Scenes from America's Ruin
Harding Elementary School PTA President Meredith Brace has led a battle for several years to stop her white neighbors from transferring out of the heavily Latino Westside campus.
Now she's joining them, saying she's not willing to make her son the guinea pig any longer.
The Braces are like hundreds of other local families who, over the years, have sought transfers out of neighborhood schools that are filled with mostly poor Latino children.
"I'm gone," said Mrs. Brace, who on Tuesday requested and was granted a transfer for her first-grade son out of Harding and into the more affluent Hope School, within the nearby Hope Elementary District. "I've just got to the point where, 'Sorry guys, I need what's best for my kids and there's a school that's two miles away that offers all those things I want.' "The assumption behind the diversity myth is that simply increasing number of people with differing ethnic and cultural backgrounds automatically improves the quality of any environment by bringing a wider variety of opinions and attitudes and traditionals. Diversity promoters liken it to a symphony in which differing instruments contribute to a harmonious whole. In fact, however, without the single-minded direction of a composer and conductor, many different instruments playing at once only results in cacophony. But diversity by itself does nothing to promote quality. And when human beings are involved increased differences usually lead to increaseed conflict.
"This is a major blow," said Santa Barbara school trustee Bob Noel. "Meredith was kind of like Supermom in terms of doing things for her school. . . . You can read racism into this, but I read more of an issue of social class. People don't want to look and see their kid is in a classroom where most of the students are underachievers and where friendship circle possibilities are very, very small because they don't speak the same language."Mr. Noel captures the dilemma facing Mrs. Brace quite well. Certain immigrant groups - Hispanics, in particular - underperform educationally (other immigrant groups, like Southeast Asians, on the other hand, tend to overachieve). Schools whose student bodies becomes predominently Hispanic will show a significan dropoff in performance, especially when the Hispanic population is drawn from recent or illegal immigrants, most of whom do not speak English. This highlights the overwhelming importance of language in cultural cohesion - if people cannot speak each other's language, the barrier between them is greater than any wall. Language barriers all but eliminate any chance of cross-socialization between groups (difficult already between differing ethnic groups) and increase tension by exacerbating suspicion and misunderstanding. Without the chance to make friends, no child will want to remain in a school surrounded by people with whom he has nothing in common and with whom he can not communicate.
Harding is 90 percent Latino, 6 percent white. Hope is 73 percent white, 20 percent Latino. Hope families have raised enough money every year to keep on staff an array of specialists in art, music, computers and science -- all the "extras" Mrs. Brace wants for her son, who is 7, and her 4-year-old daughter.
As PTA president, Mrs. Brace said she has tried to start after-school enrichment programs in art and theater at Harding.
"We made it so affordable, $20 for a six- to eight-week session. We told everybody, 'Come on, do something extra for your kids.' We had so few people sign up, we had to eliminate a lot of the classes," she said. "I've met some very lovely people, but we have nothing in common. Every time my husband and I would go over for an event, my husband would feel like it was his first time. We haven't made any friends."
Those who have studied the educational patterns of new arriving immigrants (legal and illegal) from Mexico and Latin America would not be surprised by Mrs. Brace's experience. But the key phrase here is "we have nothing in common" - not language, not culture, not education aspiration or artistic inclination. And what happens to a country when an increasingly sizable portion of its population has "nothing in common" with the rest?
Harding parent Cristina Hernandez said she's seen the school's racial mix change, but that Mrs. Brace shouldn't give up.
"I've been here 14 years now, and all of a sudden we turned around and all the white parents had gone," she said, speaking in Spanish [emphasis mine]. "They don't want their children side by side with our children. (Mrs. Brace) shouldn't leave. She should stay and keep fighting."
Ms. Cruz cannot be bothered to speak English even while being interviewed by a reporter asking why a white parent pulled her child out of a now predominately Latino school. Is Ms. Cruz being deliberately obtuse, or just mocking Mrs. Brace? Why should Mrs. Brace keep fighting a battle that she has so evidently lost? At what price to her child?
One has to give Mrs. Brace credit. The article details the lenghts to which she went to make make the diversity experiment at Harding work:
It was about three years ago, before her son entered kindergarten, that Mrs. Brace started going door to door touting Harding's achievements, trying to convince her neighbors to join her in giving the school a try. She even took on the PTA president post before her son had entered kindergarten.
Once her son started, she remained PTA president, volunteered in the classroom, boosted fund-raising efforts, and continued to hold regular neighborhood meetings to make other white families feel comfortable with the campus. While she said she's not bilingual, she used the Spanish she picked up while living in Costa Rica and Mexico to try to connect with Latino parents.
Apparently, while Mrs. Brace was willing to make the effort, the Latino parents she went out of her way to cultivate, did not reciprocate.
Some of the white families she had convinced to enroll their kids at Harding later bailed out. [Mrs. Brace] said her son has struggled to make friends.
"He hasn't been invited to a birthday party. There is absolutely no after-school interaction," she said. "For his birthday, he invited four of his classmates. Only one came."
Mrs. Brace's experience is not uncommon. Other Harding parents encountered the same problem. The article cites Brenda McDonald who has also decided to remove her child from the school.
"At Harding, the teachers are wonderful. The principal is great. It's the socioeconomic chasm. It's not a gap, it's a huge difference in the population," said Mrs. McDonald, who described herself as a middle-class professional. "We don't have a lot in common with the other families. At the same time, do I want to drive five days a week now every day for the next six years? Then again, if half of the Westside is going in that direction, maybe we can carpool."
"They keep telling me, 'No, Meredith, we've got to keep options open to parents or they'll leave.' It's so plain and simple. It's created such segregation. It's left us with a situation that is almost gotten beyond repair."
She said the policy allowing transfers within the district -- and outside of the district when a parent comes up with a valid reason -- has destroyed many neighborhood schools by exacerbating white flight.
With her 4-year-old daughter getting ready to enter kindergarten, Mrs. Brace had recently been courting a dozen other white families in her neighborhood who have children of the same age.
"Every single one of them is going somewhere else, and they had all looked at Harding," she said. "I said to myself, this is not getting any better, so if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. This is not the teacher's fault, or the principal's fault. They're wonderful."
But California isn't the only state with schools like Harding. It's happening in Nebraska, too. Nor is white flight simply restricted to the US; it's happening in Britain where the government has permitted London and other cities to be colonized by the Middle East. The long-term effect on British culture will be to dillute its essentially English quality in favor of non-English attitudes and traditions. Ethnic and cultural conflict will rise as national cohesion deteriorates. The same will happen in America, which will increasingly resemble the impoverished, conflicted, under-acheiving societies from which most of our recent immigrants come.