Where Should My Children Go to School?

A friend of mine asked a few questions in the comment section after my last post. He also cited a June 2016 article published in the New York Times Magazine. The article was titled “Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City” and was written by Nikole Hannah-Jones.

I decided to share my response and open the topic up to further discussion. I want to thank Brandon for bringing up a tricky issue: where to live and where to send your children to school. These are difficult questions for me, and maybe for you too. First, I want to share a bit of personal history.

When my husband and I returned to Cincinnati after college, we moved to a diverse suburban neighborhood we loved. We lived there for 2 years and then moved out of state, only to return to Cincinnati 3 years later. The neighborhood we loved had started to decline so we moved to a different suburban school district that was known for its diversity.

But over time, we started to hear about problems in the district and we witnessed several neighborhood kids falling through the cracks at the high school. At this time, we had our first child and moved once again. This time, we opted for great schools and a safe community. Unfortunately, this decision landed us in an extremely homogeneous community with little to no racial, ethnic, religious, or income diversity. It’s exactly like the childhood community where I grew up. My kids are living in the bubble I was hell-bent on avoiding.

I tell myself my kids’ experience is different because they are exposed to diversity outside our neighborhood and we talk about differences all the time. My children know about aspects of diversity I didn’t even know existed until college. As a family, we routinely acknowledge that our neighborhood does not represent the “real world.”

However, I cannot escape the guilt I feel. I think about moving or sending my kids to different schools on a regular basis. I check the real estate listings constantly. I weigh the pros and cons of living where we are now vs. a different neighborhood or school. We are trying to do what is best for our kids while also recognizing that our decisions have unintended and problematic consequences.

I also recognize that our decision to live in our current neighborhood is possible because of the privilege that comes with our skin color and economic class. The New York Times Magazine article is fantastic and I encourage everyone to read it. The author addresses the challenging issues related to selecting schools and echoes the struggles many parents face.

It also describes how the education system is built on racism, classism, and housing discrimination (which was legal until 1968). The system is wholly imperfect, unfair, and biased against people of color and the economically disadvantaged.

What choices have you made regarding where you live and where you send your children to school? How do those decisions make you feel?

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By |2017-07-31T01:18:51-05:00July 30th, 2017|Tags: , , , , , , |8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Lois Gish July 31, 2017 at 1:02 pm - Reply

    We choose an integrated neighborhood when we moved to Cincinnati in 1979. The first neighborhood, Walnut Hills worked for a few years but it wasn’t where we could see staying once we had a toddler.

    We opted for greener College Hill. Because we were 3 families living collectively, we had less interaction with our neighbors than we would have had otherwise. We choose the better public schools over the neighborhood school a block away and our kids spent up to an hour on the bus twice a day. But the schools, Sands Montessori and later SCPA and Clark Montessori proved to be integrated schools providing decent educations. Meanwhile our neighborhood school, like most of the other neighborhood schools, suffered from being drained of the kids from more middle class families.

    These are difficult choices. I love our part of town but currently the diversity also involves hearing gun shots at times. I have more recently made friends with a neighbor who will ask for food and money at times and who has done work for us in exchange. I am trying to reach out more to neighbors different from myself which leaves me less comfortable but overall feels really good. I confess that part of my comfort lies with having intentional housemates. While we live separately in the same house, there is still security in not living totally as a nuclear family. Overall, I think our children ended up feeling good about our choices. They have diverse friendships and my younger daughter lives in College Hill as well and will be sending our granddaughter to CPS Parker Woods Montessori. At least this school is just in the next neighborhood!

    What did we give up? Had we located in a more upscale part of town out property value would have increased significantly in comparison.

    Meanwhile there are lots of active folks in College Hill working to make a difference and to improve our community. That feels good. The neighborhood school is working to become a nature school and that feels good as well. Hopefully in a few years this school might tempt more middle class families to participate. Ultimately, each neighborhood school should be a strong school academically without the brain drain that currently occurs.

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  2. Laura Stanton July 31, 2017 at 1:11 pm - Reply

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences, Lois. This issue is challenging for many people and there does not appear to be any perfect answers. I enjoy hearing how people come to terms with this tough choice. It’s a shame that the system is so imperfect.

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  3. Carly Wise July 31, 2017 at 5:13 pm - Reply

    Initially I felt really good about the neighborhood school that we lucked into by virtue of living in a very modest two-family in a likewise modest street of a wealthy neighborhood. The student population is about 70% white, which is more diverse than the suburban schools, but not as diverse as a typical CPS school. We have 15% of our students on the free or reduced lunch plan and there’s some religious diversity too, which I value greatly. My conflict and frustration now is how high the property values are running and how many homes are being torn down in our neighborhood to build $600,000 and higher houses. I fear we are going to gradually push what little diversity we do have out of our school. I fear that my family is going to contribute to that shift by selling our former modest two-family to a developer. It is so very challenging to balance our immediate family needs with that of our aspirations for our community as a whole.

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    • Laura Stanton August 1, 2017 at 11:00 am - Reply

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Carly. It certainly seems like a struggle no matter what choices you make. I think we all agree that the system continues the divide between rich and poor, black and white, the haves and the have-nots. My favorite quote from the New York Times Magazine article was by a city councilman from the Bronx. In regard to school integration, he said, “The scandal is not that we are failing to achieve diversity. The scandal is we are not even trying.”

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  4. Ellen August 1, 2017 at 12:58 am - Reply

    We also chose to live in a suburb with great schools, but little to no racial or economic diversity. I am sometimes concerned about my children’s limited worldview. We chose this community because we wanted our children to have friends in the neighborhood who go to the same public school rather than friends who bus to various magnet or parochial schools. We wanted the convenience of sports teams and activities affiliated with their schools to be close by or walking distance so that they could have more freedom and independence. As a public school teacher, I experienced the issues of children living with poverty. Some of those issues lead to behaviors that disrupt the learning environment. This was my greatest concern when considering a more economically diverse neighborhood. When my children were very young, it was important for me to send them to a school that felt safe and nurturing, where they wouldn’t have to witness disruptive behavior or upset teachers. I think kind of wanted school to be an extension of the home life they were used to. Now that they’re older, those things are somewhat less important, and I wonder if the lessons they would have gained from having more diverse classmates and friends would add to the richness and quality of their lives overall. I think I had different things to consider when choosing a school for my preschooler and second grader than I would now that they’re older.

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  5. Laura Stanton August 1, 2017 at 11:14 am - Reply

    Thanks for your comment Ellen. The reasons for choosing your neighborhood are similar to mine. We value the safety, the fact that our kids ride their bikes to school, that we know their friends and parents, and that we don’t drive much to get to activities or sports games. But it comes at a price, literally and figuratively. I, too, have valued our community especially when the kids were younger. As time marches on, I see more of the disadvantages that have come with our choice. Time will tell. In the end, I think all of us are just trying to do what’s best for our children but it angers me that the whole system is rigged.

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  6. Brandon August 2, 2017 at 12:47 pm - Reply

    At one point, we seriously considered a house in Mt. Washington. While the neighborhood is more diverse, our main motivation to move there was a bigger, nicer home that we could easily afford. Our hearts deflated when we checked the sex offender registry and the rating of the nearby elementary school. Carly’s childhood experience included violent crime against her family. Even as a kid, I could tell that my school wasn’t very good. We wanted better for our kids.

    I want our kids to claim their rightful position of comfort and success in our society. I sense ever increasing competition for the elite slots that bestow use with the blessed opportunity to indulge in the modern American “middle class” lifestyle. I want to give my kids every advantage within my power.

    But, I could argue what’s best for our kids is not that we ensure their success in this world that we and they have inherited, but that we a make better world for them. And that a better world is not one where we are smarter, more productive, and wealthy but one where we are more purposeful and connected to each other.

    I’m not sure change will happen unless the brave among us put ourselves and our kids up to the line. I admire the writer of the Times story for doing it.

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  7. Laura Stanton August 2, 2017 at 9:11 pm - Reply

    Brandon, I think you do a great job describing the “rub” that so many of us face, We want the best for our kids and yet nothing will change if we keep making choices that help our own kids, but leave others behind. I, too, respect the writer of the article for making a very deliberate choice for her daughter. I also like your statement that a better world is one in which we are more purposeful and connected. This discussion has been enlightening and I hope we can all stay connected and keep up this conversation. Thank you for getting the ball rolling!

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