so, yatima, why have you been in such a vile mood lately?

Well, Internets, I’m glad you asked.

I’ve been touring San Francisco public schools for Claire’s kindergarten enrollment next year. And it’s making me crazy.

I swore I wouldn’t be that mom. I have researched the matter up the wazoo. I am a paid-up member of Parents for Public Schools. I am informed and empowered! You would be impressed by my diligent legwork! And I am going crazy.

More context than you care about: San Francisco kids are entitled to attend any school in the Unified School District, no matter where they live. What happens if too many parents request a particular school? Since 2002, the district has placed students according to a Diversity Index, aiming to mix things up as much as they can.

To grossly oversimplify, the district places all the kids who have to be in a particular class in a school – siblings who are entitled to attend the same school as their older sibling, for example. That class gets a base profile, calculated on things like race, socioeconomic background, blah. Applicants are also given a profile.

The Educational Placement Center then places the kid *most different* from the base profile in that class. Recalculate base profile, rinse and repeat. The desired upshot: classes nicely balanced out by student background.

The practical upshot: you as a parent get seven choices. You tour as many schools as you can (link to blog of another mom doing the rounds), and then you pick your seven favourites. The Educational Placement Center tries to place your kid at one of those choices. And if you’re requesting a popular school, it’s anyone’s guess whether or not you’ll get it. Crapshoot. Russian roulette. Schroedinger’s cat.

That’s the first painful thing. You tour a school like you tour a house you are hoping to buy. You imagine your future there, your kids growing up there. And then, just like when you’re buying a house, you have to accept that it’s entirely out of your hands, and you can want as hard as you like, but it isn’t going to affect the outcome.

But there’s worse! I’ve toured four schools so far, and they’re all great in different ways, and I could live with any one of them. But the school district is strapped for cash, so ALL the extras are paid for by the PTA. And that includes things you don’t think of as extras. Like the LIBRARY.

The PTAs at the mostly-Hispanic schools are raising about $40K annually. One excellent PTA raised $77K, mostly from grants.

The PTA at the white school I toured this morning raised $200K.

Like most people who earn decent money I am massively in denial about what money is and what it means. I tend to treat it as if it were just a way of keeping score in some immense and arcane game of chess or Go. People who don’t earn decent money don’t have that luxury. Especially not here in the USA, where health insurance is broken and one good illness spells bankruptcy.

When lack of money becomes a constraint on how people can express the value they place in their children – when it is a constraint on what their childrens’ futures might be – well, that’s when you realize society is hopelessly fucked up.

Let’s not even talk about what’s being spent on the Iraq war.

My kids will be alright. They have me and Jeremy going into bat for them, and they’re privileged and loved and blah blah blah. But what about everyone else’s kids? Why don’t they all get the same deal? Why doesn’t the PTA at rich school share its treasure chest with the PTA at the school down the hill? How can a kid arrive in Salome’s class in high school, functionally illiterate? Why the fuck are the socio-economic scores of the parents in some arcane game, visited upon our children?

Your net worth is not your worth. YOUR NET WORTH IS NOT YOUR WORTH.

What is the matter with us?

Oh, so my epiphany this morning. I hate the Diversity Index, right, because it makes me feel like I have no control over where Claire goes to school. (I have lots, actually, but that’s how it makes me feel.)

And I hate, hate, hate, what I will call the PTA disparity, because it’s just unfair and inefficient and wasteful of human potential and stupid and broken.

And without the Diversity Index? The PTA disparity would be much, much worse.

And that, dear Internets, is why I have been in such a vile mood lately.

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