The Benefits of Sending Your Privileged Child to an “Underperforming” School

The private school down the street from our house is very good at advertising exactly why it’s awesome. They have a beautiful, comprehensive website and a big canvas banner outside the sprawling campus that reads:

“Park Day prepares students to be informed, courageous, and compassionate people who shape a more equitable and sustainable world.”

It also has a tall 10-foot fence and a gate that opens and closes when parents drive in to drop their children off. My daughters and I sometimes catch a glimpse of the chickens wandering around inside and what looks like a super fun playground. Someone once tried to get us the code but we were told there was a crackdown after too many neighborhood kids found their way in. It costs $25,790 a year for kindergarten.

.. If you’re trying to decide where to send your kid to school, it’s pretty logical to ask yourself: what might my kid gain from going to the most highly rated school in town? That school is, very likely, really good at answering that — whether it’s public or private.

.. If you are trying to be socially-conscious, you might even ask yourself: what do other kids lose if my kid doesn’t go to the neighborhood, public school

.. Those kids lose the friendship that your kid might offer, and in a roundabout way, the whole system loses out on your family’s energy, loyalty, and resources. The “public” part of public schools gets eroded when too many parents get understandably seduced by the places with the pithy taglines and the great websites.

But let’s flip the script. Let’s explore a different question: what do white and/or economically privileged kids gain from living in diverse neighborhoods and going to their local, public schools?

.. The most critical reason to send your privileged kid to public school: integrity. If you believe in the common good, of which public schools are the most fundamental building block this country has to offer, then participating in that system makes good sense.

.. Contributing through your attention and cultural capital, offering up your most precious resource — your love for your child — and letting that love expand and benefit a bunch of kids who are also deeply loved by their parents, but quite possibly, not in a position to forgo the failing, neighborhood school — well, it’s aligned. It feels right.

The modern American culture of parenting would lead you to believe that you can’t prioritize the common good and your own child at the same time — that the only way to be an excellent parent is to get the measurable best of everything for your child, which inherently means turning a blind eye to what other people’s kids endure. What if, instead, what is healthy for your child — not “best,” but healthy — is to receive no end of love and only proportional resources, and to witness parents trying to fumble their way toward closing the gap between their values and their actions each and every exhausting day?

A related, foundational reason: equality. Our public schools perpetuate racism and classism more systematically and effectively than almost any other institution we’ve got in this country. If you want to fight white supremacy and the legacy of slavery, public schools are a decent place to start.

.. Shannan Martin and her husband both grew up in small towns, heavily influenced by their all-white Evangelical Church. “We thought our duty was to live as safe and protected a life as possible,” she explains. But when they moved to Goshen, Indiana — the RV capital of the world — they decided to enroll their three children in a Latinx-majority public school, despite their neighbors’ warning. She explains: “We sent our kids to a ‘failing’ elementary school where, they told us, there would be drugs, evolution, gay people, and gangs.”

“It is the best thing that ever happened to us. I cringe to know how much a part of the problem I once was,” she says.

“I can only hope I continue to grow in ways that grind my old paradigms into dust. We have been here long enough to wake up to the overwhelming goodness of being part of a rich and diverse community. We understand our presence here does not enhance the lives of those around us nearly as much as their presence enhances our lives.”

Your kid doesn’t just learn diversity, but lives diversity.

Minorities will be the source of all of the growth in the nation’s youth and working age population, most of the growth in its voters, and much of the growth in its consumers and tax base as far into the future as we can see.”

.. demographics are going to shift dramatically; the flow of actual power — economic and political, especially — out of white, male hands may take longer. Even so, white children raised in white dominant spaces are inherently less equipped for the workforce, not to mention world, that they are entering into

.. The rise of artificial intelligence will also mean that so-called “soft skills” — like getting along with a wide range of humanity — will become more and more critical. Our children, particularly our white children, will be deeply disserviced if they come of age in segregated enclaves that teach them about racial difference without giving them the opportunity to actually live with and among those racially and culturally different from them. They will be less effective communicators, collaborators, inventors, and artists. They will be less wise and generous citizens and neighbors. In a world increasingly intolerant of white obliviousness and fragility, they will be set up for a kind of social and emotional failure.

.. “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

.. Whiteness is often treated as a default state, rather than an actual culture in and of itself.

.. Kids who grow up in multiracial environments are more likely to be aware of how white culture shapes them, and have some valuable perspective on selectively adopting or rejecting it.

You and your kid get to be part of a community with non-white values.

.. One of the dominant norms of white privileged culture, in its contemporary form, is an emphasis on independence and a very particular and narrow kind of excellence.

Our favorite parenting books are filled with advice about how we might shape our children into high achievers.

We even plaster this ideology on our bumpers: “My kid is an honors student.” The dark side of all of this opportunity and emphasis on “winning” is that a lot of kids are left feeling like losers; sometimes to the point of questioning their own intrinsic worthiness.

What if your kid isn’t an honors student? What if your kid has a learning disability, but is an awesome gymnast or the kind of person who really senses when people are upset and knows how to help them out of a funk? There are no grades or bumper stickers for that.

Schools that aren’t majority white are, according to dozens of emails I received from parents, far more welcoming of kids who don’t fit a traditional mold.

As any parent of a child with special needs will tell you, most schools with high test scores aren’t thrilled to hear that our kids will be attending their schools. They don’t like the fact that our kids bring extra work.”

.. “These are schools that don’t have the money that our schools in the suburbs have, but they promote an inclusive environment for all students, which is worth far more to us in the long run,”

.. “I’ve gotten gasps and shocked looks when I tell people where I’m sending my son to school. I just smile and say that a school that can see the value my child adds to a class and that is willing to educate him fully alongside his peers, with the accommodations he needs, is the best school for him, regardless of location.”

.. One of her children needed to get pulled out of class regularly for speech therapy. Worried, Maggi asked the counselor if she should anticipate him getting teased and what she might do to prepare him for that. The counselor didn’t skip a beat before responding: “At this school? No—there is no normal here, so there’s no teasing kids who are different. The kids are used to everybody being unique.”

.. The teachers get to explore a wider range of teaching methods, too, according to Anne Kelterborn, an educator in Red Bank, NJ. She explains: “I have taught in both urban and suburban schools, and I have found that the ‘struggling urban’ schools tend to embrace far more creative and committed educators than in suburban schools.”

..  Amy Wheedon, of the D.C. area, felt like the parent association was a gauntlet of sorts at her kids’ mostly white elementary school. “Parents competed to lead new initiatives,” she explains. At their far more multiracial middle school, things are different: “Parents come out to celebrate their kids—at games, banquets and honor roll assemblies. Their jobs are tough enough; they aren’t looking for other ones. They want to leave work and have fun and spend time with their kids.

.. The economic pressure is often lessened in less white-dominant spaces. Krista Dutt, whose white kids attend a majority-minority school in the Chicago-area, explains, “We barely make ends meet, so being in a school and a neighborhood that people are surviving, not trying to beat each other at making the best birthday party, the best Valentine’s, or trying to prove that they don’t need the village is really great.”

You and your kids get practice being uncomfortable.

A more accepting school community, of course, doesn’t mean that your kid won’t experience discomfort. In fact, they will probably experience discomfort so often that they will get better and better at not just enduring it, but learning from it.

.. MLK day went for her kindergarten-age son. During a talk about the civil rights era bus boycotts, he excitedly shouted, “I would have gotten to sit in the back of the bus?!”

.. Her daughter, one of only a handful of non-native Spanish speakers in her Spanish honors class, came home and reported that none of her peers were giving her the time of day. “They thinks I’m just a basic white girl,” she told her mom.

As any mother would, Alison felt protective, but she also recognized that this was a defining moment: “For an hour a day, she knows what it is like to be in the minority, to find the rules confusing and feel like you’re a step or two behind, perhaps being judged and laughed at,” Alison explains. “I think most parents want to avoid that situation for their kids, but I think it’s a really important one.”

Alison told her daughter: “Be friendly, be yourself, be open about your life.”

After a few weeks, she started sharing stories around the dinner table about moments in her Spanish class when she got another student to laugh. It sounds small, but it’s actually big. Alison’s daughter doesn’t have to make a big empathic leap to understand what it feels like to be the minority in a given group of people. She’s lived it. She’s coped with it. She’s less likely to take her own sense of belonging for granted or to be oblivious when someone else is feeling isolated.

.. kids who see qualities as things that can be developed, rather than traits that you either possess or don’t, tend to thrive.

.. A white kid with a growth mindset around race knows that discomfort is a good sign of learning; they don’t fall apart at the first sign of confusion or critique.

In contrast, white kids who have been educated in perfectionist, homogenous environments and rarely weathered discomfort are likely to have a fixed mindset towards race. They are more interested in winning social entrepreneurship awards, than becoming wiser within unlikely, sometimes challenging, and deeply rewarding relationships.

Parenting, as it turns out, is a fairly new framework for what those of us with kids are up to. The term didn’t even exist until the latter half of the twentieth century, when upwardly mobile Americans started living in a more atomized way, separate from grandparents and aunts and uncles. Prior to that, caring for children was something that a wide range of people did, including older siblings and cousins. There wasn’t such a sense of needing to “do it right” by reading the right books, eating the right foods, saying the right things, and yes, getting into the right schools.

.. Alison Gopnik, a psychology and philosophy professor, points out that many of us — particularly white and privileged people — now approach the role of raising humans like carpenters. In short, we try to carve them into our own image of what a successful adult looks like. Her suggestion? Think of yourself more akin to a gardener — you create the right conditions and let nature do the rest.

.. If you send your kid to a school where they are surrounded by other kids quite unlike them — racially, culturally, religiously, socio-economically — you are providing a pretty rich and interesting ecosystem within which they can grow. Gardens, like communities, are healthiest when they’re diverse. If you plant your kids in a monoculture, expect less richness.

It was a beautiful fall day. My then kindergarten-age daughter, Thea, discovered that a few of her school friends were at our neighborhood park — Chelina from Cambodia, Yosselin from Guatemala, Devina and Tazaiah, both African American. They were lost in play for nearly two hours. On our walk back home, I said to her, ‘You know, Thea, these friends at the park — your friends from school — may have been coming to the park for years, like when they were 3 and 4 years old and when you were 3 and 4, too. But you didn’t know them then because you didn’t go to school with them. Isn’t that crazy?’

My daughter, who is very nurturing and loves her friends, responded, “But I would be sad if they weren’t my friends.”

I said, “But you wouldn’t be sad, because you wouldn’t know them.”

Thea said, “But I would still be sad.”

 

Freeing the Web from the Browser

the ability to create new links is a privilege granted only to content producers. The vast majority of those interested in a piece of work are merely readers, unable to contribute, only to consume.

.. The degree to which this constrains the Web is hard to overstate. Can we really expect authors to identify all salient connections from a piece of work to the wider Web?

.. One could imagine a system in which multiple sets of links could be associated with a single resource

.. connecting information together becomes a powerful tool available to all rather than a privilege granted only to content producers

.. As it turns out, these ideas aren’t new. In fact, Vannevar Bush pondered the benefits of these kinds of capabilities way back in 1945 in his visionary essay As We May Think.

There is a new profession of trail blazers, those who find delight in the task of establishing useful trails through the enormous mass of the common record. The inheritance from the master becomes, not only his additions to the world’s record, but for his disciples the entire scaffolding by which they were erected.Vannevar Bush (As We May Think, 1945)

.. These ideas were also central to a movement within the hypermedia research community from the late ’80s to early ’00s known as open hypermedia.

.. Unlike the WWW, open hypermedia systems make a hard separation between hypermedia structure — such as links and transclusions

.. Links are stored completely separately from the content upon which they are to be displayed, and all hypermedia functionality — including creation of and interaction with links — is exposed via an open protocol implemented by an independent program called the ‘link server’.

..  open hypermedia systems require an astounding amount of design and engineering work, and in return offer benefits of unclear value. 

.. it’s not at all clear if the effort required to move to a potentially better solution is worth the cost.

.. what is really lacking — in my view — is research considering the human factors at play.

..  In the words of Doug Engelbart: “Any possibility for improving the effective utilization of the intellectual power of society’s problem solvers warrants the most serious consideration … man’s problem-solving capability represents possibly the most important resource possessed by a society”.

 

Digital Nomads Are Not the Future

A privileged escape that’s hurting communities at home and abroad

.. The privilege of digital nomads

The World Domination Summit (WDS) takes place annually in Portland, Oregon and serves as a gathering place for the lifestyle-entrepreneurship, do-what-you-love (DWYL) community that has grown around the writings of Chris Guillebeau, Tim Ferriss, and the other gurus that dominate the niche.

In its early years, Amanda Palleschi wrote about the event for the New Republic, calling WDS out for being attended primarily by white people who “have advantages or significant successes that enable them to see the world through DWYL-colored lenses (and to pay for the $500 entry fee to WDS).” Guillebeau himself even acknowledged that he was “mostly attracting other Westerners” and told Palleschi, “[j]ust because we have privilege doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy our lives.” The summit has advertised a more diverse set of speakers in recent years, but that doesn’t mean its audience is significantly more diverse. As the community has grown, there were bound to be minorities who did well within it, just as in regular society, but that doesn’t mean they make up a sizeable chunk of its followers.

The reality is that the promise of digital nomadism is built on a quasi-libertarian worldview that’s closely related to the ideologies of Silicon Valley titans. In short, certain measures to promote social progress might be acceptable, but many believe that the government needs to take a hands-off approach on economic matters and not interfere significantly in the market.

DWYL is a privileged orientation focused on individual success, which ignores programs in developed societies the were designed to promote collective wealth and well-being. Miya Tokumitsu, a Jacobin contributing editor, called it “the secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment.” The movement’s gurus make a gesture toward charitable causes to not seem too selfish, but their initiatives often forward their worldview: helping others to escape the tyranny of traditional work and life structures by building their own lifestyle businesses.

The fierce individualism of digital nomads is damaging to communities, both at home and abroad, because people who feel “liberated” from space have no stake in improving their local area. They’re far less likely to work toward positive local change, fight for the rights of disadvantaged peoples, or be interested in halting the gentrification that displaces long-term residents — to which they usually contribute — because those issues don’t affect them.

.. Into this situation come the digital nomads, looking for locales that are inexpensive by Western standards, but where they can easily outspend residents to maintain a quality-of-life that would be difficult to achieve on local salaries. Chiang Mai, Thailand and Bali, Indonesia are some of the leading destinations for those seeking the location-independent life, causing a predictable development: developers chasing Western money.

.. The gurus talk of finding destinations where one’s money will go further, ignoring the consequences for local people because the only thing that matters is the achievement of their personal success.

.. Even though digital nomads come from developed countries and benefited from taxpayer-funded education, health, and social programs throughout their lives (and expect to in the future when they return to their home countries), they rarely feel any obligation to give back. Similar to tech libertarians, they do all they can to minimize their tax burden by finding the jurisdiction or country with the lowest tax rate to establish their business and, depending on the tax rules of their country of citizenship or residence, move often enough that they aren’t obliged to pay income tax.

.. Rhetorically, digital-nomad gurus say that everyone should follow their hearts and pursue their passion, but it’s clear that their message is only meant for a particular group of privileged Westerners, as their lifestyles are made possible by people rooted to place and not necessarily enjoying their work.

.. They may achieve an additional degree of freedom and enjoyment from structuring their lives in an unconventional way, but that’s only possible because they ignore the consequences of their actions by surrounding themselves with people who have similar levels of privilege and an unquestioning adherence to an ignorant, individualistic worldview strongly influenced by Silicon Valley’s brand of libertarianism.

.. Low-cost destinations exist because rich countries looted and plundered the rest of the world for centuries through colonialism and unequal trade relationships. The privilege to even consider becoming a digital nomad is a result of legal structures and high-quality public services that are funded through the wealth generated from those centuries of global dominance.

.. Privilege allows digital nomads to ignore all these things and live in a fantasy world where they need only worry about themselves. They take full advantage of their positions to live more fulfilling lives, while trying to avoid the responsibility to contribute to the society that granted them their privilege in the first place and actively augmenting the forces displacing locals in the places they treat simply as destinations, rather than communities. Digital nomads do not care about the societies they live in, and for that reason they have no place in the future.

How Much Does Being a Legacy Help Your College Admissions Odds?

As Harvard, Notre Dame, Georgetown and others pledge to increase diversity, admitting the children of alumni at higher rates complicates their efforts

Top colleges have pledged to become more socioeconomically diverse, but the admissions edge many give to children of alumni may make that goal harder to achieve.

.. At the University of Notre Dame, the University of Virginia and Georgetown University, the admission rate for legacies is about double the rate for the overall applicant pool, according to data from the schools. At Princeton University, legacies are admitted at four times the general rate, or roughly 30% compared with about 7% overall over the past five years, the school says.

Legacy applicants at Harvard University were five times as likely to be admitted as non-legacies, according to an analysis of admissions data from 2010 through 2015. The numbers—33.6% for legacies and 5.9% for those without parental ties—were submitted in a June court filing for a case claiming Asian students are being discriminated against in the name of greater diversity at the school.

..  Diversity initiatives have led to complaints by white students that minority students have a leg up. Meanwhile, highly qualified Asian students say they should get more slots based on academics. Both say long-standing traditions like legacy admissions soak up coveted spots.

Advocates for considering legacy status argue that favoring the children—and, in some cases, grandchildren—of graduates helps maintain an engaged and generous alumni base and lets students serve as ambassadors to new campus arrivals.

Cornell University President Martha E. Pollack has said legacy admissions help perpetuate “a Cornell family that goes on for generations.” In an interview with the student newspaper in May, she said the practice isn’t about giving preference or an advantage to legacies, but such a designation is one of many “balancing factors.”

.. “I really don’t see how our best universities can continue to justify this practice,” said William Dudley, Federal Reserve Bank of New York president, in an October speech. “Such an approach only preserves the status quo and constrains economic mobility.”

A handful of elite schools, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and California Institute of Technology, don’t consider legacy status in admissions.

.. calling for a dozen schools, including Brown University, Duke University, Swarthmore College and Emory University, to review their legacy admission policies.
.. Legacy preferences, which historians say were originally developed to keep Jewish students from prestigious colleges in the early 1900s, generally benefit applicants who are wealthy and white
.. Calling legacy admissions a “classist, racist institution,” Brookings Institution senior fellow Richard Reeves said, “There is an inescapable hypocrisy of an institution saying, ‘We are going to be open and meritocratic,’ and maintaining a hereditary privilege.”
.. Legacies made up roughly 5% of the applicant pool and 15% of this fall’s entering class at the University of Virginia.
.. “ ‘Special consideration’ refers to the longstanding practice of the dean of admissions and his staff carefully reviewing applicants whose parents or grandparents are alumni before final decisions are made
.. say much of the differential in admission rates can be explained by legacy applicants’ higher academic credentials and cultural fit. They say legacies also enroll at higher rates than other accepted students.