“And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches” (3 Ne. 6:12).
For the last two years, my kids have gone to decidedly less-advantaged public schools. Out of necessity, we lived in a higher-density, lower-income neighborhood. There were a lot of rentals and turnover (though my own neighbors stayed stable for the entire two years). While our neighborhood wasn’t great, it also wasn’t scary, and our neighbors were kind and friendly, even if we frequently didn’t share a language. I knew my kids would be a minority in their schools, but it didn’t really hit me what that meant until the first day of school, when they were the only white kids at each of their bus-stops. Aware others frequently face those statistics in their own demographic helped me encourage my kids to enjoy school and make friends. My oldest son started middle-school, and while he made some good friends, he also had a terrible time. Bullying rapidly became a huge issue. I was forceful with the school about addressing the bullying, but my previously happy son was now loathing school. It was bad enough that I had to threaten police action at the school. I had hoped being in a different environment would be good for my kids, stretch them a little. It was a rough two years, and my youngest was the only one who managed to maintain her enjoyment of school.
Yesterday was the first day of a new school year. Over the summer, I got married and we moved to a house from our tiny townhouse. Our neighborhood is still diverse- but it’s in a noticeably higher tax-bracket socio-economically. All three kids came home with markedly different experiences from the previous two years. There was laughter and happiness. They each had good things to say about their schools and about their classmates. All three attended newly-constructed or newly-remodeled schools that were clean and bright and new. Most markedly, was my oldest son, the victim of such intense bullying. He reported, with a sigh of relief, there was “no crap at all, mom”. He said everyone was nice, the teachers were helpful, no one yelled at him for asking questions or not knowing where to go, no one called him names, no one pushed him into a locker, or shoved him, or stabbed him with a pencil in class. These were not isolated incidents at the old school- they happened from the first day on, for two years.
I’m worried that my experiment living where we did may have hurt my children’s attitudes about others. My oldest son has a subtle hostility towards boys who look like the ones who harmed him, and I don’t know what to do about it beyond the obvious talking about stereotypes and judgement.
There is also a deep sadness I find myself wrestling with; there is truth to the quality of education, schools, teachers and resources being tied to the value of the homes in the neighborhood. Kids in poorer schools are simply not getting the same education as kids in higher-income neighborhoods. They just aren’t. The facilities are run down, the textbooks are marred or old, the teachers are exhausted and frequently end up doing more damage control than teaching, and everyone wants out. These facts are reflected in not just the test scores, but in everything, including social skills and coping mechanisms. It makes me really sad, and makes me feel utterly helpless.
And I feel terrible, because I’m glad my kids are not at those schools anymore, and I know they will benefit in ways the kids still stuck there will not. And it’s awful. The words of 3 Nephi are a pretty clear and damning indictment when “chances for learning” are deprived, and of the chasm between the educated, and those without. I’ve witnessed now what lack of that chance looks like. It’s not pretty. And it reflects on all of us. Where does one even begin to address it?
For additional reading pertinent to this subject, I highly recommend The Hunger Banquet, by John F.
My experience is personal and, of course, not empirical, however it’s a very real, in-the-trenches example of a lived experience. I’m hoping in the comments we can have a discussion on ways to address the realities of “chances for learning”.