Because I had the opportunity I did, I have a different perspective on school choice. Coming from a school where kids were sharing books and books were old, and then I remember the first day I went to my new school. We sat down and the teacher came in with the books and they were in cellophane, brand new books. I was looking at them weird because I didn’t understand. I said, “Are these all my books?” She said, “They’re all yours.” I said, “Do I have to share?” She said, “No, they’re yours by yourself.” I had never seen a brand new book before.
There were some good things, but there are always some bad things too. Here we are, these poor black kids, being bused over here and whenever something went wrong, it was always our fault. We weren’t going to a regular school, this was a school that had all the famous people in the city, so that caused an imbalance. Whenever something went wrong, they would bring us in all together and say, “Who did this? Do you know what happened?” Or if I did get in trouble, they were much harsher on me. So I do value the education I received, but when I went back to our side of town, those kids couldn’t even read. I could read like I’m some scholar or something, they’re looking at me and it’s causing problems because now you think you’re better than me.
It has its advantages. I wouldn’t trade my education because a lot of stuff I learned, I probably wouldn’t have learned. I think about the opportunity. They could have picked anybody, but me and my brother went. That gives me a feeling of purpose, because I had that opportunity, but it did come with some things too.
Now, I am actively choosing a school for my children. Coming from Chicago, we only had elementary and high school. So this whole middle school thing I really didn’t understand and so it was a little confusing. The middle schools all had focus programs, which I wasn’t used to. That took a little bit to understand that. We’re about to go through the high school process now so that’s going to be interesting to understand that and making sure my child goes to the right high school that makes sense.
It’s definitely a process. I’m open for the challenge, but trying to explain to my child that the schools she can and cannot go or the ones she should or should not go, based off her future interests. She should go to Rusk because they’re healthcare focused, so her path is concise. But they partner with Baylor College so they focus on medicine and health care. She wants to go to Lamar but Lamar is not focused on the path she wants to go down, so trying to get her to understand that is going to be challenging.
My daughter is going to high school soon, so I’m going to try to include her in the process so she can see I didn’t just pick this school. I want her to see how this works.
As far as school choice goes, I do to some level agree that people should have a right to choose the schools they go to. The problem with that is, when you take kids out of the public school system, you’re taking money and sometimes attention away from the problem. When you have these kids who are gifted, have focus, they want to go to a certain place, but then the other kids get left behind. I know I’m only responsible for my child, but I don’t want the other kids to not get a decent education because they couldn’t get into something else. I think school choice is good for certain opportunities but I don’t want the kids who might not be able to excel or their parents are not proactive enough to get them there, I don’t want them to get left behind, so I have mixed feelings about it.
I would tell others to sit down with your kids; you need to really get your eyes open to what could happen. When you put kids in certain situations, sometimes they will see other kids doing things, but you’re not them. This is the reason why, you’re here to get an education, because it’s better than where you were at before, but kids don’t always understand that. They’re trying to adjust to a cultural change, but they’re kids too. It has an effect on the music, the things they like. I remember back in the day, you used to go to the records store and listen to the record, and then you buy it. I remember we had this record store down the street, called Norma’s. My brother and me went there and got “Jump.” We saw a relative walking down the street, and he said, “What did you guys get?” We said, “Jump.” He said, “By Aretha Franklin?” We said, “No, by Van Halen!” So you think about that, if we had gone to the school down the street, we would have gotten “Jump” by Aretha Franklin instead of Van Halen.
For the administrators, I would say be aware that there will be cultural differences. Don’t always think kids are just being bad or destructive, sometimes they might not understand. This is all new to them. If you have a group of students and they are supposed to be in 7th grade, but they’re still doing 5th grade math, the teachers have to teach a certain way. But if you go to a situations where all the kids are at level, some of the kids might learn differently because that’s what they’re used to. Just be aware that the kids might respond to something differently, because they just don’t understand.
I tell people all the time, I’m just like you, I just got some opportunities that you all didn’t get. I’m no different. My mom is a single mother, I know what food stamps are, but I was just afforded some other opportunities that others didn’t get, and some people don’t understand that. I have no idea where I would be if my mom hadn’t gotten us this opportunity. When you go to school and college, it opens your mind up to things you wouldn’t ever think about. Music, clothes, culturally, it wouldn’t have been in my wheelhouse; I wouldn’t have thought about those things. A lot of it was from my parents encouraging me, but I honestly don’t know where I would be without my education.