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.