Why My Kids Go to a Primarily Black School

I love this explanation of a parent’s “unlikely” school choice. It’s exactly the way I feel about my kids’ school.

Ashleigh Carroll

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Most people know that our kids go to Downtown Elementary, which is a public school here in Memphis that happens to have mostly black students enrolled. This is not an accident.

My journey started when John suggested we submit an application for Jac to go to Perea Preschool, which is a predominantly black preschool that serves mostly those beneath the poverty line. Though we lived in an urban community, I was cautious about sending my tiny white 3 year old to a school where almost no one looked like him. So we visited the school to scope out the situation and I was incredibly impressed by the curriculum, staff, and mission of Perea. It seemed silly to pass up this kind of opportunity to we packed up our preschooler with his tiny unnecessary backpack and gave it a shot.

And here’s what I learned almost immediately – Jac didn’t care…

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Why school diversity is important

As Detroit Public School (DPS) students, my kids are a racial minority. However, DPS does have more diversity than most people realize, making it about as racially diverse as the surrounding suburbs. However, my kids’ school (and I suspect other DPS schools as well) have an upper hand when it comes to socioeconomic diversity.

In my opinion, this type of diversity is just as valuable as racial diversity, and is non-existent in many schools. I recently read a USA Today article about this issue.

Here’s an excerpt explaining why (in the author’s opinion), socioeconomic integration is important. I would also argue that diversity of any type improves learning.

“Education researchers know that one of the best ways to improve public schools is through socioeconomic integration. It isn’t just a matter of pooling economic resources, it’s about sharing human capital. When advantaged families attend public schools, parents with influence gain a greater sense of urgency about improving things. Their own children’s learning is at stake. When problems arise, they get involved and make sure problems are fixed.”

I do have an issue with the above statement,  because it implies that economically disadvantaged families care less about their children’s education. However, it does reflect the unfortunate reality that people with more money have more power.

According to the author, integration will happen once parents change how they make decisions about schools (although I would argue, the problem and solution are much more nuanced in Detroit, and perhaps everywhere).

“Most parents don’t look up schools’ test scores and staff profiles. Instead, they focus on perceived class and racial composition, as Jennifer Holme described in Harvard Educational Review and Kimberly Goyette corroborated in Social Problems. Parents put much weight on their peers’ decisions, so it’s necessary to create a critical mass of families committed to integration.”

My question is, how do we create this critical mass the author suggests? In part, it involves overcoming prejudices, which is not an easy feat. If you have an idea, please let me know!

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Inside I’m Hurting: explicit communication

I guess this should technically be part two, because I wrote a sort of “preview” to the book before I finished it. That was way back in March and I didn’t expect it would take me so long to get through it.

The book, by Louise Michelle Bomber, was written as an aid for educators who are working with attachment challenged children. Even though I’m not an educator, I was still able to benefit from the book, and I’ve been using many of its tips at home. It also gives some strategies for creating a home/school partnership. However, the book is written like a manual and is quite long. It obviously took me many months to finish it (although I read only a few pages at a time, and not every day).

Since the book is long, and there are so many valuable ideas, I decided to do my review in several parts. In my preview, I wrote about “good enough” parenting. For this part, I’d like to focus on “differentiating our communication.”

In chapter 3, “The Role of Education and the Core Concept of Differentiation,” Bomber explains the importance of communicating explicitly. While many children may understand requests such as “be nice” or “calm down,” attachment challenged children may not. Bomber writes, “(These phrases) presume a child has had previous healthy experiences and so will know how to behave to follow your instruction. We cannot make these assumptions.”

Bomber’s solution is to use very specific instructions. Instead of the examples above, she recommends something like the following, “Touch others gently. They feel uncomfortable when you push them.” Another example is, “Talk quietly to the others. It gives children a shock when you shout in their ears.”

My kids have a very hard time controlling themselves, especially when it comes to appropriate indoor behavior. In these situations I’ve adapted Bomber’s examples to sound something like, “Please be calm. That means using a quiet voice and walking feet.”

This has also come in handy with BE in particular who has the bad habit of literally getting right in people’s faces. In response, I’ve been saying, “Please do not get in my face. People do not like others in their face. It makes them very uncomfortable.”

Bomber concludes this section by explaining, “Differentiating the language that we use will enable children who have experienced trauma and loss to make sense of what is going on around them, thus giving them the opportunity to respond appropriately in different contexts. This clarification will help build up their resilience.”