Renewed Conviction

I’ve written a lot about my choice of school for my daughter. I think I write about it with a certain amount of conviction; we value language education and diversity and chose our daughter’s school in accordance with those values.

I worry sometimes, actually, that I sound a bit smug when I talk about my daughter’s school. Oh look at us, we’re upper-middle class white parents sending our daughter to a school where our white daughter is (very much) the minority, where 92% of the student population qualifies for free or reduced-priced lunches, where the district runs a free after school program to ensure the economically disadvantaged families have access to the services they need.

The truth is, if I do sound smug, it’s because I’m trying desperately to convince myself that we’ve made the right decision, that we’re doing what is best for our daughter in sending her to that school. Not a day goes by that I don’t wonder if we’ve made a significant mistake, and that our daughter is suffering for it.

The truth is, not a lot of parents in our position chose to send their kids to a school like the one our daughter goes to. I’ve always known that, but a few recent encounters really cemented for me that we are the outliers, and had me questioning our choice.

I wrote in October about the Kindergarten information nights I attended as a parent representative for our school. I talked to quite a few parents who are enrolling children in San Francisco Unified School District next fall, and I realized pretty quickly that our school was not what they were looking for. What they were looking for were high API scores and how much money the school raised. Evidently there are elementary schools in San Francisco that raise over $300,000 a year! I honestly had no idea. Just like I had no idea that parents actually used that kind of information (how much a school fundraises) to choose where to (try to) send their child.

$300,000 a year of fundraising is an absurdly high amount for a school like the one my daughter goes to. It could never raise even a fraction of that total. 85% of the families qualify for free lunch. That means they are living off of less than $31,000 a year (for a family of four) in what is right now considered to be the most expensive city in the country. Another 7% qualify for reduced-price lunch. It is not the kind of school that pays for its arts program or remodel with fundraising.

I have endured many a sleepless night wondering if we made the right choice sending our daughter to a “social justice” school. Will she be challenged enough? Will she have ample opportunities to pursue art, music and sports? Will she be getting the kind of high-caliber education needed to excel in high school and beyond?

If you had asked me a month ago if we’d made the right choice, I wouldn’t have known how to answer. Now, after the election, I have a renewed conviction that we are doing the right thing, and a renewed appreciation for the cultural and economic diversity of my daughter’s school. Sure, she may get a better “education” at a school that raises $300K a year, but she probably wouldn’t have friends who look different from her, and she probable wouldn’t graduate with a such a deep understanding of, and appreciation for, other cultures.

Also, she wouldn’t speak fluent Spanish. 😉

I can’t say I still don’t worry that my daughter won’t miss out on some of the bells and whistles the more “well off” schools have to offer, but I can say that I’m proud of our choice to buck upper-middle class white convention and send our daughter to a racially, culturally and economically diverse school. If Trump’s election has taught me anything, it’s that we all need more exposure to, and understanding of, people who are different from us. If there is one thing I can be sure my daughter will get at her school, it’s that.

18 Comments

  1. I actually worry a lot about schools that focus heavily on scores. We currently reside in a town that is next to the one that has the number 1 public high school in the nation. Housing prices are insanely high in the area due to this one fact. But so are stories of student anxiety, early burn-out and even higher suicide rates.

    Education is important. But there is a lot of data coming out that suggests the areas we are measuring and the emphasis we place on testing is actually having a negative impact. It doesn’t breed the well-rounded exceptional students that so many of the top universities and colleges are looking to recruit. That discussion is a whole other topic though.

    Anyway, I hear you and it is something I think about a lot too. Given my work with URMs, veterans and first generation students, I think about this a lot as there is untapped potential there, it’s just a matter of laying a firm foundation. And that can be done in ways most don’t fully appreciate or recognize.

    1. A strong foundation is definitely the most important thing, and the reality is I think we can give her that as much as a school can. As long as she can think critically, she’ll be fine. And speaking fluent Spanish doesn’t hurt either. 😉

      I also hear you on the stress of high performing areas. Palo Alto is not far from here, with Stanford at its center and a bunch of super high performing parents entrenched in the Silicon Valley mentality of success. There has been a epidemic of students walking in front of trains over the past few years. It’s incredibly distressing. I know my daughter is predisposed to anxiety–I need to be careful not to put too much academic pressure on her as she gets older.

  2. Education is about so much more than academics. Your daughter may not end up with the highest test scores (then again, she might), but I’m sure the education she gets, in the broader sense, will be excellent. And that will serve her well in life.

    1. The thing is, I don’t care what scores she gets. Thank you for reminding me of that! I just want her to love learning, and have a strong foundation in critical and creative thinking so she can learn what she wants to learn when she’s older.

  3. I could have written this, except the Spanish immersion part (the charter we did NOT get into had a spanish immersion but the public school does not). Our school is actually our neighborhood one, but its definitely got a lot of socio-economic (as well as racial) diversity and its leading to lots of conversations…not yet about money but more about education & why some of his friends do certain things that we don’t do in our family, and vice versa.
    But while I question (and will continue to question as things change over the years) whether we made the right choice for him, their is a part of me that feels really good knowing that even our modest involvement & donations are helping all the kids in the school get a better education, AND I am exposing my kid a really good learning experience with the diversity he is in the midst of. It also makes us feel more of a part of our neighborhood, and makes our rapidly gentrifying neighborhood feel more integrated, when everyone is at school drop off together, chatting, caring about their kids.

    1. That is awesome that you are at your neighborhood school. Our school is not far from our “neighborhood,” though the actual neighborhood it is in is kind of obnoxious and elitist (randomly, how our school ended up there I don’t really understand). There is definitely a strong sense of community within the school though, so that is nice. And already I’m around enough that even older students wave to me and say hi when I walk by. I really love that.

  4. I envy your decision! I mean, I love the school my kid goes to, and I’m thankful that even in a tiny, rural community we have a high quality public school education available to us. BUT, there is very little diversity here – there just isn’t a population like that. It just reminds me that we will have to be more intentional about our conversations I suppose…

  5. I don’t have kids but I teach at a public urban bilingual school which seems to have demographics similar to your daughter’s school. I got into a… heated discussion… last year with my sister, who was talking about where she and her husband plan to live and was focusing on “good” schools (in wealthy suburbia with little diversity) for their future children. I kept asking her, “What is a ‘good’ school?” and it seems our definitions were quite different. I totally agree with this: “…we all need more exposure to, and understanding of, people who are different from us.”

    1. The district I teach at has VERY HIGH API scores, like crazy high. People pay $100K more for their house to live in that district because of those API scores. But the thing is, those scores are more about the fact that our district has almost no English-language learners and almost everyone is upper-middle class and white. I’m not saying good teaching doesn’t happy there–it certainly does–but API scores are more a reflection of student population than teaching. Most parents don’t realize that.

  6. I have similar concerns with extremely different circumstances. My daughter’s TK-6th grade school has 85 students. Total. 4 teachers. One of whom is also the principal. We have pretty much no cultural diversity. I lament about the lack of arts, opportunities, having a well rounded view of the world. But we have love. Community, and such a village. I hope it’s enough.

  7. I think your choice will teach your daughter a lot that is harder to teach when you live in a “good school” bubble. Plus, studies show that schools improve with the involvement of parents like you!

    1. I think you’re right, she will learn things it is harder, or impossible, to learn at a “good school.” Those lessons are arguably even more valuable than the academic lessons she might get in “advanced classes.” I keep reminding myself of that.

  8. My daughter is not in school. But so grateful we live in a diverse neighbourhood and she attends a daycare with different socio economic and culturally diverse children and teachers.

  9. Although I appreciate the reasons you’ve chosen your daughter’s school, based on my upbringing I can admit that I am making different choices for my daughter. I grew up in a suburb of Atlanta and was almost always the minority (one of two white families in my neighborhood, one of a handful of white kids in my school, sometimes the only white kid in my class). Perhaps if there had been a more balanced mix I would feel differently, but I can tell you it was HARD (reverse racism is a very real thing) and I definitely think the disadvantages outweighed the advantages. I don’t care if my daughter is in the majority in our neighborhood/school but I won’t let her be in a strong minority – I would move first. Judge as you’d like…

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