Finding the Right School

To Each Their Own: Power To the Parents!

Less than 24 hours after my post, New Year, Old NYC School Argument, ran on NY School Talk, The New York Times published their piece on the same subject, Why Black Parents Are Turning To Afrocentric Schools.

Now, I’m not suggesting that my post had anything to do with it. The NYT article had obviously been in the works for weeks. What I do find interesting is that the option is obviously hitting the mainstream in a way it never previously had before.

Frankly, it always made sense to me. But my background is different from that of the majority of NYC parents. I was born in the former Soviet Union. My parents were Jews, which limited their educational and professional opportunities. My father was kept out of medical school due to quotas. And Soviet universities were known for their “Jewish problems,” mathematical equations without solutions, that were deliberately given on entrance exams to keep students out. (Examples, here.)

Rather than staying where they were, at best, tokens, and, at worst, unwanted and harrassed, my parents left the USSR and emigrated to America. Here, we learned of another phenomenon: Jewish schools. Whether because of (there’s that word again) quotas at Ivy League universities, Christian prayers in public schools, or issues with the academic curriculum, Jewish families opted to create their own institutions. Catholics do it, too. So do Quakers (if it’s good enough for the presidents’ children…). There’s even been a spike in Muslim schools.

So why is it surprising that African-American families might want to follow suit?

In last week’s post, I wrote about my father-in-law, who still laments the loss of the all-Black schools he attended in Jim Crow Virginia, and how integration destroyed them and cost most of the Black teachers their jobs. Yet, in this post, I wrote about how, when raising his own children in New York City, he sent them to majority white schools, so they could “learn to play the white man’s game.”

But here’s the difference between that, and those who want to force integration, no matter the consequences: The choice was his.

(Well, technically, it was his wife’s. She took one look at what was available around her Harlem neighborhood in the 1970s, and said, “No way.” She then proceeded to keep knocking down walls until her children were accepted into the gifted, non-public school that those parents – and politicians – who swear they are devoted to public education are willing to make an exception for. To this day, African-Americans have the highest opt-out rate from their zoned schools.)

For those who would counter that there is a difference between religion and race, since the former isn’t supposed to be touched upon in public schools, here is another analogy: Is Black parents choosing Afrocentric schools any different from parents who choose Dual Language programs so that their child can continue learning in their native tongue? I, personally, disagree with it. The end result is that kids who enter Kindergarten as English Language Learners take an average of four years to become fluent. I believe this only hurts them in the long run and limits their future opportunities. But I wholeheartedly support their parents’ right to make this choice.

Finally, also in educational news last week was the bombshell that NYC spends $325 million dollars a year to educate only 4,431 students with disabilities in private schools. This is almost twice the amount allocated to public Renewal schools, which serve over twice that number of NYC’s poorest and neediest children. (The Renewal schools are also failing rather spectacularly. It does make one wonder what might happen if NYC treated the children in these failing schools the way it does those with special needs, and pays for them to attend private school.)

Although, by law, NYC schools are supposed to serve children with all kinds of disabilities (read how that worked out for one family, here), different parents have different opinions of what’s best for their child. Some want them in a public inclusion program where they can feel part of a larger community. Some want them in a private school that specifically focuses on their child’s type of disability. Still others prefer a classroom where children with all different types of issues learn together and from each other. Some want them in classes with typically developing children, some don’t. Some parents of typically developing children even prefer that their children be in Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) classrooms, due to the benefits they believe it offers their child. (Shades of the value of the diversity.)

Race, religion, language, special needs… no one type of family is exactly like another, and no school, public or private, can pretend they’ll meet every individual need.

That’s why all parents must have the right to make their own choices for their own children. And why NYC – and other parents – should honor whatever that choice might be.

Kindergarten Connect is due today, Monday, January 14 (unless the Department of Ed pushes back their own deadline, like they so often do. Do you know all your choices – and how to get them? Click here before finalizing your application to make sure!)

What do you think?

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