My bus

May 28th, 2008

School’s out for many of you. But for some, it’s always just beginning.

I always knew where it would lead.

As we cruised down the street on the morning commute to nursery school, my two-year-old would pipe up from the back seat whenever the yellow bus rumbled into view.

“My bus, my bus!”

“That’s right,” I would carefully rejoin, “A bus,” affirming the noun, but not yet the pronoun, not the possession, not the slightest quiver of possibility that the public school just down the street would one day be hers. Years before the question of schools could reasonably be raised, I already felt the fluttering clutch of resistance to her baby-talk claim.

Which school for my daughter? I waffled. Haven’t a clue, I’d think. Never given it a thought, I’d shrug, although I’d given plenty of thought to how brilliant her future would be. How bountiful her birthright. How predestined her success. Although my husband and I were public school progeny, those were different times in different places with different kinds of parents, we thought. Our parents had neither the privilege nor the need for a choice.

Our school district was as underfunded as any and especially ill-favored by those with a chance of escaping it. Decades earlier, forced busing had decimated enrollments. As incomes and property values rose, the middle class that had once populated neighborhood schools was nowhere to be found. Sixty-three private schools educated more than one-third of all children in the district. Competition for admission was severe; tuitions were stratospheric. But for parents like us, parents who could pinch and scrimp their way to having a choice, there seemed to be no other choice.

This was the state of education in our country. This was the state of our country, in which the newly elite lived in fear of being left behind with the mass of others we had falsely promised to never leave behind. This was the road the yellow bus traveled twice a day: hauling mostly Hispanic kids to and from the apartment buildings that rimmed the industrial fringe of our suburb; collecting them on the littered streets at frosty dawns and delivering them to our quaint hometown school in our million-dollar neighborhood, made empty by a herd of us heading the other way.

To continue reading. To continue listening. To be continued.


  1. This is an important topic. We’d hope to move past this by now but we haven’t. It’s still as much an issue now than it ever has been. Sadly.

    We have no clear path yet ourselves other than the hope that we, alone, can be enough to send them on the right path, whatever that means.

    Comment by Shawn — May 28, 2008 @ 5:48 pm

  2. Sometimes truth is ugly.

    Comment by Catherine — May 28, 2008 @ 7:52 pm

  3. Working in an inner city school, this really strikes a nerve with me. So very true and so very sad.

    Comment by Eileen — May 28, 2008 @ 10:38 pm

  4. A very thought provoking post. We send our daughter to an inner city school. Having gone to private school as a child, there are times that I feel a pull in that direction. Out of a combined kindergarten that averages between 40-45 kids, team taught by two teachers and 2-3 aides, there are maybe 5-6 caucasian kids; the rest are mainly African American. It is truly a learning experience for me.

    Comment by Kristin H. — May 28, 2008 @ 10:50 pm

  5. We are lucky over here – the public schools are great. Of course the classes are bigger than we’d like and there have been cuts in art, music, special education. But, the local parents have really stepped up to the plate and brought these things back to the schools (with private funding of course).

    I’m grateful we don’t have the added expense of private school. Public school feels expensive enough with music rentals, fundraisers, school supplies, fieldtrips, etc. I often wonder how some of the poorer children can even afford to attend public school.

    Comment by Shalet — May 29, 2008 @ 1:38 am

  6. and arnold plans more cuts to public education, so we watch as our little schools are completely decimated, and those of us who are lucky enough to find another route do so, with passion and fury combined.
    this is such an important thing to write about. thank you.

    Comment by Holly Lash — May 29, 2008 @ 3:08 am

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