NY Times Campaign Stops: The Bilingual Debate Continued

NY Times Campaign Stops

The Bilingual Debate Continued

Jonathan Kozol, an educator and nonfiction writer, argues that racial segregation in American public schools is currently at levels that rival the pre-civil rights South. In the 21st century, however, ethnic (and class) segregation is voluntary, intentional and at times even manic. In major urban centers and beyond, the No. 1 parenting goal of educated, middle-class, privileged, English-speaking and otherwise upwardly aspiring families is to keep their children from suffering contact with high numbers of poor minorities in school — and those, of course, include many of today’s immigrant English learners.

Sometimes the expression of this parenting goal in the chattering classes is euphemistic ( “good schools,” “elementary schools with high API scores,” or the dream is expressed simply via a leafy, idyllic name, “Woodland, the school with the teaching garden and choral music program, where everyone wants to go”). But just as often, the whys of middle-class flight are couched in raw, numerically specific terms. This is thanks largely to greatschools.net, which has taken unwieldy skeins of government public school data and poured it into colorful easy-to-read pie charts and bar graphs for parental consumers.

While I feel confident poor minority families can get computers somewhere
and go online to compare local school test scores, in my experience, great schools.net is used predominantly by the middle class as a surgical scope illuminating what parts of town to flee. Something one hears so often at Gymborees in Los Angeles is practically a truism: “Of course we never considered our local elementary school; it’s 63 percent socioeconomically disadvantaged and 83 percent English learners! Clearly not a good fit for Kaitlyn.”

Sure, you can argue there’s a bit of xenophobia at foot. At the same time, however, I am entirely sympathetic to the real surprise of native-born parents waking up into a new urban landscape tipped by immigration. I myself froze up the first time I saw my lone blonde child disappear into a playground sea of brown — and that’s from someone who, growing up in southern California in the 1960s, was the only brown kid in a sea of white.


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