Monday, February 4, 2008


I watched my son catapulting his body from the ground into a pit of foam cubes and laughed. He’s nothing if not exuberant about his play. When he’s not driving me insane, he really is fun to watch. His zest for life is apparent, and contagious.

I could vaguely recognize that the other parent spectators of the gymnastic birthday party were discussing Kindergarten options. Our kids are 3 or 4 years old, so it seems like a strange topic at this party so I tune in a little more.

We’re supposed to send B to that ghetto school, I can’t think of what it’s called.

Oh, Longfellow.

Ghetto school?

This is the school my daughter attends. It is a public school, but it was our choice to send her there because it has a non-traditional calendar. School there begins the last week of July and runs through the first week of June. The kids attend class for 5 weeks, then have a three week break. Kindergarteners attend all day, from 8:50 to 3:20.

I thought this school would be great for my daughter for the schedule (studies have shown that these kids retain their knowledge better and thus require less review when school resumes after summer break, which in this case is a shorter 6 weeks) and for the fact that the kids spend 2 hours per day reading.

It is a fact that geographically the school is situated nearby two trailer courts and at least one low-income housing complex.

My daughter, with her ivory skin, blue eyes and blonde hair is a minority in her classroom.

Does that make this a “ghetto school”?

The term disturbed me just as much for the derisive tone in which the words were delivered as it did for what they meant.

Although I’m not sure what they meant.

Minnesota, in general, is a pretty white state. (Besides the snow.) I don’t remember really noticing the lack of color in my classroom when my family moved (for my parents, back) to the state, but moving from Governor’s Island, NY to Rochester, MN was quite a cultural change.

I’m happy that my daughter is attending a school that has many types of students. It makes my heart happy that she sees no difference in her looks than her friend Ramla’s. She’s learning at a young age what some never learn. People are just people.

But I worry now that she will hear others speak with that derisive tone about her school, a school that she’s proud to go to. I worry that she will begin to second-guess whether she should be colorblind, or economic-blind.

I’ve never even spoken to my daughter about any of her friends being a different “color” than her. When I ask her to point out whom one of her friends is, she’ll describe her clothing, never having occurred to her to mention child’s skin tone. If I had said that one of her friends was black, I’m fairly certain she’d have no idea what I was talking about.

I wonder if that’s okay? Should I be initiating a conversation about race with my 5-year-old?

I tried to explain a bit about who Dr. Martin Luther King was when she was off from school that day. I attempted to explain that some people (didn’t mention skin color) used to belong to other people, that they were property like her toys are her property, and that they were called slaves. I tried to explain that some people used to not be able to use the same potties, eat at the same restaurants, even go to the same schools because of what they looked like.

I think she thought I was making it up.

Maybe she’s too young to learn this stuff. Maybe I’m over-thinking things.

What do you think?


angi said...

I am not sure I have ever talked with my kids about the past, but I know that Kaden has talked more about segregation in school this year (2nd grade).

As far as race talks go here, they have asked why some of their "brown friends" (their words) have brown skin. So far they are okay with my "God just made his/her skin that color" or "we are all the same inside" answers. They both have black friends, so I am guessing I have no worries.

This parenting stuff can be hard, huh??

slouching mom said...

First of all, that comment was DISGUSTING. Sometimes I really don't understand people.

Second, I don't think you need to do anything beyond what you're already doing -- sending your daughter to a good school with a diverse population.

ewe are here said...

The comment was out of line. Seriously out of line.

It sounds like you've chosen the right school for your daughter for the right reasons. If you're happy with it, I wouldn't worry about parents like those.

Sandy said...

It is funny exactly what people's perceptions are. I used to teach at the Ghetto High School here in town, but trust me, most of the kids were anything but...

All the same, it's a shame that by talking like this, these people are instilling some very bad values in their kids.

Michelle said...

I think that conversations about race need to happen the same way conversations about sex do - when the child brings it up, either with questions or with (mis)informed comments, and at age-appropriate levels.

It sounds like your daughter isn't really noticing race right now, which is a good thing, if you ask me. I really wish the world thought like preschoolers more often - it would be much simpler and we'd all get along with a much broader spectrum of people!

Kids her age have a hard time conceptualizing "historical" things like the civil rights movement - hey, when you're 4, CHRISTMAS is history! The 60s are just incomprehensible. :-) It's hard for them to imagine a time so long ago, and it's really hard for them to hear that grown-ups made such bad laws and bad choices (at this age, they usually trust grownups to always be and do "right".)

I don't think you're over-thinking things, though. I think we all need to stay aware of what our kids are encountering on this subject, so that if they do start hearing negative comments we can help them counter that with the truth.

chelle said...

How horrible for the parents to discuss the school that way. I knew people in California that MOVED so their kids would be in a different district and therefore not attending school with "those kids". I cannot even imagine.

I agree with Michelle, talk to her about it when she has questions. Accepting others as is is very important to me and I hope to instill the same in my children.

Awesome post!