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Why Choosing the Right School for My Black Children Makes Me So Sad

Somehow, the seemingly simple act of selecting the best school district in which to live and educate your children merits considerably more examination when you're black.
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Elementary student using digital tablet in dark library
Elementary student using digital tablet in dark library

I am sad.

I am sad because I committed swimsuit sabotage today, devouring a shameful amount of fast food calories for lunch (So good though!). I'm sad because I can't piece together the entire "Formation" concert via Instagram, and I have lost irreplaceable solitary bathroom time trying to do so (Nope, Mommy's still not done!). And I am sad because I suffer from major FOMO, and it is costing me since I keep prolonging getting rid of our cable (I WILL catch up on Scandal!).

But what I'm really, truly, repeatedly sad about, is school.

I'm generally a pretty positive person, drawing on faith and forced optimism from the depths of my being for those challenging "Calgon moments." But the Mama Bear in me is especially sensitive to matters affecting her cubs, and this school thing is one that just won't go away.

You see, recently there have been a number of reports about schools and home values and race and how the three correlate to disproportionately affect my children -- my intelligent, creative, fun-loving, African-American children. The reports speak to a long-suspected but increasingly undeniable link between the three. In simplest terms, students at schools with a large number of African-Americans in towns with a large number of African-Americans generally perform worse than their white peers, a trend not limited to the economically disadvantaged or undereducated. Home values in these towns and areas are valued considerably less than similar homes in similar white neighborhoods, even in middle-class neighborhoods filled with working professionals.

In a quest to give our children the best possible education, my husband and I engage in an unending cycle of question and answer, resolve and despair around these very topics: Do we stay in our happy home in our safe, happy neighborhood in our town with schools full of black and brown children from all backgrounds, but generally plagued by poor test scores? After all, we're both educated professionals (as are a substantial number of parents in our children's schools) and we've both witnessed and heard the success stories of children whose parents became fixtures in the schools to ensure their children received the best education. What's more, we like the fact that our children are in a diverse -- albeit not racially -- real-world environment where they're not peppered with seeds of self-doubt because they're the dreaded "only ones." And most important, our children are doing well, thriving in many ways and stretching the limits of the test curve.

Then there's the other question: Do we put a "For Sale" sign in the yard with the goal of "upgrading" to one of the highest scoring school districts in our area... the neighboring ones I both admire and fear for their excellence and their homogeneity? These schools and towns are branded such that an affiliation with them is met with approval and admiration, and students are presumed academically rich and competitive. We want the best for our children and, on any given day, consider that these seeming benefits are worth the move or, better yet, demand it.

But then we consider some of the stories, about bias and singling out, and the presumptive broader bias that has kept these neighborhoods less integrated for decades. We discuss the risk that being in an environment with few brown faces runs to impressionable young minds who will inevitably have to examine their blackness against the context of our greater society, but perhaps too soon. These schools will likely create academic opportunity in competitive environments, but I'm admittedly nervous about what it means for my children's sense of self.

Somehow, the seemingly simple act of selecting the best school district in which to live and educate your children merits considerably more examination when you're black.

Which all leads me back to my incurable sadness...

See, I know that my sadness about fast food and "Lemonade" will eventually fade and give way to another emotion connected to some other vice, social media craze or, hopefully, the triumphs of self-discipline. And I know that, when we really decide to do so, my husband and I can bite the bullet and kick cable to the curb. But the sadness that I've yet to remedy is the one connected to this school thing -- because if, all things being equal, things are still unequal, is it even possible for my children to have a quality public school education that doesn't require a choice between their intellect and their identity? My FOMO can't stomach the idea of missing out on either.

For now, I'll keep the sadness at bay through active, conscious pressing and questioning, examination and consideration, and fighting the good fight no matter where my children go to school. And I'll get rid of that cable while I'm at it.