The preschool dilemma

by Anti-Racist Parent columnist Amber

When my daughter turned three, my husband and I began the search for a part-time preschool. In addition to finding a match for our academic and location preferences, we wanted to find a school that was representative of the Midwestern city where we live, including African, African American, Middle Eastern, Hispanic, Asian and white kids. It seemed like a modest enough goal.

We started our search with a list of three schools in our area recommended by other parents (the ultra-liberal school, the hippie school and the neighborhood school). When asked, the other parents claimed the schools had “diversity.” It didn’t take much research for me to eliminate all three of them because they had only one or two children of color in the entire school.

I broadened my search and found a church preschool whose website claimed “Muslim, Hindu, Catholic and Protestant” children were enrolled there. Maybe in other parts of the country this wouldn’t mean much, but to me it meant that there were some kids of color at this school.

When I called them, I had high hopes. Unfortunately, I was disappointed to learn they couldn’t guarantee my daughter would not be the only child of color in her class, nor did they have any teachers who were not white.

The director’s reply when she was answering my diversity questions:

“Well, the school is mostly caucasian, but, uh, you know, diversity has never been a problem here. I mean, sure, preschoolers will notice that there are differences. They will say “Why is his skin brown?” but you know, they don’t mean anything bad by it. We just talk about the differences in a POSITIVE way. For example, we celebrate both Christmas and Hannukah. Oh and we also celebrate Kwanzaa! At this age, kids really love the diversity of holidays so we try to focus on that. We try not to focus on the differences in skin color and instead we focus on celebrations!”

Because my idea of diversity involves a lot more than just celebrating holidays, I hung up the phone pretty quickly. Not to mention, the image of a bunch of white teachers celebrating Kwanzaa in a complete vacuum of African Americans who might actually celebrate this holiday in their homes was a very uncomfortable for me. I was pretty sure we would not send our daughter to a school where she would be the token Asian or the only kid who actually celebrates Chinese New Year at home.

Finally, a friend recommended a local preschool owned by a Korean American couple. About half of the class would be of East or South Asian decent and three of the four teachers are Asian. There were also a number of kids from mixed race white and Asian families. This school is by no means representative of the racial diversity in the city where we live, but we eventually decided that we would send our daughter there.

Did we make the right decision? I don’t know. For us, the preschool selection process was about learning which compromises we are willing to make. We decided our number one priority is for our daughter to be surrounded by kids who closely reflect our family and her racial background during this critical age of racial identity development. Only time will tell if that choice was the right one.

Amber is currently underpaid and overworked as the full-time parent to a three year-old daughter. Currently, she and her husband are in the process of adopting a child from China. Amber blogs about motherhood, adoption and life in her Midwestern multiracial family at American Family.

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