Schools, choice, and elitism

I’m thinking over many issues in the past few weeks. We are applying to send Moomin to the gifted/talented public school in our district.

Meanwhile, I continue going to meetings and believing more and more that we need to give all students the kind of opportunity and creative teaching and stimulation they get at the G/T school.

I got totally schooled by the district superintendent when she said to me, “I want all parents to feel 100% comfortable sending their child to ANY of our district schools.” We sure don’t have that. I have seen people of color refuse to send their kids to the more elitist schools in part because of the racism inherent in the system we have. And I saw one white person go with grand ideals to bring her kindergartener to one of the poorest schools with almost 100% Spanish-speaking kids and she tried and and couldn’t hack it. Would it help fix things if we just randomized where people went – busing and cultural revolution? Unfortunately it might be true that then white rich people would leave, pull their kids to private schools, and property values would go down and the whole district would lose money. That is incredibly depressing. So I have to throw my faith behind persuasion, rhetoric, communication, getting people to form personal ties and relationships on top of the political action that’s happening.

Meanwhile I am definitely aware Moomin needs to get more out of school. The things he is capable of, I don’t see him bring home from school. He has almost never brought home a picture or any creative work — only those “First, Second, All in all” canned “essays” that make me want to scream. Last fall he only brought home two books: Socks, by Beverly Cleary – and an Encyclopedia Brown book. I don’t know what he does in his reading class, but at home, he reads dozens of books every day, he’ll tear through 5 “Magic Treehouse” chapter books and want more, and then delve into a phone-book-sized Avengers or Green Lantern compilation. We have talked about fractions and multiplication and he makes math books for fun. He plays Settlers of Cataan, Carcassonne, Parcheesi, checkers, chess, and other games, but never does anything even remotely approximating that complexity of thought in schoolwork. Though I love his teacher and she accommodates his dreaminess and his general personality, I want more for him. Of course, I want more for all the kids. But Moomin will take whatever you throw at him and get something out of it. He likes to be scholarly and to concentrate as well as to daydream. His dreaming is so powerful and I want him to have the tools to make his dreams real, with stories and movies and whatever he ends up creating. I would also like him to find companionship with people who think like he does.

I’m not feeling 100% good about applying, and I feel like I’m abandoning (or signalling intent to abandon) the school that’s done fairly well by him so far… And where I have also made ties with the kids through the lunchtime games club.

At least it’s a public school, so I’m not completely jumping ship from my ideals. But I worry very much I am supporting a system that builds inequality of access to resources into itself.

Meanwhile I’m going to Macworld in San Francisco, planning to teach a blogging class at the local library in February, and having dreamy thoughts of starting a group blog district-wide with at least one parent blogger from every school in the district. I really believe in blogging and its power to change communication patterns.

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4 Responses to Schools, choice, and elitism

  1. Evie_Edlund says:

    Here's what I don't get… and I'd love to take this into email if you are able (grumpywookie at gmail dot com).I'm from Canada. 98% of our options are "public" school systems, with a standard curriculum, you are in the same "Grade" as your peers. There's some half-assed gifted support, in that you'll get extra work if you're too bored with what you have. Keep 'em busy.My daughter is also quite bright. Not as scary-smart as Squid's kids, but bright enough to have pretty much exhausted the 2 year pre-grade 1 curriculum in the first 4 months. Our two options are public or Catholic (called private, but it's publicly funded). Both are essentially the same curriculum, resources and testing.We don't have ANY options. I can't send her to a gifted school. I don't think my district even has a french immersion school (which would be my only option for an alternate language). There is one religion-based private school in a 80km radius (ie- a big C Christian one, not the roman catholic local school).That's it. So, we do a lot of game playing, reading and "enrichment" stuff at home. But she's going to be bored stiff at school for the next 14 years.So what I want to know is what you're dealing with. I don't understand because I have no frame of reference. When your child gets ready to start school, what are your options and how are they supported in terms of transportation? Sorry to be so ignorant, but I'm honestly curious, so if you're willing to explain the background behind your available system, I'd love to hear about it.

  2. Gayle says:

    Liz,I know exactly what you mean. My 16-year-old daughter is extremely smart. She's been in what pass for advanced classes in our school system since she started kindergarten. We don't really have a choice other than the public schools here.She has spent much of her time being bored, even in the advanced classes. Luckily, we live in a college town, so beginning in her junior year (next year) she'll be able to do joint enrollment and take some college courses while she's still in high school. She's really looking forward to that!We thought about sending her to a private school, but there are none close by, and I really wasn't comfortable with having her leave home until she's ready to go to college. But, when we were seriously considering that option, I too, felt as though I were abandoning the public school system-especially the teachers-many of whom worked hard to challenge her more. And I find it really sad that things are so divided along racial and economical lines. Bright kids come in all shapes, sizes and colors. And our school systems are not equipped to give them all the education that they deserve.

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