Preschool Daze Dear daughter: One day you'll understand why your D.C. education drove your parents crazy.

Photographs by Darrow Montgomery Illustration by Carey Jordan

Half of the nation passionately believed that in silver lay salvation, the other half as passionately believed that that way lay destruction. Do you believe that a tenth part of the people, on either side, had any rational excuse for having an opinion about the matter at all? I studied that mighty question to the bottom—came out empty.

—Mark Twain, “Corn-Pone Opinions,” 1903

Dear Isadora,

You are only two and a half, but listen: I was not prepared to be a parent, and I am not the most available father, but I am the father you have and, mark my words, you will be educated.

Though I know little about pedagogy—and what little I know I picked up in more than a dozen hour-long open houses at D.C. schools trying to sell me on their philosophy as anxious new parents like me failed to quiet the tired children wailing on their laps—I have opinions.

If I have anything to say about it, you will not be skipped from the first grade to second grade against your will, as I was; you will not give your tween years over to video games and sandwiches made of American cheese and potato chips, as I did; you will not be set upon by a large classmate at your large public high school and inexplicably punched in the face at 13, as I was; you will not lose your virginity before you learn to drive, as I did.

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Let the public schools make their case, but diversity is not always strength, and I care only so much about bilingualism. Let the private schools make their case, but if they are hives of Republicans or anti-Semites, you will not attend. And let the charter schools make their case, but I frown upon any institution younger than its wards manned by twenty-something “educators” armed with a hip philosophy, inscrutable acronyms such as DIBELS, and a copy of Michelle Rhee’s new book, plotting a move from Ward 1 to a faraway campus on New York Avenue.

But we will find you a school. We must. Sure, you are only a toddler, but there are ground rules: 1) no gangs; 2) no drugs; 3) no sexting; 4) no budding date rapists with slight moustaches.

The world is your oyster. Money is less of an object than you might think. My liberal politics are forgotten and useless, like an appendix or vestigial tail. You will become whatever you want to become, whether you want to or not.

Know this. Believe me. Watch it happen.

Dear Isadora,

Your mother and I visited a public elementary school today. The school is four blocks away from our house, and we visit the playground often. Though the playground is new, the school is forbidding on the outside—bars, grates, security guards, and shady spots facing the park where I’ve seen teenagers smoke marijuana. Freddy Krueger might work in the boiler room.

Inside, things are friendlier. The school is huge—a labyrinth—but has been remodeled. There is a library made over by Target that is well-lit and pleasant. Students seem happy.

If the world made sense, you would attend this school, for free, until sixth grade. But, for reasons not clear to me, the institution doesn’t reserve places in its PK-3 program (that’s “pre-kindergarten for children 3 and older”) for students who live in our neighborhood. Thus, you must enter a lottery to compete with other toddlers from Wards 1 through 8 to attend a school that is a four-minute walk from your bedroom.

Should the lottery not go your way, don’t fret. This school is no gem. Though an administrator points out that results are different in younger, presumably richer and whiter classes, in 2011, 47 percent of its students lacked proficiency in math, while 62 percent lacked proficiency in reading. In 2012, despite D.C.’s shocking demographic shifts over the last generation, the numbers got worse. And 91 percent of these kids are not white. I quote your pediatrician: “She’d be a real minority there.”

Spoiler alert: Some ugliness follows.

You are the white daughter of a white man born little more than a decade after the demise of Jim Crow, schooled among Jewish, Korean, and black classmates. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu graduated from my public high school outside Philadelphia. So did “Mr. October,” Major League right fielder Reggie Jackson. Tensions did not always run high, but they ran.

Though your paternal great-grandfather was a prominent Jew and the founder of a national clothing chain, I was raised Catholic and used the word “J.A.P.” Though one of my best friends was beaten by her mother, a Korean evangelical, for talking to boys and removed from her home by child protective services, I was no stranger to the word “gook.” And though I had black friends—and, though it’s not relevant, worshipped Robert Johnson, Jimi Hendrix, and Public Enemy—I was not allowed to visit the “black mall” three miles from my house, would not dare sit at the “black table” in the cafeteria, and when a black girl took me to prom, relatives frowned or, if they did not, gave themselves credit for not frowning.

I tell you this because I want you to know: Like many born in America in the 20th century, I must try to outrun my racism every day. But, when it comes to your education, political correctness—a value essential in any workplace or community—will not cloud my thinking.

If a public school that is majority-minority is failing, you will not attend for kumbaya’s sake. If MS-13 tags appear on a playground, you will not use it for recess. And if you can get a decent education in a Spanish-immersion classroom, wonderful—but if the education isn’t decent, fluency won’t redeem it.

Regretfully, race and class are linked. According to the census, white people have, on average, 20 times the net worth of African Americans and 18 times the net worth of Latinos. Poverty and poor educational outcomes are also linked—as the National Center for Educational Statistics explains, “poverty poses a serious challenge to a child’s ability to succeed in school and its prevalence is markedly higher among certain racial/ethnic groups than in others.” I’m no statistician, but I think this means that minorities are more likely to be poor, and schools with lots of poor people are more likely to be poor schools.

If the school in our neighborhood isn’t that great, you shouldn’t be surprised. The odds are against it.

This is unfair. The social inequalities that result in the systemic failure of urban schools in impoverished neighborhoods must be addressed. They should have been addressed long before you were born. Children should not have to address them.

You will not have to address them.

Dear Isadora,

Your mother and I visited a charter school today. Some D.C. charters stuffed into church basements and former garages outgrow their locations within a few years, forcing parents to endure a search for a new property that can result in a school around the block moving to another ward. Not so with this charter, which has lush digs in a neighborhood not incredibly distant from our own—surprising, given the dearth of buildings that can be turned into schools in the District.

This charter has cred. At least one of the school’s founders still works there. (Her children attend.) It predates Rhee’s tenure as D.C. Public Schools chancellor. It’s been funded by Bill and Melinda Gates. It’s been visited by the Obamas. I stood in the school’s new gym—a gym in a charter school in D.C.!—which already smelled of teenagers’ sweat.

It smelled like possibility.

But the school’s metrics are depressing. Half of the students in the upper school lack proficiency in math and reading. The lower school is slightly better—proficiency levels are above 60 percent.

Why do this charter school’s students get worse with age? I cannot think of an answer that does not play into obscene stereotypes about race and class. Parents of children at the open house for potential PK students are mostly white—really, there were too many whites—but there was a disconcerting paucity of white students in upper grades mingling in the halls. Does this mean that affluent, well-educated white families stick a toe into the swampy mélange that is charter school education in the District, then get cold feet when their kids hit adolescence and head to Bethesda?

I want you to attend a school with a racial mix not unlike that of a cast of Top Chef. Some D.C. charters don’t seem to have figured this out. Maybe it’s not possible. Maybe such demographics aren’t Washington’s destiny. But if your classmates can’t look like the smiling global villagers who morph into one another at the conclusion of Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” video, that’s OK—if students are bushy-tailed standardized test-passers, I don’t care if you are the only white face in the hall.

And who are the white children swarming D.C.’s charters? Are they thriving members of forward-thinking families eager to redefine education in D.C., or merely the spawn of lazy reactionaries who wandered into the charter school and filled out a form to participate in its lottery—a form no more detailed than the one required to join the American Automobile Association or Netflix; a form that lacks essay questions that would demonstrate a family’s commitment to a charter school’s philosophy; a form that takes less than 60 seconds to fill out, giving parents the incentive to apply to as many charters as possible, see what the lottery brings, and make their decision weeks later; a form that’s little more than a return address label?

We have seen one mother at a number of open houses who always asks the same question—the one that matters most: How many applicants are there for how many open spots? You were one of more than 1,000 applicants for about 90 spots at a small charter school around the block. At best, you have a 9 percent chance of getting in.

This is considerably better than Yale’s class of 2016. The admission rate there is 6.8 percent.

Dear Isadora,

Your mother and I visited a private school today. The school practices a 100-year-old educational philosophy with a comforting stodginess. We are greeted at the door by parent-volunteers. We are given donut holes and bagels and coffee. There are no questions about mandatory testing or No Child Left Behind.

Parents smile. Teachers smile. Students smile. They have calculated the volume of the school, just for the intellectual exercise. A young girl shows me how to do a complex mathematical calculation on an abacus.

The headmaster is not an innovator who decided to open a school in her basement pushing a nouveau curriculum with a name like Expeditionary Learning. She looks like a CEO—formal, even icy—but radiates competency, like an engineer in NASA’s Mission Control or Judi Dench as M in recent James Bond films. It seems she knows important people, and one wants to know the important people she knows, and to be an important person oneself. One wants one’s child to be worthy of this school.

It is like a small slice of heaven, and what is heaven if not exclusive?

Tuition for full-day primary is just shy of $23,000 per year—an amount I’ve heard called “Midas money.” In the mid-1990s, my parents paid more for a year of classes at a very expensive private university in New England, but just a bit more. If we enrolled you in this school, your education would cost more than 50 percent of my annual salary. In the Congo, the per capita annual income is $231.51.

I could afford the school. Real estate and audio recording equipment could be sold, graduate schools dropped out of, savings accounts raided, grandparents called upon, financial aid applications filled out. I could get a higher paying job, perhaps as a plumber or correctional officer, or make a go of it at the poker tables (though that could go south).

Why not? If I can afford a good school but won’t pay for it, am I then a bad dad?

I have not hesitated to judge the students and parents I have seen on other school tours. Now, as Christ warned, I face the prospect that I will be judged. For, just as D.C.’s schoolchildren are divided by race, they are divided by class, and in Washington—one of the most highly educated, wealthy, expensive cities in the country with one of the lowest unemployment rates, at least among whites—our family is not on the highest rung.

This school is west of Rock Creek Park. We live east of the park. Parents of this school may drop their children off in Range Rovers. I drive a 2006 Toyota Matrix with 90,000 miles on the odometer and no hubcaps. (“Our car is old,” you sometimes point out.) There may be playdates at detached houses with luxurious gardens where cappuccinos are served. Playdates at our small townhome—often interrupted by a leaping, 70-plus pound killer dog whom we might get rid of, yet keep partly because we like the security—convene in a basement that is also my band’s practice space. Families who attend this private school may vacation in the Caribbean. My last “vacation” was my band’s freezing tour of Germany in December, where I slept in former Nazi bunkers that had been converted to punk squats; our next vacation will probably be in Atlantic City, N.J. Should you grow up with friends who ski and shop at the Neiman Marcus in Mazza Gallerie? I’ve never done these things—but why shouldn’t you? A more important question: Should you grow up only with friends who ski and shop at the Neiman Marcus in Mazza Gallerie? Or should we broaden your cultural perspective by sending you to a more diverse school in transition while lowering our standards and, statistically at least, endangering your academic prospects?

Metaphorically, should you be allowed to visit the black mall?

Dear Isadora,

There are things I won’t do.

I will not consider schools in Maryland or Virginia. Your maternal grandmother was a Washingtonian. Your mother is a native Washingtonian. After 15 years in D.C., I am a Washingtonian. Half of your family grew up in our neighborhood, and we feel that you are entitled to be educated while living in it. I am dimly aware of differences between BCC, Whitman, and Montgomery Blair High Schools, but am dedicated to forgetting them.

I will not consider religious schools. No Israeli or Palestinian flags on the walls; no catechism; no glorious, joyful, or sorrowful mysteries; no Christmas trees; no sabbath, shabbat, or jumah; no prayers before first bell or before lunch; no teachers or friends who could possibly be fans of Creed, even ironically. I am an agnostic, and endorse bland secularism. Possible exception: Quakers, because I am from Pennsylvania and have an affinity for Quakers, who are, in their way, bland secularists, and because William Penn graces my favorite brand of oatmeal, a blandly secular food.

I will not commit you to a school with curricular tunnel vision—that is, a school that focuses on Latin or Chinese instead of STEM (science, technology, engineering, or math) subjects, or a school that pushes STEM instead of soccer, or a school that fields an incredible soccer team instead of reading the novels of Edith Wharton. You will not have a specialty before you hit puberty. Your school will not have a restrictive theme. If it has a theme, the theme will be “liberal arts.”

Not long ago, Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel offered $100,000 to entrepreneurs who skip college to start a business. My hope: You will not take this challenge.

Six months ago, I would have said I would not, under any circumstances, home-school my child. Home-schooling seemed insane—the province of Sarah Palin fanatics and parents under 30 with eight children.

Unreasonably, it’s starting to seem reasonable.

Dear Isadora,

You are lucky. You have choices.

Remember Ethan Frome. Remember Les Misérables and Oliver and Annie. Remember “Another Brick in the Wall (Part II).” Remember Lean on Me and The Concrete Jungle and Stand and Deliver and Dangerous Minds and The Basketball Diaries and Waiting for “Superman.”

None of these is your fate. Urban schools may be scary for affluent parents like me, but no matter what decision I make about your education, the game is already rigged in your favor. In all likelihood, you’ll be all right.

What a luxury it is to whine about options!

One day these letters will seem quaint, the ravings of a middle-aged man grown old who has forgotten his name. Perhaps in 2067, when your school experiences, whatever they will be, have faded from your memory, you will show me these letters and ask me why I wrote them and I’ll say: “I don’t know. These problems seemed unsolvable at the time. I had to act, but had no way to identify the right course of action.”

What I want you to remember is, wherever you were schooled, your mother and I did what we thought was best. Didn’t our parents, too? If we made mistakes and you were traumatized—haunted by bullies or drug problems or eating disorders or bad PSAT scores—it wasn’t because we didn’t try to understand the tidal wave of information that drowns any parent who goes beyond a Google search trying to figure out where to educate their kids in a city that’s supposed to be in turnaround but hasn’t quite turned around yet. If we made mistakes, it was because we lacked a perspective that didn’t yet exist. Or because we were too principled—too devoted to public education—to see what was best. Or because we were cheap.

A long time ago, people thought the best way to teach children was to beat the hell out of them. People were wrong. More recently, people thought that left-handed children should be taught to write with their right hands. People were wrong. Some today think that kids should be tested to death and tracked—the smart kept with the smart, the dumb kept with the dumb.

People are (probably) wrong.

At times of great uncertainty, I don’t put much stock in gut feelings. I have gut feelings about the later novels of Stephen King and the later records of Led Zeppelin, but not about schools, which I didn’t think much about until well into the Obama administration.

I prefer to have faith in momentum. I think The Who had it right: “Meet the new boss/same as the old boss.” If past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, you have little to worry about. White daughters of white privileged people enjoy advantages unfairly denied to minorities, the poor, and the oppressed. The likely result? These advantages, like poverty and oppression, persist.

You will probably persist too.

Our Readers Say

Exhibit A for the fallacy of school choice. Parents in small towns don't move across town or pick a different school--the school is the school. And it's average. And that's okay. If this whole region went to the same school (or hundreds of averaged-out schools), we'd say it was a phenomenal school. Instead, people think we have a crisis that needs "reform".

The reform we need is to have parents with the time and commitment quit sending their kids all over the city in search of someplace "better".

If a school had the best teachers and principal possible, but local parents with the means or time all sent their kids elsewhere, people would quickly consider it a "failure". What commitment is there to the school? This is happening all over the District, and some schools are in a weird middle ground as a destination for some and a place to leave for others.

Dear Isadora, it'll be okay. You'll grow up and learn things either despite or through your school, just like everyone. You've got a thoughtful and literate dad who you'll love and question, just like everyone. My only hope is that he picks a neighborhood school so you don't waste your childhood riding all over town.
Me again. To clarify, Isadora, not everyone has a dad in their lives, and fewer have as thoughtful and literate a dad as yours. But nonetheless, you'll love and question him, just as he questions himself. But soon the questioning will be over, and school will be over, and you can get on with your life.
Why weren't the schools named? Let's remedy that: School 1: Appears to be Garrison Elementary. Anyone recognize the others?
School #2: Appears to be Capitol City or possibly EL Haynes.
The private school is likely Sidwell Friends as it is a Quaker school and west of the park
The charter he mentions is Capitol City Charter School.
The private school isn't Sidwell: that one costs $33,268 for lower school, which happens to be in Bethesda (although technically West of the park).
Says it all.
If you are more worried about the names of the schools rather than focusing on the arguments made in the article then you are missing the point.
First of all, as a father, I want to thank the author and father for such great letters. I have a 3 year old at one of the schools mentioned and my wife and spend hours and days discussing the same points.

Andrew - I appreciate your comments but as a parent, I don't want an average school. I want the absolute best for my daughter - she deserves it. I want her to go to a local school. I want her to be free from harm or at least as protected as she can be in our current world. I want her school to not stand in the way of her future opportunities but instead prepare her for them. I realize that all of my wishes and hopes may not be realistic but I'm willing to invest and work to make them happen.

DC is an amazing city and getting better (in my opinion) all the time. We will stay here and will continue to embrace the city. And we will continue to work to give our children the best options to succeed and excel.
Dear Isadore,

Did your dad talk about financial aid at the independent school west of the park? It's easy to think you won't be granted aid, but equally amazing who qualifies these days. Every independent school is confronting the very hot topic of retaining middle income families. Further, with so many kids receiving aid, there's no stigma. No promises, but don't assume you will pay full price.

Best of Luck,
S
This is where the rubber meets the road for urban educated white or otherwise couples. It's one thing to prove what a populist humanist you are by talking to your lower class black neighbors on the street, but to hand your child over to THEIR children for 7 or so hours 5 days a week, then the truth comes out!
This article is incorrect. There is such a thing as boundary preference. So, yes, there are schools with PS3 slots that are reserved for in-boundary children before placing out of boundary students in those slots. There are some distrcts with desirable schools that cannot guarantee a place to PS3 and PS4. On the other hand, there is not much of an option for publicly funded PS3 and PS4 in VA or MD. There are many, many deep flaws with DCPS, but the fact that your child may not end up in the publicly funded preschool down the street from you is not the biggest one.
I grew up in DC and went to a private school. My parents sent me to a fancy Nursery School and then they applied me to all the private school in the District. I got into one that only went up to 8th grade. So I then again had to apply to bunch of schools to get into high school. Taking the SSATs and applying to schools was very stressful for a 14 year old and shouldn't happen to any kid. Again I only got in one high school. I didn't like this high school all 4 years but felt hostage to it. I couldn't go to the DC Public School bc it wasn't "good" and there were no other options for me. All I thought is geez if my parents lived two miles up, I could have just gone to public school. Also both private schools I attended had reputations and all kids make assumptions based on what school you attend. As one of those Kids who grew up west of the park and shopped at Neimans with all my rich friends. I am happy to announce when I got married I chose to move to Arlington and will be sending my future kids to amazing public schools that my tax dollars are supporting. The stress on the child is not worth it.
Dear Isadora and family,

This article should be picked up by every news service in the country. It pertains to every school district across every state and to every family struggling with options and the means to pay for them. I am chuckling that the authors of the comments are so intent on identifying the schools. This is a universal problem. Bottom line: unlike so many others wrapped up in their own issues, yours is a supportive family that will make the most and the best of whatever education venue selected, and your "home schooling" will balance out the rest. Obviously, Dad's school experiences were far from perfect.... but look how eloquently he writes, to me, the truest sign of an educated, thinking person. I edit the manuscripts of PhDs from very exclusive schools who can't sculpt simple sentences. It isn't ALL about the school.
You are a truly gifted writer. Bravo.
I guess I am an exception to this narrative. I went to amazingly mediocre Catholic schools in the Midwest. There were no other fancy options, this was a rural area. Most of my former classmates are below average to average socioeconomically. Meanwhile I have an MA from top 20 school and turned out fine. The difference? My parents were heavily involved in my studies and preached to me the idea that I could move away and succeed if I wanted to. Most of my friends' parents favorite saying was "Don't try to be something you ain't."
I went to a fancy private school west of the Park, too (two of them, actually). K-12, class of 1997. Loved it; would love-love-love to offer the same benefit to my own children. In "real dollars" (inflation-adjusted), my wife and I make slightly more than my parents did at the time. Yet there's no way I'll ever be able to afford to send our children there. The rise in tuition has so outstripped inflation that these schools are far less affordable then they were 15-odd years ago
Grew up here had numerous friends who went to DC Private Schools, Maryland Public Schools, and VA Public Schools. The kids who went to private school are no more ahead than the kids who went to public school in the burbs. The tuition isn't worth it move to the burbs and save that money for your kids future.
I love this whole topic and have lived it now for 15 years as a mother of 3 school ages kids in DC; I recall reading a Jay Mathews article in the late 1990s which I saved that reassured me that children of educated, involved families will thrive even in a low performing, majority-minority public school, meaning that it was ok to send your baby to the local school for the sake of democracy, diversity, and not having to move to the suburbs. I can say it has worked out beautifully so far and my kids are thriving academically and socially after attending a DC charter school. Trust your instincts and live your principles, Isadora will be fine!
Sure the current system is not perfect, but anyone in DC has the option for full-day pre-school and PREK at no charge, which does exist in many other districts in the region.

My children are currently in a charter school in the district. We had a few months of uncertaintly while we waited to see if we would move up the wait list into our current school, but I am so thankful the District has the school choice option available for us.
Just move to Fairfax county, already. Homes here are relatively affordable and many neighborhoods very diverse. My kid is a caucasian, blonde minority at her school, but it's a great school and its free. Also, lots of church-run preschools (I'm agnostic, but it's only preschool and they really don't deal with religion). Of course if you're looking for *daycare* that's another matter. Overall, if you're an involved parent it doesn't really matter so much where your kid goes to school, but I like the ease of knowing our neighborhood school here in FFXCO is "just fine" if not pretty damn good. No stress at all. It shouldn't be so hard to send your kid to public school. Seems like another failure of the District to me...
I mean you pay 10% income tax (at least that's what it was when I lived there in 2000) and this is what you get? You're supporting political crooks and indigents and can't even send your kid to a decent neighborhood school. I'll never understand it...
Excellent article. As a grandmother whose two sons went to school in DC I love the tone and the honesty of the writer.
Let us remember that most of what the writer says can be backed by research.

Best predictors of a child's educational performance is correlated to the education level of the parents. A child who is loved and cared by such parents has little to worry about in DC.
"I mean you pay 10% income tax (at least that's what it was when I lived there in 2000) and this is what you get? You're supporting political crooks and indigents and can't even send your kid to a decent neighborhood school. I'll never understand it..."

My guess is that he doesn't want to run into you at the PTA meeting.
Dear Isadora,
On my side you are a third generation Washingtonian, and a third generation legacy at one of the top private schools in the city. My parents sent all of us to private schools on one income, as did my grandparents (who had four children), and we all (in both generations) ended up at Ivy League Universities without much of a struggle. It was expected and perhaps taken for granted. And we all emerged debt free, our parents having paid for college.

You are going to have a quite different experience growing up in this city. You and your siblings will never attend a private school, and you will never shop at Needless Markup (Neiman Marcus). I will, however, on your sixteenth birthday get you a special necklace from Tiffany's. And you will grow up in my faith. And your father and I will teach you all we know and all we think about algebra and equality.

But Isadora, even if I could send you to private school and our beloved alma mater, your experience growing up in Washington DC will be very different from mine because you are biracial, bicultural, bilingual, and beautiful. You are also brilliant (that comes from your father). Like all parents, we have high hopes and many fears about your future. And of course we adore you.

In my exclusive private high school here, diversity meant going to school with quite a few people not of my religion and some not as lily white and quite as sheltered as I was.

My college years, by contrast, were a sea of diversity that I happily swam in. I learned as much from my very different friends as I did from my classes. I met people from Oklahoma, Kansas, South Carolina, Hawaii, and California. I met people from all sorts of different countries who were not the pampered children of diplomats. I met people who had much more money than my family ever would. I met people who came from poverty and gang infested neighborhoods who had grown up under conditions that I could not imagine. I met people who were the first in their families ever to go to college. I met people who were first in their families ever to come to the United States.

I met people who were almost all the colors of the rainbow and had as many different life experiences and points of view as a rainbow does. I met people whose parents were as different from each other as my friends were from me in terms of race, class, religion, nationality, and national origin. And with the open mind and open heart that my parents had carefully raised and nurtured in me, I learned from all of these people. Some have become lifelong friends. One became my husband. I think my parents were initially a bit shocked, but they hid it well and have adjusted. I think they even believe (as we do), that your experience here may be better than mine.

Your father's story is very much like that of my paternal grandfather - not rags to riches, but rags to intellectual and professional success and public service. My grandfather grew up in a tiny town in Canada. Your father grew up in a large city where people saw race as more than just black and white (he is neither).

This city your father grew up in has public high schools for gifted children with various talents that require tests for admission. High schools where many people like my parents sent their children. This city also has gifted and talented programs which you had to test in to that were targeted towards minorities in the poorest public elementary schools. One of these programs was geared towards preparing such children to be admitted to elite private schools on full scholarships. So your father and I went to the same type of high school and ended up at the same college. My city (or should I say our city), has virtually none of these things.

Dear Isadora, we want you and your siblings safe, first and foremost, and well educated. We want you to have the college experiences we had and the education. We believe we are on the right path but we have changed courses three times in your young life and are willing to do it again if we believe it is necessary or the best thing for our family. Even if it means going to a different state and a large school that has a football team and cheerleaders. But so far it has not come to that and we hope it won't.

You are in a new charter school called.... BASIS. And we are all happy.
Diverse schools are not 90% one race. They have many cultures represented. North bethesda elementary school. 40 countries represented, every continent in every class. No worry about whether your child will get the help they need or stagnate because the teacher does not have time to extend their learning. PE, free music lessons, and a short trip to the metro. Apartment, homes and condos. Lawyers, single mothers and at home mothers. This is divrsity and this is Bethesda, Kensington and samll parts of Rockville.
As a white, Jewish DCPS graduate (and current junior at Barnard College, Columbia University in the top fifteen percent of my class, no less), I was appalled at this racist drivel. At my big, public, admittedly-west-of-the-park high school, all of the Ivies, MIT, and Stanford offered admission to members of my graduating class. Somehow, despite the fact that the school was majority-minority, most students were able to learn. In addition to excelling in 10 Advanced Placement subjects, I also grasped the concept that *gasp!* the non-white people around me were not impeding my academic success. I have no academic trouble in college right now, but I do sometimes have to put up with snide comments from some of my private-school-graduate classmates.
Miriam..good for you, there are always exceptions.
This is the most bizarre thing I have read recently. In addition to admittedly not being a statistician, the author could benefit from some training on logical inference - some of the conclusions he reaches and how he reaches them are glaringly flawed.
such as..?
sorry..the "bizarre-ness" of it all is so self-evident that all you have to do is imply and infer..no?
The only thing I like about this is that the writer had the moxie to be openly racist, instead of the subtle racism preferred by progressives, liberals, and other whites in the D.C. area. This article was completely racist, made false assumptions based on race. This is why racism exists, because completely mediocre/below average white people like the writer can feel good about himself and look down on someone. If your salary is less than double the 23k tuition at the school, you shouldn't look down on anyone. You are working class, and your daughter is working class. Working class kids go to public school. So go make some money if you want to be privileged enough to have any more choice in school than other working class parents in D.C. You aren't better than anyone, and neither is your daughter.

Shame on the CityPaper for publishing this openly racist crap. Yet if a black person talks anything about black issues in this city, they are playing the race card or race baiting...or connected to Marion Barry in some tangential way.
Race/ethnicity and culture are issues. Do you think that any parent would not worry about sending their child to school polarized to a culture other than their own? Maybe it shouldnt be an issue, but it is.
I love the "mock " outrage of the people who feel this article is racist. They refuse to acknowledge the glaring truths of the horror that the dcps system is..what thinking parent white black or otherwise would commit their children to these hellholes willingly?
I just take issue with the fact the truism that black and Latino students equal poor school performance. Is Banneker High School, which is almost all black, a "hellhole"? Really? I'll be the first to admit that DCPS has messed up many bright (and not so bright) kids' lives, and that my significant support at home enabled me to succeed in the system, but such racist generalizations of the system are grossly inaccurate. (It doesn't explain why white enrollment has been increasing as test scores have been declining at Wilson High, my alma mater.) And of course, Isadora is going to have an involved father--not to mention white privilege--which will probably be the determiners in whether she succeeds or not.
So I am curious about where Isadora will go. The lottery results are in. Where does the first step of Isadora's journey begin after all of this?
"but such racist generalizations of the system are grossly inaccurate." I would say on the contrary, they are "grossly" accurate, I can understand how it irritates you to be constantly reminded and how it goes against our egalitarian ideals.
This article had a great build up, but lost me after Dad soothed his precious white child in white privilege. AWESOME!
I am black. I was part of the early wave of "affirmative action " (dis)placements in the NYC 1970s. I have passionate views on these kind of issues. In NYC public schools I remember some good times of course, but I also remember a culture of violence, a "fixation" with fighting, absolute indifference to academic instructions, being assaulted, beaten having a needle stuck into my buttocks...etc..at ten I was placed into one of NYC's top private school. Yes there was dustups and "incidents"..but it was an infinitely 'saner' experience. Kids embraced academic life and excelled in many categories. When you get outside of the NYC you see even modest income white neighborhoods have decent school systems and parents avoid sending their children whenever possible to black or latino dominated schools. This goes for parents of ALL races. It's the peculiarity of our situation that "the western tradition" or the Greek curriculum is associated with "whiteness"..this is a problematic convention and ultimately erroneous but "true" in the commonsence usage.
The purpose of school is not to produce "Einstein's" or math nerds. It's to socialize and instruct the child in the norms and standards of the prevailing culture around him/her. The curriculum we inherited from the Greeks and Asiatics allows the child ( developing into an adult ) to make the world knowable and MASTERABLE..the 'primitive' cultures can never lay claim fully to a world like that to the extent that European nations can.
sorry about the grammatical mistakes..didn't proof read ;)
This is a really thoughtful piece and it is very raw. Lingering racism, persistent classism, bundled in anxiety and comforted only by the recognition of privilege. What if every parent wrote a letter to their child about what they want for him/her? This would be quite therapeutic--for the parent, for the system. I think we would discover there are many contradictions between how we look at the world and our own approach with our children. Would school reform happen faster if these two things were more aligned?
You don't need school reform as much as you need pupil reform. It's the same books and curriculum that Edison, Fitzgerald , Martin Luther King and Susan B Anthony used.
Isadora,

Your old man is very wise. Excellent correspondence, that is written so well, it deserves an award. Y'all live in NE, right? Well, my family does (too) and loves it. I think I know which PS and Charter Dad visited, but I could be wrong. As for the third private school, who really cares. Deja-vu all over again reading your private correspondence. BTW, my kids are 4.5 and 3 years old. The eldest is in public school and the younger will be this September. Most likely the same school (the elder is #1 on zee wait list). For siblings born exactly 18 months apart, they are very close, and this arrangement will strengthen that bond. So the same school for both, in an "Italian" system of education that I think rocks (conceptually have not done it myself) and means we won a lottery. This is way better than the winning the PowerBall! Hope my kids cross paths with you and your folks.

Grupp

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