The year-long ProPublica study of resegrigation is powerful, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it over the past week, as well as some of the related Race Card Project follow-up stories I heard on the radio.
There are black kids in America who have never had a single classmate outside their race, and the data indicates their opportunities are, in fact, far below those of children who attend racially diverse or primarily white schools. It’s jarring.
I cannot relate from a race perspective, but I can relate to growing up with limited educational opportunities in an economically depressed part of the country. We made the most of it, but it did not, for many of us, provide the ability to achieve our full potential.
I took most of the advanced classes in my northern Maine high school offered at the time, though I only took the minimum two years of French (the only language available with live instruction). I took Physics and Algebra 3 and Chemistry. We didn’t have AP classes. I loved drama club and music, but there was not public school music program that taught me to read music for singing. I managed to get the highest SAT score of my class, or so I was told at the time. I gave the message at Baccalaureate.
The Anatomy teacher told me once when I had a cold that my raspy voice sounded sexy, which made his class awkward thereafter. I respected the Chemistry teacher’s ability and her teaching approach was good, but she was a neighbor and at one time my Airedale Terrier beat up her Schnauzer and we had to get rid of my dog, so I held a grudge. She also was not a fan of my Christianity, and objected to me starting an after-school Bible study on campus, so that was a bit of a chilling effect on our teacher-student relationship. It’s not like I had the option to switch to a class with a different teacher.
The high school guidance counselor said: “Well, Sara, you seem really bright and you have your head on your shoulders. I’m sure you’ll do great.” Thanks for the pep talk, but I actually could have used some skilled guidance. I decided to only apply to Point Loma Nazarene with my healthy dose of academic over-confidence (I knew my education was lacking, but figured I was still competitive) and keep my pre-med options open (wanted to potentially be a missionary doctor), but eventually focused on Psychology. I still thought I’d eventually pursue my master’s and maybe even doctorate, but ended up with another hapless academic advisor who answered my questions with: “That sounds good.”
After three years of college, marriage, becoming a mother at 21, working part time a couple years, then becoming a single mama of two without her degree in my early 20’s, I felt extremely fortunate to land a decent-paying job as the receptionist for a San Diego tech firm. I had no doubt in my mind after a week of Welfare to Work that I only landed the job because I had some college education, showed aptitude and confidence, and (probably primarily) am white. I have no idea how a couple of the single mothers I met fared, especially one Latina with two young sons and no diploma, nor how they could manage working and caring for kids in this expensive city.
Even at around $15/hour, sharing a moldy two bedroom apartment with my Mom, receiving WIC and food stamps during the times I qualified, and receiving a partial childcare subsidy when my daughters were in preschool, I was frugally living paycheck to paycheck. That was with the privilege of being white, sharing living costs, and having some higher education (which should have been far more robust had opportunity been available).
I think of other kids who are growing up now doing the best they can in under-resourced schools, many with fine teachers who are also doing the best they can for their students. I think of those who also face added race stigma and extremely limited family resources, but who are certainly every bit as capable as me and more, I think our country is doing far too many people a disservice. The American Dream is a farce if it’s not available to those raised here with aptitude and willingness to work for it. AP students at Central High, featured in the ProPublica coverage, have apparent aptitude and willingness to work, but only two of the students attained the AP credit last year.
I’d love to put my smart kids in private school – they would thrive in the right environment, perhaps with less homework and a great deal more learning – but they’re doing pretty well. My eldest, especially, is interested in astrophysics and should probably be in a strong STEM program. They have a diverse group of friends, they take private music lessons, and I feed them giant breakfasts. They’re too often weary and frustrated with wasted class time and redundant homework, but they have far more opportunity than was available to me.
They enjoy far, far greater opportunity than the kids at Central High. We are doing America’s children a disservice. If only a small percentage of our brightest students are given the opportunity to achieve their full potential, how can America’s future be bright?