Please Don't Talk About My School Like That
by Abby Norman
"Oh! What part of town do you live in?"
It's the get-to-know-you question that I love—and also the one I am learning to avoid.
I have lived in Atlanta for the last 10 years but just began attending seminary in the neighborhood next to mine. What you need to know about me is this: I love my city. Although I was raised in the Midwest, my current city taught me how to be an adult, shaped the way I think about the world. I love my city.
I am now in a place where very many of my colleagues have just moved, and I love to talk to them about which part of the city they live in and what city treasures may be right in their backyard. Inevitably, they return the question and want to know where I live and what I love about it.
Three times this past week, people have nodded their head in recognition when I explain my funny little part of the city and they smile when I talk about the weird ways the lines hit my neighborhood and the strange tax break that gives us. Three times they have said to me, I would love to live there, but I have kids. I smile back and say, Me, too. Yes, they say, but my kids are in school, and you know how bad those schools are. Yes, I say, actually my kids are in school there. We love it. We have been so pleased with their education.
I am used to the eyebrow raising at the pool or the play place at the newest Chik-Fil-A. But I was a little taken aback that I was then having these conversations at my seminary, one that is widely considered liberal and progressive.
I have had these conversations before. I am used to the eyebrow raising at the pool or the play place at the newest Chik-Fil-A. But I was a little taken aback that I was then having these conversations at my seminary, one that is widely considered liberal and progressive. Black Lives Matter was mentioned in all three of the orientation chapel services, but still the disparaging of my kids' mostly black school.
My oldest has been attending the neighborhood school for the last two years. This year, her sister joins her, and every single person in our house could not be more thrilled about this decision. Still, the raised eyebrows from strangers and new acquaintances. They love our neighborhood—except for the schools. When pressed, they don't really know anything about the schools—they have just heard somewhere that they aren't great. When pressed, they cannot tell me where they've heard those things.
Earlier this summer I met a woman I did not know at the local kid-friendly coffee shop. She was pretty low on the wait-list of her preferred charter school (an international school that has over 72 countries represented and 27 languages spoken), and it was likely her daughter would be attending kindergarten where my daughters go. She hadn't heard much, but what she had heard wasn't good. We were meeting because she hadn't heard anything at all from a parent who was actually in the school. She had just heard (from who knows where really) that she shouldn't send her daughter to my daughter's school.
We talked through the pros and the cons and the ways my family had made the decision. We talked about what I thought I lost and what I thought I had gained by sending my kids to the neighborhood school. I told her the the hopes I had for the place and the joys I had been surprised by. The first day of school I watched her nervously walk down the hallway after having left her daughter in her kindergarten class.
A few weeks later I got an email from this same woman. A spot had opened up in the international school, and after much prayer and consideration they were going to take it. She wanted me to know that she had had a really positive experience at our school. I asked her to spread the word about her great experience, and she promised me she would.
Our school isn't perfect. The test scores are low. The poverty rate is high. The communication to the parents is not always a well oiled machine. But if you bother to step inside you see how well the kids are loved, how beautiful the building is, all the amazing dreams the staff are making possible for all the kids. Unfortunately, not very many skeptics are willing to step inside the building. They just have heard it isn't a very good school and pass that on to their neighbors. Statistically, Americans hang out in circles with people of the same race and socioeconomic status as themselves. The middle-class white families only hear the rumors. Most are happy to pass them on.
The middle-class white families only hear the rumors. Most are happy to pass them on.
Jesus has called us to love our neighbor, and I think this also means loving the neighborhood school. I understand that not everyone is going to make the same choice I did. I understand the choice I made isn't right for every kid. I understand that. I do. But wouldn't loving our neighborhood and wanting what is best for our neighbors' children at least invite us to give the neighborhood school a chance? Wouldn't loving the school well mean at least going to take a tour and talk to the principal before we believed the rumors we heard at the park? Wouldn't loving our neighbor at least mean going to see for ourselves?
But if you aren't going to send your kid to my daughter's school, there is one thing you could do that would make a huge difference: Please don't talk about my school in a disparaging way. Please don't tell strangers not to send their kids there. Please don't spread rumors. Please think about the ways that your opinion will be held up as fact for the next conversation about kindergarten and charter school lotteries. Please love me, my neighbors, and my daughters enough to say kind things about it.
The school has enough it needs to be worrying about (including two particularly adorable redheaded girls). They shouldn't also have to fight half-informed rumors about what they are and are not doing. Say it wasn't the right choice for you, but don't forget to tell people that other people really love it. Because we do. We love our school.
Abby Norman is the mother two girls and the former teacher of over 1,000 teenagers. A current seminarian and future preacher, she thinks a lot about the stories we tell. She is the author of Consent-Based Parenting and a work in progress about inner-city teaching. Find all of her words at abbynorman.net