Feb. 1 2012 01:47 PM

I don't mean to be all socialist-y, but—what about the greater good?

Aaryn Belfer
When I began writing about my experiences in public education, I had no idea I'd get the responses I have. Li'l ol' me here in this li'l ol' paper is suddenly hearing from parents and educators all across the country, and for that I am humbled, grateful and bolstered.

Given the size of the issue and my stake in it, I could easily turn this space into an all-education-all-the-time column. For the moment, I can't help myself, which might disappoint readers who appreciate my more silly stuff. To those of you who fall into this group, I'm sorry. You'll have to visit my blog if you want to weigh in on when it's appropriate to tell an SDSU student that her butt cheeks actually fall below the hemline of her skirt, or to get a recap of my recent right-breast ultrasound, performed last week by a doctor who looked barely old enough to suckle it. I'm pretty sure he was 17. (Yes, I laughed in his face. It was an involuntary response.)

But: Back to the school thang.

Following my disclosure that my husband and I are opting our daughter out of all standardized testing, I received numerous comments by parents who not only opted their kids out of testing, but opted out of the whole system altogether. They've chosen to homeschool and are encouraging me to consider it.

“After 5 years, my two 5th graders and I are experiencing an amazing year of discovery together,” wrote one woman. “I thought it would take awhile before their love of learning returned, however within a month of open-ended delving into topics they were curious about, I saw their eyes and minds light up again.”

“I've seen amazing things done in the homeschool world,” wrote another.

Honestly, I cannot comprehend why anyone would want to spend eight hours a day with a child, even their own, which is why Ruby and I every morning skip happily to school, where I drop her off with a kiss (she still lets me do that, for now) and a reminder to be her own girl.

Home-schooling is yet one more in a slew of educational choices being made by more parents every day, and I'd be lying if I said I hadn't considered it. I have. I've considered the option in much the same way I've considered bedding down with Javier Bardem: fleetingly and only in moments of extreme desperation.

As much as I may disagree with standardized testing and the abysmal curriculum that comes with it, I believe in and want to be a part of a successful public-school system—not just for my own daughter, but for all children. I have a list of reasons I'll never home-school, but to squeeze them into a nutshell (also known as this space with a strict word count): It would be irresponsible of me and unfair to my daughter to isolate her in this way. As regular readers know, Ruby is black and my husband and I are white, a reality that makes it imperative that we provide her with an environment that reflects her. It's sort of the commitment we made when we chose transracial adoption.

But we'd feel the same way if we had a biological child (who, presumably, would be white with a very large nose), because diversity is as important as arithmetic and writing and art and science. There is a necessary benefit to a child's development, unmeasurable by any multiple-choice test, in being exposed to people of other ethnicities, cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds. We feel so strongly about this that it was diversity—and not a school's AYP (adequate yearly progress)—that was our No. 1 criterion when choosing a school for Ruby. In fact, test scores didn't even make it on our list of Desirable Qualities at all.

Unfortunately, not many white parents think this way, and before you write in to complain about my blanket statement, note that I didn't say all white parents think this way. I do know other white parents who considered and prioritized diversity, but mostly—no. In fact, it's a function of white privilege that white people don't have to think about race when choosing the best school, unless, of course, they're trying to choice out of a school where their child might be the minority, in which case, they think about race quite a lot.

White privilege allows the reformy types—many of whom send their kids to pseudo-public charters or Waldorfs or Montessoris—to argue the value of the abundant standardized testing that their kids no longer have to endure. They have the privilege of looking in on, from a safe distance, the toxic curriculum heaped upon the poor and the brown, as their kids have won lotteries guaranteeing alternative and creative learning environments with few problems that come with poverty. They have no problem endlessly blaming the teachers union, even as their teachers have lower pay and limited, if any, health benefits.

For sure, most of us want what is best for our kids, which is why we take advantage of our choices. But I'm surprised at how many people—especially liberals—talk a convincing game about equality, diversity and racial injustice while at the same time choosing to walk out on public schools, further dividing our communities, segregating our schools and contributing to a slide back toward a time of greater inequality.

It's difficult, to say the least, to try to convince people to think about or care about the importance of diversity when it's every man for himself.

Write to aaryn@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.


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