When it comes time to choose schools for their children, many progressive families find their commitment to diversity is put to the test.
The tension between the desire to create diverse schools and the visceral fear of sending your child to an imperfect school is laid bare in a first-person piece for Indianapolis Monthly, in which writer Matthew Gonzales describes his own family’s struggle.
The school choice lottery didn’t grant his son their first pick for prekindergarten. Gonzales wanted his child to attend a highly coveted magnet program called the Center for Inquiry, which is often favored by middle-class families within Indianapolis Public Schools.
Unlike most of the urban district’s schools, enrollment at some of the CFI programs has skewed disproportionately white and wealthy, in part because the district placed those schools in higher-income neighborhoods and prioritized admission to families living nearby.
IPS has in recent years taken steps to reduce the preference given to families living near magnet schools and open more seats to other students, which officials say they hope will improve racial and socioeconomic diversity at popular and high-performing magnet programs.
But that may force middle-class families who don’t get in to decide whether they’re willing to send their children to other district schools.
Gonzales’ child got into their second choice: a Montessori school located in a poor neighborhood, attended mostly by students of color and students from low-income families. He wrote:
The more we learned about School 87, the less comfortable we were with the idea of sending our son there. And though we hated to admit it, we knew our discomfort was rooted in prejudice.
‘Prejudice’ is a harsh word, but it’s the right one: We had never visited School 87, and we had no specific reason to believe that our son would be unlikely to get a good education there. We simply saw a school with lots of poor kids in a poor neighborhood, and our parental instinct — impulsive, judgmental, illogical — kicked in.
Despite early apprehensions, Gonzales said his son loved the school and thrived. Still, the following year, the family enrolled the child at a CFI program in downtown Indianapolis after applying through the lottery again for kindergarten.
There, his son entered a classroom of mostly white students, and Gonzales wondered whether he had made the right choice after all:
Not only had I deprived him of valuable experiences with kids different from him, but in my own small way I was also helping perpetuate the racial segregation that has dogged our city, well, forever.