what’s a mother to do?

The Bee has been put into some kind of advanced program in her school. I’m not sure how I feel about it, because 1st grade seems a little young to start tracking kids into different academic programs. I’m also conflicted, because all the other kids in this program are white or Asian, in a class where the white and Asian kids are a minority (well, okay, there’s only one Asian kid in the class).

I’m not naive enough to think that it’s a coincidence. This is an elementary school where there is not a single person of color on the staff, despite the presence of a considerable number of students of color. I certainly believe that it’s possible that the black and Latino students in the class have already been written off, although I sincerely hope that’s not true.

This is one of those situations that I hate being in as a white person. I know that if I raise this suspicion to the other parents, or to the teachers, I risk being labeled some crazy liberal (which, you know, I kind of am, so I can live with that). I’m already under a cloud for suggesting to the principal that they hire a teacher who speaks Spanish to replace Mrs. X. For all I know, these five kids are in fact just naturally smarter than everyone else. Or they all have parents that are especially active in the PTA. Or whatever.

And it’s not that I don’t want the Bee to be in an advanced class. I want her to succeed in school. I want her to have fun with her friends, and it is her friends who are in this advanced program–both of her best friends, and a boy they all hang out with at after-school care. (In fact, four of these five kids are in the after-school program, so maybe that’s the link, not race.)

I haven’t decided what to do about these suspicions. One of the difficulties is that the regular first grade teacher is still on maternity leave, so I’d have to talk to the sub. I’m guessing that the sub must have been involved in the picking of which kids should go into this program (she’s been subbing since the beginning of November), and I don’t want to just go in and accuse her of being racist. So I have to figure out how to ask the questions in a way that’s value-neutral, and I haven’t been able to come up with a way to talk about it yet, without being accusatory.


February 2, 2006. thoughtful parenting.


  1. Daydreams and Musings replied:

    Wow – that’s tough. It’s hard not to have those suspicions under the circumstances. There’s nothing wrong in asking how kids are selected for the program and maybe why there’s only five kids. Hopefully that won’t put them on the defensive and once a dialogue is going, you can get more information.

  2. christie replied:

    That’s a tough situation… but I know what ever you decide you’ll do it with intelligence and tact.

  3. The Scarlett replied:

    Maybe Bee actually belongs there. Maybe they are afraid that Bee and the other kids will be bored if not challenged. Maybe Bee and the kids in that program have parents that take the time to help and the kids not in the program have parents that are too busy working to be as supportive.

    I’d probably spend some time observing and see if the kids are treated differently.

  4. jackie replied:

    Is there any way to find out how kids were chosen? Maybe you can also talk to some of the other parents, to see if they feel the same way you do about the situation. If they do, then maybe there’s a case to be made where you don’t have to be the sole “crazy liberal” type.

    Or maybe just wait and see how it goes, but it seems like your issue is not that gifted programs are coming into play, but who’s getting put into them. And it would be tricky to go in “advocating” for other parents who may not be as concerned as you are, you know? There’s always a certain amount of white privilege involved when we believe we must advocate for others who may be of color– I know I’ve felt that way before.

    good luck!

  5. Suzanne replied:

    Tricky situation. Even if you approach the teachers in the most even-handed, diplomatic manner, I wonder if anyone would admit to the possibility that the selection process might be racially motivated, even unconciously.

    Good luck. Let us know how this plays out.

  6. moonface replied:

    first grade certainly seems way too young for that sort of thing. and that is one tough situtation. keep us posted on what happens.

  7. Li replied:

    it is a tough call. the thing is if you ask the tough questions does that put Bee out on the sidewalk? or worse she’s in and is treated different. I think it’s perhaps about the whole institution and better perhaps an issue that can be used to explain some tough things in life to Bee. Good Luck.

  8. Carrie replied:

    I think it would be very appropriate to go in and ask about the selection criteria for the program. I doubt they’ll tell you it was racially motivated, but it would be good to see what they have to say. As a teacher, I would be extremely leery of having a program with no minority children in it. That is just asking for a lawsuit unless the selection process is iron clad and related to measurable requirments like test scores. The schools I’ve worked in have actually had a bias toward minority students just to make sure they weren’t perceived as racist, which is racist in and of itself. When I subbed in VA I always keenly felt the racial tensions–mostly white teachers with mostly minority students but almost exclusivley minority (often female) principals. It’s a delicate balance and hard to get right I think.

  9. AShley replied:

    My son is in a 1st grade enrichment program, pre being in their advanced classes (which they can’t be in for at least a year). I can honestly say that the students in the enrichment program are diverse and need the extra challenges. My son would be way too bored otherwise.

    As to your situation, maybe ask how the kids are selected (test or observation). If it’s by observation, by whom and what were they looking for? You can always start with being happy Bee is in it, but you were just curious about the program and how kids are selected. At my son’s school, I had to sign a form allowing for the evaluation, then another to allow him into the program.

  10. MetroDad replied:

    Well, on the one hand, it’s hard to know what the deal is without knowing the situation. Based on the kids YOU have met, do you think they made the right choices? Do you feel that the largely white staff treats all the kids equally? Let’s hope so. It would be a shame if other kids were excluded simply because of racial profiling. That would be absolutely heartbreaking.

    On the other hand…if The Bee has inherited just SOME of your intelligence and smarts, I’m sure she was rightfully selected. From what I’ve gathered from your blog, she’s a pretty astute kid who is well aware of her environment. And needless to say, I’m sure she shares your love of reading and education.

    But I think I might say something to someone at the school. Without raising a stink, is there any one teacher that you’re close to with whom you could convey your concerns? At the very least, it would be nice to know what criteria they used in making the selections.

  11. Comfort Addict replied:

    That’s a tough situation. I would suspect institutional racism but how do you prove it?

    I think that the best thing that you can do for the Bee (I’m sure that you’re doing this already) is make sure that she has lots of exposure to people of different races and backgrounds. The other thing that I’d caution against is burnout. However, I’m sure that you and Landisdad will provide plenty of opportunities for fun.

    By the way, I love the new template!

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