The problem we all live with

Norman Rockwell, The problem we all live with, 1964

A truly memorable episode of This American Life from last year – The Problem We All Live With – that explores the beneficial power of desegregation in U.S schools. In particular the recordings from the town meeting that show white middle class families fears of black children coming into “their” schools is a harrowing listen.

I went to a private school as part of Thatcher’s Assisted Place scheme, which gave means tested vouchers for private schools to parents of children who scored high on entry tests. I’ve met a few people who benefited from the Assisted Place scheme and we are all middle class and white. Fewer than 10 per cent of the selected children had fathers who were manual workers, compared with 50 per cent in service-class occupations such as teaching, and that although children from single-parent families made up the largest category, other disadvantaged groups, notably the unemployed, and black and Asian families, had poor representation (Prof. Sally Power. Tracking the progress of Assisted Place holders thirty years on).

I’m grateful for the education that I received from a prestigious private school that my father, as a single parent, would not have been able to afford had it not been for the Assisted Place scheme. Yet I can’t help but feel that I was segregated away from the diversity of this country in a private school. I do not think I was able to benefit from and contribute to a school that represents the community that I grew up in.

Not that this will likely be a choice my income will give me, but I will never send any children I may have to an elite private school. I would send my child to private school if it was affordable for a family with a median family income. But I say this now, and I fear I could become one of those parents at the school meeting in the episode who have no regard for any child other than their own. Nikole Hanna-Jones discusses the moral quagmire of how to decide the right school for your child in this enlightening NYT article.

“Saying my child deserved access to “good” public schools felt like implying that children in “bad” schools deserved the schools they got, too. I understood that so much of school segregation is structural — a result of decades of housing discrimination, of political calculations and the machinations of policy makers, of simple inertia. But I also believed that it is the choices of individual parents that uphold the system, and I was determined not to do what I’d seen so many others do when their values about integration collided with the reality of where to send their own children to school.”

I will try my hardest not to uphold a system of segregation with the choices I make for any children I may have.

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