Thursday, May 11, 2006

Educated Mess

L is only 15 months old (yet already throwing tantrums...awesome!) but Sam and I are already starting to worry about school. Actually, maybe not Sam. I've been a small neurotic wreck since we're currently planning a move down to Southern California. Like many parents (I assume), apart from Craigslist, and Google Maps, I've been using GreatSchools.Net as an informal real estate guide and frankly, it's driving me nuts.

Here's the thing. I never, ever want to end up like these parents. I know affluent NYC parents are a different kind of species from, well, everyone else. Seriously, how is it that there hasn't been a reality show yet where Upper East/West Side parents get to compete to see which of their 4 year olds will win a spot in some coveted private school. It seriously makes the upper middle class in New York seem bat-shit crazy. $5,000 - 10,000 for Mommy-and-Me classes a year? I paid over $100 for 8 weeks of swimming lessons and I thought that was pretty nuts.

However, my point here is not to disparage upper crust NY parents (fun as it is). It's to ask aloud how is it that we, as parents, are supposed to be both responsible for the education of our kids yet still socially responsible at the same time? For example, one thing I've been looking at with is the ethnic breakdown of different elementary schools and I'll be straight-up: I'm more than a little uncomfortable at the idea of sending L anywhere that has more than 2/3rds majority of any one ethnicity, especially in Los Angeles. I've basically written off any elementary school - regardless of academic quality - that has more than a 50% white majority (no doubt, Sandra Tsing Loh would approve). However, I also have balked at schools where the Asian population is more than 50% since that, to me, seems highly socially distorted (except in, say, Hawaii). Provided, I've probably lived in the Bay Area too long so I wonder if I'm not being just a tad too p.c. about this whole thing.

But let's put ethnic breakdown aside for a moment - I'm not sure what to think of charter/magnet schools (public, not private. In fact, let's not even get into private schools...that's one some whole next level confusion for me). Should I be encouraged by alternative styles of pedagogy? Or concerned that some of these schools' test scores, on paper at least, look abysmal? I could pretty much give a fuck about the obsessive drive towards standarized tests that's infected the public school, post-No-Child-Left-Behind mindset but at the same time, I admit that I use those scores as a basic form of evaluation. Ultimately, I'm just not sure how to even judge these schools...I barely remember my own elementary school days so I'm not sure what kind of criteria I should be bringing to bear here.

And just to note this again: L is 15 months old. She's at least three years away from actually attending pre-school, let alone needing to feed into a K-5 system. Aiya.

So how did you other parents figure this out?

Unrelated (but interesting) news: German non-mothers are going against evolutionary impulse; could Americans be too far behind?


thisislarry said...

If you're researching socal, then you've probably read about Whitney down in Cerritos. I'm a product of that school, and I can attest that I'm no more or less f**d up than anyone else.

The fact that I ended up at that particular school was a geographic coincidence: Cerritos was near the important freeways, so that's where my parents settled down. Being in a school chock-full of other asian americans was a blessing for some, a curse for others.

I just finished reading Freakonomics, and I would recommend that as a calming balm to the pressure you're feeling. Basically, it seems who you are as parents, not where you place your kid, has the most effect on how your kid turns out.

So, the fact that you're even worrying about this is enough to say: dont worry, you'll do fine.

weigook saram said...

Yes, I can relate. I looked up some neighborhood schools on One of them has great API scores but it's very white, and I really want my daughter to go to a more diverse school. One good thing about our school district (LB Unified) is that you aren't locked into the neighborhood school, although I've heard there's a lot of competition for the "good" schools.

If you can afford it and you don't mind living in the burbs, Cerritos is okay. It's very diverse, and aside from the schools, other services (libraries, parks) are excellent.

But you have plenty of time to make these decisions.

Anonymous said...

It creeps me out that some of these toddlers have "resumes" that are more impressive than those of most adults I know! I happen to live in Manhattan, and am the mother of 1-year-old twins, and my husband and I try to distance ourselves from these overly zealous parents, mostly because we're too poor to compete (I'm still a grad student-no income there). We'll be sending the kids to Chinese school, and possibly Japanese school (honoring both mine & hubby's heritage), when they are older, and maybe they'll have piano lessons, but we still want them to enjoy being *children* and to save some money for their college years, as opposed to going broke over preschool. Maybe we'll just move to China or Hong Kong and have the kiddies grow up naturally mulitlingual with kick-ass math classes, and they can attend those infamous cram schools for SATs, GREs, etc. Just kidding (sort of).

rt said...

I'm very far from having to make this decision and thinking of it more in terms of how I chose a graduate program, which may be messed up. But maybe not. I don't know how many you can visit, but it seems like the best way would be to see if the kids seem happy. And... not freaky.

rt said...

Oh and as for the socially responsible part... I don't think anyone would blame you for putting your kid in a "good" school that others don't hve the option of attending. (I think this is what you are talking about.) You can always tell yourself that you will teach your kid to do good with the opportunities, power, etc. she (?) eventually has. And I'm sure you'll try as we all will...

Anonymous said...

I attended a school with a very high Asian population, and after awhile I, with my not-yet-tamed pubescent Irish-Indian mix hair, grew really angry and jealous of all the Asian girls with really damn good hair.

I'm over it now (deep conditioning, good hair cut. I'm almost too proud of my hair), but still...the scars!

I say send your kids to a school where they'll be the prettiest, wittiest, and most athletic.

As for learned to read from the freeway signs.

(I must say, this blog really has me swooning. Down, biological clock, down!)

Anonymous said...

My condolences on having to move from the Bay Area to LA. Are you sure you need to do this? Depending on how much Asian-ness and diversity you're hoping to experience down there, there just isn't the cultural mix you'll see around the Bay. An African-American friend returned because the racism he experienced down there was brutal, though I don't know that extends to Asians per se. If at all possible, spend a week down there simulating the life and commute you'll have, to see if this is going to work for your family. Moving down there, just to move back, would be traumatic. And if you don't love your car yet, by necessity, you will.

O.W. said...

"Crash" aside, I'm not sure if LA is any more or less racist than parts of the Bay Area. If the Bay seems more harmonious, maybe it's because it's more class homogenous given that you have to be pretty damn middle class to live in many parts of SF, Oakland, Berkeley, the South Bay, etc.

Not to say I won't miss the Bay but I grew up in Los Angeles. I know (sort of) what I'm getting myself into and for real: there are FAR worse places to move to than L.A.

Anonymous said...

In FL the situation is just as bad. Why the heck does any school here have a white population of nearly 80%? In FL it all has to do with where the money goes and where the new or old money goes.

For example, we moved into a suburban area literally 50 yards from a public elementary school that was highly rated. It just happened to be in our low price range, and also next to a good school.

But when I looked at the demographics, it's majority white, even though there are very few "white" families in our neighborhood. In fact, I've got an Indian family, a lesbian couple, a single mom, two black families, and one white family on my block. So why does the school area seem so white? I don't know.

But as a teacher, I can also attest to the fact that most of those scores and most of those demographics don't mean a thing unless you actually sit down in the school and get a feel for how the school is run, what is taught, how it is taught, and how certain things are done.

I am a big proponent of the concept that what you put into it, you'll get out. You can get a great education at a poorly rated school. And you can get a crappy education at a highly rated school.

In fact, I'd argue that the latter is more common than the former. Most private school kids come out feeling that they are more prepared, but a lot of that has to do with entitlement and prestige, rather than actual qualifications.

Test scores aside...I'd really put money on a public school kid to survive in the real world more than a private school kid.

Anonymous said...

I know what you're feeling I was researching elementary schools for my Evie starting when she was 2. At least you're not having the public vs. private debate. It took me awhile to realize that what matters most is that children feel loved and encouraged to learn and that learning is cool. We eventually settled down to the fact that we were going to send Evie to public school (in Oakland!) and can use the money we save to enroll her in extra curricular classes and activities, but it was a hard decision because we don't know if we're stifling any potential. But you know what? My husband and I have met some really smart, successful and all around great people who went to crappy schools in addition to some really stuck up idiots who went to really good schools.
Countless studies show that it's really how involved the parent is in their child's education that makes the difference. Heck, parental involvement might as well be the key to everything since I'm sure you can find studies that show that it prevents drug use, teenage suicide, and maybe even cancer!

Anywhooo...Judging about how you're freaking out about which school to send L. to at 15 months, I'm sure she'll be fine no matter where she goes.