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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Windows and Mirrors

In college, I read an important and life changing article titled Curriculum as Window and Mirror by Emily Style. She is an educator, writer, and co-founder of the National SEED (Seeking Educational Equality and Diversity) Project. In 1988, Emily wrote:

“[There is a] need for [education] to function both as window and as mirror, in order to reflect and reveal most accurately both a multicultural world and the student herself or himself…education needs to enable the student to look through window frames in order to see the realities of others and into mirrors in order to see her/his own reality reflected.”

In other words, mirrors provide students with the opportunity to see themselves, their reality, and provide a sense of validation. Windows provide students the opportunity to see differences and learn about other people’s experiences. When balanced, windows and mirrors provide students with an understanding of a diverse world and their place in it.

I love this framework and it helps me make sense of my educational upbringing. Like I mentioned in my previous post, I grew up in a homogeneous suburb and left school knowing very little about diversity. Why? I spent 12 years being surrounded by mirrors! My skin color (white), my religion (Christianity), my family type (2-parent), my class (upper-middle), and my sexual orientation (straight) were always reflected back at me. This left me with an exaggerated sense of self-importance and a worldview that ignored differences.

Fortunately for me, my college experience gave me the opportunity to gaze out many, many windows. For the first time, there were fewer mirrors. I learned so much about the world around me and my place in the world. Without a doubt, looking out windows and learning about diversity was the most meaningful aspect of my college experience.

Though my worldview changed, most schools have not. Just like I had been, my kids are surrounded by mirrors and there are very few windows. I’m sad for them and the lost opportunity to learn about differences. I’m also sad for their friends who are Jewish, Latino, adopted, gay, or have a disability. Those kids look out a lot of windows and don’t see many mirrors. Not surprisingly, it’s typical for kids who only see windows to feel as if they do not belong.

Since it’s not happening at school, I believe that parents need to jump in and take an active role at home. While it’s perfectly normal for your home to have more mirrors than windows, it’s still important for you to provide windows. Windows give children a chance to learn about differences, let them know that you value diversity, and that it’s okay to talk about it. In the future, I will give you suggestions for how to do this. For now, I want to ask a question. Do you think it is important for children to have an equal balance of windows and mirrors in their lives?

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