there but I'm also highly aware that I still have a lane I need to stay in.

Our son's school is physically located on a street of actual mansions, a lily white neighborhood. But since the school was moved from being a neighborhood school to a lottery magnet, all the kids I see standing on corners waiting for buses on the way to dropping my own kid off are headed to a local charter school. That school's focus is environmentalism so you can imagine the upper middle class liberal parent situation there. So they stick their kids on a bus and send them to this very white charter school instead of walking 2 blocks to the mostly Black school that exists in their midst.
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:32 PM on September 14 [4 favorites]


[corb, you have a long-time ban from participating in discussions about racism and I need you to leave this thread.]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 4:46 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]


> Are there Mefites actually sending their kids to what are openly acknowledged to be "bad" city schools right now?

It isn't that simple. I'm in the suburbs, but where I live (Seattle-ish) the suburbs are often cheaper and more diverse than the city we surround. One of my kids went to a Title 1 "failing" school, which we kept her in because we love it instead of taking the spot at a "good" school she was offered, but we just got the standardized test scores back today and her school's scores are higher than the district's as a whole.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:58 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]



Pinsker: One question you occasionally bring up in the book is: What value does one parent’s action hold when going up against a systemic problem? And I’m not asking Does it have value?, because of course it does. But I wonder how you think about all the micro-level decisions that these parents are making in the context of the central conundrum.

Hagerman: In my book, I’m trying to highlight this tension between the broad, overarching social structures that organize all of our lives and the individual choices that people make from within these structures. So yeah, if we had equal educational opportunities, people would not be able to make choices that would confer advantages to their child over someone else’s child, right? That wouldn’t even be a possibility. Certainly, the structural level really matters.


There's a reason MLK turned to class issues later in his career. Please understand, I mean that the perpetuation of class issues makes race issues thorny and perennial, not that class or race issues can morally trump one another. They are relative evils that feed each other. And morally, race should still get the deference. I'm not sure I'll live to see that change.

But, the idea that you should get what you can for yours isn't what causes racism, yet it does perpetuate it. we should all be trying to level the playing fields and looking for shitty rules.

When we can level a race-based and class-based rule with one stone (policy change) great! But it's shameful that race still makes us so blind to these discrepancies, and this article points it out well.
posted by es_de_bah at 5:13 PM on September 14 [2 favorites]


Are there Mefites actually sending their kids to what are openly acknowledged to be "bad" city schools right now?

*Raises hand*

In our suburban district southwest of Houston, there is one high school thought to be excellent, two considered very good, one that everyone says to avoid, and one that everyone says to avoid AT ALL COSTS. We've been here for just over two years, and this dynamic is really new to me (I came from a small town with one high school). There is a lot of social pressure to move to one of the three good schools, and preferably the acknowledged excellent one. We are zoned for the second worst one, and my daughter is in the junior high that feeds into it, which shares its reputation.

I think about this a lot. I'm generally on board with the "send your kid to the low-income school; they'll do fine and those schools need parents with education and resources" train of thought, but when 80% of the people around you are chanting "get out get out get out" and your friends keep moving away to get their kids in the good schools, it's hard not to wonder if I'm just being an idiot by staying.

In our particular neighborhood, we have what is generally considered the best elementary, but it feeds to less desirable secondary schools. Parents put their homes up for sale every year when their kid finishes the 5th grade.

So...I'm really torn. I don't want to be one of those white people who just keep making things worse by moving to where the good schools are, but I don't want my kids paying a price for my ideals. I'm honestly not sure what we're going to do.

For what it's worth, my junior high daughter is pretty happy where she is, and isn't asking to move, but she has no points of comparison either. Her experience is definitely worse than mine was in some obvious ways, but (1) I'm old and (2) a lot of that might just be small town versus city, and wouldn't change much no matter what school we were at.

Still, people pay a 20-30 thousand dollar housing premium to get in the "good" school, and it's hard not to wonder if they are making the obvious smart move that I'm too stubborn to make.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:20 PM on September 14 [8 favorites]


There is a discussion to be had about whether much can be achieved by pushing the Overton window as opposed to addressing material circumstances.

Changing structural problems through the choices of individuals is a weak strategy, and one that places the burden on individuals to make negative economic choices for future benefit to others. It may be the right thing to do in many senses, but it's not worth putting guilt and pressure on individuals about their choices in this regard, at least in my view, because I don't believe it works..

On preview: seeing es del bah's comment, basically this
the idea that you should get what you can for yours isn't what causes racism, yet it does perpetuate it. we should all be trying to level the playing fields and looking for shitty rules.

You don't level the playing field through individual choices. That's just not how things work. It's a decidedly idealist, free choice market-based view of the world that recommends internal moral change as an alternative to actually levelling the playing field.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 5:30 PM on September 14 [9 favorites]


You don't level the playing field through individual choices.

Its not offered as an alternative to massive structural change but a tangible action that a family can make in order to see change at a small level. Ideally, we are all fighting for that level playing field but large scale societal change for the average person can be an overwhelmingly impossible dream. In my experience, some incremental change based on personal choices and well placed advocacy can bring some worthwhile change to one's community.
As an example, our choice of advocating for our son to the school board, on behalf of the school, and getting him the accommodations for his disability means that the school will piggy-back other kids with challenges in his grade who would benefit from the same accommodations but who are ignored for any number of reasons (including class and racial issues). In a time when things are fraught (to put it mildly), for a poor school with a greater share of marginalised students then its wealthier neighbouring schools, that's a small win and a step closer.
posted by Ashwagandha at 6:58 PM on September 14 [10 favorites]


I think part of it is how we choose to define “the best.” Some of the parents in my book, they rejected the idea that their child needed to be in all the AP classes. They valued other elements of their children’s personalities, such as their concerns about ethics or fairness or social justice.

Like you can either be smart and do very well in school or you can be educated about ethics and social justice. Is that point she means to make?



In my kids school, populated as it is with the children of doctors and lawyers and business executives, there is a trend away from hard core academic, 4.5 GPA, 4 AP courses a semester outlook to a more independent 3.5 GPA but started a punk band that protests climate change.

That is to say, academic pressure is reduced but pressure to be "unique" is raised.

Of course, this is aided by the fact that none of these kids will likely have any trouble getting into college, either as a legacy or otherwise and that none of them will need scholarships to pay.
College is a fait accompli, so spending 4 hours a day after school is considered a waste of initiative.
posted by madajb at 7:01 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]


Hagerman: One of the things I was really struck by was how frequently some of these children used the phrase That’s racist or You’re racist. They were using this word in contexts that had nothing to do with race

I have to wonder how much of this is related to the meme of the young black boy saying, “that’s racist.” Kids, tweens and teens want to seem cool by knowing the latest memes and if I recall my own adolescence correctly, want to use common/popular phrases as sarcastically as possible.
posted by bendy at 7:04 PM on September 14 [2 favorites]


You don't level the playing field through individual choices.

In this case, though, many of the individual choices are based on perception and "what everyone like me is doing." If enough middle class white parents make the individual choice to send their kids to majority-minority or struggling public schools then those individual choices add up to making that option seem like a fine, acceptable choice to make among other middle class white families. That doesn't fully solve the problem of a lack of resources at these schools but a smallish group of more affluent families does have an impact on fund-raising, doing the legwork to get grants, having parents who don't work or who have flexible schedules available for volunteering, and having parents with race and class privilege fighting for their own kids' needs, which has a knock-on effect for kids whose parents lack the privilege to get taken seriously in those fights.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:31 AM on September 15 [10 favorites]


This quote struck a chord with me:
These affluent white parents are in a position where they can set up their kids’ lives so that they’re better than other kids’ lives. So the dark side is that, ultimately, people are thinking about their own kids, and that can come at the expense of other people’s kids.

A key element is money. My kids go to a school similar to (and maybe even the same as) GuyZero's. It is a good and diverse school. Their PTSA (Parent Teacher Student Associtation) is proud if they can raise $50,000 for the year.

Not too many miles north is a similar sized school district where every year they have a sign with a 'thermometer' showing how close they are to their fund raising goal for the year. It is just the start of the school season and they are well on their way to raising well over a million dollars.

This is in addition to the much higher property tax revenue they receive.

I believe in equal opportunity, especially when it comes to kids. Why not give all our country's kids an equal chance to succeed? Unfortunately, this country is very much not into equal opportunity despite what people may tell you.
posted by eye of newt at 11:35 AM on September 15 [5 favorites]


I feel like the mindset people have is that everyone else should have equal opportunity, and my kid should have just a little-more-than-equal-opportunity. Nobody should really be deprived, but also I should have a little more. It makes sense on an individual level - not on a societal level.


.... I am fine saying that a family is obligated first to its own children. That makes sense to me. And so on up, a neighborhood is obligated first to their own, a town is obligated first to their own, a state, a nation, etc. I don't think there's an individual moral imperative to stay in a school you think is worthless or even dangerous.

But individuals do also have some obligation to society. The whole point of a civilized society is the reciprocal and mutual moral imperatives - which is to say, everyone looks out for each other. A state has an equal obligation towards all of its citizens, and all of its citizens share some measure of that obligation. Right? That makes sense? That's what (white) people try to wriggle out of, by restricting and taking resources.

It's interesting to me that "safety" isn't as much a part of this discussion, because IMO safety concerns like violence and drugs are VERY VERY good reasons to leave a school system. That was the white flight excuse for decades, "safety". And it's easy for (white) people to exaggerate and overestimate danger, usually along racial lines. I still get people asking "isn't New York dangerous??????" like it's fucking 1979 and there are porn theaters in Times Square. Anyway. I wonder if "safety" has become racialized enough that "school resources" is the new, uh, code word.

n.b I am white and not a parent and I went to a mediocre outer-urban public school system in New Jersey.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 2:03 PM on September 16 [2 favorites]


I feel like the mindset people have is that everyone else should have equal opportunity, and my kid should have just a little-more-than-equal-opportunity.

Or, to quote a friend. "We don't believe in charter schools politically, but we might believe in them for our daughter."

See also: my mother lying about our address for years so that I could go to a slightly better public school than the one to which we were districted.

On the one hand, I feel like I might not be entitled to an opinion about such decisions, given that I do not have children and that I'm clearly the product of the same kind of privilege. On the other hand, it's pretty disappointing to watch my progressive friends sequester their children from even the relatively affluent communities in which they live.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:38 AM on September 17 [1 favorite]


See also: my mother lying about our address for years so that I could go to a slightly better public school than the one to which we were districted.

Every year we were required to go with three pieces of documentation proving our home address. Slightly amusing, once my wife started working at the school our kids went to, she would often bring the documentation in with her to work, sometimes even when she was helping out with getting people registered.

But for families that are working shift jobs or anything where they can't just go to school anytime and wait for a couple hours it was a really big burden. But absolutely, positively a ton of people would lie to get their kids into a different school for a bunch of reasons.
posted by GuyZero at 1:04 PM on September 17 [1 favorite]


I know a family that lies to get their kids into the schools my kids go to, and as a rule-sticker it drives me nuts. But not so nuts that I'll report them. They're very much a "the rules don't apply to us" family.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:08 PM on September 17


The frustrating thing is that my mom is very much a "the rules are the rules" person—except when it came to getting her kids into an elementary school. Which is kind of the problem in a nutshell.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 2:22 PM on September 17 [2 favorites]


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