Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Can we talk about race?

[By the way, I've always hated to use the term "race" as I'm pretty damn sure we're all one race - the human race. But then again, ethnicity doesn't seem quite right either, and talking just about skin color is limiting.]

OK, so, a while back I posted about the low educational standards at my local community college, and a couple of posters recommended small liberal arts colleges as offering a better education. Which seemed like a damned good idea to me for my hypothetical kid. Although in some instances I thought, depending on the kid, it might be good to have that two-year buffer between high school and "real" college so that the kid can mature a bit more. Or, I might not have the money for anything other than starting off with a 2-year community college stint. But on the whole, I'd rather my hypothetical kid get a good education at a better school that will challenge them and help them develop a love for learning.

And then I started noticing that the racial and demographic diversity of the students on campus is really not representative of the local population. And I started counting. Now, this isn't a large sample size, and I'm guesstimating somewhat, but for example my communication class seems to be representative of the types of folk I see walking around in general, and we have 4 non-hispanic white students out of 28. Or, in other words, around 15%. I'm sure the demographics of the county have changed a bit since the last census, which lists the county as being 70% non-hispanic white, because a lot of people have moved from the more racially mixed counties nearby. But I don't think it has changed to 15% non-hispanic white. The next county was listed in 2000 as 58% non-hispanic white and we're now probably somewhere between the two.

Now, this is a great thing for me, because it is exposing me to a greater cross-section of the population than I usually mingle with. Especially in communication class where we all give talks about ourselves, I'm enjoying learning about the cultural backgrounds of the students in the class - especially the huge diversity within the students either from or whose parents are from the Caribbean - as to who's from Cuba, or Haiti, or Puerto Rico, or Dominican Republic, or Jamaica, or wherever, and the different things their families do and their differing perspectives.

And then it's making me think about my own interactions with people too. For example, there's this one kid who I think is just fabulous. He's this sensitive, drama type, who's brought in DVDs showing his various performances in plays, and is just amazingly mature for his age about so many topics. I thought I liked him a lot because of his level of maturity, and his sensitivity, unlike so many of the other 19- and 20- year old boys in the class. But then he was saying yesterday how his black friends tell him he's not black enough because he "acts white," and that they think he doesn't get as much discrimination as they do because of this. To which he always responds "uh....look at me" because he is much darker skinned than most African Americans. And that made me think - do I enjoy my interactions with him because he "acts white" and therefore does that say something about me, or do I enjoy my interactions with him because (as I previously thought) he's a mature, sensitive, kind, intelligent young man. Who's not a dufus messing around at the back of the class. Maybe it's a mixture of the two. It makes you think. Which is very good for me to do, and to be as aware as I can about how my unconscious behaviors could affect people.

OK, but where was I? Oh yes. I started worrying, because it seems we are effectively segregating people by economics. Is the school predominantly minority students because that's all their parents can afford, or because society has lower expectations of their possibilities for academic success? Why is it OK for white parents to worry about sending their kid off to a good quality college, but not OK for all parents to demand that the local community colleges offer a better quality so that everyone can take advantage of it? Is it OK that the vast majority of the faculty are white? What does that say about the levels of educational attainment we can expect from every kid? Should I in effect rethink the value of community college as also being positive in the sense that it is more diverse than even the high schools which are still very much based on economics as far as where your home is located (although my local neighborhoods are more mixed than some of the more gated community areas of the county, so maybe the local high schools are the same). And isn't diversity a good thing for children to grow up with?

And of course, at this point, I don't know what my hypothetical kid is going to be - I'm tending again more towards adoption from the state if I do continue on, as opposed to remaining childfree, and therefore my kid is probably more likely to be hispanic or mixed race. Is it better for me to send that kid to community college, knowing that I can keep them at home for 2 years and knowing that they'll be in the majority which might be beneficial for them and their sense of self-esteem. Or if they're non-hispanic white do I send them there knowing that diversity is a great thing that I can't necessarily provide enough of among my family, close friends and neighbors. Or do I go the route of saying if I can afford to send them to the best schools I should do that, and diversity be damned. And that doesn't even factor in for the private grade school debate.


Anonymous said...


My plan is to send my son to the college that costs the least in relation to the kind of job he can get. I'm not sure most kids are interested in some kind of personal best / epiphany when it comes to studies.

I think you're overthinking the kid thing. I would worry about local preschools / elementary schools first.


Sam said...

Thinking is the point of education in my opinion. Just the fact that are you kicking the thought around means that you are better informed and more thoughtful than most of the population. Keep mulling it over, and the answers will come. Personally, I believe that much of the decision should be based on who the child is, because not all children (just like adults) thrive in the same situation.

Ladybird said...

Sarah glad you had a lovely birthday!
On your weight post (just catching up) I was going to post that Lo GI is the easiest most sustainable way of losing weight I think. No refined carbs of any description and watching portion size. No sweeties, chocolate and probably no wine, (vodka with soda and fresh lime is great). It works for me and keeps my skin in much better condition (no breakouts). It means you can go out as well so you can live, rather than be on a diet. WRT schools please let me have this problem some day. I would go with the best I could afford, and based on child's personality. Mind you you could have a sports scholarship recipient! These decisions are really NB they affect a kid's life forever.
Best wishes