Thursday, June 28, 2007

Hello, 1954

While I was listening to NPR on the way to work this morning, I heard the news that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that race can not be a factor in assigning where children go to public school.


I need a minute to get my head together.


Race is something that I think about A LOT when it comes to school.  When I was looking for a preschool for Viva, I was looking for one that had a lot of ethnic and racial diversity.  I didn't want her to feel "different," to be the only brown face in a sea of sameness.  But I didn't look for a predominantly black preschool, because I wouldn't be comfortable with that either.  I think there is inherent value in spending your days with people of a variety of backgrounds, to get different perspectives and yet to see how very similar you are.  As she gets older, I want Viva to be able to operate effectively in any situation she might find herself in, and part of that is learning how to interact with different types of people.


I have been looking at public schools now for, oh, at least a year. I am troubled by my local public elementary school's mediocre test scores, and by the miniscule black population in the school, which echoes the small black population of our neighborhood (our neighborhood skews pretty much white urban hipster/Latino middle-class/second-generation Asian-American/smattering of Armenian and the occasional black person-I won't even say black family because I have yet to see one).  I have looked into charter schools, which there is no guarantee I can get her into.  I have looked into other private schools, and there's no economic diversity there. (That, I think, is fodder for a whole different post about growing up privileged and not having a realistic view of the world.)


When I look at the "best" public schools in mid-city Los Angeles – the schools with great reputations, great test scores, high rates of parent involvement, great extracurricular programs – I can't help but feel defeated. We don't live within the boundaries we'd need to in order for Viva to go there.  Here's the ethnic/racial breakdown on each:


HC School is 58% Asian, 23% white, 9% Latino, 7% black, 2% Filipino, and 1% unspecified. 

SL School is 47% white, 28% Latino, 10% Filipino, 9% Asian, 5% black, and 1% unspecified.

LC School is 56% white, 21% Asian, 14% Latino, and 10% black.


I would say each of these has to some degree a fairly good mix.  The public school where we live, and where Viva would go to kindergarten if she went through the LA Unified School District, rates a "C" academically.  Its ethnic breakdown is 75% Latino, 11% Filipino, 7% white, 4% Asian, 2% black.  Also diverse, but you see? Hardly any black children. 


In contrast, Viva's current school, which costs us upwards of $15,000 per year – note well, she is now in Pre-K, not even elementary school – breaks down as follows:  28% black, 28% white, 28% Asian, 11% Latino, 3% American Indian, and 2 % unspecified.  It's not perfect, but it's pretty damn good.


Yes, I know, I live in a dream world.  But apparently I'm not the only one (hello, Justice Roberts!). The Supreme Court decision pisses me off, and let me tell you why:  it completely ignores the reality of race and education in America.  Does anyone honestly believe that schools in minority neighborhoods are as well-funded and well-run and well-staffed as those in predominantly white areas?  Seriously?  It's not a level playing field.  If it were, we wouldn't have needed Brown vs. the Board of Education in the first place. Separate but equal, my ass.


I don't think it's a coincidence that my local school has a population that is predominantly minority, one-third bilingual (one-third of kids in the school do not speak English as their first language) and low-income (85% of kids are getting free or reduced price lunch) and has such shitty test scores. Is this because I think minority kids are inherently deficient? No. I think it's because they have parents who can't help with homework and can't be involved with the school and advocate on the kids' behalf. And I think they can't do this because they're concentrating on basic survival -- getting food on the table and paying the rent and doing all this in another language, in a strange place. It's not that they care any less about their kids than Jane in Bel Air does about hers.


I am fortunate to be in the position where I feel I have some choice about where my child goes to school. Sweet Dub and I have been discussing whether or not we should move, and if so, where, in order to get Viva into a "good" public school.  The fact that we have to do this in the first place, before even considering race as a factor, shows you how horrendous the Los Angeles public school system is.  It's extremely hit or miss; some schools happen to have good principals and parents who have the time and energy and money to assist with leadership and building a strong school for their neighborhood.  And some just don't.  If the public schools were uniformly good, I wouldn't be pissed off. 


If we had to, we could continue to send Viva to private school. But a lot of folks don't have that option. And the Supreme Court decision, in my mind, paves the way for a lot of children of color to miss out on getting a quality education.


Whew. I'm worn out. 


And still pissed.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Brevity is the Soul of Wit

About this whole Working Full-Time Dealio: I don't remember if you asked me how I feel about it, but quite frankly, it's not all that it's cracked up to be.

I just wrote a whole long post about it and I was boring even myself, so bleep that.

I just wish I had more time.

Farmer in the Dell

Have I mentioned that we at Casa de Blah have become gardeners? The cold winter (cold by Los Angeles standards, that is) killed a whole strip of pretty purple rushes we had going on in our backyard, so we pulled them out and planted food. Okay, maybe that's not quite right. I think what I meant to say was that my next-door neighbor, who is retired and has some time on her hands, volunteered to come over one day while we were at work/school and she not only singlehandedly ripped out all the reeds or rushes or whatever the hell they were, but also planted three tomato plants, a zucchini plant, and some string beans. Inspired, I also planted some strawberries. Through this process, I've learned that I really like gardening. (I know, hardly earth-shattering, but for someone who grew up around a lot of concrete, a pleasant realization.)

Here's the patch:

And now we are inundated with zucchinis. The strawberries are coming in slowly (we eat one at a time), the tomatoes are taking over the yard (though not ripe yet), and the beans? Well, the beans have not been looking so good. We keep debating what to do about them, but not doing anything, because that is our way.

This afternoon, while I was working from home, Sweet Dub came home for lunch. "We might have to pull out these beans," he said, walking around them. And then: "Oh my God, a bean! Hey, another one!"

Hey howdy hey, we have beanage. It's all very timely because I have been reading that Barbara Kingsolver book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle about how she and her family spent a year trying to eat only food that was produced locally. Now, it does help that they were able to move to a farm that they conveniently already owned, so they were able to grow a lot of food themselves. We don't own a farm. We merely rent a little house with a yard. But it's an interesting concept nonetheless, and if I ever finish the book and have the time or inclination to do so, maybe I'll review it fully here! in this very space!

The Cheese Stands Alone

Ever since we got back from Hawaii, Viva has had trouble sleeping by herself. We made the mistake of letting her sleep with us in the king-sized bed in our hotel room. This was perfectly okay because (a) there was plenty of room; and (2) we were in a suite, so if we wanted to get up to any shenanigans while she was asleep, we had a separate room (with a door!) we could go to. Now, at home, Sweet Dub and I sleep in a queen-sized bed. We sleep in a queen-sized bed because we like each other and like to be close to each other. It works for us unless there is a skinny four-year-old draped in between us, kicking her father in the back and poking me in the face with her elbow while sleeping.

The first week we were back, Viva made it known repeatedly and loudly, with much whinage, that everyone else had a brother or sister to sleep in their room with them and why didn’t she and we were horrible parents who were scarring her for life with our insistence that she sleep on what amounts to a splintery plank raised up off the floor with only the rats for company in her drafty attic room where the snow drifts in and her filthy handkerchief-sized blanket doesn’t quite cover her enough, ALONE, ALONE, ah the agony. And so on and so forth.

We finally got her off of this tack by numerous explanations that even if she had a brother or sister, they might not share a room, or even want to, and that if she had a brother or sister, she would definitely have to share us with him or her, and that would mean less time and attention for her, which, as the ultimate drama queen, you know she is not going for. And so we were saved.

And then there was Pee-Wee.

While channel-surfing recently, Sweet Dub came across Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, and knowing of Viva’s love of the dance, he recorded the portion of the movie where Pee-Wee dances in the biker bar in the high-heeled patent white loafers. If you haven’t watched the movie 500 times, you might not remember that after that scene, Pee-Wee takes off on a motorcycle (or should I say hog?) loaned to him by one of the bikers. He immediately crashes through a billboard and gets rushed to the hospital, whereupon he sleeps fitfully, and you see that he is having nightmares of what has happened to his own bike. These are nightmares featuring scary clowns doing unspeakable things to the bike and leering horribly at the camera. I didn’t remember this part of the movie, unfortunately.

Thanks, Pee-Wee! This scene is now seared into Viva’s hefty braincase, where it has marinated in the splendiferous goop of her imagination and now takes over almost every brain function after the sun goes down. What I am saying to you is that Viva is now terrified not just to sleep in her own bed, but to pass by an open closet or even take a bath for fear that scary clowns will come up out of the drain.

Once again, my “Good Parent” badge is hanging a bit askew. And she doesn't want to go to bed.

(I honestly didn’t remember that scene. Why would I deliberately torture my sweet bobblehead so?)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Pinkberry, Shminkberry

As middle age advances upon us, Sweet Dub and I find ourselves a bit behind the trends. I have been hearing the hype about Pinkberry for nearly a year now. There's a Pinkberry mere blocks (walking distance!) away from my office building. There's one in Los Feliz, a stone's throw from where I live, and there's one in Larchmont Village, a stone's throw from Viva's school. All the "cool" neighborhoods have one. I've watched the growth of their evil empire with great interest. I've been to the website and imbibed their evilly catchy jingle. But I haven't yet darkened the door of a Pinkberry.

Sunday, after hiking in Griffith Park, we decided to check out the new Pinkberry that just opened in Silverlake. Before we went inside, Sweet Dub said, "This is exactly what we don't need to be doing. We don't need something that becomes a new addiction."

We ordered: I had the original flavor frozen yogurt topped with fresh mangoes, raspberries, and blueberries. Sweet Dub had green tea frozen yogurt topped with strawberries, bananas, and granola. Viva had original flavor with blueberries.

The cost: Fourteen bucks! Are you kidding me?

The verdict: Meh. Not so much. I expected to be all, "There's a party in my mouth! Ooh la la!" Instead I was all, "For fourteen bucks, I could've bought some Haagen-Dazs and a pint of raspberries and called it a day."

Sorry, Pinkberry. Your evil charms did not work their magic with the Blah Blahs.

Nice jingle, though.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Maui: What’s Not to Like?

How was our trip? In a word: glorious. Maui was gorgeous.

We did not seem able to drag Viva off the beach. Every time we spent more than 15 minutes in the car, she’d start to whine, “When are we going to the beach?” so while we managed to check out a few other parts of the island, it was by no means a comprehensive tour. For my money, that was better than running around like Type A crazy people, parasailing, SCUBA-ing, whale watching, luauing, and all the rest. We actually relaxed and rested for most of the trip. (Sweet Dub did go on a sunrise 38-mile bike ride down a volcano, which he says was amazing beyond description.) I did not check phone messages, e-mail messages, or blog feeds while we were gone. Needless to say, I’m a little behind, but it was well worth it.

One snippet from the trip:

We are having lunch in Lahaina with two of Sweet Dub’s friends from college, who he hasn’t seen since he graduated 512 years ago. They live on Oahu and made a day trip over to see us while we were semi-close-by.

Female friend: So, what do you think of Maui so far?

Sweet Dub: Oh my God, it’s incredible. The ocean, the air, everything is so beautiful – you wouldn’t believe the rainbow we saw the other day! It was—

Female friend [snorts]: Rainbows! GAWD – All you tourists are busy looking at rainbows and I’ve got to get to work! Quit looking at the damn rainbows!