Monday, November 8, 2010

Division along class lines

In the last week, I've had two conversations with new acquaintances about our choice to send the boys to public school. It's so strange and foreign for me that this topic comes up in meeting anyone new around here. It's almost like asking someone who they vote for. We're always rooting for the underdog. In both cases, I found myself defending our choice for public education and proud to stand my ground.

Pasadena Public Schools have a unique history among California schools. In the late 1950s, when public schools across the country were being integrated, Pasadena public schools were among the most reluctant to do so, outside of the deep south. Through the 1970s, the schools were still under de-facto segregation, because of demographic boundaries. When the black and brown kids entered the public schools here, nearly all the white kids pulled out--- taking their resources with them and creating a division in education primarily on class, and hence race, lines. To say PUSD schools have a negative reputation today would be an understatement. In the 1970s, prior to busing, at least 50% of white students in the district attended public schools. Over the next 40 years, that number dropped to 16% (2004). That's right. Only 16% of white children in Pasadena go to public schools. WHAT!??!?! This is especially remarkable considering that Pasadena is 53 % white. Anyone who can afford to do so, either moves to smaller and more affluent communities like South Pasadena or to La Canada or sends their children to private or parochial schools.

We chose to live in the city of Pasadena for it's size and diversity. We knew that the public schools here were on the mend, and recognized that our children would gain something equally important to academics. They'd gain a sense of the world around them, learn that while differences exist in income and skin color, access to quality education should not. Our children will learn kindness and compassion for those living in their neighborhood and community. They'll learn about respect and gratitude because we model it for them. Like most parents, we hope they will become responsible, thoughtful, and productive members of society. Our children may go to an ivy league school, or they may enroll in the UC system.

I don't mean to be preachy, but I'm feeling very strongly after these conversations this week. One played out like this:

x- So how do you like living in Pasadena?
me - We really like it here, blah blah blah
x - You said your oldest is in Kindergarten, do you send him to public or private school?
me - We're strong supporters of public school
x - So you'll probably be planning on moving to South Pas or La Canada in the next few years?
me - Nope (climbing onto my soapbox). We believe that our schools are as good as we make them. If we give our public school even a small fraction of what we would pay in a year of tuition to a private school, we help our children and the rest of our community. We give our resources and time and stay involved. We love our school.
x - Oh. You know the PUSD schools have a very bad reputation
me - Yes, and we know the history of the schools and the white-flight that took place when the schools were integrated.
x - Yeah, it's sad how that happened.
me - We're working to change that. Not to mention, we love the program in which O's enrolled
x - What do you like about it?
me - O. is in a Spanish Immersion program. By 3rd grade he'll be reading, writing, and reasoning in 2 languages. The school is relatively small, his teachers are dynamic, and the community is fantastic.
x - Oh. That's nice to hear.
me - We think it's an exciting place to grow

This morning, I shared my thoughts with two members of the PUSD School Board. One of them was Ramon Miramontes whose recent comments have parents & educators at our school reeling. Look for a report from this morning's community meeting at San Rafael in Pasadena Star News. Hopefully, the quiet wave of families returning to public school will get a little louder!

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