By Courtney Everts Mykytyn, guest writer
Los Angeles, CA
When our oldest was approaching kindergarten in our corner of Los Angeles, I was worried. Kindergarten is a big step and he was such a little boy and, well, I had caught school anxiety from fellow parents, colleagues, the interwebs, and simply via cultural osmosis. Which school would be the “right fit” for my kid and our family’s values? Where would my son and his younger sister truly thrive? School anxiety seems to be the very air we parents breathe.
To complicate matters, the schools in our neighborhood don’t boast the gold ribbon awards and high test scores that the more affluent school on the top of hill so enthusiastically advertises. Our schools have the lower test scores that are almost always linked with schools serving a high concentration of kids growing up in poverty and English language learners and students of color. Our schools don’t have fancy after-school enrichment programs or highly touted project-based-learning pedagogies. They are just schools that happen to serve global-majority children.
I worried that if we sent our kids to these schools, they wouldn’t get what they needed academically. I was concerned that they would be bored or that the march, march, march toward standardized testing would stifle the learning environment. I worried that they would fall behind the kids attending school at the top of the hill and, as a result, would end up living in my basement when they were forty.
We enrolled them anyway, buttressed by a deep conviction in the promise of public education and a love for our neighborhood. We enrolled them knowing that our children were no better and deserved no more than our neighbor’s children and that we faced the choice of either seeking advantage just for our own or working within our community for all our kids.
But still, I worried.
As my babies came home day after day regaling me with the songs their teachers were singing or stories of games they made up with their friends on the asphalt play yard, I realized that my children weren’t quite as fragile as I thought. Though the curriculum was not progressively “child-centered” and the piles of worksheets they were expected to complete were not imaginative and inspiring, still my kids learned and grew and experienced.
Their innate curiosity was not crushed under the weight of our public educational system – or even by a so-called “underperforming” school. The “love of learning” I so wanted to preserve for my kids, I realized, is not a delicate one-bloom flower requiring vigilant shielding from the elements. Instead, a love of learning is nourished not by the food it is given – not by the pedagogy or curriculum – but by people. As great as a one-to-one technology program or organic garden might be, deep engagement needs people.
Participating in, caring about, and understanding the world for my neurotypical kids has happened because of those around them; arguing with classmates over the dodgeball “out” lines, listening to a mom volunteer-reading to the class, or watching a teacher try to keep 26 first-graders on task.
Growing up with people whose realities are different from ours, whose cultural scripts sometimes feel unfamiliar, has expanded our children’s worlds far more than worksheets have narrowed them. To make sense of their differences, these kids have had to work to find their sameness and spaces to connect (boogers, by the way, are pretty universally hilarious). Learning how to find our common humanity through shared experience is a gift and living outside of a privilege-segregated bubble makes this possible.
The rationale that I most often hear from white and/or privileged families who opt out of global-majority schools is articulated around the idea of the delicate intellectual light so easily snuffed. This isn’t about race or class, they say; it is a need to protect and nourish the brittle beginnings of our children’s lives. It isn’t about, they say, what we are running from, but what we are running to.
But it is about race and class. The schools that have the glossy-brochure offerings are far more likely to be privileged- and/or white-segregated. The reasons these schools have “more” are complex in the details (residential redlining, district gerrymandering, school funding formulae, parent-boostering, etc.) but ultimately, it truly is about race and class.
Imagine if, as a society, we invested for all children. Imagine if the next generation of teachers and politicians and police officers had shared their lives with kids from all backgrounds. Imagine that choosing the best for your own child also meant choosing to build a world you want them to live in as adults. Perhaps then all kids would have the glossy-brochure offerings as well as the opportunity to struggle and thrive in diverse classrooms.
My kids are well into middle and high school now, and I no longer worry. I see who they are becoming, I see their brilliant and wry and silly friends, I see them all struggle to transition to adulthood in a world that treats them differently.
I lobby against injustice, I fight for equity, but I no longer worry.
THESE WORDS BROUGHT TO YOU BY: Courtney Everts Mykytyn is a happy if not frazzled mother of two kids now in middle and high school. Spurred by the educational journey of her family, she has founded Integrated Schools, an all-volunteer parent-to-parent network of families opting in to integrated/integrating schools. You can find her work online at IntegratedSchools.org, on Facebook (at Integrated Schools) and twitter @integratedschls.