Clarification

When you choose to put yourself out there in a space like this, you are bound to encounter misinterpretation and misunderstanding. You are also likely to experience disagreement and dissent. You may even earn yourself some unsolicited advice. I am not surprised when these things happen. Most of the time I attempt to learn from the experience, and usually I try again.

I come here to write for a lot of reasons. Sometimes I’m in the midst of figuring things out, and I use writing here as a way to process. Other times I come here to vent–to lighten my load and perhaps gain some perspective. And still other times a vague compulsion propels the words into this space. No matter how or why I write here, my words can miss the mark.

When I wrote Friday morning’s post I was working through some stuff I didn’t quite have a handle on yet. I was hoping that if I got a small part of it down, the rest of it would settle into place so I could reflect and hopefully write more later. The problem is, a post like that doesn’t paint a full picture, mostly because I’m not sure what the full picture is yet (or the picture is constantly changing). Posts like that provide a vague outline and let readers fill in the gaps.

Here is the thing. I don’t want to live in the suburbs. That is not some dream of mine that being married to my husband is denying me. I grew up in one of the biggest, densest cities in the world and I LOVED the independence and freedom it provided me. I am not opposed to raising my kids in the city, it’s just harder sometimes to do it than I expected it would be.

And the school stuff… well I have a lot of thoughts about that and they are complicated and varied and sometimes at complete odds with each other. I thought long and hard about whether or not to bring my daughter down to my school district, and in the end I chose not to. I don’t regret that choice. We live in the city and I want our kids to go to school near where we live. I want their friends to live in the city, not 30 minutes away on the peninsula. I want the city to feel like home. I want the city to be their home. I have lived in San Francisco for 13 years and worked on the peninsula that entire time. I absolutely believe that commuting so far away has made it difficult, if not impossible, for me to embrace San Francisco as my true home (which is most certainly part of the reason I feel torn about some of the difficulties in raising kids here). I absolutely don’t want that for my children.

I also value diversity. Immensely. I think going to school with people from different cultures and backgrounds can offer an education that is more valuable than anything a rigorous curriculum could provide. I also believe strongly in the benefits of being truly bilingual, and a Spanish language immersion education is not something my children could get in the “better” school districts nearby. There are myriad reasons why we chose to send our daughter to the nearby school, and right now I don’t regret that choice.

That doesn’t mean it’s always the easiest choice. I went to schools, and have taught in schools, that look different from the school my daughter attends. Different can be hard, especially when it’s the kind of different that isn’t celebrated. Sometimes I have doubts. Sometimes I feel trepidation. But that doesn’t mean I regret the choice we made. I also know that if we needed to change our minds, there are always other options.

I truly hope we don’t have to take advantage of those options, because I already see my daughter learning important lessons at her school, lessons she would not be getting at the “better” school in my district. I also know that just because another school might offer a more rigorous education, doesn’t mean my daughter would have a positive experience attending it. My mom has covered a couple hours in the Kindergarten classrooms my daughter would have attended in my district and she said there are already intense cliques forming and that the Kindergarten teachers report that this is the most intensely negative social situation they’ve encountered in their classes in a long time. My daughter would really struggle with cliquey girls like that, and I’m glad she’s not being exposed to it. (And at a school that small, she would be stuck with that group of girls until 8th grade).

I wrote this post to clarify all this as much for myself as for anyone else. It can be easy to focus on the ways I fantasize it could be easier if only circumstances were different, but it’s important that I remember why we made the choices we did. Friday’s post was much more about my frustration with a lack of empathy and understanding from my husband, who struggles to see things from my perspective, not an admission that I’m being forced to live somewhere I don’t want to live, and am miserable for it.

My daughter is a bright girl who speaks fluent Spanish and is learning a lot at school, whose best friends are white, African American and Hispanic, and who doesn’t think twice that one of the yard duties at her school wears a burka. She takes the bus as much as rides in a car, and walks past people from dozens of different cultures on the way to the playground. Most importantly she is happy, and that is in no small part because of where she lives and where she goes to school. That is not something I take for granted.

11 Comments

  1. What you described in the last paragraph sounds wonderful! And a lot like where I live. But it IS hard. My daughter has been begging me to get together with her friend from preschool on the weekends. I finally talked to the mom, and it turns out her English isn’t great, and her kids have Islamic school on Saturdays, and she is in school and does homework on Sundays, and basically it’s never going to happen. Which is the challenge of living in a diverse area. So I understand a lot of what you’re feeling. And I think it’s perfectly okay to feel that frustration. Your husband is not looking for the same kind of community you are, I don’t think, which may be why he doesn’t get it.

    1. We will be dealing with quite a bit of what you’re describing ourselves. My daughter’s school is 60% Hispanic and they don’t really do “play dates” and spend a lot of time at the houses of their school friends. They are big into family and extended family and that is how they spend their weekends. A lot of them go back to their country of origin during the summer months as well. We invited everyone from my daughter’s class to her birthday and I didn’t get an RSVP from anyone that I didn’t already know. I’m not sure the paper invitation even made it home (I know how easily paper gets lost in K, especially if it’s not important), but still. I suspect that if I’d sent them in my district a few would have come, or maybe not, since the drive to the city would be a lot. (Or maybe we would have had it on the peninsula for just that reason.) The point being, that part is different and it is hard. But we’ll figure it out. As long as my daughter has a few good friends and a group to hang out with at school, she’ll be okay. That’s all that matters.

  2. I am so impressed & a inspired by your thoughtful consideration of all aspects of education. When looking at school districts to which I was willing to move, the rating had to be high, but not just the test scores. I looked at teacher to student ratios, curriculum, and extracurricular opportunities. Yes, the structured education is important, but the all around education is just as, if not more, influential on development.

    I struggled terribly with bullies in elementary & middle schools. I am terrified my children will suffer the same. Reading parental reviews on the schools really gave me insight. Their attitudes, especially if it was a RAVE review, may actually have turned me off of looking at a school.

    I commend you on following your desire for your daughter to be in a place where she can shine. I also am inspired by your decision to take the less easy route. I hope through these two posts you have found your clarification on the big picture.

    Also I think my last comment may have been more in response to the commenters than to your post. Hugs! You’re an amazing mama!!!

    1. Thanks for your kind words. All those things you looked into are really important, way more important (IMHO) than API scores. My daughter school is Title 1 so it is elegance for pretty much every grand there is and people are writing them. They are very well funded right now, and hopefully that will remain the case (I intended to help ensure it is). Their student to teacher ratio is really good, even at the middle school level where it generally starts to get high. They have money for art and PE right now. I hope that continues.

  3. Hey in the end, you do you. You know what is best for you, your daughter, your son, your family. Just like in the best I will do me and know what is best for mine. Same with everyone who reads/posts on here. We may not have the same views on schooling and neighborhoods, but who cares? Not many people put this much thought and heart into the decision to where they kids go to school–and even more people don’t have to work through the number of options that you do. And remember, if something stops working out for the best, you have the ability to change it. Nothing is written in stone and just worry about the classes/schools one year at a time!!

    To be honest, I send my kids to a pretty expensive private school that doesn’t have a ton of diversity in any sense of the word. However, most of the big learning leaps have happened at home, by me. Counting to 100, reading chapter books, studying the deep oceans (my kids are still 3, 4, so we are working on the small things) all came from my after school/weekend work with them–so even at schools with unlimited resources, the parents have a huge role in helping/supplementing and I have no doubt you will (continue to) be great at that part!!

    1. To each their own, absolutely. As
      I said, this post was as much about reminding myself why we made the choice we did as it was for anyone else. I’m not trying to judge anyone else’s decision, just trying to articulate why we made ours, because it’s not the choice most people make, and when you see everyone else making the other choice, it can be easy to think you’ve made a mistake.

  4. Both this and the prior post were very thought and discussion provoking. Every child and parent has different needs, and each classroom/grade has different children in composition, nasty childhood behaviors occur across economic and racial spectrums, just like child abuse does. Sometimes it is the most entitled and wealthy families who have the least desirable behaviors and the least involved parents. Sometimes it is vice versa. Sometimes families who outwardly appear the least like oneself most closely share the same values. Your daughter clearly is finding her own way this year in this school. That is what counts. It takes lots of different skill sets to get through this world and seeing and learning different ones in action helps. Knowing people can do and be and look different but be the same inside is really important in combating snobbism, entitlement, and increasing compassion and the humanity of this world.
    You write such real and honest posts, it is grounding and reminds me helps me maintain a broader outlook on life and reality.

    1. “Sometimes thefamilieswho outwardly seen the least like oneself most closely share the same values.”

      One of the mom friends I’ve made through my son, who I love, is a Brazilian immigrant. She never went to college, and she cleans houses for a living. Most of her friends are from church, and I think I’m the first Jewish person she’s ever met. But as it turns out, our sons have similar temperaments and we have very similar parenting styles. Sometimes I could swear we’re married to the same man! Our daughters get along well, too. Although she & her husband are both from Brazil, she’s light and he’s dark, so all of our kids identify as mixed. We marvel over our daughters’ hair together. And when I saw the books on her bookshelf, I knew she was not a housecleaner due to being unintelligent! So, you never know. These people are harder to find than when you live in a more homogeneous environment, but they’re out there.

  5. I think both head posts have a lot of valuable information in them. There’s the pros and what all of you are gaining and the cons. I’m still curious as to what Mi Vida thinks about all of this. Does he see the same things or worry about any of the observations you made? Does he also see the good things?

    Ultimately, I think education has a lot to do with parental support as it does with the system. So being on top of things is important as well as being involved. This is where you have an advantage.

  6. I really appreciate that you are tackling this complex issue. It’s has so many layers and is so important. From my 2 years in a Bay Area public school I’ve learned so much. But I still have so so much to learn. I basically love what I’ve experienced of the Berkeley school system (does it qualify as suburban?) and the majority of this love is based on a shared value system rather than academic standards.

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