Thursday, March 12, 2009


If you have been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that I occasionally work as a substitute teacher. Originally I had tried to get a part-time job in the office of our local public charter school, with the sole intention of checking it out as a potential school for our two small kidlets. You can read about my experiences at this school here, here and here. It is Waldorf 'informed,' whatever that means.

In an ideal world, our kids would go to Montessori, (my mom owns and operates her own Montessori school in Wisconsin). After a few years of Montessori they would move on to Kindergarten, and then to elementary school at an exceptional Los Angeles public school. (Is that an oxymoron?) Private school here is absolutely ridiculous. It costs between 15-30 k for preschool, per child.

I started attending neighborhood council school board meetings a few years ago. (Yes, I was the crazy, childless woman in the front row asking about API scores and percentages of high school graduates that go on to four year universities). I did have a few awkward moments when people would ask me, "How old are your kids?" and I would answer, "Well, I don't actually have kids." You could see them trying to figure out what on earth I was doing at the meeting, as they surreptitiously moved away from me.

If you read through the Waldorf posts that I mentioned, you may see that I have very mixed feelings about the enviable, smaller class sized, public charter school, located mere blocks from my home. Westside parents compete in an Olympic manner to get their progeny a spot at this school.

The things that I really like about it are that the kids are highly imaginative, and can tell an amazing story. They don't watch television during the week and therefore their play never involves Dora the Explorer or Strawberry Shortcake. They build imaginary submarines that they fly to the moon. They gather pilots and wizards as their flight crew, and establish new kingdoms on Mars. They are creative little kidlets with long attention spans.

There is another public school blocks away from our house. It is an LAUSD school. It doesn't have Japanese lessons. The kids don't learn to knit Gnomes, and there is no lavender spray to be found. It doesn't have as much money, and it lacks in parental involvement.

Last May, Steven and I attended the fundraisers for these two schools.

Here is the picture from the Waldorf-y charter school's event...

Here is the picture from the LAUSD school...

Notice anything?

Could the charter school BE ANY WHITER? For all of their diversity claims, for all of their multi-cultural curriculum ideals, their May Day celebration looks really, really, white to me. Where are the children of color?

Our LAUSD school looks much more diverse, wouldn't you agree?

I think I feel more comfortable with the Funky Chicken (the dance that the latter school did at their party). As romantic as it is to skip around the maypole and celebrate spring, I think I will walk with my kidlets to the 'lousy' public school around the corner. The principal is an African-American woman, and the API scores go up every year.

This is not to say I won't play the Ethiopian adoptee card at a prestigious westside private school if I am able to. The public middle school situation in Los Angeles scares the living shit out of me. I have tutored many middle schoolers here, and it is not pretty. The sex and drugs start at a surprisingly early age. Ever heard of a 'lipstick party'? Unfortunately I cannot describe this on my family-friendly blog. There are gangs too. Crazy stuff. I am not saying that it doesn't go on at the private middle schools. (The joke when I was growing up was that the private schools just had better, more expensive drugs). If I can get my kids into a truly diverse private school (on a scholarship for instance) where they will be saving Darfur and editing films at age eight, I won't hesitate. Although I dread hearing, "Well mom, Ptolemy's family goes to Aspen every spring!! Why can't we go to Aspen mom?" Yes, believe it or not , in a what may go down in history as the most pretentious name given to any child by a Hollywood actress, I just read an article about so and so and her son Ptolemy. Spare me.

This week the Los Angeles Times reported that 9,000 LAUSD employees will be laid off. I am not sure what this means for our local public school. I am, however, thrilled to report that my mom is selling her school (any Midwesterners want to buy a Montessori school?) She is retiring in forty days. She is planning on setting up a mini-Montessori in our backyard studio for our kidlets. That way, if affordable preschool is an issue, I can become an over-zealous homeschooler in my back yard. I will teach them about SCIENCE. No, just kidding. I don't know anything about science.

It seems obvious to me that the LAUSD public school is a much better choice for our children. I have sat in on some classes, talked to parents, and attended some open houses, but I would certainly love your opinions.

Really, I think what it comes down to is the Funky Chicken vs. Once Around the Maypole. If that is the case, well then, no contest. Funky Chicken wins every time.


  1. I called to ask about enrollment in my local school the other day.

    Her: What grade will the child be in?
    Me: Mmm, probably 2nd.
    Her (incredulously): Probably??
    Me: Yes, probably.
    Her: Well, what grade is he in now?
    Me: He isn't in school, at least I don't think he is.
    Her: Total silence

    That went well.

    Anyhoo, my local school, for which I am zoned, is not very diverse but in the other way, i.e. 80% AA, 20% Hispanic. Good news: it's the official ESL school for the county. Bad news: test scores are so bad that parents have the "No Child Left Behind" given right to send their kids somewhere else. But where, Caucasian McWhiterson Memorial Elementary?

    Note to self: explain int'l adoption at the beginning of the conversation next time.

  2. Julie, you guys seem so prescient and prepared and self-aware about these issues. I agree - go with Funky Chicken. That is so badass that your Mom is going to come and bring the Montessori cred to your backyard. Just awesome.

    And Ptolemy? wha?


  3. Julia, you are hysterical. I think you and Julie MUST be related.

    Julie, take heart. You may have to really look. My boys were in a magnet school all through elementary/middle school here in Sacramento. Primarily hispanic. Now they are in a Charter high school which is about 80% black. This charter school is not listed in the City school listings for some reason (or on the web site). I really had to scrounge to find info on it. 80% of graduates go on to college. And it's only about 5 miles away!

  4. this whole post cracks me up, because this is exactly what i went through last year while researching schools for leah. we chose "school #2" like you seem to have chosen, and i've received endless criticism, but oh man, i can't tell you how happy i am about leah's school for next year!!! it is awesome. i LOVE it. it's artsy and (truly) diverse and fun and gentle and wild and different.
    your kids will do great, because you have the right attitude. that's what matters most.

  5. I'm with you on the Funky Chicken. We are constantly worried about school - we moved to our neighborhood b/c the school district is great, but our city's de-segregation program is ending... so that district is about to become VERY white. There is a more diverse neighborhood not too far from us, but the houses are WAY out of our price range... (weird, right?). Ack. Anyway - just saying - it's a struggle for us as parents too.

  6. I have to run. But real quick, I could not stop laughing at those pictures! I was smiling ear-to-ear when you got to your "notice something" comment.

    As someone who did her tours in some rough public schools (although I am sure it is frighteningly worse now), we can turn out just fine.

    And Ptolemy?!


  7. As you may have read we had Q in a mostly white private school with small classes and great hands on learning. He didn't like it. Liked the people but didn't like how small it was and didn't like that he was the only brown skinned child. He also - REALLY - noticed the difference in the way we live from the way some of the other children lived (our house would fit into their living rooms.) He's now at a diverse public school. The diversity is one thing but it's the size that he really likes. He has a choice of friendships.

    Regarding Waldorf - do A LOT of internet research. it's INTERESTING. I almost started a preschool school in our town and looked into several models and in my research found out some things that made Waldorf really not a good fit for our family.

    School. Yikes, yikes and yikes!

  8. Yay! I am SO glad you have written a new entry! maybe it's only been a week but it feels like forever since we got to feast on your thoughts. (hmmm...I didn't mean that to sound quite so Hannibal...)
    Anyway... we are in the same boat--no referral but already thinking about schools. Our friends send their kid to a very prestigious Hollywood school (most of the parents have Oscars). I've been to visit a few times and the school is very artsy and hip and it appears that all thrive there. It is a very hard school to get into but we were told by our friends, that our black child would be accepted immediately. And I have to admit...that one sentence really turned us off. We haven't started to research schools yet so it will be interesting to see where our kids end up but I already know it's going to get complicated....

  9. The clearest and most helpful writing I have seen on this subject is by one person who has posted on the Ethiopian Adoption message board. I think the message board is open to all so I will link to two of her really great comments on this subject.

    Her posts really helped me clarify that there is no school that will have everything that I want for my kids. So my task is to figure out what will be the areas that *I* will be able to make up for/supplement and what will be the areas that would be much harder for me to supplement.

    The bottom line for me is that I can easily supplement academics, sports, art, free play, creative thinking, quiet time, music, etc. Much harder to find everyday interactions and relationships with black adults and children if my kids are in majority white schools.

    but read her comments! Her writing is so great.

  10. Anon- I would love these links, but they didn't go through. Do you mind e-mailing them? Thank you!

  11. Thanks for your thoughts on this. We struggled for a long time with this issue, because many of our schools that used to be fine and exceptional schools have been trashed by NCLB. The only real "quality" school in our area has an average waiting time of 5 years. As in, while your child is in the womb you preregister her or him.

    We've decided to go the homeschooling route, because I've got a background in education, (and because there weren't Montessori schools available to us within 100 miles.)

  12. I so identify with this dilemma. We are in the district for two of the best public schools in Portland, schools that people desperately try to get transferred into, but we've talked about asking to get transferred out, to the school "on the other side of the tracks" that has a very large immigrant population (I used to volunteer in a reading program there for a couple of years). People think we're crazy. But the elite school is, not diverse, and recently raised $400K for a library project. Yes, enough money for two modest homes to upgrade their library. Them are some whacked-out values right there. It freaks me out. What to do? What to do? Can I bring you up to teach the funky chicken in the expensive library?

  13. I was going to tell you the same thing Anonymous did, except I wasn't organized enough to have the links, I just remembered the comments from the big Ethiopian board.

    A lot of people end up moving out of Boston once their kids become school-aged, but the suburbs around here are very white. I also feel like I can supplement the academics myself, so the diversity factor gets more weight in my decision about school. And I went to a NYC public high school and did just fine, especially considering I went in as a very naive graduate of eight years of Catholic school - granted, it was a magnet school, but the students came from a lot of different backgrounds.

  14. You are describing our school situation - minus the celebrities. We have one school that is one block from our house, that I have worked with for 7 years. I know all the kids, they know me. A big population of the kids come to the afterschool program I started. I know their parents. BUT, when I am helping in the first grade classroom, most of the kids can barely read 1st grade stuff and the discipline issues are significant. It breaks my heart to think of not sending my kids there and equally breaks my heart to think of my kids there!

    I've had a tiny bit of Montessori training and love it.

    This is definitely going to be an ongoing conversation!

  15. I wrote the following post on Valarie Washington's cultural fluency yahoo group after she posted a heart wrenching story of some work she did with an amazing group of young women.

    Sorry it's so long. I think our son could teach a course in education so I thought I would share our experience in the school search.

    "We live in a racially and culturally diverse town that we adore but with typically over
    crowded inner city schools. When our son was 3 we began to look for a private school that would take him through early elementary. We looked at every school within 30 min and chose a lovely small school that fit him so well educationally. There were a few children of color in the school but he was the only one in his class. This did not bother
    my husband who is African American as he has never made race a reason for choosing one thing over another. Our closest friends (the handful we call on in really tough times) are extremely diverse and so we thought our son's private life was so diverse we didn't need to really worry about school.

    Our son started in the school when he was three. He was a star there (he has a great vocabulary, loves books, loves to perform and loves to please, so...) and the teachers adored him. He considered the principle his friend and he made close friends
    with a couple of the children. He was the model student for two years. At home was a different
    story. The child was completely exhausted, cranky and extremely emotional. He would get home and collapse. Not in the normal, tired in the afternoon way (he's been in daycare since he was 5 mos old) this was different. After a few months there he
    asked to have his head shaved. It was summer and I said OK. When it was done he came back from
    school he was so happy and told me that 'no one touched me today!' His beautiful brown curls were gone. He had never mentioned to me that every day someone or other would run their hands through his hair and he hated it. When he was 4 he was accused of something he did not do. He was devistated by this, being the people pleaser
    that he is and kept asking why his friend would lie about him. In the end the girl told her teacher
    that she had been lying and when the teacher asked why she had chosen our son she said
    she 'saw him first' when they were all standing around. The little girl was 4 and absolutely
    meant no harm in any way. I'm sure it was how she said 'she saw him first.'

    He began to tell us he was angry at God for making him brown skinned. To say we were completely knocked off of our feet is an understatement. We spoke to the principle and his teachers about all that we were experiencing at home but it took them months to understand, the boy we described to them they didn't know and they felt we had
    to be exagerating. At one point they mentioned that he was an only child and that we were older parents. At another we were told to try to not bring up difficult subjects with him - maybe we were introducing all this racial angst. After months of explaining that race had not been a big issue in our 18 year relationship and that this was all coming as
    a shock to us they began to understand that our son was putting on a very effective mask each day to come to school. I give the principle and the teachers a great deal of credit. They met with
    us many times, talked with us seriously and worked to use language that would help the situation. We all learned many valuable lessons together.

    This year we put him in the local public school for kindergarten. Out of 23 children, 3 or 4 are white. The others are split down the middle between black and hispanic. The difference has been spectacular. He is completely and totally himself in school
    and out. He's no longer the 'perfect' child in school, although he is still the teacher pet type child
    but now he feels it's OK not to be perfect. The principle is African American and extremely
    devoted to teacher education. The 'education' is not the hands on type that the old school provided. No field trips, no real extras and 23 children in the classroom rather than 10. But we are extremely happy with our decision. We work at home to give him all the extras and the school is a good school academically. We learned from this that for our
    son feeling comfortable with who he was came first and was somehow compromised at the other school even though the teachers and director were wonderful and truly had his best interests in mind. In the end good intentions and hard work were not enough. For him, with his personality, he needed to be able to fit in and be one of the crowd.
    No one ever runs their fingers through his now three inch long curls and he and I could not
    be happier.

    As I said, my husband and I were unprepared for all of this at this age (we thought we
    were savy - ha!) We were extremely fortuneate to be blessed with an extremely articulate child. Thank goodness - he's had to teach us a lot."

    Sorry for posting twice! I remembered I had written about Q's experience and thought it might be helpful.

    One last note: No matter what school you choose you will have to be actively involved in one way or another with the school - it's just choosing what you will be involved over.

  16. Amen to the Funky Chicken!!

    I just picked a preschool for Elsa, and I didn't go with the fancy-pants school with a waitlist that Everyone wants to go do. (although it is a super school and they loved the idea of having Elsa there.) It is as white as the driven snow. And I'm pretty sure there are two or three Ptolemys hanging out there.

    I picked a multicultural bilingual Montessori program. It's in an "industrial" part of town which is not somewhere I'd want to live, but feels very safe during the day. And there are actual factual kids of color there.

    I'm with you on the $$ thing... that's about what the private schools here cost, too. YIKES.

  17. Could not deal with this craziness when Elliott was a tot and we were living in Chicago. For this, and many other reasons, we chose to homeschool and never looked back. The beautiful Waldorf school in my neighborhood had so little to offer my non white kid, and the CPS system is very very broken. When I discuss our reasons for homeschooling, I don't really focus on race but it was a huge factor if I'm honest with myself. I just couldn't envision a public school classroom that would nurture my sensory-challenged, extremely bright, brown son, and it was clear it wouldn't really happen in a schmancy private setting either.

    You are doomed--join the hs ranks now!

  18. Hey! Strawberry Shortcake and the Purple Pie Man were friends of mine! "Strawberry shortcake, my you're looking swell, sweet little girl with a strawberry smell. . ." It's a TV show now?

    Beautifully articlated brilliant thoughts as usual. Maypole shmaypole.

  19. Enlightening post. We face the same issues in our city. We've got a good option for elementary school but I refuse to move out of our neighborhood to find a better (read: whiter) middle school.

  20. Oh, what a great topic. I teach in an urban middle school and I love it. Would I want my child to go to a school like mine someday? I'm not sure. Would I want my 12 year old in 7th grade classes with 15 year olds who have repeated a few grades? What would he miss because the teachers spend so much time teaching for the test? I think many teachers at my school are great educators who often achieve amazing results with our students. Getting kids who come in reading at 2nd and 3rd grade levels to pass the 7th grade state standardized tests takes work. I would want my son to have these teachers. Plus every school has great kids and they tend to find each other. The kids with dreams, goals, strong self-images and good parents typically don't hang out with the "problem" students.

    I know I want our son to go to a diverse public school. Our district has several magnet programs and that could be a choice.

    I feel like if enough involved parents decided to put their children in public schools then public schools would improve. Schools would have a mix of kids who would all learn from each other. I really think the climate of a school would deepen. I also think that these involved parents would have high standards and that would also spark change. Often our urban parents don't have the tools needed to navigate the system. They don't know to be advocates for their children. Or the system scares them. Or they don't speak the language. Or they hated school themselves, so why would they go back on purpose? But do I want to my child to be a pioneer in such a school? Is it fair to him to make him some social statement about education?

    And even urban schools aren't always very diverse. My school is 98% Hispanic. I have 1 African American and 2 white students out of 103 kids. Schools often reflect the neighborhood, so I think it's still hard to find a balance even in an urban setting. Again, I think the magnet programs help with the diversity factor, but then you're taking out the high achieving kids from the neighborhood schools.

    In all of that I still don't have a solid response to the topic. But I would be stoked if you showed up at parent conferences and came on our field trips.

  21. Hey Julie,

    I was a teacher at a LAUSD public elementary school for three years in the late 90s. They have their pluses & minuses, for sure. A local school may be quite good for elementary school. Middle school, I would agree, is where the rubber hits the road--not so good. But lots of the elementary schools are good, and many teachers have their kids at the schools where they teach. I'd be happy to tell you more about mine.

  22. As a public school teacher who has raised 3 rainbow fish in a big pond, and am going to be sending my 4th in just a few years (go LeLe!) I say go for the Funky Chicken! That a girl!

  23. The more and more I read your posts, I just know we would be fab friends...:) First,just say NO to may poles!! Second, we transferred our little lady out of the local school district (which is white,white and more white) and sent her to a dual-immersion program. She is one of 5 white kids in her class, the rest being latino and actually a decent African American population at the school. I can't tell you how much I love it and how glad we are that we did it. I want her exposed to multiple races BUT also to different socio-economic levels too. I think THAT is HUGE. "Here honey, not everyone drives a BMW SUV, actually they don't have a car at all". Not that we are the ones with the BMW:) She has become very aware of the have-nots and is starting to talk about what SHE could personally do about it. Anyhoo, just some thoughts.

  24. Yes please Alex. Would you e-mail me about your LA school? Thank you.

    And thank you, everyone, for weighing in. I mean how did I make it to this age without a blog? Pure luck I think.

  25. Loved your post. Thank you for your kind comment. we are not sure how our little one will be schooled but we have entertained similar options. Great post for us to review our options :)

  26. I enjoy your blog so much and then I enjoy reading the brilliant comments, too. A two-fer! I cannot tell you how much I obsess on this topic. I attended a Waldorf parent tot program with my son and for a lot of reasons I just could not fully devote myself to it. I loved the community feel, but I felt like the administration was not on top of their game, too laid back or something. That being said, I am sure there are many fine Waldorf schools. I was absolutely in love with their beautiful artistic approach to teaching. I totally dug Waldorfing along, but it was not the right fit for me.

    I also spent a lot of time observing at a Montessori school and I love their approach to teaching. All those beautiful teaching tools, all made out of smooth wood. Unfortunately, strange goings-on with administration again. I also did not like that there were no ride-on toys or toys in general. No balls! I have very strong feelings about gross motor movement and music being utterly essential to development in children.

    Manny ended up going to a college-run preschool which does a lot of research. Very little diversity, however.

    The town we live in is what I would call "nuts-and-berries-ish." There is some diversity in the public schools, but not quite as well-represented as I would prefer. Just to the north of where we live is a much more diverse district. It's nice that there are lots of small elementary schools then going into a few middle schools and then they all filter into one lone high school which is massive (by my standards). I have trouble with my kid going to such a huge school.

    Gah, it truly racks my brain! Homeschooling? Hmmmm. I don't think that is my bag. I was a special ed teacher for a few years and I give all my admiration and respect to teachers who do a good job. I was consumed day and night with what I would be doing next with my students! A hobby I was struggling with so I went back to nursing.

    Your blog needs a chat forum! How great if we all could have talked amongst ourselves.


  27. I don't know that I have any new wisdom to share but I loved this post. So many shared struggles to provide for our children. No easy answers. I do think education opportunities are taken for granted. I do think it is fortunate that we realize the importance of education and can take an active, involved interest in our children's education.

    We had similar discussions in finding a good place for Samuel. We are very happy with his elementary school - diversity of race, diversity of economic status, diversity of family unit, diversity of faith. I only wish there were more male teachers. See? No perfect scenario. The power of parent involvement is key!


  28. We live in the Atlanta suburbs in an awesome public school district. Our neighbor two doors down told my next-door neighbor that if there were any more blacks or Asians in his daughter's class that he was taking her out and putting her in private school. The funny thing is that I'm all worried that that there won't be enough blacks and Asians. Racist bastard.

    Any school that does the Funky Chicken is all right with me.

  29. Were is your mom's school? Maybe I should buy it:) We are frustrated with the schools here too!

  30. I'll throw this out for discussion: we picked our (biological) sons' school three years ago. It is small, progressive, private and mostly white. We love it. The small class size has been a blessing, especially for our younger son, who is in kindergarten now.
    Our daughter joined our family last month from Ethiopia. She's almost three. Would you guys recommend that we consider switching them all to the local public (much more diverse) school in two years? Even if our boys love their current school, and the public school's class sizes would be three time as big? I am interested in people's thoughts.

  31. It's so crazy to read about this from the teacher perspective. I'm sure there are other teachers out there...All I know is, test scores say VERY little about what happens in a classroom. I know you are not even talking about that, but I hear it so much that I feel the need to see it again and often. I work in a diverse (mostly Hispanic) school. Our test scores are by no means superb. There is the rough-ness of some kids lives that is transparent, however I wouldn't trade my experience for anything in the world. I love my school. I love teaching. *Most* teachers do... Anyway....I say "hear, hear" for going the Public School route. I know that we public school-ies may not always be glorified, but I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world. :)

  32. I adore this post- and the pictures made me laugh right out loud.
    I wanted to work at the Waldorf school- love the gnomes, love the lavender spray, love the fairy shizzle (well, not shizzle of a fairy so much- but you know what I mean)- hell, I even love the May Pole.
    Long story short (??), I ended up deciding on a regular ol' public school. And am ever so glad I'm there.
    As for the Aspen bit- umm... hello? You can spend as much time there as you want with only the low, low cost of airfare! We're located about 30 minutes away, so you know. I'm just saying- free room and board. BUT you'd have to help me knot a gnome for the fairy tree located in our backyard.

  33. The on going dilemma of picking a school. Our five year old has special needs and OMG does that add to the mix and raise the anxiety level to new heights. It's such a huge struggle trying to strike the right balance for your children. Thank you for writing this post! I can't tell you how much I appreciated reading what you and everyone else had to say.

  34. You are so going to laugh your ass off, or freak out, one or the other, because there's a great discussion going on on the non CHS new board where the first rule of fight club is you don't say CHS, anyway... discussion about school and diversity and all. And this post on your blog is linked.

    And, I was just struck with a brilliant idea. We all move to your part of town and you run a mini school in your beautiful backyard. I'll add Quinn for a little diversity:)

    Hope you're well - you should pop over to the new board and update everyone on how the new school is for Meazi in all your spare time.