My parents moved to the suburbs to open up the world to me.
Like many in their generation, they saw the city around them crumbling and the outskirts of town as a place to find affordable housing, community pools, and, most importantly, good schools. Their decision had the pay offs that almost any parent would want. I went on field trips to museums, had classes capped at 15, and ended up attending a small, liberal arts college with red brick, white columns, and a study abroad program. In school, I experienced diversity…but mostly in books, movies, and on our annual trip to the world cultures museum. Community became synonymous with service rather than partnership or integration.
Would I do it the same if I had the chance to plan my education and upbringing now? Would I choose small class size and big yards over street parking and a school at a crossroads?
I do have a chance to plan an education and upbringing…my one year old daughter’s. It’s easy to scoff at our parents’ choices for us or claim we would have had the guts to take a risk or do something differently, but it’s much harder to make that decision when it’s our kid.
As my wife and I scan real estate websites and attend open houses, we always seem to say the same thing, “We’d love to live here, the neighborhood is so diverse, but…what about the schools?” It always feels like an either/or – a great school and a life in suburbs or a unique and diverse neighborhood and a school struggling to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).
I’m lucky to have a choice to make. Our search is primarily in mixed-income communities that have never known the generational poverty and lack of choice present in some areas of the city. Many living in and around those neighborhoods have no choice at all – it’s the neighborhood school or nothing. If I worked in any other field, I think my choice would be easier. But I work in education and specifically to help those most in need. I understand that my choice directly affects my daughter as well as those children attending the neighborhood school.
So…it’s decision time. Do I throw my hat and daughter so to speak into the ring and make improving struggling schools more than just a day job? I want to open up the world to my daughter and not only from textbooks or field trips. And a diverse and unique community should be something my daughter experiences not just a place to do service projects on the weekend.
What’s the right call? I’m still not sure…but ask my daughter in 30 years to find out how I did.