I’ll break my personal ban on politics for this one post, because I’d like to speak about an issue with which I am well acquainted. For once, I’m not just spouting hot air; I think I actually have something to say that has direct bearing.
Maybe I’m wrong – maybe my egomania and paranoia have convinced me that the world does indeed revolve around me. However, as of right now, I’m convinced that the school board rezoning plan passed last night was a direct message to me, and others like me. To understand why I say this, you have to read this past article in the Tennessean. Please read it all, otherwise, you’ll think I’m an old blithering idiot. Here are a couple of astonishing excerpts:
Hillwood [high school] is a microcosm of how public schools across Metro Nashville have lost a large portion of the middle class and suffered as a result. Now a harsh spotlight is shining on the school system and the people who run it. The question is whether Nashville has the will and wherewithal to make the changes that will revive the faltering school system…
The city’s top leadership is challenged to find ways to bring those middle-class students back. If they don’t, the district faces a much tougher task educating the historically harder-to-reach low-income population and getting back the support of the city’s residents.
As it stands, Metro’s dismal reputation drives both families and businesses across county lines…and many from the middle class who have remained in Nashville have opted for the private school route, willing to pay pricey tuitions to escape the public school system.
Despite the city’s growth, so many families have left that fewer students are enrolled in Nashville’s public schools today than in 1970.
That last one just blows my mind. 1970? When Nashville was just a sleepy, big small town? Wow. Anyway, the jist of the Tennessean article was this: Hillwood (the school to which my kids are zoned) is surrounded by million dollar homes occupied by families who do not send their kids to the school. There is no arguing this point (and Hillwood is not alone, or enrollment could NOT be below 1970 levels).
Just to be clear, I do not have one of those million dollar homes. My neighborhood, a little over a mile away from Hillwood, has no McMansions – our street is primarily lined with 1960’s ranch homes that were quite large for the time they were built, but very average today.
One side note – I don’t think the proposal passed last night constitutes re-segregation at all. The Nashville public schools are already segregated, economically. Hillwood is a suburban school in geography only.
Anyway, as one of those who sends his children to private schools, there is a tenor to the article (and the proposal passed yesterday) that I find highly insulting. The underlying theme seems to be “if we get rid of all the poor people (subtext: African Americans), the middle class (subtext: white folks) will come back”.
Maybe my councilperson Emily Evans (who has written on this subject before) can give her insight, but I’d swear that’s what this is all about. As a side note, please read the post by Evans; it’s quite informative.
But the thought behind the proposal ticks me off every time I think about it. As Evans said, “People make educational choices for all kinds of reasons.” In our case, my wife insisted that we send our kids to the private school she from which she graduated. (It was formerly a catholic girls’ high school). We did not even bother to apply at any other schools – it was this one or public school.
Evans is right about why the school board is taking such a drastic move:
In most cities, people like those who live in the 23rd district form the backbone of the public school system. They are more likely to have the kind of job that lets them out of work to participate in parent-teacher conferences or volunteer as a tutor or teacher’s aide. They are more likely to have a parent that does not work outside the home and is available to organize and execute fundraisers. They are more likely to be educated themselves and as a result have high expectation for the education of their children. They are also generally politically aware and inclined to become activists in support of public education.
I graduated from Hillwood. 26 years ago, parental involvement was already dying. I was one of those kids “bussed” to Hillwood – they had closed Bellevue High two years prior. Hillwood was just too far away for my family to treat it as our neighborhood school, with all the involvement mentioned by Evans. And this was 26 years ago. I know it has gotten progressively worse since then.
My son enters high school in 3 years. He and his sister are performing at college level in most of their subjects. Most of his friends are moving on to one of the Nashville catholic high schools. His sister is right behind him, desperately wishing to attend the nearby all girls school. My kids have never know anything else but a standard of the highest achievement.
I really don’t know the answer for the MNPS system. I just have a hard time seeing how sending my kids to Hillwood, after all these years in private schools, would be beneficial to them. It would be beneficial to Lintilla and me, for sure. Sometimes I daydream about what I could do with those tens of thousands of dollars a year we spend on tuition. I could say goodbye to all those problems caused by sending my kids to a school where 90% of the student body has richer families than they do. I could also free up all the time we spend exposing the kids to different cultures and economic levels, and just let the school handle that. Hillwood is relatively nearby, and on the way to work. Yes, for me, sending the kids to Metro schools would be pretty cool.
But, I’m afraid the life we have chosen has gathered too much momentum.
I fear I sound like an elitist, and that just is not the case. I wish the same opportunities my children have had for all children. I am willing to pay to see that happen. I don’t know how (vouchers are a discussion for another day), but I would love to see the children of my friends in Bordeaux, Woodbine, Melrose, north Nashville, and elsewhere given the same education my kids are getting. I’d love for them to be classmates of my children. I’d love to see ALL kids challenged at the highest levels. I would love for my kids’ 99th percentile scores to be more like 75 – not because my kids didn’t test as well, but because the norm is at a higher level. This would be the absolute best thing for our city and nation.
Maybe this whole re-segregation thing will work, in the long run. I don’t see how. The problem with MNPS is not with the racial makeup; however, the people who argue that we should make the schools part of their neighborhoods have a point. Parental involvement and engagement is key. So, we’ll just have to wait a generation before we know if this was such a good idea.