August 27 is the most wonderful time of year in my household. Why you ask? I guess I should say it’s the most wonderful time of year for me, but not particularly for my son. It’s the first day of school in Howard County, Maryland, specifically Columbia, Maryland. My son is entering the 8th grade this year and is lucky enough to attend a school system that isn’t particularly failing its students like another school system in Maryland, notably the Prince George’s County (PG County) school system, which seems to run through superintendents like Walmart does cashiers.

When I first moved to Maryland, I lived in PG County and placed my son in an affluent private Christian school, and by affluent I mean costly. My rent at the time and his monthly tuition were competing neck to neck in costs each month and he was only in pre-K! Before moving to the area friends warned me about the school system in PG County and the dysfunction of the county as a whole. Mind you, this was way before Jack Johnson decided to flush money down a toilet and have his wife stuff $100s into her panties. After that first year struggle to pay for private school, I decided to move to Columbia in Howard County because of the better school system and quality of life.

Columbia, Maryland, has seemingly been described as a melting pot because of its diversity and sense of community. Recently it was ranked as the No. 2 place to live in the United States by CNN/Money magazine. Columbia is a planned community designed by James Rouse (whose grandson is actor Edward Norton) to eliminate things like racial, religious, and class segregation. The diversity in Columbia was similar to the area in New Jersey where I grew up. My son’s class photos had Asian, Latino, Caucasian, and African-American faces. His closest friends from kindergarten through 3rd grade were a set of Asian twins named Yin and Yang. (Yes, those were their real names.) My son loved his teachers and never complained about going to school. I was an active PTA parent and made sure I was involved with his school activities and interacted with his teachers.

The summer after his 2nd grade year, the housing market turned into a buyers market, and I thought it would be a good time to find a bigger house. I wanted to stay in Howard County, but as with everything in that area, it’s going to cost you. Reluctantly I started looking into Prince George’s again and found a nice single-family house in an older Laurel, Maryland, neighborhood. The house was close to an elementary school, and after researching the test scores of the school, it seemed like an OK school.

As the saying goes, “all that glitters isn’t gold.” I had the house of my dreams: big yard, two-car garage, five bedrooms, two fireplaces. But after a few months into the school year, I noticed a change in my son. His grades were dropping and he wasn’t enthusiastic about school anymore. I also noticed the lack of parental participation during PTA meetings. Half the time there would be only a handful of parents, and the other half of the time teachers didn’t show up to the meetings. My son also began complaining about some disturbing playground activities he noticed. On more than one occasion he spoke about boys inappropriately touching the girls and kids basically brawling during recess. He practically begged not to spend another year at the school once it let out for summer break, and I didn’t blame him. For the sake of my son’s education and well-being, we moved back to Howard County.

I will say that there are a few top-rated schools in PG County that cater to the arts and sciences, and Howard County isn’t perfect. It definitely has its fair share of issues. But I do know a stark difference in their educational system is due heavily to the racial makeup of each county. Do I think it has a lot to do with the fact that the majority of Howard County’s population is white? Yes. I also feel that PG County does a huge disservice to their residents, particularly ones with children, because of their sub-par educational system. Do I feel this has a lot to do with the fact that PG is a black majority county? Yes. When you couple the fact that a) you have parents who don’t care, with b) an administration that doesn’t care (not to mention the revolving-door care), the result is children receiving the short end of the stick. “Each one teach one” and “No child left behind” seem to have a lot to do with the racial makeup of a county and its administration.

Do you feel a diversified or predominately white school system makes for a better grade school education?

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  • Mikela123

    Ahh, so this is post-racial America. Don’t know whether I should laugh or cry.

    I went to school in NYC, when there were some decent pubic schools left before our current mayor came in on a mission to destroy them all. My schools, from elementary to high school, were all predominantly Black, with a handful of Latinos. Almost all the Black students I went to school with were first or 2nd generation Caribbean and African immigrants, as were the surrounding neighborhoods. And we learned. I was in Honors classes, all Black students. There was no talk of “acting White.” My high school offered many AP classes, including AP English, AP Biology, AP US History, AP Spanish, AP Calculus. All of us Black kids taking AP and honors classes.

    I had relatives whose parents moved outside NYC, sending their kids to predominantly White schools, and bragged that they were going to better schools. Well, in those schools, they had to fight to get into the AP or honors classes. The classes that made it into, they would be one of maybe 2 or 3 Black kids in the entire class.

    I grew up surrounded by Black students challenging each other. I never associated being smart, speaking well, or being gifted and talented with Whiteness.

    Recently, the NY Times published an article on Black kids in charter schools, with the Black kids asking, “Where the White kids at? Why don’t they want to go to school with us?” Got these children believing that they NEED White kids in their schools, that diversity is better for them, because Black alone means their schools (ala Black kids) are not good, not enough, not successful. I nearly died.

    Black Americans have to get their act together, and stop with this running to White neighborhoods for their schools, putting your children in schools where they’re the ‘only one.” Why do we keep doing this to our children, in this day and age? We’re only perpetuating the White is better and superior to us myth. We have to stop.

  • Grant

    I am from Central Florida, I have never gone to a school with a high minority population. What I can tell you is that moving from my almost exclusively white private school to a relatively diverse public school and university made a great difference in my perspective on America, who I am, and how mainstream America really sees black america. The best feeling in the world is to be with other high-achieving African Americans and not being singled out as “white”. At my private school, I was an exception, being the only black person any of them knew personally, I was never seen as a prototypical black person. Why? Because in their suburban cookie-cutter minds, smart, well-spoken, level-headed, and calculated is not black. Thinking back on it disgusts me. At my high school and University, I faced similar obstacles, but never alone, and never without a great deal of people that looked like me, proving that narrative wrong. I feel as though we all need some diversity, because a lot of black people do not know how white people live and what drives their thought processes, by being among them, as well as Asians and Latinos, we all can see our mutual humanity. I would say avoid private schooling and try to find academically rigorous and diverse public schools.

    • Grant

      I also feel as though there is a lot of merit in outclassing your white counterparts academically. It proves to them that yeah, we’re an academic force to be reckoned with. Don’t believe the hype, because they do.

  • gateach

    I see there is some unwarranted teacher bashing going on here. Yes there are some bad teachers,but there are some great ones too. I have worked in a few major urban districts where test scores, allotted money, PTA involvement varied widely. In my humble opinion, the most important factor in student’s success is the parent/guardian in the home. The great teachers I had only brought out the best in me and helped me, the not so great ones – well it didn’t matter much because I was taught the essentials and beyond AT HOME. A lot of my students are doing a million after-school activities, get home at 10 or 11 at night and then expected to perform in the classroom like Jimmy Neutron on 3 hrs of sleep and fast food. High test scores are great but not the single determining factor in how successful a student will be. Try finding a well balanced school or smaller district that practices a more holistic approach to education and a better home/school life balance.

  • As an “ex” teacher (“ex” for some of the issues raised in your article) I can attest to the idea that on average a student attending a predominantly white school is probably going to get a better quality of education. I worked in an urban school district in southern Virginia and I saw first-hand some of the discrepancies in education. First off, teachers spend a great deal of instructional time handling behavioral disruptions. Often, when they try to contact parents about these behaviors there is either a lack of follow through, on the parents’ part, or the parent (or grand parent in MANY cases) starts to ask the teacher what to do because they have no clue anymore either.

    Next, there is the huge detachment from white student counterparts. Oftentimes, (white) students will be deemed as ‘honors’ even though they might not completely live up to that label. This is common practice because the parents who have more time and energy invested in their kids would NEVER allow their child to be in a classroom where kids are acting out of control. So then you have a feeling of segregation not only among the students, but some teachers will treat an honors class filled with white children completely different than they treat their “regular” students. But they are compelled to. They know that if a white parent calls into the school with concerns about their child’s education, they will be receiving an email or visit from their principal soon. Disruptions from black students are looked at as expected behavior.

    From there it is a cyclical process. White students continue to excel because they have been put into classes where they can find solace among each other and black students continue to decline in educational success because they either ARE the problem in the classroom or they are forced to be in a classroom WITH a lot of problems which, in turns, hinders their own ability to learn.