Sunday, May 22, 2016

2nd Rate



Rhode Island has low self-esteem, which means Rhode Islanders love articles about how great Rhode Island is and how cool Providence is.  I just read one, and a columnist from the Boston Globe opened with a story about being offered cocaine by a friendly college student in a Providence bar.  Must we always be the local color-or as my friend used to say in college "my life is not performance art."

There are way worse places to live, but sometimes the living gets you down.  A lovely stroll down historic Benefit Street on my way home from work has me clambering over the sidewalk buckled by tree roots, and don't even think about trying that will a stroller.  Our teensy splash pad will only be open in July and August from 12-5 Monday through Saturday, if the city can scrap up the money.  Other places seem like the splash pads run with milk and honey.

But I suppose LB doesn't care.  Her soon to be school feels big to her even if if it feels claustrophobic to me, she gets to go to cool rock n roll birthday parties, pick out Skittles at the corner store, climb the tree in the park, dance to a hipster marching band in the middle of the street, roll slow balls down the candlepin bowling alley and watch the pinsetter handset the pins.

Like Amanda, I don't know where I'm going with this blog.  I miss blogging being a thing, not for the readers, but for the call and response.  But I do like having a place to organize my thoughts.  I just need a scheme to make other people blog again.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

April Snow




I was born during an April blizzard.  This morning I woke up and the sounds from outside were muffled, and when I opened the curtain it was snowy.  LB and I got to the pool under bright blue skies between the snow squalls.  Each hour we've had gray skies and blowing snow, followed by bright sun and no snow.  We are supposed to get a few more inches tomorrow morning.

On Friday she started swimming by herself with no floatation devices.  I knew she was almost there, but she didn't want to go floaty-free, but finally she just went for it.  Every stroke (a dog paddle/treading water hybrid) is hard fought at this point, but she gets it done, so we went back again today.

I just turned on the radio and "Losing My Religion" was playing.  That song always takes me back to one summer I spent in Boston, and every car that drove by was blasting that song out of open windows as I walked through the blowing trash in Allston.  Right now I'm obsessively listening to the Albums "How to Dance" by Mount Moriah and the Margo Price album (total throwback twangy 70s style country).

LB is playing an elaborate game with stuffed foxes and penguins and an easter basket and my laundry basket.  She's begging to go to the "big park" even though it's miserably cold out and she hates the cold and the snow.


Sunday, March 20, 2016

Schools, Schools, Schools: Part 1

We signed LB up.  She is officially a 6%er having gotten into her new school by lottery. It's a small community charter dual language school (they offer Spanish and Portuguese tracks, and she will be in the Spanish track). Our little unicorn baby.  I feel cautiously optimistic about our choice, but I can also see the messed up ways that our current distressed system of public education structured our choices. I like our neighborhood school a lot.  It offers some things that the charter does not: gym every day, a gym that can be used for indoor recesses, a big (if seriously rundown) facility, a stage, a community of people who live nearby.  But the way the system is structured, we can only choose the charter now.  And if it doesn't work out, we can go back to our neighborhood school, but we can't move the other way.  So LB will start out as a unicorn.

And the class and race dynamics: the school LB got into is a school White People Want (WPW).  As a district 80% of kids in Providence Public Schools are classified as low-income, and 91% are kids of color-although in terms of total population, Providence is slightly less than half white people.  Latinos make up the majority of kids in the district.  Our neighborhood school has long been both the blackest and whitest elementary school in the city, but lately has been drawing fewer white kids (although there are still plenty of white kids in the neighborhood) and more latino kids.  At least in Elementary, Providence schools work on an 80/20 formula.  To register your child, you go to the office in South Providence, take a number, sit in a spartan room full of rows of chairs, with a big sign that says "do not form a line, wait for your number to be called." When you go back into the office, you submit say yes or no to the lottery for the public (not charter) dual language option, and then you submit 3 ranked choices.  Your zoned school is established by your address, and zoned schools draw 80% of their students from their zone and 20% from out of zone.  As our zoned school has become less popular, the zoned spots don't usually fill.  It is all very complicated.  And schools don't seem to do a very good job of outreach (and clearly don't have resources to do a good job of outreach).

The result: the most desirable school among people we know is the other Eastside elementary that is out of our zone, and it's 40% white (likely the whitest public school in Providence).  Our neighborhood school is about 20% white, and I believe African American students make up the largest single racial demographic group-and I can't help but think that a rising percentage of African American students correlates with the school becoming less popular among white parents, although white parents don't say so.  LB's new school will be both highly diverse (majority latino, 25% white kids, 10% black kids, slightly majority low-income kids) and unrepresentative of the district.

Providence loses wealthy white families (WWF) (and I'd lump me and LB in that category even though the feds say we qualify as a low-mod family) at every point.  Demographically whites in the city skew older than other groups, so more elderly whites and more young latino families, white families move out to the suburbs to afford more house, to avoid city taxes, and to send their kids to suburban schools, the city has a strong culture of independent schools-so there are 5 independents and at least 3 religious schools within walking distance of my home.  Charters like LB's  are among the most racially balanced schools in the city, but they take more than their share of white kids and not-poor kids.

So here we are in a district with big, old, crumbling schools, full of poor kids, kids who are learning English, kids who have experienced trauma and dislocation (at my own work, I hear about life in wartime, refugee camps, families separated, from our high schoolers). And the kids have problems, but the problem is not the kids.  For reasons I still don't understand, the state pays RI cities less per pupil than it does in the suburbs.  And the money follows the student here, so charters pull more money away from urban schools with their fixed and expensive crumbling physical plants.

So what is diversity in a school system where most of the kids are low income and most are kids of color?  What moral responsibility do WWF have to stay in the system?  And what special sauce do WWF bring to the system?

I can see the ways that diversity benefits the high schoolers I know in Providence.  That diversity does not necessarily include WWF kids.  Instead kids who came here from the DR a few years ago, get really into KPOP and start learning Korean on the internet.  These kids are cosmopolitan in a way I certainly never was.

I don't like the cultural arguments that tell us in more or less veiled language that poor kids of color need to learn with white kids of privilege so that they can learn the cultural habits of whiteness and wealth, so they can get respectable, so that the rising tide will lift their boats.  But there are ways that being in proximity to wealth and power help people glean wealth and power (and by glean I do mean, collect the leftover bits after the harvest).

A school with more WWFs likely have more people who have easy access to lawyers, politicians, and high-level administrators.  When they complain about unequal funding formulas and rundown schools, their voices are amplified.  In the best case, access to power benefits all the kids in the system.  In reality, it often means more resources for the schools and programs used by WWFs, but even then perhaps there is a marginal benefit for all.  But if WWF bring resources, they are also remarkably good at segregating those resources for themselves and people like them.  The whitest and wealthiest school in our district is a neighborhood school-because it takes most of its students from the wealthiest and whitest neighborhood.  Other schools consolidate WWFs in "gifted programs" which are based on tests that measure a child's relative advantage in life.  And we have an exam high school, which is the last in the city to hold onto WWFs.

Without those opportunities to segregate resources, even fewer WWFs would stay in the system, and likely the system would be in even worse shape (and when WWFs leave for the suburbs they take their tax payments with them, and the district's per child money is for kids who enroll, so when kids go to independents, the public school system has to deal with its heavy sunk costs with even fewer dollars).

And the issue of public schools and individual morality: I don't think WWFs should be too quick to claim the high moral ground for choosing publics.  Most of us who do have a decent public option, as well as kids who are able to function within that option.  And I don't think moral responsibility requires us to keep our kids in a situation that is miserable.  I definitely judge parents who call out public schools as crap, rough, failing...without ever visiting those schools-and I think many of those judgements are based on evaluations of the race/class makeup of the school, and of WWF peer pressure.

But even as I have sympathy for parents who choose charters (that includes me) or independents or "better" publics, it troubles me to make the comparison between opting out of public schools and residential white flight in the 1950s through the 1970s.  When white people fled to the suburbs, some of them did so because they didn't want to have black neighbors, others feared the loss of value in their properties, some were moving for other reasons-to get a shiny new house, to be close to family.  But in the end it didn't really matter whether WWFs moved because of racist motivations, mixed motivations, or motivations unrelated to race, what mattered was that most of the white families left and they took everything of value that they could carry, and that loss of white wealth massively destabilized american cities.

And also helped created our underfunded urban schools (my school historian friend tells me that before the 1960s, urban schools were the best and best funded in the nation).  When we act as individuals, we are also acting as a group.  That collective action has power beyond our seemingly individual act.  Even if our individual action is based on motivations other than race, if the collective result of our individual actions perpetuates and increases the inequality in a society structured by racial inequality, then the effect of our individual action is to perpetuate racism.


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Trumping 2016

Way back over Christmas, my dad and I were discussing Trump and I said, or so I thought, hyperbolically: "in the coming racewar, I'm sticking with the Black and Brown people." And now it seems that I was non-religiously prophetic.  We are finally having that "national conversation" on race that we put off in 1968 because it seemed a little too freaky.  And by "national conversation" I mean beating each other with the staffs of American flags.

I think LB and I have been having the same conversation that's happening in many white, progressive households:
LB: Is Donald Trump nice?
Me: No, he is not a nice man?
LB: Why?
Me: He is nice to people with brown skin like L (a friend from school), he doesn't like people who speak Spanish like E (another friend), and he doesn't like women who cover their heads like M's mom.
LB: That isn't nice, it's wrong to tell someone you don't like them because they have brown skin.  I'm friends with everybody.
Me: I know baby.

And it was all good, I'd kept the door open, continued our conversation about the world around us.  And then this interview happened.  And then it became the conversation of record: here.  Shit.  My little white girl could be one of those kids saying: "if Donald Trump is president, you can't live here anymore!" Not because she wants that to happen, but because she's five and that's what she heard me say (five year old version).

And I realized LB and I only had half the conversation.  The next conversation is about: Donald Trump says mean things about people, but we won't let him do mean things.  Sometimes people are mean, but it's our job to say "you are not allowed to do that!" We always help our friends if someone is being mean.  And we vote.


A princess with a penguin on her head with an umbrella on his head.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Dorothy Day is my Patron Saint

It's complicated, of course, with her not canonized.  But, then I'm not Catholic.  Dorothy Day: a difficult woman, a single mother, a side-switcher and fellow traveler, a woman with more vision and devotion than sense.

What I hate these days: "lifestyle blogs" I read blogs through bloglovin which I find to be a serviceable blog feed that unfortunately thinks I want to read a bunch of crap blogs that will teach me how to style my blood diamonds and such.  I just made the mistake of clicking on a lesbian mom lifestyle blog, which was the worst: how to spend a million dollars on baby crap so you can achieve just the right look of simplicity.  I have only myself to blame for that click.

I've had occasion to realize how lucky I am to live in this apartment, not only because we overlook the park and the corner store (it is still a bodega if it's owned by moroccans who advertise "Spanish Food!), but because as LB and I walk to Whole Foods on Saturday morning in the other direction is a stream of older people taking their carts and bags to the Saturday food pantry at the storefront church down the street.  And we know how lucky and rich we are in a very tangible way.  Every time someone asks us for a dollar or a bus ticket, I get to have a real conversation with LB about who has and who doesn't have, and what it means to share or not share what we have.

Wordpress: So I have my wordpress site that I use for pw protected posts, but now I can't pw protect because they did some update that took that away.  Therefore you and I were denied a good rant and some adult topicing.  PG version.  I took a 6 month dating hiatus, which got a little complicated and then not complicated at all.

What I've been watching: Formation.  Again and again.  I'm fascinated and I wish I had students so I could make them watch and deconstruct.  Pro: vernacular black history, pop/protest crossover.  Anti: Black capitalism as the path to liberation.

LB: an absolute love even when she drives me crazy.  She's finally wearing a winter coat.  She seems to have more energy lately.  She's writing-her name and then nonsense words, but it's all good.  Among our adventures, we went with friends to a vintage duckpin bowling alley with LB's boldest friend and LB had great time doing some kind of modified running man while bowling very, very slowly.

School pic: this is so LB, smiley and holding back just a little.

Weather: a little snow, a little extreme cold, but not really that bad-thank you higher power. I picked LB up early when daycare closed due to snow, and I had the genius idea of bringing LB home in our sled.  What kid doesn't like a sled?  After standing outside for five minutes arguing about whether she would get snow on her butt, she finally sat down, but whimpered the whole way home.  And of course we didn't have her snow pants, so I'm sure she was cold.


 Holidays: incredibly painful. But LB looked lovely for our fancy Christmas Eve dinner.



 Work: good but stressful.  I had good grant news after busting my ass for weeks and weeks, but some how good news just leads to higher anxiety.  I probably need more exercise.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Child of the 2010s

"I hope I don't have a nightmare.  I had a nightmare that there was a gun and bullets.  I hid, so I didn't get dead.  All the kids have to hide.  Some kids didn't hide and they got bullets [insert list of kids who hid or didn't hide].  Teachers don't have to hide, they're magic.  They don't get bullets.  Kids aren't magic, they have to hide."

"I hope I dream about a unicorn, about riding a unicorn, and I ride the unicorn wherever it wants to go."