SWPL guilt about sending their kids to a white school
My wife and I are an interracial couple living in Oakland, Calif. We are both first-generation college graduates for whom solid public-school educations made all the difference. We are struggling with choosing a public school for our son, who will enter kindergarten this year. State test scores came out recently, and our neighborhood public school, which is filled with some of the city’s poorest kids, scored very low. I have to believe there is something seriously wrong with how the school is educating kids. (Otherwise, the school, which we know fairly well through volunteering, seems perfectly fine.) My wife and I both work full-time and also care for her mother and disabled sibling, so we know that we can’t put in the kind of time that would be required to turn the school around. We also fear that we cannot teach our son enough outside school hours to make up for a significant deficit in his education.
This raises a serious ethical quandary for us: Do we let our neighborhood kids and our own values down by fleeing to a higher-testing public school in a richer part of the city? Or do we let our son down by sending him to the neighborhood school, which we fear will not put him on solid educational footing? My instinct is that our higher duty is to our son. But I am also painfully aware that this kind of my-kid-comes-first mentality is exactly what created poor urban schools to begin with. We will probably feel lousy no matter what we decide to do. But from a purely ethical standpoint, should our child’s education or our neighborhood and its kids come first? Name Withheld
You don’t owe it to all the other children in your neighborhood to give their interests the same weight as their parents do. Your special obligations are to your own child. You suggest that a my-kids-come-first mentality is what creates problem schools. But doesn’t it also make for some of the best schools? (And keep in mind that educational excellence needn’t be a zero-sum game.) There’s no recognizably human world where parents treat their own children the same as everyone else’s. This doesn’t license lack of concern for those other kids, and you’re right to worry that your dysfunctional neighborhood school is failing those it serves. But you can do something about that — through involvement in local and state politics, for example — without sacrificing your son. And what you owe is not heroic commitment, ‘‘turning the school around’’ by your own efforts. You owe only your fair share of the duties of an engaged local citizen. Like everyone else, you should provide your son with a good education if you can; the school may be perfectly fine in every other respect, but that doesn’t make up for the appalling results.
I assume that the man is black and the woman is white, but it could be that the man is white and the woman is Asian. There could be other possibilities here as well. But they behave like SWPLs even if technically one of them is not white.
Commenters on this blog can’t believe that SWPL types actually believe the crap they write about test scores.
“State test scores came out recently, and our neighborhood public school, which is filled with some of the city’s poorest kids, scored very low. I have to believe there is something seriously wrong with how the school is educating kids. (Otherwise, the school, which we know fairly well through volunteering, seems perfectly fine.)”
Don’t they know that the teachers are no different than the teachers at “better” schools? They are all just city employees with the exact same qualifications, except some are luckier to get into schools where the children are white or Asian instead of black or Hispanic.
They may, in fact, not realize that. Humans are very good at deceiving themselves and thinking illogically. If you tried to correct them and teach them to see the world the way it is, they might just get pissed at you and call you a racist.
The ethicist (Kwame Anthony Appiah, who is half Ghanaian and half white from the U.K.) says they don’t have to feel guilty about sending their kid to a “better” (translation: white) school. As long as they are “involved in local and state politics” (translation: they vote for Democrats) and partake of their “fair share of the duties of an engaged local citizen” (translation: occasionally donate some money to liberal charities), then it’s OK to send their children to a school in a white neighborhood.
* * *
One has to give Jimmy Carter credit for actually doing as he preached and sending Amy to the local DC public school. (Although unlike most white kids in that situation, she had Secret Service protection.)