Periodically, I get emails (or comments) like this one from last night:

Subject: Just Saw Your Article on Milliken v. Bradley

So do tell: where do YOUR children go to school? And if you don’t have any, do you realistically see any future children you may have going to these “integrated” schools that you champion?

I think there are two things about these emails that are really fascinating. The first is how common the “just wait till you have children!” argument is. Now, to be fair, it is true that I don’t have any kids. I have, though, recently passed from the phase of my life in which zero of my close friends had children to one in which some of my close friends have children, so I think I’m in an okay position to appreciate how significant a shift in perspective it can bring.

But even if that doesn’t count, people like the author of this email seem to have forgotten that I was once a child. I have first-hand experience! And, as a child, the schools I attended (there were four of them) were all between 35 and 70 percent non-white. I did not always enjoy school, but I can confirm that exactly none of the reasons for that were related to excessive racial integration.

Now, it’s true that I was fortunate to attend public schools that either had special academic requirements or in which the majority of students came from solidly middle-class families. But that’s sort of the point (especially the latter): there’s no reason an “integrated” school has to be mostly poor, or have low academic standards. In fact, by far the most troubled American schools aren’t the integrated ones, but the segregated ones.

The second thing I think is fascinating about these emails is how they reveal the worldview of a particular kind of racism: that of white people who hate/fear black people so much that they can’t conceive of other white people who don’t hate/fear black people as much as they do. It’s as if attending school with non-whites was some sort of obviously absurd dare that can be neutralized by turning it around on the dare-er, who will surely reveal themselves to be unwilling to perform the ridiculous act they proposed for you.

We tried busing, and it didn’t work, they say.

I don’t know what else to say about this, except that if you are inclined to send me an email along these lines, please don’t. I have enough.

* I should note that the other issue that I get “just wait till you have children!” emails about is living in apartments. “Wait till you have kids, and see if you don’t want a single family home in the suburbs!” The problem with this, again, is that I was once a child, and as a child I had the opportunity to experience both living in an apartment in a large city and living in a single family home in the suburbs. To the extent that I had a preference, it leaned strongly towards the apartment, where I could go play with my friends without bugging my parents to drive me.

7 thoughts on “Children

  1. My parents lived in the west side of Milwaukee during the 80s, hoping their neighborhood would turn around. Reaganomics meant that a plan that would have worked spectacularly in Park Slope didn’t work out so well in the Rust Belt, and my nearby aunt and uncle ended up living right down the street from Jeffrey Dahmer.

    They eventually moved to a far whiter streetcar suburb in 1988, but sent my sister and I to Milwaukee schools under the Chapter 220 integration/busing program. We went to magnet schools, which in my recollection were at least 50% black. I switched to neighborhood suburban schools for middle and high school, which also had black city kids bussed in under Chapter 220. I turned out fine. My sister graduated from a Milwaukee high school with enough IB credits to finish a BS/MS in chemistry in 4 years, and recently completed her PhD at MIT.

    There you have the dangers of busing and integration.

    1. Thanks for this. It really does seem to me, though I’m not an expert, as if the success of busing depended largely on whether or not white students and their families decided to respond to integration with violence. Milwaukee, Charlotte, I believe, and a handful of other cities demonstrated that at least moderate busing programs could in fact be successful.

    1. Distastefully enough, I found it via Google image search, and it turned out to be on a white supremacist website (though one that probably wouldn’t accept that description). I don’t honestly remember what it was called.

  2. I’m that guy that everybody has said wait till you have kids. Then it was wait till they go to school. Now it’s wait till they become teenagers. Still living in Bronzeville, sending my son to CPS, private school was an option, but we’re happy with our school (although it’s not our neighborhood school).

  3. “by far the most troubled American schools aren’t the integrated ones, but the segregated ones”

    Yes, the ones with all the black students. The white schools are not the troubled ones.

    1. Yeah, exactly right. I’ve been making an effort not to use “segregated” to mean “black/poor segregated,” which I think is its most common usage – because, as you point out, the uniformly white/wealthy schools are no more integrated. I slipped up. Thanks for catching me.

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