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Audible Dissonance

Where have all the children gone? An answer to a burning question.

School's out for summer and the kids are hunkered down in front of the big screen practicing sniper skills or watching endless hours of anime. And it’s budget approval season all across California. I imagine the school board trustees of all 900+ districts will be grabbing their heads – like 4,500 versions of the Edvard Munch painting “The Scream” – as they confront the proposed budgets from their respective Superintendents.

Speaking of anger, there was a big rumble last week on RWCparents* which started with a posting of Larry Gerston’s recent opinion piece stating that the middle class is fleeing from public schools. Or it felt like that was what he was talking about. What I can conclude after multiple readings is he is really saying that Californians should be horrified about the tanking financial support of California schools. But instead of outrage, there is more of a stifled yawn.

He believes it’s because those that need public school the most, the kids who live below the poverty line, come from homes where the parents are least able or likely to vote. And that those who vote, may choose to do so by leaving the public school system. However, his logic caroms around like a teenage driver in a parking lot by suggesting that wealthier parents aren’t actually leaving, either. I think really he’s trying to come to grips with why people are watching a multicar pileup and not readying a rescue team.

And there was some of that same discussion on the RWCparents group as well. Ultimately, this comes down to population demographics. Simply put, there just aren’t that many households with school-aged kids. According to the 2010 Census, 75 percent of the State’s population is over 18. I would estimate that only about 20 precent or so of that figure equates to parents of the 25 percent of the population who are under 18.  

So quite frankly, it’s hard to get people worked up about what’s happening, because the vast majority of adults are not directly affected.

I have heard that in Redwood City, only about 14 percent of our households have school-aged children. This has held fairly steady throughout the oughts. The region with the largest number of school-aged children as measured by percentage of households is down in the Southland, which not unrelated also has the bulk of California’s 37 million residents. It is also home to the largest school district in our state (and the second largest in the country), Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), educating 671,648 K – 12 students. That makes LAUSD about 19 times bigger than Redwood City School District and the Sequoia Union High School District combined in terms of enrollment.

Then there’s the other view that it’s not that there aren’t kids in our area, but that middle and upper income kids in particular have fled for private school. However, each year the California State Department of Education analyzes private school attendance and what the most recent report shows is that actually as hard times hit California, private school enrollments dropped. However, it is true that our county is among 10 counties to have more than 10 percent of its school-aged children enrolled in private school (15.25 percent). But even with that, this means that 85 percent of our kids still go to public school.

So when we rage about lack of funding and a seeming lack of concern for our kids, it may be as simple as there aren’t that many of us parents. Remember, the boomers are all a bit old to be having kids. I know, because I am the technical last year for that 20-year generational spread. And I can guarantee that I am not having another child, as it’s essentially a biological impossibility. So the biggest generation in world history has moved on, and with them, their kids – who are probably the most educated group of people, ever. And when a population becomes more educated, then the general birthrate falls.

And the one big elephant in the room is race. Our Redwood City Schools are predominately 70 percent Latino and 20 percent Anglo. However, our city, and our voting population, is still predominately Anglo. So speaking broadly, where have all the Anglos gone? They haven’t “gone” anywhere, they’re here, but without school-aged kids.

So here we have a city in which the voting populace is Anglo without kids, and where the schools have are made up of a majority of Latino children. And whether we like it or not, we still live in a world where kids are treated differently because of the color of their skin and how people perceive their parents.

So the hard work is to convince those without kids, either because their kids have grown or because they just don’t have them, that investing in the next generation that doesn’t look like them is really an investment for themselves, whether it’s because these kids will become the adults who will be their caretakers when they are infirm or these kids will become their employees. Or that these kids will become the adults who purchase their houses when they leap from this mortal coil.  The fact is – these kids are our future and we should be supporting them as such.

*rwcparents is a yahoo!group that anyone can join. It’s kind of like an electronic neighborhood fence. www.yahoo.com/groups then search for rwcparents to join.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Elise Dixon June 05, 2011 at 05:34 PM
Great article - definitely hit the point of the Larry Gerston article right on the head. Points directly to the importance of engaging and readying the Hispanic audience in terms of the next parcel tax. If a parcel tax is to pass we need to register (those that can be registered) the Hispanic audience (now not later). Finding a champion / leader for the Hispanic, senior and non child household segments and marketing directly to EACH audience distinctly, overcoming their specific objections will be an important factor in the potential success to passing a parcel tax. Overly focusing on the 'anglo' parents in public schools again will not do the trick. Rather enabling (with budget, decision making and marketing assistance) that champion / leader to really address their audience specifically - each audience has very different objections to the parcel tax. Enabling another 'consulting firm' not from our community to address our parcel tax issue hasn't worked and isn't likely to be a great help to us again (and the cost is enormous). We need to look within our community to find the leadership within those segments and let them lead us.
Georgia Jack June 05, 2011 at 06:47 PM
Elise: You are so on the money - as it where! Thank you for making this point.
Eggbert June 06, 2011 at 01:07 AM
Fine article. Thank you.
Jim Clifford June 06, 2011 at 03:55 PM
Please avoid the term "Anglo," unless you mean people of English descent. We all came from immigrant stock of one kind or another. The San Mateo County Museum on May 15 held its annual Immigrant Day Festival, which is designed to remind us of our immigrant heritage - be it Italian, Japanese, Irish or Mexican. We have much more in common than usually thought, which could be one of the failures of the school system you are writing about.
Elise Dixon June 06, 2011 at 03:59 PM
Jim - Point well taken - can you recommend a preferred term for the non hispanic segment of the audience we're talking about ? Thank you.
Claire Felong June 06, 2011 at 04:36 PM
I think it is probably more a class/education issue than that of geographical origins, though in the instance of Redwood City most of those needing educational help but lacking most resources to help are currently from Central & South America. How about "property owners" or "stable residents"? Our area, including recent immigrants, includes many educated, professional and well established families of Hispanic origin. The mammoth Rancho de Las Pulgas, encompassing Alameda de Las Pulgas and the lands around it was originally owned by Mexicans before California was a state.
Georgia Jack June 06, 2011 at 04:48 PM
Jim: Totally get your point, unfortunately there may not be a good way to resolve this. A big part of the problem is that government reports are summarized by race - so one option is to use "white" but I tend to go with "Anglo" to refer to language as in English, but it also contrues "white" as some generic enthnicity as well. The underlying issue is that race is not really the point. Economic status is, but there is apparently no way for reports to be delivered by what really matters - how much a household makes and its income's bearing on the children. And, this will also present a problem for those who are "blurs" or mixed race - what does my Asian/"white" or "caucasian" cousin have to call himself? And what of his children? It's crazy.
Jim Clifford June 06, 2011 at 06:04 PM
Elise: re preferred term. You just used one - "non-Hispanic."
Lea Cuniberti-Duran June 06, 2011 at 11:04 PM
I agree that the majority of people will not vote to support the current educational system. I disagree that it is because of apathy. From what I hear, people are not interested in supporting a system that is flawed, costly and poorly managed, and ultimately fails to educate the majority of children. As parents and advocates, we need to come to the realization that California voters will not be supporting the current system, and we need to push for reforms that bring to the table accountability and fiscal responsibility.
Elaine Park June 06, 2011 at 11:35 PM
To me this issue often comes down to language -- this is the real divide. It's hard to feel a shared sense of community with someone you can't communicate with. It's cumbersome, but I tend to use Spanish-speaking and English-speaking as the terms to talk about this. Non-hispanic seems odd in that it assumes Hispanic is the norm, which isn't true at the moment. Plus I know some people in that community prefer Latino. Regarding Jim's other point, I really agree a lot with the fact that we have more in common than we think. This is important for us all to remember. One of the benefits of our public school system is that our kids are growing up with that knowledge as they play and learn (or commiserate about homework and studying) with each other everyday.

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