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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : I Am a White Flighter » I Am a White Flighter

I Am a White Flighter

Tom - August 9, 2007

Our oldest is ready to start kindergarten this fall. It’s exciting and terrifying all at once. And it means that I’m getting old. Too old to still be in school myself.

The fact that I’m in school and poor means that we don’t have a lot of options for my son’s education—we can’t afford private school and we can’t afford to move into a decent school district. So we’re stuck in a profoundly broken urban school district with poorly performing schools and racial near-homogeneity. My son would likely be the only non-black in his kindergarten class. That’s an uncomfortable thought that raises a lot of fears. Would he be singled out and teased? Would the badness of the school and his being the different kid make his first experience with school be negative and damaging?

These may seem like small worries and they may be unjustified. Have kindergarteners already absorbed the race thing? Have they already learned that we’re supposed to be hostile and suspicious of people who are different from us? Or does that wait until fourth or fifth grade? I don’t know, but I do know that these are not small worries for a mom and dad. Especially for a mom who had a terrible experience as a kid in elementary school because she felt singled out and teased (though not because of racial differences).

I’m willing to give kindergarten a try. I suspect that it wouldn’t be as bad as we fear. But my wife favors homeschooling until I get a job and we can move. Which is fine with me. I know he’ll learn way better with my wife teaching him than in any public school kindergarten and this way I don’t have to face the fear and uncertainty of sending my little boy to that school. So we’ve decided on homeschooling for now and I’m mostly at peace with the decision. But I do have some tinges of remorse and embarrassment.

Like many similar cities, my city has a real problem with segregation. There are black neighborhoods and white neighborhoods and often the transition from one to the other is quite abrupt. But my neighborhood is a relatively well-integrated one. From what I can tell most of the home owners are Jews, many of whom are orthodox. There are a lot of apartment complexes around as well and they seem to be populated by a mix of blacks and white gentiles, like us (kind of). So why is the public elementary school almost all black? It seems that the Jews send their kids to Jewish private schools and the white gentiles with kids live elsewhere. They live outside the city, where the schools perform better and are quite diverse. When we’re out at the local parks most of the kids we see are either black or Jewish, not white gentiles. The school boundaries also encompass some very black neighborhoods.

I feel bad contributing to the segregation problem by participating in the relentless white flight away from urban public schools. I recognize the problem and I see white flight’s negative consequences on the public schools and on the kids who are left with no option but bad schools. I believe that until some people suck it up and stop insisting on segregating themselves racially and economically, there will always be bad schools and poor kids with no other option and no real opportunity to achieve prosperity. Yet we have chosen to flee.

I’m under no illusions that sending our kid to kindergarten for one year would make any difference in that school. It wouldn’t. But I’m playing a small part in a big problem. I’m going with the tide. And I’m letting fears that are possibly unfounded influence my decisions. In the end, it’s not so much the decision that bothers me—homeschooling will be great for my son—it’s the way we made the decision. It’s just not very courageous of us.

24 Comments »

  1. I think the whole way schools are funded needs to be changed. I don’t know much about it, but it’s gotta be tied to property taxes/property values, right? So the rich neighborhoods get the nicest schools. It’s always bothered me. Of course there’s probably no way it’ll ever change.

    Comment by Susan M — August 9, 2007 @ 8:51 am

  2. There’s also the fact that poor people tend to have less time to devote to helping their children in their education, getting involved in PTA, holding teachers and administrators accountable, and so on, all of which are part of what makes good schools good.

    Comment by Tom — August 9, 2007 @ 8:56 am

  3. “I believe that until some people suck it up and stop insisting on segregating themselves racially and economically, there will always be bad schools and poor kids with no other option and no real opportunity to achieve prosperity.”

    or until those kids are given a way out of the school too, and then it closes from the weight of its own undesirability. I’d really like to see some states and localities try some innovative voucher programs so we can see what works.

    Comment by cchrissyy — August 9, 2007 @ 11:04 am

  4. I feel bad contributing to the segregation problem by participating in the relentless white flight away from urban public schools.

    You know, I see what you are saying here, but ultimately you really do have to do what you feel is best for the child. Your child is your stewardship. Any responsibility you owe to your community should come secondary. You could make a “courageous” statement for integration by sending your child to a school that does poorly, but would it be worth it if your child suffers from the experience? Maybe you are actually doing the school a favor by keeping the class size lower so the teachers can focus their attention on the ones who need it. I have heard of teachers or parents who say they will do all they can to help their local schools out by donating their time or money, but they will not sacrifice their child to it. There is wisdom in this thinking and I don’t find it cowardly, irresponsible, or selfish. Quite the opposite actually. The child’s life is not your own to sacrifice.

    We decided to homeschool primarily for academic reasons and more family time. Once we began, we realized there are so many advantages that they have become the reason we keep doing it, rather than to avoid a different situation (hope that makes sense). Basically, what I’m saying is that even if we lived in a neighborhood with superb schools (I think we do right now), I would still want to homeschool. We have just noticed too many benefits from it. Whatever brought you to it may not matter so much if the experience is worthwhile in the end.

    Best of luck (especially to your wife)! I almost gave up my first year but it has gotten so much better now that I’m getting the hang of it. I think it’s commendable that you are courageous enough to do what you believe will be in the best interest of your child — whatever that turns out to be, and regardless of what society thinks about it.

    Comment by Carissa — August 9, 2007 @ 11:28 am

  5. You raise a good point, cchrissyy. Voluntary economic and racial integration isn’t the only hope. I don’t know if vouchers is the solution, but there are probably large scale changes that could be made to give poor city kids real opportunity. What those changes are, I don’t know.

    Regardless, segregation is a problem in itself.

    Comment by Tom — August 9, 2007 @ 11:43 am

  6. This post reminds me of this one.

    Comment by Rusty — August 9, 2007 @ 12:05 pm

  7. Tom:

    Your #2 is completely incorrect. Studies show that it’s the middle and upper-classes that spend more time away from home working than do the lower classes (read just about any research by Thomas Sowell). Success in school is dependent mostly upon how much the parents value education. That’s why middle and upper-middle class children do well in school despite the fact that parents (on average) have less time to devote to educating their children and why poor Asian children still tend to do quite well.

    Susan:

    School funding varies by state. When I lived in Minnesota school funding was determined at the state level the consequence being the the best funded schools in the state were those in the MSP inner cities. Still those schools were the worst performing. Washington DC schools have the highest per-capita expenditures but are woeful failures. When I lived in Kansas I sent my children to a private school with a per-child budget of arouund $4600 which was more than $2000 less than the local public school and yet my children’s school consistently outperformed the public school. Spending/funding is a canard.

    Comment by endlessnegotiation — August 9, 2007 @ 12:12 pm

  8. endless,
    OK. So the reason that poor people don’t put as much time and effort into their kids’ education isn’t that they don’t have as much available time. The reason that they don’t do what is necessary to get their kids educated and make their schools better isn’t as important as the fact that they don’t do it. My main point was that it’s not just about funding, as you point out. There are deep-rooted problems in families and communities that lead to kids not having real opportunity.

    Comment by Tom — August 9, 2007 @ 12:44 pm

  9. I wonder what you would think of a black family in a white are that decided to home school so their child would not be “uncomfortable” or “teased.” What about a Pakastani family that made the same choice? Doesn’t it sound silly? Wouldn’t it be a shame? Wouldn’t the members of their never-to-be class really miss out?

    I taught at a school that was 99% black. I had one white student. He was not teased. No matter the neighborhood, black kids still realize that America is a “white” world. I would be very surprised if your son was the subject of ridicule.

    I am so thankful that my parents chose to send my to public schools no matter where we lived (we moved every few years). I know they feared sending me to one in particular, but it was an education in life I am so glad to have had.

    Comment by a spectator — August 9, 2007 @ 12:49 pm

  10. I wonder what you would think of a black family in a white are that decided to home school so their child would not be “uncomfortable” or “teased.”

    I would understand the fear. And they would be right to have fear, because their child would almost certainly be singled out.

    But then I would probably think “Well, you can’t shelter them from everything. Maybe you’re doing them a disservice by keeping them from the opportunity to learn to deal with that.” But I would also think that homeschooling is a perfectly acceptable decision for anybody and if the homeschooling parent is competent the kids would end up learning better and faster than if they were in public schools, especially if their public school system was broken and in crisis. Ultimately I would pass no judgment. I wouldn’t consider it silly or a shame.

    I taught at a school that was 99% black. I had one white student. He was not teased.

    I’m glad to hear that. I have no experience to draw on and we don’t know anybody who has had kids in that situation. All of our Church acquaintances with young kids have finished school and moved away before their kids became school-aged. We’re very much flying blind. What ages were the kids you taught?

    Comment by Tom — August 9, 2007 @ 1:08 pm

  11. By the way, I would also understand and not criticize if that family decided to move to an area where schools were better and more diverse.

    Comment by Tom — August 9, 2007 @ 1:13 pm

  12. Tom:

    I find your #11 somewhat amusing. Behavior such as yours ensures that “diverse” schools are rare. How do you view your own behavior as anything but complicit racism?

    Comment by endlessnegotiation — August 9, 2007 @ 1:28 pm

  13. Endless,
    That’s exactly the problem. In order to avoid being part of big problems, you have to do hard things and swim against the current. In order for a poor, racially homogeneous school to become anything but a poor, racially homogeneous school, non-poor people and people of different races have to send their kids there at the expense of alternatives that may be better for their own kids. One non-poor person making this choice would have negligible impact on the school. So that person would be incurring high costs (going to a school that will not serve them well) for very little benefit to the community.

    I don’t think “complicit racism” is the proper term for failing to have one’s kids lead the charge against segregation. Maybe “complicit segregation.” We are failing to combat racial segregation in local public schools. And I regret that. We’re failing to do something difficult for us that might have a little benefit for our community in favor of something that we feel will be best for our son.

    But I would say to everyone, before you go condemning people for playing a small part in a big problem by failing to do hard things that you look and see if there are big problems to which you’re contributing by failing to do hard things. I bet there are some.

    Comment by Tom — August 9, 2007 @ 2:19 pm

  14. endless is right about the parents needing to value education more. I did my student teaching in Las Vegas in a very integrated (both racially and economically) school. i realized Vegas was a somewhat unique challenge because there were so many uneducated people, many of whom were quite well off working at the casinos. So, they saw no reason why their children should get an education when they can make good money witout it. (Some of the students already worked out there and were making more than some of the teachers)

    Where your values lie reign supreme. That’s why I totally respect (and would probebly emulate) Tom’s decision.

    Comment by Bret — August 9, 2007 @ 9:34 pm

  15. we live in south los angeles, obviously VERY diverse. no matter what school we go to, my kids will likely be minorities, as they’re all about equal in terms of race. there are HUGE differences in the schools, however, and economics seem to play the biggest part. i don’t care what racial or financial background my kids’ classmates have, but it’s the poor areas that produce the problematic schools. the kindergartners in our area play the “grand theft auto” games, listen to hardcore rap, and wander busy streets alone, often knocking on our door early weekend mornings, looking for a meal. one of the 12yo’s in the neighborhood wears a shirt that reads, “i f*** on the first date.” i don’t need my kids exposed to that.

    i worry that i’m not organized enough to homeschool, but thought we might do a kindergarten trial run this year. i’ve done some looking around, but have yet to figure out what i’m doing. anyone want to point me in a direction?!

    Comment by makakona — August 9, 2007 @ 11:22 pm

  16. Here’s a good start (I would definitely join HSLDA): http://www.youcanhomeschool.org/starthere/default.asp?bhcp=1

    Comment by Carissa — August 10, 2007 @ 6:58 am

  17. Tom:

    Less than a decade ago I placed my family in a similar situation. We move to the St. Louis area (where my wife was born and raised) for my career. I was going to be working downtown but I’m not a big fan of commuting long distances (I’m a firm believer in limiting communtes to no more than 15 minutes) which meant that to keep my commute to a minimum we were going to essentially have to live downtown. My wife was apalled at the idea (she’s a natural suburbanite) fisrt using the crime card then the school system card to argue for moving to the burbs. I used insurance rate comparisons to rebut the first argument and allayed her second one by pointing out that when our children were ready to start school we could send them to private school. We built an historical replica home in an historic district of the city and for the first year we were the only “white folks” living in the neighborhood. A year later there were a handful of other “white” housholds in the neighborhood. Our real estate agent told us that a white lesbian couple with an adopted child decided to purchase a home in the neighborhood specifically because they saw us outside one evening playing with our own two (at the time) children on our front lawn. Today that neighborhood is what you might call diverse and property values have skyrocketed. When we first moved there the schools were abysmal and still are– the Fed Govt took over administration last year. When it was time for our daughter to enter KG my wife initially pushed for private school– especially since that’s the route taken by our new neighbors who happened to be black. Rather than take the easy route out (we could afford private school) I investigated the local elementary school and spoke with some teachers. Although located in an “iffy” area I determined that the school itself was a safe place and that the teachers, though strained for resources and with little support from most children’s households, were dedicated to teaching. I miraculously convinced my wife to go along if only temporarily. As it turns out our daughter did just fine finishing KG and half of 1st grade in that public school. In fact, when we moved to Minnesota (a state known for it’s public education system) my daughter was way ahead of her classmates in what is considered the top public school district in Minnesota (Wayzetta).

    Tom, I think you’re selling your family’s impact short and overestimating the negative consequences of sending your child to an inner-city school. If you and your spouse truly value education then so will your child. Get involved at the school. Take the time you spouse would spend home-schooling and have here volunteer that time in the classroom. I think you should at least give the local school system a shot. If it becomes appearant that it is failing your child then find other alternatives. I apologize for being so verbose but this is a subject near and dear to my heart.

    Comment by endlessnegotiation — August 10, 2007 @ 8:44 am

  18. Endless,
    Well I prefer the verbose you to the curt you. Thanks for sharing your experience. Like I say, we’re flying blind and it helps to have the perspective of people who have been in similar situations.

    Comment by Tom — August 10, 2007 @ 9:18 am

  19. Take the time you spouse would spend home-schooling and have here volunteer that time in the classroom.

    That is certainly a good option. I know people who do this with great success. However, if you have younger children at home (I don’t know if you do) this can be difficult and take away from the time they need. Homeschooling with younger children is difficult as well, but there is value in the family time together and what the siblings can learn from each other. My little ones sit at the table with the older ones and color and do puzzles. It’s amazing the things they pick up — and it’s all in fun. They are eager and excited to do more as they grow up.

    By the way, I loved your story endless and what you were able to do. We’ve often thought about renovating a downtown home someday to help revitalize the city.

    Comment by Carissa — August 10, 2007 @ 9:44 am

  20. Carissa:

    Of all the places we’ve lived that place just outside of downtown St. Louis has been our favorite for a multitide of reasons. I think it was important for my children to live and go to church in an economically (and consequently racially) diverse area. Opportunities to serve abounded for both us and our children. I lament the fact that every job I’ve had since then has had me working and living in the burbs (not that there’s anything wrong with that– it’s just less right).

    When it came to volunteering in the school my wife became a real busybody. I think she wanted to be around to make sure that our decision paid dividends. She convinced my daughter’s teacher to contact all the parents in her class and find out who would be willing and available to volunteer. She then got the contact info for those two other sets of parents and organized a volunteer schedule that included trading child care (we had other small children in the home). A lot of it required some serious leaps of faith in human nature but I think learning to trust the inherent goodness in people is a valuable, Christ-like attribute. Her activity at our children’s schools has since followed us everywhere we’ve lived.

    Comment by endlessnegotiation — August 10, 2007 @ 11:02 am

  21. Cool. We live on a military base right now and get to meet a lot of diverse wonderful people from everywhere in the world. I love this that you said: “learning to trust the inherent goodness in people is a valuable, Christ-like attribute”. Like you said, there are opportunities all around us to do good in so many ways, and those ways can vary from person to person.

    Comment by Carissa — August 10, 2007 @ 11:36 am

  22. Sorry to bring politics into this discussion but I just remembered Ron Paul’s advice on fixing failing inner city schools:

    Muckraker Report: One place where race plays a significant role today, I think, is in education. Our inner city schools, many of which are predominately black, are in dismal shape. What do you think can be done to alleviate the situation?

    Congressman Ron Paul: A good place to start would be to get rid of the bureaucratic control of education by the federal government, which has grown to gargantuan proportions in recent years. Many people in America don’t realize that most of the money they send to the federal government for education is never returned to the local schools. It’s extremely inefficient. Far less than half of each tax dollar is spent on our children’s education. Federal funding also comes with strings attached. The more money we give to Washington, the more power we give to education bureaucrats to decide the policy. Local schools are forced to carry the burden, even if it means accepting one-size-fits all education policies that aren’t in the children’s best interests. I’m for returning the power to the people to decide what’s best for their children in terms of education, and I have a steady track record in Congress of supporting legislation that seeks to do just this.
    http://www.muckrakerreport.com/id447.html

    Comment by Carissa — August 10, 2007 @ 1:55 pm

  23. re: 10 and 11

    10–I taught at the middle school level.
    11–I am confused–are you referring to the family of my only white student. I think you are, which is interesting, because although the school I taught at was 99% black, it was not a poor school, financially or academically. I realize that people frequently use city schools as synonymous to poor education and black population, but such was not the case.

    Comment by a spectator — August 10, 2007 @ 8:54 pm

  24. a spectator,
    I was talking about your hypothetical black family facing the prospect of sending their kid to an all white and/or underperforming school. I would understand if they decided to homeschool or move to an area with more diverse or better schools or send their kid to private school or whatever.

    Comment by Tom — August 11, 2007 @ 4:12 am

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