2.28.2010

Just Like Me

Every now and again, we wonder whether we made the right decision with respect to pulling the kids out of private school and opting, instead, for public school in Philadelphia. I usually start wondering that about now, when our mail is filled with brochures advertising the very schools we considered and ultimately passed over: the various Friends schools, the Baldwin School, Miquon, a handful of charter schools and more.

There was no magic in our decision to go public. We did struggle a lot with the idea, though. We were very aware that the decision that we were making was final, at least for us. It was highly unlikely, we knew, that we would make the decision and then turn back. So we researched our options pretty thoroughly. I even did the Open House circuit, standing around at private schools with a visitor sticker on my shirt, trying to drink in the almost college admission-like atmosphere. And as intrigued as we were by many of the schools, none of them had exactly the feel that we wanted.

What's particularly odd, and this has been confirmed with the slew of new admissions materials arriving this year, is the lack of diversity at many (not all) of these schools. Don't get me wrong. I don't believe in diversity for diversity's sake - and I certainly don't believe in forcing it. But I live in the City. By its very nature, it is diverse. There are all different cultures, races, religions and socio-economic classes. It is exactly part of the appeal of living here. That's why it is perplexing to me that many of these schools are awash in upper middle class to upper class white kids - even those in the City.

I know, some of it is economics. But it's weird to me that there's any appeal in it nonetheless to City parents. Not the schools, I get that they're good schools. But much of education, especially at the elementary school level, is learning about the world around you. And most people don't live in that kind of shielded, homogenous world - we certainly don't.

I'll make no secret about the fact that I am both white and middle class. My kids are dressed well, we are well educated and we do okay. But I can't imagine limiting the world that my children sees to those who are exactly like them. That's not real life.

Of course, neither is the other end of the spectrum. We didn't opt to be "urban pioneers" and throw our kids in a school filled with kids who were wildly dissimilar either. My children do not attend a school that is majority African-American or Hispanic/Latino. Neither do they attend a school where they stand out as the wealthiest kids in a sea of disadvantaged kids. I don't think that's real life either.

It was all about finding balance. And we found it. We found it in our neighborhood school. The school's composition is racially diverse. Economics range from kids who rely on free lunches to those whose parents are doctors and business owners. The kids play different sports, attend a wide range of after school programs and have a variety interests. There is no sense of "sameness" (outside of school uniforms) - forced or otherwise.

When I look at the kids that my kids go to school with, for the most part, I'm really comforted that it's an environment that's both realistic and safe. That makes the answer to my question pretty easy. Did we make the right decision? We did.

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