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My School is Not a Battlefield

[From the Post's Close to Home page.]

By Paris Achenbach

Recent op-ed columns and news stories about Woodrow Wilson High School ["A Battlefield Called Wilson High," op-ed, March 29; "Security at Wilson High to Be Tightened," Metro, March 21] make it sound like a school dominated by delinquents and thugs. But that's not the school I know.

It's true that, in recent weeks, the normal dysfunctions of Wilson High have escalated. Before spring break, there were several bad incidents in succession, which probably brought negative publicity more quickly than if the events had been spread out. There was a fight, two lockdowns because of gun threats and then two more fights resulting in numerous arrests. So, after spring break, students were ordered to remain in their second-period class for lunch. I was unfortunate enough to be stuck in biology, where I had to eat on a table on which animals have been dissected.

I wasn't too happy about that. But it's not an injustice. What's crazy is that suddenly, Wilson is viewed as a war zone, as a place where you can't learn or even walk safely in the hallways.

I know that is not the school I go to.

Take, for example, my English teacher. He not only grades more than a hundred essays done by AP English classes each week but he also runs the student newspaper, manages the student plays, coaches the varsity girls soccer team and somehow still has the patience to listen to teenagers whine about how much they have to do. My biology teacher plays guitar and sings songs about DNA replication to the tune of "Yellow Submarine." If you think I don't learn at Wilson, then boy, you are wrong. I can prove the fundamental theorem of calculus. I can understand French. (Well, sometimes.)

Even better are my friends at Wilson. Not only are they awesome and fun to hang out with, but among them is a girl who gets straight A's in her four AP

[Click here to keep reading.]

By Joel Achenbach  |  April 5, 2008; 1:17 PM ET
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The kid did good!

Posted by: Achenbach | April 5, 2008 1:24 PM | Report abuse

It's a great kit. And great kid.

Hi, Martooni. Hi, Cassandra. Have a restful weekend.

Posted by: daiwanlan | April 5, 2008 1:36 PM | Report abuse

When looking at the link when I click "continue to read,", is it true this is not just a guest kit, but also in dead tree paper form! > Print Edition > Editorial Pages
My School Is Not a 'Battlefield'

Who's Blogging
» Links to this article
Sunday, April 6, 2008; Page B08

Posted by: daiwanlan | April 5, 2008 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Well done, well said and well-lived, Ms. A.

*extended applause and Grover waves -- ask yer dad about the latter, he might understand*


Posted by: Scottynuke | April 5, 2008 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Kudos to Ms. Achenbach--it's one thing to have an opinion, and something else entirely to take the time to craft a thoughtful and well-written exposition that is suitable for publication in the Washington Post. Good job, indeed.

Posted by: kbertocci | April 5, 2008 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Well done, Paris!

The link to the King op-ed is here:

Posted by: SonofCarl | April 5, 2008 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Good for you, Paris! When I saw the articles about Wilson, I wondered what your parents thought. I made a decision to live in Seattle, in what used to be called a "mixed" neighborhood and sent my kid to public schools here. His high school had a terrible reputation, but he never had problems - at least, not that he told me about. Sometimes I have questioned whether that was the best decision I could have made, but he seems to have done ok. Not academically, because he just wasn't motivated that way (despite the efforts of fine teachers and me!), but he's doing well as a person. So I'm glad to hear that your experience at Wilson is a good one.

The worst incident at his high school was when some parents got into a fight in the parking lot - pretty embarrassing.

Posted by: mostlylurking | April 5, 2008 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Wonderful Ms. Achenbach.

Posted by: dmd | April 5, 2008 2:00 PM | Report abuse

Joel.. you must be incredibly proud of your talented daughters. A great piece of writing there and a good message.

Once again, let me say I'm not worried about our future every time I meet the kids who will inherit it.

Posted by: TBG | April 5, 2008 2:21 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: Boko999 | April 5, 2008 2:32 PM | Report abuse

nice job, paris!

Posted by: L.A. lurker | April 5, 2008 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Very nice, Ms. Achenbach. Way to stick up for your school!

Posted by: Kim | April 5, 2008 3:31 PM | Report abuse

I have a bad habit of taking people's talents for granted. Kind of like, "Yah, I wouldn't hang around you if you weren't quicker than Einstein and more compassionate than Mother Teresa. This is public knowledge anyway." In trying to be mister cool, I seem to leave out the compliments and the appreciation. I'm gonna try to fix it.

Posted by: Jumper | April 5, 2008 3:32 PM | Report abuse

Associated Press English classes? Does Reuters Group teach finance?

Yeah, I know it's probably advanced placement, but you can't assume every reader is abbreviation literate.

Other than that, it was superbly written. Congratulations, Paris.

Now, have you selected a college? If not, Gainesville has a pretty good school.

Posted by: S | April 5, 2008 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Somebody had a decent writing teacher. for some reason, this tone in a minor detail sounds jarringly familiar...

"where I had to eat on a table on which animals have been dissected."

That'd have made frogade shoot out of my nose.

Anything interesting happen yesterday, other than the fact The *Tims continued to pump out more mutant personas?

Need my second hit of caffeine and a late lunch.

Posted by: Wilbrod | April 5, 2008 3:52 PM | Report abuse

Paris, nice job. Its nice to read the rest of the story from someone who is there everyday.

A little soap and water (and maybe a wee bit of disinfectant), and that biology (bugs in my day) table will be safe. Besides, its biology. You could swab and test the table if you were worried. It might make a good paper in a pinch.

Posted by: dr | April 5, 2008 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Nicely written PA.

No quarrel with Ms. Achenbach's characterization of Wilson, just an observation that most American high schools of any size are really more than one school. Often the "other" school is as hidden to the students who aren't a part of it as it is to the staff or complete outsiders.

As a 9th grader Frostdottir attended a specialty program in one of Prince William County's best performing high schools. Through no small effort on her parents' part she was placed in classes where she was least likely to encounter kids like herself (struggling academically, relatively poor impulse control, former foster kid). My principal's son was a senior at the same school, AP classes, never a bit of trouble to parents or teachers, at ease in many social circles, member of the homecoming court but not a jerk. As employees in the same school district, his mother and I kept tabs on some escalating racial issues that we saw as opportunities for leadership failures at the school and district level, but were not concerned about the general school climate-just the potentional for our kids to stumble into trouble. However, we both knew that if she felt threatened, Frostdottir's reaction would be swift, physical, and no doubt worthy of expulsion. One afternoon the call finally came, but it was about my principal's son. He'd had the snot beaten out of him in the school parking lot after the frisbee he and a classmate were tossing hit the rims of another kids' car. But for an errant flying disc, principal's son and thug with big friends would never have met. That they hadn't met until this point was because their course was set in 7th grade; when some kids were in the math class that would put them in a foreign language and Algebra (for high school credit) in 8th grade. Henceforth one would be scheduled into one version of a much lauded school, and the other into a vastly different school. Despite knowing this tale of two schools, even those of us with inside knowledge of discipline stats and teachers' lounge insight still saw the attack as a rare event-hardly the way we'd characterize the whole school.

I have no doubt things are much the same at Wilson. However, because Wilson is an "urban" school (code for having lots of poor kids of color) the assumption is that the low achieving school is the truer picture of the whole.

Posted by: frostbitten | April 5, 2008 4:29 PM | Report abuse

SCC: another kid's car, not kids'

and many others, probably, at least I'm sure about the apostrophe.

Posted by: frostbitten | April 5, 2008 4:31 PM | Report abuse

So, Paris called Colby out?!? Somehow I knew it would come down to this eventually. The golden child of the Princeton man takes on the grizzled veteran from Howard U.

I'm sure that Loomis could explain how this is an inevitable consequence of the misogynistic power structure, as instituted by her ancestors.

Posted by: Bob S. | April 5, 2008 4:46 PM | Report abuse

I think it's interesting that Morgan Tsvangirai has apparently decided that he'd rather prepare for civil war right now than go through one more round of (probably fixed - I don't doubt that his concerns are legitimate - ) voting. Does he have special warfare methods at the ready?

Posted by: Bob S. | April 5, 2008 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Excellent essay, Paris. You're a chip off the old block. (That's a compliment.)

Frosti, your essay is excellent also.

Posted by: slyness | April 5, 2008 4:57 PM | Report abuse

Nah, let's read about redlining instead.

Somebody made a nice speech on race mentioning corporate racism. It also happens on the local political level too.

Both use similar strategies... make it expected and normal for additional requirements to be imposed, and then selectively impose them to affect minorities disproportionately.

This is increasingly more possible in the database age, by the way.

Note that blacks have lower rates of gun ownership than the national average, yet most gun bans are predominantly in urban areas with heavy minority representation.

I've seen landlords redline against young people by imposing income and employment standards. They of course never discriminate... openly.

I'm proud of Paris speaking up for her school. Let her prove that nobody deserves to be redlined out of opportunity just because of the high school they went to.

Posted by: Wilbrod | April 5, 2008 5:02 PM | Report abuse

I knew essentially everyone in my tiny high school.

Universities are becoming like Frostdottir's high school--some majors hard to get into, honors programs, UNC-Chapel Hill's Morehead Scholars, etc. So it's exceedingly difficult to generalize about the places.

UF is probably better able to survive cuts to its budget than the other Florida state universities, but I'm left with a suspicion that it has an undergrad student body comparable to Michigan or Berkeley but nowhere near the teaching resources.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | April 5, 2008 5:02 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Achenbach - Like everyone else, I am impressed by the quality of your writing and, even more importantly, the power of your thoughts. You have written the kind of essay I like best - one from your direct experience. I know that your Dad is bursting with pride. We fathers are like that.

Even if your name was not familiar to me, I think this letter is one I would pay a lot of attention to. I live in Fairfax. I always assumed that the high school I send my 17 year old to was somehow vastly better than where you go to school.

I feel ashamed of that now. You have shown me that quality isn't a function of zip code. A good school is composed of good people. Good people like you.

Posted by: RD Padouk | April 5, 2008 5:15 PM | Report abuse

RD Pad - Nicely put! Even if it wasn't obvious, I intended to convey the same sort of thing. We all get caught up in assumptions, and easily sweep up various tidbits of data which support those assumptions. VERY important to have someone question the basic assumptions from time to time, I think.

Posted by: Bob S. | April 5, 2008 5:42 PM | Report abuse

In 1990, I put myself and my motorcycle on a ferry and then spent a couple of weeks bumming around Ireland. Everywhere I went that was within (or remotely near) the borders of Northern Ireland brought questions about my political views of their situation, which was still somewhat overwrought. My simplistic answers ("I like beer!" "I'm against anger and violence when I'm drinking beer!") went a long way toward my being accepted as a fun (temporary) addition to the community, rather than being viewed warily as an outsider.

In fact, I had some views about their problems that I had expressed previously from a safe distance. But immediately upon arrival, I realized that my assumptions were not necessarily supported by the facts on the ground.

Posted by: Bob S. | April 5, 2008 6:00 PM | Report abuse

Wilbrod - It's known that zoning laws have long favored white, male, tall, hearing dog owners. There's only one solution, and that's to breed small, deaf, color blind, quickly-replicating and very lovable pets. Hard for the tall, white guys to chase down, loved by the rest of us.

Posted by: Bob S. | April 5, 2008 6:10 PM | Report abuse

Oh, that would be tribbles!

Posted by: Bob S. | April 5, 2008 6:12 PM | Report abuse

Excellent article Paris. I think it was better thought out and better written than the King piece. Any school that can turn out students like you must have something going for it.

My high school (back in the dark ages) was huge and diverse. It also had, and still has a stellar reputation academically. I think going to school with students from all over the spectrum economically, ethnically and academically makes one more well rounded and more attuned to the world as it really exists. I can't speak to the troubles in your school, not being up on all the factors involved, but I am glad you spoke up and respect the pride you have in your school and teachers. I'm sure they, as well as your parents, are very proud of you!

Posted by: Bad Sneakers | April 5, 2008 6:18 PM | Report abuse

Oh yes, the pit bulls of the dust bunny world, Bob S. They sure keep those undesireable Klingons out, don't they?

Posted by: Wilbrod | April 5, 2008 6:23 PM | Report abuse

As someone who reaped some benefits from travel, I'll point out that diversity in a static situation [ooh,ooh, we've got dozens of accents in our little corner of DC!] is a mere pale imitation of actually exposing one's self to that vast myriad of circumstances available out there in the crazy wild old world. But, as Cassandra is wont to observe, any love is better than none, and they're all better with Christ in your heart!

Posted by: Bob S. | April 5, 2008 6:26 PM | Report abuse

Wilbrod - Obviously, I was having fun, but I really do think that article is sadly funny, because there is no recognition of the temporarily situational judgments there. At that particular place and time, pit bull = annoying minority. Just a few years ago, in several suburbs/exurbs throughout the southern & midwestern states, pit bull = annoying white redneck.

A dog's just a dog, a jerk's just a jerk. The world is full of both.

Posted by: Bob S. | April 5, 2008 6:42 PM | Report abuse

Just looked back - WAY too much Bob S here. I'll be around, but (I promise!) I'm gonna shut up for a while. Even I am not this fond of my own voice.

Posted by: Bob S. | April 5, 2008 6:48 PM | Report abuse

Good work Paris.

Speaking of schools and diversity, it's time to register Dear Child for kindergarten. Oh joy. I won't get beyond the registration process before they put me on their 'oh you know her' list.

The choices for race are woefully overbroad (who are they really counting here? I think I'll write in either human race or 100-yard dash); the choices for my marital status are married, separated, or divorced (nothing there for me either; going to have to think through this one). Also, I'm expected to attest that DC hasn't been expelled from another school (she's 4!)

Maybe I should just leave the whole form blank. Small town America's gonna love me.

Posted by: LostInThought | April 5, 2008 7:53 PM | Report abuse

I'm old enough to remember when labs mostly belonged to duck hunters.

Right now, I'm enjoying getting to see a neighbor's now grown-up lab pup. She looks big enough to be a Chessie. The only Chessie I knew was well-socialized, having spent his first summer with a couple dozen range management and wildlife biology students. He tended to sit in the front yard waiting to greet elementary school kids as they walked home from school. I somehow can't imagine that happening today.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | April 5, 2008 7:54 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, Ms. Paris A., for writing about your school. Nicely written, but what is most striking is your honesty and authenticity.

RD -- what can we say but you are the best. I want to be like you, continually learning, continually surprised, and humbled when needed.

May I mention this shopping coup? Target's Archer Farms brand includes SOUR CHERRY JUICE. I am drinking some now and it satisfies the spring soul rather like rhubarb does. Tonic! I suspect it would be wonderful in some light cocktail. But, lovely and tart over ice.

Moved feverfew from odd little places to better ones. Love feeling the percolation up from below all the spring energies.

LiT -- color OUTSIDE the race, marital status bubbles; bend, fold, mutilate and staple the form.

Posted by: College Parkian | April 5, 2008 8:29 PM | Report abuse

Very well done, Paris! Not only do you take a fine photograph but you write a potent paragraph, too. Dad's gonna have to replace all the buttons on his shirts.

Posted by: pj | April 5, 2008 9:38 PM | Report abuse

Your essay is a good one, Paris. I hope your fellow students read it and take pride in it. Being mad can be a good thing, when it produces such honest writing.

Posted by: VintageLady | April 5, 2008 10:20 PM | Report abuse

My sadly unappreciated entry to the Style Invitational can now be revealed:

The Googlewhack: "buxom astrophysicist"

Astrophysicists do not often figure in anyone's fantasy life. Interestingly, "manly astrophysicist" gets no hits at all.

Perhaps part of the problem is that I forgot that there was supposed to be text describing what the Googlewhacked phrase must mean. And, oh yeah, it was supposed to be funny. Now that I think about it, my entry is not very humorously written. Or, you know, funny at all. Dang. Must be my excessively dry wit. Dry and dusty. And a little salty. Think I'll go have some coffee and apple pie.

Posted by: ScienceTim | April 5, 2008 10:57 PM | Report abuse

Have we discussed this yet? -
- - -
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Make room in the playoffs for MVP front-runner Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.

Tomas Fleischmann, Sergei Fedorov and Alexander Semin scored for the Capitals, who clinched the Southeast Division title with a 3-1 victory over the Florida Panthers on Saturday night. The win was also the Capitals' seventh straight, the franchise's longest in 15 years.
- - -

I'm not a huge hockey fan, and barely making the hockey playoffs is somewhat like barely making the "C" team in your company's softball league, but still... They had to do a lot of impressive work to get there. Seven straight, and eleven of their last twelve. I don't care what league you're in, that ain't easy.

Posted by: Bob S. | April 5, 2008 11:39 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Achenbach, you're a chip off your old man's blach. Nicely done.

LiT, under 'race' I'd like to write, "Sure, to where?"
I agree that the typical personal registration form (be it school, work, or whatever) is too limiting in regards to personal info and social conventions.

Taken from another perspective, it may be worth asking - "why does any of this information *matter*?"

And if I *have* to answer them, well, as a guy, I'd prefer that as an essay question (we *do* love to talk about oursleves).

Scottynuke, I hope you and Nukespouse have a great honeymoon.

Both of my picks for the NCAA Men's final lost this afternoon. Please pass the bottle of red wine, please.


Posted by: bc | April 5, 2008 11:50 PM | Report abuse

bc - One of the reasons that the "race/gender" questions are asked is defensive... lawsuits can and do happen based upon statistics, so it behooves an organization to have a clear picture of its statistics. More broadly, it's useful to know whether the selection criteria (which, hopefully, are NOT based upon racial/gender considerations) are having disparate impacts upon folks who belong to certain demographic groups, and the only way to track that is to gather the demographic profiles.

It'll be so nice when (come the revolution) we've shed these silly skins, and are strictly neuro-net based organisms!

Posted by: Bob S. | April 6, 2008 12:14 AM | Report abuse

Bob S. - Note to self: remember this definition -

bloviate \BLOH-vee-ayt\, intransitive verb:
To speak or write at length in a pompous or boastful manner.

Don't be afraid to shut up every now & then.

Posted by: Bob S. | April 6, 2008 12:20 AM | Report abuse

I understand the frustration with the silly limitations of the 'race' question, and all the other silly questions on registration forms. The forms seem awfully foolish, and they aren't well designed to capture any of the nuance of real life. Remember, though, that the reason the race-identification question is on there is because our country has a history of petty tyrants making snap judgments based on a casual visual inspection. From just such judgments, people have been denied or granted the opportunity to exercise their Constitutional rights. I understand it feels childish and trivial and broad-brush to have to label yourself or your child as "white" or "black" or "Asian." The guys who enforced Jim Crow laws had no qualms about such fine distinctions. If you looked black it meant you were black, and you had no rights. A bigot doesn't need a piece of paper to tell him who to be a bigot about. It was better for the effectiveness of Jim Crow to have no records, so the plain fact of discrimination couldn't be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, because the system made sure that no proof was recorded. The point of getting a recorded-on-paper answer to these questions now is not to discriminate against anyone. The point is to test whether discrimination is actually happening or is being remedied. So suck it up, tough it out, and do your part to answer the dang question as honestly as you're able so that it can be used to actually test whether Jim Crow is coming back or not. It's not about you, or your kid; it's about millions of other people and millions of kids, and trying to make our country a place that we can be proud of.

Posted by: PlainTim | April 6, 2008 12:21 AM | Report abuse

Dave, I do that now! The bus stops right next to our yard!

Posted by: Wilbrodog | April 6, 2008 12:49 AM | Report abuse

Wilbrodog - You're not alone. Alexandria (VA - I haven't been to Egypt since the 1980's.) is the kind of town where dogs are regularly left outside the store, or in the front yard, unattended to keep an eye on things for a while.

Posted by: Bob S. | April 6, 2008 1:45 AM | Report abuse

Charlton Heston has gone to speak to the voice behind the burning bush.

If I've done my math correctly, he leaves behind his wife of roughly 64 years. I'm guessing that they were doing something right!

Posted by: Bob S. | April 6, 2008 2:51 AM | Report abuse

My apologies to Pat Benatar [Heartbreaker], and feel free to shield Paris A. from an old man's musings...

My school is not a battlefield,
Just some news to be read...
We all have real existences,
While you just shake your head!

We're the right kind of winners to find out just how bright the future might be.
Though you think we're all sinners, there's no way you can say that's reality!
I'm a thought-maker, world-shaker,
mold-breaker, don't pretend that you can't see.
Thought-maker, world-shaker,
mold-breaker, don't you mess around with me!

Posted by: Bob S. | April 6, 2008 3:23 AM | Report abuse

Great defence, Ms Achenbach. You certainly have your father's journalistic genes coming out and defend your school in the midst of all the negatives articles written about it in a national paper.

Yoki, congratulations on your promotion.

Scottynuke, hope you and your Mrs have a great honeymoon.

Slyness, I think it's so cool to have twins. Cooler still when they are identical twins. You probably have to remind yourself every minute to not spoil them.

Posted by: rainforest | April 6, 2008 4:53 AM | Report abuse

SCC ... your daughter is having twins.

Posted by: rainforest | April 6, 2008 5:04 AM | Report abuse

Howdy, rain! I'll join you in sending my best wishes & hopes to Yoki, Scotty, & Slyness.

Posted by: Bob S. | April 6, 2008 5:06 AM | Report abuse

While children are certainly a blessing, let's hope that not TOO many folks get blessed as heavily as "Jon & Kate Plus 8". They had three & a half year-old twins (now around 7 1/2), then the sextuplets (now almost 4) came along. Very, very busy parents, I'm guessing.

Posted by: Bob S. | April 6, 2008 5:18 AM | Report abuse

Mornin' all...

Excellent essay, Paris. Definitely worth clipping and including with your college applications (good luck on that, btw).

Joel, I think you've earned the right to take a bow and do the "Proud Daddy Dance". No matter what field Paris decides to pursue in life, her writing skills prove the acorn didn't land too far from the oak.

I'm also impressed that the comments have stayed unusually on-topic. Not a single mention of knitting or curling.

Peace out :-)

Posted by: martooni | April 6, 2008 7:19 AM | Report abuse

Good letter Paris! I bet she had a superior editor.

Bob S., Oveshkin is the most spectacular player the NHL has seen since Super Mario. If he stays healthy, the kid will rewrite the record book. He has already done it as a matter of fact, he is now the left winger with the most goal in a season. A boring defensive team will probably win the Stanley cup again (Ducks, Sharks anyone? Blah!) but the Caps are a fun team to watch.

bc, the object of your mancrush is having a difficult start in Bahrain. (18th place)Ouch. He'll rebound eventually.

Two lagomorphs (Eastern cottontails) are under one of the birdfeeders, nibbling on safflower and sunflower seed sent overboar by the birds. They look plump and healthy, even after that long winter. Someone must have been feeding them.

Posted by: shrieking denizen | April 6, 2008 7:49 AM | Report abuse

SCC goals and overboard. *sigh* On to a walk on this gorgeous Sunday morning. It's the pefect Easter weekend, two weeks late.

Posted by: shrieking denizen | April 6, 2008 7:52 AM | Report abuse

Perfect. I give up.

Posted by: shrieking denizen | April 6, 2008 7:53 AM | Report abuse

Goood morning, everybody!

Still wet and cloudy here in the Carolinas, a very happy omen. It strikes me that spring is being late this year; the oaks are just now blooming, no leaves yet. Just an observation, not a complaint. A cool, wet spring is fine by me. A cool, wet summer would be delightful.

bc, I had to sympathize with Mr. T last night. Of course, he had Kansas over Carolina in his bracket, prophetically. I just couldn't watch it.

Posted by: slyness | April 6, 2008 8:19 AM | Report abuse

Just checking in to confirm Slyness's suspicion that spring is late this year. We had 6 inches of snow last night and after a brief respite it is snowing again. Expecting another 3-6 inches today, with a chance of even more overnight.

Posted by: frostbitten | April 6, 2008 9:49 AM | Report abuse

re: the death of Charlton Heston (a/k/a Moses, among other things) -- is it now safe to disclose that I own and wear (when appropriate) a black trench coat?

Just asking (and ducking).

Posted by: firsttimeblogger | April 6, 2008 10:05 AM | Report abuse

Good morning. I'm still catching up but want to thank Paris for this well-expressed essay, and her father for sharing it with us. A school is more than the sum of its reports.

The Boy attends a public school in a block-long brick building from the 1920s. The physical plant is crumbling - iffy heat and a/c, leaky roof, lockers and bathrooms in poor conditions. The students range from wealthy backgrounds and lots of advantages to poor families who barely can get their kids to school and special-ed kids. However, the school's test scores are consistently high, all the students have a fierce pride in their school, and people are begging to get in. This was true of his elementary school as well.

Posted by: Ivansmom | April 6, 2008 10:07 AM | Report abuse

OOOh! We must knit Martooni something with curls!

Posted by: nellie | April 6, 2008 10:55 AM | Report abuse

PlainTim, I appreciate your perspective, and the desire to right wrongs, but an argument can be made that by putting broad-brushed labels on people, the discrimination beast is fed. It particularly bothers me that there's no 'other' box. Besides, for a child from an ethnically-diverse gene pool, that's forcing a label to be applied before they even have an opportunity to self-identify. It's not like DC's applying for a loan; she wants to fingerpaint in the lone public kindergarten class. No one is getting turned away here.

Of course this isn't about me or my child. But data isn't very helpful if it isn't accurate. Rather than fill out the form, I will ask the school board to expand the list of options. (Side's a very small school district in a rural community. I think the form was photocopied from a mimeographed copy. It's time for an update.)

(Another side note...I have no idea why they care what my marital status is. That particular question is akin to asking her religion; it's got nothing to do with nothing, and answering could potentially lead to her being discriminated against. And again, there's no 'other' box for me to choose.)

Posted by: LostInThought | April 6, 2008 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Woah, Nellie!

I wouldn't mind a pointy red gnome hat. Sans curls, though... the other gnomes might think I've been spending too much time with the fairies (not that there's anything wrong with that, but still...).

Posted by: martooni | April 6, 2008 11:16 AM | Report abuse

A note to all parents when filling out those forms- it is almost a certainty that no one will ever look at them, even if you want them to because they've asked individualized questions like "What kind of learning activities does your child enjoy most?"

I think it would be cool if everyone just used a random race/ethnicity generator prior to checking the box. You can ask for all the new boxes you want, but the data would still be aggregated into the broader categories that the feds/states want reported. If the aim is to get rid of the idea of a 5 year old having to identify as one thing or another, I think it's more effective to just make the data worthless and bring and end to the question.

Posted by: frostbitten | April 6, 2008 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Wow, check this out:

Can I just say that I am very disciplined about not working too hard.

But I am at work now! And came in yesterday. Because I have four things to work on. Hmmmm....

Posted by: Achenbach | April 6, 2008 11:43 AM | Report abuse

SCC: bring an end to the question. Not-and end.

Posted by: frostbitten | April 6, 2008 11:50 AM | Report abuse

I find myself agreeing with all of the boodlers in LiT's dilemma. No question that these categorizations are reifying and reinforcing socially-constructed divisions that don't/shouldn't actually matter, and that don't accurately fit reality. If we are going to have a form, I'm sure it needs updating and an "other" box. Or does it allow the checking of multiple boxes? The census does, as of the last go-round, I think, and I like that solution symbolically/emotionally better than dumping all complications into an "other" category.

To Tim's and Bob's points, I'm reminded of France's recent and continuing urban issues. Officially, France has very high-mindedly stated that racial/ethnic/religious categorizations don't matter, and so no records should be kept on group patterns in employment or education. The problem is that in that situation, there's no question that there are limited opportunities for some groups, with significant negative consequences for them and for the society as a whole. Without records, there's no way to measure the size of the problem or the effects of any attempts to fix it.

In my recent academic job search, all of the schools asked me to fill out forms with demographic information for the records of the institution, but the information was not made available to the hiring committees, and I could opt out partially or altogether at no harm to my application. Seemed like a reasonable compromise.

My final conclusion? Just that it's complicated.

Posted by: bia | April 6, 2008 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Frosty, I'm thinking of you. This is the view this morning from the deck.

It's a great day for November, not so great for April. In typical prairie people fashion, I find myself feeling very up about this heavy snow. Along with snow, the cold weather is gone. It looks like it is going to be a lovely week.

And yes I will discuss curling today. Our vaunted Canandian broadcaster, CBC is known for doing 2 things reasonably well. One is sports and the other is news. Stupider heads have prevailed and they are not broadcasting curling on tv except for 1 game yesterday and next weekends games. We may be able to watch on the computer, but the computer is hardly a comfortable place for tv viewing. And I am not even sure that what is online is a live broadcast. We shall see. It is being broadcast at Curltv online only not in Canada, where CBC has the rights.

Yes, this broadcaster has paid for the TV rights in Canada...but are not using the event to fill the airwaves. (I'm sure there is more involved, but I'm taking deep umbrage anyway.)

Needless to say the R household is not very happy.

Posted by: dr | April 6, 2008 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Well done, Paris! Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences as a current Wilson student. There are some outstanding teachers (and students) at Wilson. Unfortunately, folks rarely talk about them. I know your views are shared by many other Wilson students and their families.

Posted by: Juliasu | April 6, 2008 12:09 PM | Report abuse

New microkit posted.

Posted by: Achenbach | April 6, 2008 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Wow, blogging *to the death,* Joel.

Thanks, but no thanks.

sd, I haven't finished watching my recording of the Bahrain GP yet, but I see that Hamilton did indeed botch his start, and whacked Alonso in his subsequent frustration.

Personally, I'm a privacy advocate.
I do understand the value of demographic data, but I'd rather have such data disassociated with me or my children.
Information regarding me or my kids' religion, marital status, the color of our skin, ethnicity, etc. is personal, and I think I should have the choice - in fact, the right and the *responsibility* - to consider who I share personal information with and under what conditions. In other words, I *do* think this is about me and my kids, and their best interests.

We do not always know how such information is used; who it's sold to, if adequate safeguards are in place to protect that information from being stolen (how many people have had online credit card information stolen?), what kind of reporting or marketing tools are used against that data, etc.

Again, I'm all for demographic data used "for the greater good," to keep old Jim Crow at bay, but I believe I have the intellectual property rights to my own and my kids' personal information (my image and my kids' images are legally ours, are they not?) to assure that it is used in ways I agree with, and can not be used against us in any way.

Which is why I'm willing to provide such data anonymously, but am leery about doing so with names and addresses attached to it.


Posted by: bc | April 6, 2008 1:50 PM | Report abuse

The Post has an interesting listing crime incidents in DC schools. Wilson has a lot but is not the most violent. 58 violent incidents for 2005-2007. For a breakdown:

Posted by: Wildebeest | April 7, 2008 2:41 PM | Report abuse

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