Where Will Charlie go to School?

shutterstock_97220786By Nick McDaniels — My daughter, Charlie, is two and a half now, growing like a weed, with a blossoming vocabulary.

It is an exciting time as a parent. Much of her recent learning and social development cannot be attributed to her parents, both teachers, but to the wonderful instruction she receives at the childcare center. As childcare goes, from a parent’s perspective, I’m one of the lucky ones.¬†Because I work at a vo-tech high school, there is a childcare program where high school students learn to become certified childcare providers. Wonderful teachers supervise the student-teachers who get to hone their skills on real children, one of them mine. So each day, I get to bring my child to work with me, and pick her up before I come home.

Because of her age, she will be able to stay in this program for one more year. And then…

You see, that is where we are stuck. As a public school teacher, and a graduate of Maryland Public Schools, I know the quality of education that can be offered for no cost of tuition. But as a Baltimore City Public School teacher, I also know of the deplorable conditions many of our teachers and students face. We bought a house in the city three years ago (there is no residency requirement for Baltimore school teachers so we had many cheaper choices) so that we could pay into the tax base and send our child to Baltimore’s schools. We realize that one of the only ways to improve schools is to build the middle class, build the tax base, and get all of the affluent and upper middle class parents to re-enroll their children in public schools.

To a certain extent, this is beginning to happen. The result, as you can imagine, is widespread economic and racial segregation in our schools. It is no accident that the best public schools in our city are populated by students of affluent, and in large part, white, parents, through little fault of the parents themselves.

This intentional, at least passively intentional, segregation of schools is not something that I want to subject my child to. I don’t want her to grow up subconsciously thinking that good schools can only be filled with rich, white kids. But then, as a parent, what do I do?

Send my child to a more racially diverse school that, because of institutional racism, has less resources and thus provides a less adequate education? Maybe.

Is that experience one that would instill in her the virtues of anti-racism, social justice, a peaceful heart and mind? Probably not, conditions as they are. Not with all the pressures of standardized tests. Room for a meaningful, character building education would be out the window.

So if I don’t want to send my child to a mostly white school or to a school stricken with standardized test pressure, where do I send her?

There are the charter schools, of course. The schools often provide great educations by using a completely unscalable model. This is not good for education as a whole, but certainly good for the students who go to these schools. Do I want to send my child to a school, provided we can get through a lottery stage, that all other children in the city do not have the same access to? Many of these schools require quantifiable parent commitment in the form of volunteering or fundraising, a commitment that many working class parents cannot make, thus segregating schools by class. So if I don’t want my child thinking that good schooling cannot happen in working class neighborhoods, where do I send her?

Catholic schools? The Archdiocese of Baltimore, after downsizing schools a few years ago, is undergoing a resurgence in enrollment it appears. Super Bowl winning coach, John Harbaugh, of the WORLD CHAMPION BALTIMORE RAVENS, does the commercials for the schools. There are great options for coed and single sex schools at affordable prices, that are racially diverse, outside of the pressure of standardized testing for the most part. Plus the teacher children how to be good, caring people. What more could a parent want? Well, I want all this for free. Undoubtedly, and I know the Catholic church isn’t making any money off of schools, it is easier to provide a higher quality education when parents pay for it. Am I selling out on the public schools that I want to see improve by sending my child to a private school because, if I pick up another job, I can afford it? Do my principles even matter when it comes to educational choices for my child?

Thankfully, I have another year to figure this all out. And I’m sure I won’t completely figure it out ever. That is the nature of parenting, right?

Right now I am grateful that my daughter is receiving a great early childhood education in her childcare program, where she is with students who don’t look like her, who come from other neighborhoods, have different family structures, and who will teach her that being kind and courteous and polite and well-mannered and intelligent and joyful are not just traits reserved for the kids at the rich, white schools. A strong foundation is certainly laid, now it is for my wife and I to make the necessary choices to do what is best for our daughter.

Hopefully, next year, she will have an opinion that we can take into account as well. When I asked her this morning if she wanted to go to a different school in a few years, she said, “Yes. I want to go to a blue one.” “A blue one?,” I said. “A blue one.” I guess I’ll have to work that into the school search as well.

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