Monday, December 04, 2006

For the benefit of all

Where do our selfish motives and our fears come from?

I read an article in the Washington Post about the current attempts White parents are making to sway desegregation orders so that their children can get put into the best schools and avoid the worst. The "best" schools have AP classes available, multiple opportunities, challenging coursework...and are made up of primarily White children. The "worst" schools have few, if any college-prep, rigorous classes, fewer extracurricular opportunities, and lower expectations for the kids...oh yeah...and are made up of primarily Black and Hispanic children.

Here's what I don't get. These parents who are working so hard to keep their children out of the "worst" schools...why don't they go ahead and put their child in the school and then work just as diligently to fight for the same quality of education and classes at that "bad" school so that all of the children involved can benefit?? Instead, they work overtime to make sure their child avoids the "bad" school...even to the point of enrolling their child illegally in a suburban district and lying to the school about their child's enrollment until their child gets moved up on the waiting list in their own district and is able to attend the school of their (or their parent's) choice.

I suppose I'd be naive to say that I don't know why urban schools don't have more rigor, more AP classes, and other programs that middle and upper-middle class parents want for their children. On the surface, kids in those schools appear to not care...about themselves, their community, or their academic achievements. However, I know that many of these kids, with the right expectations and the right challenge, can far exceed what the schools are currently expecting of them (I've witnessed it!). Think about it, though, that's exactly why many White, middle class parents are working so hard to get their kids in other schools. They recognize that if you put a child in a situation where there is little or no opportunity to grow, they won't! The difference in these White, middle class parents than many of the parents in the area around these "bad" schools is that the White, middle class parents have the money, time, resources, connections, and knowledge of the system to make sure their child gets what they want/need.

If parents who ultimately end up with successful, academically prepared students are making sure they secure those opportunities for their own children, shouldn't we think about what they are seeking out and figure out how to offer it in all of our schools for all of our children?? I have been around kids and "systems" long enough to know that putting a few AP classes into a school is not going to draw the masses of our urban kids. It's going to take time and it's going to take an effort by everyone involved to make sure the kids know about the wealth of opportunities available, can access them (financially and physically), and are prepared for them. This cannot be done by making the opportunities available and then lowering expectations. Our kids deserve so much better than that. We need to make the opportunities available and then work to make sure our kids are prepared for the intensity of those higher expectations.

Look below the surface of what you see in urban neighborhoods and urban schools. The problems aren't the unruly and out of control kids. It's not just the parents or lack thereof of the unruly and out of control kids. The problems run so much deeper. Look at the way the system is set up. Decide if you would want your child to be in those situations. If not, help us figure out how to solve those problems at a systemic level so that every child has an opportunity to be successful.

And realize that the ones who do come out of that system successful are way more extraordinary than we ever give them credit for.
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