Monday, October 29, 2007

Set Apart vs. Elite

After last week's brush with racism, I had a distinctly more uncomfortable encounter with a different -ism. Jacob has been talking about "publics." It took a little while to figure out exactly who these publics are. It took even longer to realize why Jacob thinks publics are worthy of disdain.

Every Friday, Jake's class receives a four page Scholastic magazine. A few weeks ago, the topic of the magazine was Constitution Day. I didn't save the magazine and I cannot seem to view it online, but I do remember a blurb about the separation of church and state. Jake's class talked a bit about the difference between parochial schools and public schools. He spoke about it at home a bit and we reiterated how different people have different beliefs. We also reviewed the reason that the Pilgrims came to America and how that influenced the founding fathers to guarantee freedom of religion. (I realize that it sounds a little far-fetched that Jacob understood all of this at such a tender age, but he went through a period of intense interest in the revolution when he was 5. When you combine that interest with Nick's historical bent and my complete inability to dumb down explanations, you get a kid who knows more about American history in the late 1700s than most adults. I highly recommend the book John, Paul, George, and Ben for fostering such interest. And for a few good belly laughs as well.) After that dinnertime conversation, I promptly forgot about the whole issue.

A frequent topic of adult conversation is the (lack of) quality of St. Louis Public Schools. With the exception of a few charter schools, the system is dismally inadequate. While the decision was easy for us since we'd always planned to send our children to Catholic school, many other parents agonize over the decision. Non-religious private options are few and far between, and are prohibitively expensive anyway.

I'm thinking the equation goes something like this: classroom discussion + overheard fear of public school system + comments from Nick and I about how lucky Jake is to be at his school = Jake's belief that the kids at his school are somehow better than the kids at the public school across the street. Clearly, we have to set the child straight. There is a huge difference between the quality of a school and the quality of children who attend that school. Funnily enough, the gospel from this weekend was about the Pharisee who gave thanks because he was better than his neighbors (Luke 18:9-14). I hope that Jake was listening during the homily because that's where we're going to start our discussion. He needs to understand that choosing to set oneself apart does not translate into being elite.


Mary Witzl said...

I attended what was arguably the crappiest high school in our district (it has since improved dramatically and is now known as a magnet school), followed by a ho-hum university. And whenever I have delusions of my own elitism, somebody is always happy to point me in the right direction. It's a real gift: humility that just naturally appears and rubs itself in my face, whether I like it or not.

Good for you for trying to teach your son to be humble. A lot of parents pretend to instill humility, but manage to impart a message of elitism nevertheless. I tell my kids that elite people are those who are kind and thoughtful to others.

Kelly said...

It's great that you can see that "elitism" coming through when he talks about the "publics."
We have also had to walk the line between trying to communicate to Karina how blessed she is to be able to attend the school she does, and that we send her there because of what we want her to get out of education, and the fact that other parents choose public school not meaning that they aren't blessed, lucky, or that their parents don't love them as much.
It's a lot to wrap little minds around. :)