"Those Kids from Bridgeport Are Bringing Down Our Test Scores"
Photo: Bruce Berrien/ Creative Commons
I am a white woman. My daughter, Maia, is half-Chinese, my husband, Trey, and my step-kids, Chet and Ava, are African American. Even in New York City people stared at us, trying to figure out our family dynamic.
A year ago we moved from New York City to a predominantly white suburb in Fairfield County, Connecticut. It was not surprising to find the suburbs with the best school systems were overwhelmingly wealthy and white.
So far, everyone has been incredibly welcoming, and we've been pleasantly surprised by the diversity in our town. We have neighbors on both sides with brown skin. After the shooting at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, one of the neighbors came by to offer education about the Sikh religion.
In the kids' classes, Maia likes to count all the Asian students. Ava says most of the girls in her close circle of friends are from or have lived in other countries. Since Trey speaks Portuguese, he's connected with several parents from Brazil. What most of the diverse group of friends have in common though is wealth -- to varying degrees. Despite the unexpected international flavor we've discovered, Trey likes to say, you don't see many black folks.
You see many more African Americans in Bridgeport, a neighboring city within Fairfield County (one of the highest income counties in the United States). White people in Bridgeport, according to the Census, make up less than 40% of the population while black people make up around 35%. Bridgeport is economically depressed. In 2010, 31.2% of children in Bridgeport lived below the poverty line, and the schools are some of the worst in the state.
The other day, Trey heard Chet talking with friends about "those kids from Bridgeport." Later, at dinner, Trey asked about the conversation.
Chet admitted that occasionally kids from school would refer to "those kids" from Bridgeport, saying they were "kind of like, not smart," and they were bringing down our (meaning the state of Connecticut and Fairfield County) test scores. When a student bombed a test, a classmate might joke that he was going to wind up at Bridgeport Community College.
"When people imagine a kid from Bridgeport, who do you think they imagine?" Trey asked Chet. "A kid with brown skin like you, right?"
I chimed in explaining that kids tend to get lower scores on standardized tests when they don't have enough food to eat or disposable income to spend on tutors. But since I am always harping on one cause or another, and because I'm the white stepmom, I was relieved when Ava rolled her eyes and pulled up her chair.
"Uh, Chet. What is wrong with you? Haven't you heard of the test score gap?"
Ava explained that differences in achievement on standardized tests can be linked to poverty and race. Ava scores high on tests and has always gone to the best schools, so she says the argument about income inequality is the most persuasive to her, but she took Chet to task for sitting quietly while other kids made remarks about students in Bridgeport.
In middle school, I wanted to just disappear, so I completely understand the impulse to go along with the crowd. But there is nothing more important to Trey and I than teaching our kids the value of standing up in these situations.
Chet is an incredibly sweet kid, and I believe he is someone who stands up for people in need. But it's more complicated (for all of us) when the people who need standing up for are not in the room.
It reminds me of listening to politicians give speeches about about single moms and "welfare moms" while those moms are busy attending classes, waiting in line at the housing office or the food pantry, and running around picking/dropping their kids from school and activities.
The day after our dinnertime rant, Chet came home from school saying he'd asked one of his friends what they meant by "those kids from Bridgeport." His friend brought up the test scores, and Chet told him how many kids in Bridgeport were poor and minorities. His friend answered that he didn't think that's what everyone meant.
But I felt so proud of Chet just for bringing it up. I am confident that the next time, he will not sit silent, and really, that's all we can ask of our kids.
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