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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 - Owen 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!


Megan said…
We get this more than I'd imagined, too. While countywide, our schools are probably fairly mediocre, we live in an area where our local schools are actually quite good. Our elementary school has received an A rating through the state for 11 years in a row. We had no qualms about sending Katie there this year to start kindergarten.

Yet all the time I hear, "Oh, she doesn't go to PRIVATE school?", as though we are somehow short-changing her. Or I hear, "We're just not a public school family." Granted, we've been there for less than 1 year, but I wonder how people can say those things if they don't at least give public schools a chance. There are a lot of opportunities, and a diverse student population. And since it's just down the street, I really feel like part of the school's community. We probably wouldn't feel that way if we had to drive Katie a significant distance to a private school.

I want to copy/paste that conversation you wrote in your post to use it later! Your points were perfect. :)
Cory said…
Yay for public schools!! I love that my entire educational experience has been within the public school system! Thanks for standing up for them!
Stephanie Casey said…
Great post! I am glad you are happy and standing behind Owen's school. He deserves that! Matt and I saw Waiting for Superman the other day. Everyone should see it.
mama mia said…
Love that there are folks who still support public ed. Education is indeed the backbone of a nation, and the extent to which the public supports its schools is the measure of its excellence or decline. When/if this nation spends/would spend as much on its youth as it does on war and prison systems, I really think so many problems would be resolved. An educated populace can make better decisions. I was a product of private/parochial schools (more diverse than many at that time), 40+ years ago. However, we chose to send our own three children to public, and have not regretted it at all. I'm also glad I teach in a public setting where parents of diversity have a vested stake in the success of their children and their neighborhood schools. Preach on, Erin!
Natalie said…
Sounds like you have a future as a PUSD school board member. I'll help you with your campaign ;)
Leah Bennett said…
Good for you, John! Sounds like an awesome school, actually. Just wish more parents were like you and Erin!

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