I'm feeling a bit nauseous right now. I just dropped Mia off for her second day in the 4-year-old class. She's in the same daycare where she's been since she was 6 months old, but it feels like a different world in her new class. She looked so shy and apprehensive as I walked away, I could barely contain my tears. I can't remember the last time I felt teary about dropping her off.
There are a few issues at play here, one of which is extremely touchy. But I'm going to go there because I believe in honesty. Let's do this in a list, and we'll save the best for last.
- Change is always hard. As I told Mia in the car this morning, it always takes a while to get used to new things and places and people. You just have to deal with the feeling that you might throw up for a while, and eventually it subsides.
- Her 3-year-old teachers were out-of-this-world great. It was by far the best year she's had, and I knew all year that we could never expect other teachers to match them. They were ambitious and enthusiastic and warm and smart, not a combination often found in a field where the salaries are poverty-level. I had become used to dropping her off to teachers who seemed genuinely overjoyed to see her each morning. They noticed when she wore new clothes, asked what she did over the weekend, even knew all the jibbets on her Crocs. Mia ran to them, practically glowing with happiness.
- In comparison, her new teachers seemed less than thrilled to welcome her to class this morning. Their sad attempts at "hello" just did not stack up.
- Here is the big one: This class is full of poor kids. Mia goes to a very expensive daycare, and in all her other years, she has been with kids who can afford to attend this place. In theory, I've always lamented the lack of diversity. But for 4-year-olds, there is a state-funded program that allows poor kids to attend preschool for free. Our center gets that state funding, and it mixes the subsidized kids half-and-half with the paying kids. So you end up with classrooms that are half poor minority kids who have never been to school before, and half privileged kids who know all the ins and outs of circle time. You can tell who the poor kids are just by looking at a list of the kids' first names. In class, they're the ones crying their eyes out or stomping away from the circle saying "No! No!" They are noticeably different, and Mia told me yesterday morning that she didn't like the new "black-haired" friends. Oh my. I quickly let her know that it was "not OK" to judge anyone based on the way they look, that we're all the same on the inside, that some of the kids just aren't used to school the way she is. But I doubt that my words can touch that innate sense, which I can't help feeling either, despite all my best intentions, that these kids are not of our world. I am a firm believer in public schools and busing and whatever else it takes to keep our schools integrated and make sure that poor children have a fair shot at life. But watching your innocent 4-year-old be thrown into a world tainted by racism and poverty is hard. Mr. SOC, another staunch believer in public education, pointed out that, unlike public school, we are paying more than $10,000 a year for Mia to attend this daycare. Doesn't that give us the right to shelter her for just one more year? I know the right answer to that question, the answer my conscience dictates. And honestly, when I dropped her off this morning, all the kids seemed to be doing fine. It seemed like a happy little preschool classroom. And I trust that her new teachers know what they're doing, and that this year will go well. I don't know why I felt so sad leaving her there. I guess that's just life.
I realize I'm taking a risk in talking so openly about race and class here. But I really believe that, if we could all talk a little more openly, we might be able to make faster progress on these issues.