Thursday, January 17, 2008

Getting A Little Personal: Part 1 Early Education

Part 2: MisEducation
Part 3: Educating Them & Us
Part 4: Home Schooling
Part 5: Return to Education
Part 6: Education of a Mayor

I grew up as a little girl in a predominately black neighborhood in Indianapolis. I lived in the same house from the time I was born in 1966 until I left for college in 1984. We didn't live in that area because we tried to segregate ourselves, we lived there because that is the area of the city carved out for people with dark skin like me. There was a little neighborhood school about a mile and a half away. All the kids from neighborhood went to school #73. I was there for the first part of kindergarten, the last half of fifth grade, and all of sixth grade. What I learned in those years and through those school moves had a great impact and taught me a lot about the city and country that I was growing up in.

Imagine this. I was five years old at my neighborhood school and some how it was determined that I knew everything they were teaching the kids. I knew how to read at the age of 3.5, I knew my colors, numbers, and whatever else I was supposed to know. I clearly remember that a woman would come and take me out of my classroom and take me to a separate room where I was asked a lot of questions and asked to write stories, and do drills with flip cards. What I didn't know was that I was being assessed by the school board. The school board determined that I was exceptionally gifted and that my neighborhood school would not provide the intellectual challenge that I needed. A decision was made to remove me from my neighborhood school and transfer me to a school that seemed so far away. It was like a different world to me. The houses and trees were huge and all the kids at the school were white. There were a couple of other brown faces like Aaron and Vivica Foxx who is now a big time actress.

This was the first time that I was asked to navigate issues that in 2008 we are still dealing with as a country. At five years old in 1971 I went to a school that allowed children to progress at their own rate. Great right? Here is the real deal. This school was only about 6 miles from my house. It was a public school just like school #73 in the exact same school system. Still, things were very different. Why or how is it that a this school only a few miles away offered such incredible opportunities to students that the kids in my neighborhood would ever know about? Something else that I never knew was that my parents (my mother) had GONE to the school board and complained about the substandard conditions and the low expectations at my neighborhood school. That's why I was tested and moved. That's the ONLY reason why I was tested and moved. I also learned that every year that I was at that school, out learning my neighborhood friends my mother had to trek down to the school board and get a special dispensation to keep me there.

If you don't see the trouble with any of this let me point it out:
  1. I was moved because I was too intelligent for the school, but no one else at my neighborhood school was tested. Was I really so smart or was the school poor? If the school was providing a sub-standard education, should anyone have been left at that school?
  2. In the same school system should one school get the hand me downs from the one school or should they all get the same resources? (More on this in a bit)
  3. What was really different between the kids in my neighborhood and the kids at the new school? Did the white kids get tested to before they were allowed to attend this school? That's rhetorical but the answer is NO. They did not have to be tested. Smart or dumb the white children only had to live in the vicinity. They were given access simply because of where they lived, I had to prove that I was smart enough.
  4. What is it like to be the only brown brownie in your brownie troop? How does it feel to a nine year old to have great friends at school who you can visit but they are not allowed (by their families) to visit you because you live in a black neighborhood? What do both sets of children learn from the experience?
  5. What is it like to go to school with people from a VERY different cultural experience and then have to live in the neighborhood with people that share your culture?
It is difficult for a small child to absorb all of that and why they are really not accepted in the neighborhood or the school.

Back to number 2. Because of some really outrageous things that happened to me at this school, my mother had to remove me in the 5th grade. I will never forget that day walking into Mr. Dillanger's class as the new kid, living in, but somewhat disconnected from the neighborhood perspective of my friends. I was about to learn how the difference in the way that we were being educated impacted our future.

Mr. Dillanger's Long Divison
Here's what happens very early. Mr. Dillanger's class was learning division, something we had mastered in 3rd grade at the other school. I was asked to go to the board and a said the problem wrong. I said something like, "divide 5 by twenty" instead of the other way around. He told me that I was wrong and said that it couldn't be done. He said, "then show me." I realized my mistake but it was no big deal because I had long ago learned how to do division using decimals. I made the problem 5.0/20. My ability to do that was immediately scolded. I was told that I was showing off and that his students were not at that point and I would confuse them.

Ah - ha the difference! At #106, my white school we were taught to challenge the limits, to question, to reach, to explore, to LEARN. Here at my neighborhood school that had hand-me-down books, the black students were already being taught not to "show off" by being too intelligent. It was being taught by the teachers. They were being taught to color only within the lines and never reach beyond what they were given. That is where a serious divide begins.

This is not some sad tale of my childhood. It is only a small glimpse into what made me so resilient and why I believe that I can help my new children figure out how to make their way it what will seem like a very new world.

This relates to Ethiopia adoption or transracial adoption in general because I was the conspicuous child. The difference was that after my daily school experiences, I went into a home with a strong mother, I played for hours with black children in my neighborhood, I participated in little league clubs that were predominately black, and I attended a black church. There was a balance to the messages that I was receiving about who I was and who I should be.

Thank God!


Deanna said...

Valerie, I am really sorry that you deleted your previous post because I agree with it, even if I cannot relate to it. Since we started the adoption process, I have begun to see the inequality in comments from people like Pat Buchanan and the like. I know that all to often we (we being the white community) try to make ourselves feel better by pointing out that blacks are allowed to surround themselves with other blacks but if we do that we are racist. I know that is stupid because I spend most my life in an all white world without even giving it a second thought: until I adopted my son. Now I can empathize with the need to belong. When I talk about my community being all white, I do not do so with pride. I am actually very sad that our community is not more diverse, but I am happy that it is slowly changing. We are moving to Africa in a couple years, but if we weren't we would probably move to a more racially diverse area for the sake of our son.

That being said, I really enjoyed this current post not because it was a good story (it was a sad story because it still happens today), but because it opens up a world that I would not have been privy to without reading your blog.

I also enjoy your writing style very much... So, thank you for putting yourself out there.

Bryan and Joy said...

Thank you for sharing your experiences. I'm looking forward to Part 2...

VALARIE - Single, Ethiopian-bound, mother-to-be of two bright-eyed Ethio children. said...

Deanna, thank you so much for your heart felt comments. I took it down because I really don't want the blog to be political. I've had another blog title that I think I will move these articles too called the Color of My Culture.

But, I will put it back here for the time being.

Original Court Date: April 18, 2009
Final Court Date: May 18, 2009
[607 total days & 165 days w/IAN]