By a few miracles and mostly luck, my husband and I were fortunate enough to plant our roots in a small town on the central coast of California. It’s incredibly safe and unbelievably beautiful. Quite frankly, it’s pretty darn magical. Sometimes I have to remind myself how lucky we are to be living in a fairytale town with low crime, a positive and supportive political climate, access to endless outdoor exploration, and a phenomenal public school system. We are particularly fortunate in that we don’t have to pay for our children to get a high quality education in an safe environment. It’s not like that in many places.
And yet, still, when I’ve told people where my son attends elementary school, you would not believe the reactions I’ve received. Pity, shock, even disgust. It used to bother me. The lack of objectivity, the elitism, and the snooty comments. But I’ve come to realize that these people simply don’t know any better. They don’t understand because it’s all about perspective, and put simply, it’s hard for us humans to see the magic in other people’s messes.
What if I told you…
Yes, I did all the research before enrolling my son in his school. I’m no stranger to test scores and retention rates and I know that our school is ranked lower than the rest of the schools in town.
Yes, I am aware that we have an open school district and I could easily send my child to any of the neighboring schools, where things are a lot less “complicated.”
Yes, I understand that factors such as language barriers, attendance rates, and lack of resources can and most likely do interfere with my son’s education.
Yes, these are all things I knew, and still chose to send my child to the “low income school” in town. Because that’s just it. You may not be able to see it, but I do. Sometimes the real magic happens in the mess — and there is so much more to be gained from a classroom than what you might consider a “traditional” learning experience.
The way I see it, my children have most of their young lives to develop their literacy and math skills, but the life lessons my son is learning in his current environment are invaluable. Lessons on diversity, empathy, and acceptance. These are not things that you can acquire from a textbook, and definitely not things that you can learn from a classroom where everyone looks the same.
Are there reasons why we could leave? Absolutely. But the reasons to stay far outweigh them:
The diversity: They talk about it, honor it, and celebrate it. Not only does my son have the unique privilege of participating in school-wide events that focus on various cultures and their traditions, he can also learn first-hand from his peers. All the while embracing and being proud of his own diverse heritage.
The teachers: These dedicated, passionate educators who invest their knowledge and hearts into these little humans. Sure, they could choose to teach at a handful of other schools, where the children are always in attendance, the PTA donations are plentiful, and there is no shortage of parent volunteers. But they choose to stay. They take on the daily challenge of educating a very diverse group of children, many of whom come from less that ideal living situations and speak English as their second language. They value every single one of these little people, regardless of their circumstances.
But mostly, it’s the real-life experiences. In a society that constantly tries to shove square pegs into round holes, I want my son to know that it’s okay to be different. I want him to understand that this is a great big world, full of all kinds of people that have different ethnicities, religions, and financial situations. I want him to develop a diverse world view, so that he’s not wearing rose-colored glasses for the rest of his life. This, to me, is as good a reason as any to stay.
Because as much as we like to shelter our children from the harsh realities of life, I’m realizing that it’s exposure to these real-life experiences that provide the opportunity for growth in character. Navigating these experiences, though difficult, will lay a foundation of compassion and inclusion, which will take our children so much further in life than if we chose to try to protect them.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy. The unfair realities of life often don’t have any rhyme or reason to them. They are hard for me to explain to my son, and even harder for him to understand. These are difficult conversations that tug on our heart strings and make us feel uncomfortable. But they are conversations that need to be had.
There’s no manual to help you explain to your child why some families are struggling to get their basic needs met. These situations are heartbreaking. And as a mother, my first instinct is to try to protect my small children from them. But this is reality. A reality that many families face. And if I encourage my children to be exposed to it now, my hope is that they will have the capacity to be more compassionate, understanding, and non-judgmental when they encounter these harsh realities later in life.
Do I hope my three children are good students, intelligent, and successful? Yes, of course. Doesn’t every parent? But if I had to choose, I would rather they be kind, tolerant, and grounded. And in my experience, these are difficult things to learn when you’re only exposed to white privilege.
So here’s the deal: You may think my child is getting the short end of the stick, that he is getting a less-than educational experience, that my choice to send him to a low-income school will negatively impact him later in life; but I just don’t see it that way. It’s the exact opposite, in fact.
I could argue that sending my kids to a privileged school is actually the lesser of the two options. But I won’t. I won’t judge you and your choices, and you don’t need to judge me or mine. Because when push comes to shove, I truly believe that we are all just doing our best. We all try to make the best decisions for our families and our children. Decisions that are shaped by our very unique world views, experiences, and situations.
Let’s stop the judgments, stop the comparing, and stop caring so much about other people’s choices. Instead, let’s use that energy to support one another in our efforts to raise good little people who don’t judge others by the color of their skin, the language that they speak, or their school lunch (or lack thereof).
Because at the end of the day, I have zero regrets. I am proud of my son’s school. Proud of the teachers, the staff, the students, and the families that make up our little, diverse community. I am humbled and honored to be a part of something so special. And so real.