Whose the parent?

As a product of the Chicago Public Schools, it was with great interest that I read this story yesterday. Go ahead, take a second, and read it…ok for those that don’t, the crux is that an elementary school in Chicago decided to ban homemade lunches. Yep, kids have two choices, eat the school provided lunch (slop) or eat nothing. Wow! Now I am not one of these anti-government folks but I will say reading this piece combined with having a kid in the local schools here in Maine have started to convince me that schools are moving away from their primary function….oh, educating kids to oh say parenting kids.

Now I will fully admit that I understand why schools are slowly moving from role of educator to parent, frankly there are plenty of parents that for whatever reasons simply are not able or available to parent. I see it all the time at my community center; we have kids who attend whose parents have actually told me that we (my staff and I) are the only ones that can get their kids to behave. Say what??? Kids constantly ask me why aren’t we open 7 days a week, ummmm because we like to have a life too.

It’s bad out there, I am not a teacher but due to the nature of my work I interact with teachers and other allied professionals that work with youth and most of us have never seen the apathy that exists within most families. So it only makes sense that teachers are willing to pick up the slack and add pseudo parent to their role…got to do what ya got to do.

Now let’s talk about the school meal program, I am of two minds, no kid deserves to go hungry. Plain and simple. Ideally everyone would have access to fresh, nutritious food that does more than add dense calories but to be honest with the current way that the school food programs are administered by the United States Dept of Agriculture, that’s hard to do. My community center for the past two years has participated in the Summer Food Service Program that is offered to community partners and schools so that kids’ at risk for going hungry will have access to meals.

My first year in the program, I had such high hopes thinking I might be able to partner with local farmers to offer the kids truly good food. Well it turns out the program, sets the guidelines for what you can serve and well its no longer a secret to me why school meals often look and taste like shit. The problem is not your local schools it’s the federal government, I repeat it’s the federal government. The schools are simply doing what they can at the cheapest price. See, school meal programs are woefully underfunded. The federal reimbursement rate is like a $1.80 for breakfast and $3.15 (can’t remember the exact figure so correct me if I am wrong) for lunch. Now I know you are thinking wait, that’s plenty of money to provide good meals. No, its not. See, that is all the money schools and agencies get that participate and that figure includes salaries, I mean the folks who cook/prepare the meal want to get paid. The folks that deal with all the paperwork are also fond of getting compensated too! It includes the cost of paper goods, ever noticed that most public schools use paper products? That’s because the USDA‘s regulations are so onerous that you are pretty much pushed into using disposable products. Of course these products cost money.

So now you can see why the lunches are not nearly as tasty or nutritious as they can be, I know my first year in the program I almost went over budget getting fresh fruits and veggies by year number two I realized that canned items could easily meet the “requirement” and ensure that I not go over budget. Shitty but its all about survival.

So back to the school in Chicago, sure they probably had kids making poor nutritional decisions but the truth is in more ways than one getting all the kids to eat the school lunch makes sense. More cash coming in to actually keep the cafeteria open and if it’s like my kids school where there is a shortage of space and time, it streamlines the process. If every kid gets a Styrofoam tray of food, it beats helping little Jenny open the thermos, and eat all the food their Mom packed.

Now the thing for me is when I was a kid in the Chicago schools starting in the late 1970’s, I never ever ate the school lunch. For starters my school had no cafeteria so the school lunch was a sack lunch that always looked bad…to this day I remember the peanut butter and jelly they offered on a graham cracker thing that looked like an ice cream sandwich. Yuck. I remember going to high school and even there once I had access to a cafeteria the fare looked so bad I remember begging my Mom to give me lunch money so I could eat outside the school. I actually remember taking the $1.50 she would give me for school lunch and just going off campus to a local eatery and getting Italian bread and gravy to eat rather than eating the slop the school served…that’s how bad the school lunch was and that was a long time ago!

The thing is the school that issued this mandate is in a lower income area where the truth is, it’s a lot easier to issue such proclamations. I mean you try that at a school that is solidly middle class and above and chaos will ensue. Then again even in middle income areas the schools are slowly trying to assert more authority over the kids which I suspect is part of the reason for the rise in homeschooling. Remember back in the dark ages when the only kid you knew who was homeschooled came from a fundamentalist Christian family? Kid always seemed sad and strange…but now? Homeschooling to some degree has become mainstream and in most cases the reasons I have heard for families choosing to homeschool has a lot to do with wanting to maintain a sense of control over their own kids. Wanting to ensure that the families’ values are what help to form the kids’ identity, etc. As I battle every week with some outside force that feels further and further away from our families values I will admit homeschooling sounds very attractive.

In today’s world it seems our kids are no longer ours and as parents we must decide how we want to handle that. Today it might be something as small as insisting we spend our money to feed our kids food we don’t eat but what will it be tomorrow?

Raising Brown kids in a White World

This is one of those posts that will probably come across as disjointed so I will apologize in advance but I hope  in writing it, I can work through some of my own issues…after all blogging is cheaper than therapy.

It’s school time and this year the kidlet enters school. We have been getting ready for this by attending the various screenings and Open Houses. I have been putting on my best happy face all the time stuffing down my own deep feelings related to the idea and of having my daughter start school and frankly my pot boiled over last night.

Growing up I was what folks called a good kid, that meant I didn’t backtalk my parents or any adults (considering how quick my father was to spank for small things, backtalk seemed like a great way to end my young life before it started), I made good grades in school and generally speaking I was a studious well behaved kid. The type of kid parents and adults rave about, after all I didn’t cause anyone any grief. Instead my black relatives teased me for talking “white” and made my life uncomfortable which I suspect is why I have little contact with my extended family to this day. My classmates either ignored me or made fun of me for my dark skin, funny hair and overall lack of whiteness.  Problem was deep down I was an unhappy bordering on tortured kid who in 4th grade threatened suicide, yet no one believed me and thankfully the idea never went beyond being just an idea.

The older I get, I am convinced that my parent’s decision to send me to a magnet school that was predominantly white played a huge role in my general unhappiness. However my folks were working class and it’s a known fact that by and large working class and poor families do not value or encourage much dialogue on issues like feelings. So I held my feelings in and it was only when I got to high school and discovered weed and booze that I found a release for my unhappiness. Besides the stoners were less bigoted and more accepting of a skinny gawky Black chick. So much fun I had for the first time in my life that going to school became less important especially when I realized I wasn’t going to get my ass kicked any longer by my parents. So when I turned 18, I said fuck it and dropped out and the rest is as they say history. Thankfully I did eventually realize school is not all bad and did return to school as an adult.

The reason I share this is because the kidlet’s impending arrival to formalized education has brought up many of these painful memories, memories of feeling like I had no place, being teased for my kinky hair, shiny legs…thanks to ashy skin my Moms believed in oiling me up so I went to school glistening. Add in the fact my folks were Black hippies and were into shopping second hand long before it was hip, I was a walking outcast.

Truth is while I moved to Maine for my son, I never saw myself putting down roots here. I figured as soon as he turned 18, I would get the hell out of dodge and either go back to Chicago or maybe move to San Francisco. But life happens while you are making plans and well I lost both my Mom and Granny, became a homeowner and well the kidlet was born. On some level maybe I was thinking the magical fairies would get us out of here by the time she was school aged but life doesn’t work that way.

In some ways when it comes to the kidlet we lucked out, her previous daycare was actually diverse, but it was not in out town, it was the town I work in which has a higher percentage of low income families that somehow correlates to greater racial and ethnic diversity here in Maine. Seriously, if you want racial diversity, look for the poor people! She loved her daycare and was fortunate to have as a good friend another biracial child but its school time and she must attend the school in our town and well it’s not terribly diverse. Oh, it’s more diverse than it used to be but long story short the kidlet is only one of two kids of color in her class and the other child is Southeast Asian and does not speak English.

I know this because today when I went in for the last minute school preparations I talked to the kidlet’s teacher and wanted to know how she will address the issue of diversity and was met with a blank look. No, I really mean a blank look. She finally told me that she didn’t think there was going to be any issues because well kids don’t see race or color. Um…..what fucking planet are you on? I suppose my temper started rising when I realized that she had no clue what I was talking about considering the glazed over look her eyes got as I had been explaining some of my concerns with the kidlet starting school and the purpose of this meeting was to talk about the kidlet’s readiness for school based off the assessments that had been done coupled with any concerns I had. Needless to say I have a dilemma, there is no question in anyone’s mind that she is ready for school and from an academic standpoint I think she will do well but I admit it’s the social piece that concerns me.

This past year she was in a preschool that was far less diverse than her previous childcare center had been and already I saw a slight change in how she viewed herself, her hair was not long like so and so. Well no, your hair is curly and while it is long it does not flow like that kids. It’s those little things that concern me because it’s the fact that the standards of beauty are not a kid who looks like her. I think the fact that we have no extended family of color here also bothers me and concerns me, right now the only woman she sees that looks like her is me. At least for me when I finished with my day of torture at school I was surrounded by folks that looked like me at home. On the bright side my Pops is moving out here soon so she will have more exposure to folks like us.

I realize some readers will say well just move, in a perfect world maybe that would be possible but moving is not an option for a myriad of reasons. None worth going into but at the same time I am scared, every kid of color I know out here has at one point or another dealt with racism and bigotry in the schools. A dear friend of mine left Maine last year because she was worm down with battling the schools over the distinct lack of sensitivity to race and difference. Sorry, but no one is moving me out till I am better positioned to do so and that will be a good 5-6 years away at the soonest.

So that leaves me considering what I consider the nuclear option…homeschooling. I won’t lie while I have always been attracted to the idea, I have been attracted to it in the same way you admire your buddy who works out 7 days a week and has a killer body yet you know you have no time or energy to do so yourself. Yet while I don’t wish to put my issues on my child at the same time I feel like I need to start thinking about homeschooling in the event school is a bust. I admit it scares me, the idea of school harming her through the possible cruelness of kids and cluelessness of teachers scares me. But at the same time the idea of teaching my own kid scares me…after all what if I fuck up and scar her? What if she is like 12 and can’t read because I can’t figure out how to teach her. On some level I know I am being silly but these are my concerns. Never mind the fact that the hubster is not proponent of homeschooling though after one of the most volatile conversations in our 15 year relationship he is willing to give it a try but has his own concerns.

I tell ya raising kids is hard enough but raising brown kids in a white world at times makes it even harder.