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Public or Private School Education: The Minority Middle Class Challenge

Updated on September 14, 2010

Though clearly an issue that most middle class couples with school-age children necessarily wrestle with, ruminating over sending kids to increasingly challenged, under-performing and often failing city public school or enrolling them into a prestigious, more rigorous but pricey private academy across town can be particularly distressing for minority groups.

I say that it is poignant for minority families because beyond normal expectations of academic excellence or scholastic distinction, there are other interests or values that are no less venerated or cherished.

Being African-Americans, my wife and I would want an environment where our 5 and 8-year-olds are exposed to experiences that are exacting but equally culturally rich; an environment where as their minds are carefully molded/nurtured, their presence, individuality and unique historical experience are acknowledged not just ceremonially but substantively.

Also, considering our fast transformation into a true global village, we would also seek a school program with a more cosmopolitan character. The curricula, faculty and student composition should have a multinational, multi-ethnic disposition. The thinking here being that the more they are exposed to other national cultures early in life, the more appreciative of diversity and less threatened by difference they are; the better informed they would ultimately be about uncontested, transcendental human drives and desires.

The very last thing we want is for our children to be the only or one of just a few African-Americans in the classroom or the entire school.

However, the reality is that, generally-speaking, as we attain professional success and follow the allure of manicured, pristine or safe suburban living, the likelihood of finding a public school program that satisfies the aforementioned criteria becomes rather slim.

As a matter of both necessity and urgency, most minority parents like us then feel compelled to seriously evaluate the private option.

Should we fork up the $12,000-17,000 annual tuition tab, per child, and send our children to the ColumbusAcademy or The Wellington School or allow them to wallow in one of Columbus City Schools’ often under-funded, under-achieving, insalubrious programs or, like many of our friends, relocate to the suburbs and enroll them in better-funded but culturally insular surrounding neighborhood schools?

Even if we were to opt for the private option, there still are no guarantees that the more reputable programs in the Columbus vicinity do in fact meet our family’s requirements relative to proportionality and the international point of reference.

Now, before anyone harangues that it is really about choices and therefore no different from average everyday realities, let me quickly admit that I get that. But the fact that this particular set of choices are inextricably tied to our African-American origin, a fact that we have no more control over than the incandescence of the North Star, is iniquitous and irksome.

In addition to forcing an untoward financial burden on our family, it is indeed irritating to know that other families have the luxury of options that traditionally cater to their needs for far less.

As my wife and I continue to mull over this decision that over a span of 10-12 years could cost us anywhere between $240, 000 and $408,000, I cannot help but wonder what, comparatively speaking, the real impact of such a hefty expense might be on the minority middle class.

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