Sunday, September 6, 2009

Parenting Tip No. Five

When you choose a place to live, if you have school aged children, be sure you have chosen an area with some significant wealth so that your local schools will be good schools.

Now please, don't freak out on me. It's true. We all know it. If you live in a poor area, your schools are more than likely to be poor schools. If you live in a rich area, your schools will have good art rooms and fine computer labs and teachers who fight to get into those classrooms.

In our years we've had both.

When we moved across the country and to the house we live in now six years ago, it was at the height of the absolute destruction of my marriage. My husband had just come to terms with being an Asian man, a transracially adopted man, a Korean Adoptee, or rather, he was in the throes of that process. We'd decided to get divorced, decided not to, gone through absolute hell and then, as any two completely insane people would do; decided to move across the country together. Really, it was both of our inner wise selves saying "get the hell out of here, go start over, NOW!" But at the time I can't say I was totally in touch with that wisdom.

When we pulled up in front of our home I told the realtor "No, we don't even have to look at this house, I don't want to live here. It's like a neighborhood from the movie 'The Truman Show' no way. Let's see the next one." And we did. We saw a bunch of homes, and then my husband said "let's just see that two story, just to see what they look like inside" so we came back and the minute we walked in the door, I knew he'd want it. It's nice, open, vaulted ceilings. A fine house. I figured we wouldn't be here six months much less long enough to have school districts or the lack of a yard or basement matter. "Fine, let's buy it"

Now you know, of COURSE this is the house we've lived in the longest of any our homes. Six years so far. It's that damn Karma Fairy that Meg Barnhouse is always talking about. "Hooo ho! Think you've got it figured out, do you? Well, here you GO!" wham.

Three years ago when our oldest betrayed all sensiblity, or um, I mean decided to stop going to our little homeschool school and go to a real high school, the school district with the attendance line that is two houses to the south let him in. I said the right thing to the principal's secretary or waved the right test scores or they'd had good experience with homeschoolers or something and he got in. People were shocked. This school NEVER let any out-of-district kids in. But they let him in, and they let him in again for his sophomore year. He lettered twice, went to dances. took great pottery and web design classes. Had fun.

He had a perfect GPA and was an excellent student, and then he came to his senses or um, I mean decided that seven hours a day of classes was a crazy idea and decided to take advantage of the state paid early college program in Washington called "Running Start" and get a start on college classes instead of being a Junior. Good thing, because the nice rich, I mean um, well funded district to the south got too full and wouldn't let him in for the next year. Fine, our little homeschool school welcomed him back to "administer" his Running Start years with a big hug, all was well.

Then our middle son lost his mind, um, I mean decided to go to high school (what, have they never SEEN those high school movies? Come on!). There were no other options, it was the local high school for him. "Oh well" we thought, the oldest didn't really learn a lot in high school that he hadn't already had at our little school. He always said that in high school he'd read some books, learned some math and had a good web design class. No biggie.

But oh my gosh, the difference three miles can make! We actually live closer to the school that's not in our district. But they are a thousand miles apart. The campus of the school our middle son goes to is dirty. The classes don't assume you can afford a calculator much less a programable TI four million or whatever it's called. There is no demand to go out and buy exactly the right composition book (which I searched ALL OVER the city for, and finally found for about $20 for the oldest). There is an assumption that things at home may not be rosy, which I fully support, I think it's good. But the books coming home are books that any library would deem "unlendable". The text books are ancient, and I'm not talking dead sea scrolls ancient. The halls are, frankly, kind of scary and any student bringing a bandana to school is immediately expelled.

We are not in freakin' Kansas any more, Toto.

Why is this OK? Why is it acceptable for a rich district to have clean, neat schools with new textbooks and a nice performing arts center while three miles away a poor district has a performing arts center that was last new before every current parent of students was born and every book is at least a decade old? How is this right? How is this just?

Now I'm not so worried about my kid. He has almost enough credits to be a Junior this year, although they were kind enough to let him be "called" a freshman and be with his age peers. And we seem to have done some good service to the karma fairy because we've gotten an absolute saint of a counselor who thought to tell Peter that the Cross Country team goes to state every year and is coached by the honors history teacher. Bless you Ms. Lumsden; he LOVES the Cross Country team.

But what about the kids who don't have 12 credits already? What about the kids who didn't read Moby Dick last year with the best english and history teacher who ever walked the earth. What about the kids who didn't learn math and science from a woman who will most cerainly come to their grad party as well as their wedding and who has known (and, shhhh....ADORED) them from third grade til now. What about those kids? How does it feel to go to a school with a couryard filled with leaves and trash from the last fifteen years? Where everyone has kind of given up?

Don't even talk to me about the fact that the country club and golf course and entire golf community is very nearly across the street from this school, but that the attendace area for the "good" school swerves violently to include them.

How is this fair? How is this just? What is wrong with this system?

It is not fair, it is not just and nearly everything is wrong with our system of funding schools.


flyraeven said...

So true. My daughter is going into kindergarten in...two days! eep! I am looking into fun ways to supplement the below par education she may be receiving, and hating that I am having to settle like this. But I keep telling myself it's only kindergarten and we will put in for a transfer again NEXT year and hope for the best...

Cynthia Landrum said...

You're so right about this. When we desegregated, that balanced things out for the short term in large school districts, but over time we've seen that people just sort themselves out by where they live, and that the class barriers are perhaps even more pernicious than the race barriers, so we still have very much a system of haves and have nots when it comes to public schools.

I dropped my daughter off at kindergarten for the first day today, and I'm hoping we'll be happy enough with this school. It is a public school, but it wasn't our neighborhood one, so we were wait-listed for a long time to get in. Even so, it doesn't have the resources that the more suburban schools to the west of the city have.

Kari said...

Good luck to both of you with the big Kindergarten transition! We had two kids go to public school for K, and the little, old school our first went to was by far our fav!