Monday, March 26, 2012

how to feel about being the minority

Without going into the long, drawn-out back story, let me just start by saying that as we prepare for Red to transition from the school where I teach and she attends kindergarten this year, to public school next year for first grade, it's the first time that we'll be having any experiences with our neighborhood school. JAM has been at a different elementary school since first grade, but the situation now is that we cannot set up the same scenario for Red.

We'd heard concerns about our neighborhood school in the past. Vague concerns like an inactive PTA and a lack of family involvement in the school. More specific worries about large class sizes. But, for the record, we have never visited the school or really had an in-depth conversation with someone we knew well who had experiences with the school.

(We opted not to send JAM there out of convenience, since his babysitter who had cared for him for three years as an infant-preschooler was available to once again watch him before and after school when he entered first grade. Sorry, felt at least a little back story was necessary.)

Now that it looks more and more like we have no other option but to send Red to this school, I've had a couple of conversations with parents of students there. One is a close friend whose daughter is Red's age and has been at the school this year for kindergarten. She is pleased overall, though she was honest in our conversation about some negatives, too. She knows me so well when she says, "You're going to have a problem with how they do-- or don't do-- outside play." Apparently if there is even a hint of "inclement" weather, indoor recess is given. That does seem like a problem, but not a problem unique to one particular school, but part of a larger issue I have with the trends of public school education.

Then I happened to meet a dad at one of our neighborhood playgrounds this week who has two children at the school- a son in 2nd grade and a daughter in kindergarten. In their third year with the school, he also reported that he and his wife are pleased. He mentioned that there's a serious feeling at the school, or in his words, "They kind of take the "fun" out of most things," which again falls under my perception of much of public school education's emphasis on testing and an almost militaristic "everybody get in line" attitude.

But there's another factor that both my friend and the dad I met mentioned, both times very early on in the conversation. My friend, who is black, said, "Red won't be with many other white children." The dad, who is white, said, "We're definitely in the minority there." This got me thinking more and more-- should this be a consideration?

Apparently, there are only two or three white children and one Asian student in my friend's daughter's kindergarten class of under 25 students. Red's kindergarten class right now is composed of 16 children, with two black students and three Asian students. Is it appropriate for families of the few white, the few black, or the few Asian children to be concerned about their minority statuses?

I'm not sure how I personally feel about it. On face value, it doesn't seem that it should be an issue for me or for Red. I want her to make friends with children who are kind, fun, and interesting, and their skin color doesn't play a factor in those considerations, obviously. But, is there a valid point to be made that she will have a less than optimal experience with only one or two peers who look like her? (Minus the red hair, for it's statistically likely that she will often be the only red haired student in a class.)

With our neighborhood school looking like the only viable option for her schooling next year, I ask these questions not because it's a factor in our decision, but more from the perspective of just being honest about my internal dialogue right now. I hope nothing I say here is taken as offensive, for that is not my intent whatsoever. I do, however, think that for as much as we're supposedly in a "post-racial" society (yeah, right) now that we have a president who is not 100% white, it still is extremely challenging to talk openly about race and culture.

I'd love to hear others' reactions to these questions!

Curious and open to reflection,