Saturday, April 19, 2014

Following God to... the "gifted" school?!

I don't claim divine inspiration often anymore. At this point, I am also opposed to claiming, as if under duress, "God made me do it." Yet, when I find myself in a pickle, not knowing which is the right way to go, I do fall back on my old habit of "praying about it."

Which is what we did last night. We had just finished touring my three-year-old son’s new school for next year, and we were all sitting on the back porch. I wrestled with all of the reasons I didn't want to go to this new school.

There are so many obvious reasons why anyone would want to go to the school. First, they have a full-time nurse. Second, they have bathrooms for the preschoolers right next to their rooms. Third, they have a drama teacher, Spanish teacher, a science teacher, a music teacher, as well as other extracurricular clubs. And this is only an elementary school. But it's the "gifted" elementary school. Or one of them, anyway. And so you can begin to sense my ambivalence about going to the "special" school.

To start, the school is located in a neighborhood that is middle-class and predominately White. Anyone who lives in that neighborhood gets preference when they enter the lottery for the school. This "gifted" school is also very close to the other gifted elementary school, also in the same ZIP Code. The irony is that, in a city that has a majority Black population, the gifted magnet schools are made up of over 50% White children. The magnet schools, while part of the city's school district, get more money from the state because they are part of the court mandated desegregation order from the 1970s.

In addition to extra money from the state, the gifted magnet schools boast a strong PTO of educated, entitled parents, who regularly raise over $20,000 a year to buy things like a new playground. And yet, as a parent informed me gravely, "There's always more work to be done." I imagined she wouldn’t have a clue of what my experience was like in a school with a lack of funding for basic things, not to mention PTO.

It's not that I don't want the school to have all of the resources it has. It's just that I wonder when another parent will turn to me and say how much work needs to be done in the whole district. How it is not equitable that the "gifted" students get more funding than other students with special needs. How it is strangely coincidental that the gifted schools are also located in the most affluent neighborhoods of the city. How the gifted school populations are more White and middle-class than in any of the other schools.  

I don't hear anyone taking up that line of argument within the gifted school conversations, and it bothers me. Mostly, the “gifted” school parents just talk about how lucky they feel to be in the school, and how they can’t beat the price (e.g. “free”).

I also realize that in a "White space" like this gifted school, there is the potential for students of color and poor students to be marginalized. All the research points in that direction. I can already sense the competition coming from the middle-class moms, with their perfect hair and cardigan sweaters. And I also wonder how much I contribute to that competition by my very presence (sans the perfect hair). I’m just one of many nervous White mothers who needs to tell the principal “how special my son is.”

So back to the porch. We all decided to ask God what was the right choice. After a few minutes of silence, my three-year-old informed me, "Mom, it's the right choice. God already gave us peace." My husband also felt the same way. I am happy to go along with their sense of direction, and it gives me a sense of peace to know that they feel okay about it.

And I think this is one of the situations where I must claim the divine intervention. Because I honestly don't know if this is the best choice. I still feel conflicted about all of the systemic injustice in the system. I realize my son will be socialized into that inequitable system. But I do know, that God is also concerned about those issues. And if we feel that this is where he is leading us, we can trust him to help us navigate and combat inequity.

Pray for us, won’t you?