The search for a public kindergarten for Dalia seems to be in a lull: we’ve applied to all the schools in our neighborhood, including our zoned school (which maintains a waitlist each year because of too much demand), all the dual-language programs we can find, and even to PS333, which apparently will allow us the privilege of entering in its lottery, after all, despite the fact that we did not take a tour in December.
That just leaves the results of Dalia’s OLSAT test for Gifted & Talented. We held our noses through this entire process, mainly because when I went to the public forums on what G&T actually means for kindergartners, I came away convinced that the only defining feature of G&T kids was that their parents are reflexive strivers who want to enter the club just because it seems hard to get into.
But now, after having toured all the schools in our actually very diverse neighborhood, I am starting to see the real nature of the OLSAT: it’s a pigment test. Literally. They say the G&T entrance exam is about recognizing patterns and whatnot, but secretly the test administrators must be bouncing a light meter off the kids’ foreheads to test for darkness. Because when you go from G&T to Gen Ed class and back again in school after school here, you realize: G&T classes are 1500% less black and Dominican than General Ed classes. This is true in PS84, PS75, PS165, and even in PS166, which struck me as more mixed (read: more white kids) throughout all its classes.
I say this as someone whose kids–my wife keeps reminding me–are somewhat pale, but not white. We don’t expect to find lots of Mexican-Japano-Jew-Germans like our kids dotting the schoolyard, but had perhaps expected something less nakedly segregationist than the current system.
This is, of course, terrible for the kids in Gen Ed. They’ve got time enough to learn that the deck is stacked against them for some pretty superficial reasons. Why start when they’re five? It also forces white families into tough decisions. You can be politically opposed to the G&T system, but you see also that it has left general education bereft of the school’s most involved parents: that means fewer PTA perks, less parental pressure on teachers and administrators, and less everything. Now, do you put your kid in those classes to satisfy your politics? Is that punishing them?
I know I’m being naive. Of course G&T correlates to race. The G&T system–like all of Bloomberg’s “choice” in schools–is designed to appeal to an overindulged demographic for whom Choice is just another form of consumerism. It’s the smug feeling you get when you buy Kashi instead of Cheerios. Public education is only worthwhile to them if they know that there’s a lesser brand in the same building. It allows them to have that whiff of exclusivity, the taste of luxury purchase, that is hopefully intoxicating enough to lure them from private schools. So they prep their kids for the OLSAT, and those kids do well on the OLSAT. You can say a lot of things about Mike Bloomberg, but he understands the minds of the rich and of those who, in the words of Warhol, think rich.
My concern is what my daughter will learn in these schools. Kids her age may be math-dumb, but they’re socially very smart, and it wouldn’t take long to learn the lesson of the pigment test: This class is Gifted, the other class down the hall is Dominican.
I’m disappointed that these are the so-called Choices we have in school: a forsaken Gen Ed course or a high-scoring segregated class. But let me also be a realist. Manhattan is as segregated a town as any other, and the fact that we all ride the 2 train together (south of 96th, at least) doesn’t obscure that. In fact, Manhattan is a sort of perfect place to have schools that are two-tracked within a single building. We are talented at living elbow-to-elbow with, and yet completely ignoring, people who are different from us.
So the question becomes, should we expect the schools to attempt a vision of inclusiveness that either eludes or doesn’t interest our other institutions? Wall Street is segregated; journalism is too (DadWagon is heavily integrated, but mainly on the Judea-Asia axis). And housing is most definitely segregated: the reason why our neighborhood is so diverse is because it’s home to a lot of Mitchell-Lama housing and housing projects. Or, seen from the other side, it became diverse once the yuppies started coveting brownstones here. So if our housing, our reading, our banking, our commuting is all segregated, then is integration just one more ideal that we wish to preach to our children without actually practicing it ourselves? I’m so two-faced with my kids when I lecture them on everything from sleeping right to eating well to not dropping f-bombs that I really couldn’t bear to open up another deep vein of hypocrisy.
I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t automatically think my kids’ generation will solve racism just because they are doe-eyed and color-blind and innocent. The things that keep us apart are systemic and unwieldy and live in the bricks, not just the minds, of this town. And yet: if you can walk through the hallways of our public schools and not get pissed at the sight of a two-tiered, two-toned system, then you’ve already lost.