Last night we attended a mixer for new families at the elementary school where Kaya will begin her march from kindergarten to the Supreme Court this September (though it still remains to be seen whether she’ll be there on the bench or as the subject of some sort of appeal).
She’s now at an age that I vividly remember, and attending her dance recital last month made clear to me that watching Kaya proceed through her childhood will be accompanied by memories of my own. I’ve thought much about that dance recital over the past few weeks. It provoked in me an odd mixture of emotions with which I’ve yet to adequately come to grips– I was so proud that she was performing something she worked hard on for months, and impressed by the level of support the community was showing for these girls who strutted their stuff confidently across the stage. At the same time, I was horrified by the sexualization of pre-pubescent girls evident in many of the performances, and bothered by what I saw as an emphasis on showiness and performance rather than on craft and enjoyment. While the event was pleasant on the whole, there was simply no need for the expensive, ornate costumes sported by each group. I know, I know… they’re just kids, let them have their fun. But that’s my point. I feel that the dance would have been much more meaningful and perhaps even more fun with a dozen girls in black leotards stripped of the myriad cultural references that signified to the audience so much adorable cuteness. The kids are naturally adorably cute without all that stuff… shed it and let them show what they’ve learned, for crying out loud! Of course… I couldn’t have been prouder of Kaya, and tears streamed down my cheeks throughout her entire performance.
Another component of the recital that bothered me was that such a high percentage of the kids were white. This is nothing against you, my potential white reader, and certainly nothing against white kids, but rather a byproduct of my strong preference for diverse communal experiences. The mixer last night was majority minority, which was surprising because the state statistics show that the school is 80%+ white. P and I remembered that there had also been a mixer in the morning, and thought maybe most of the white families had attended that rather than the evening event? Who knows. Maybe white people are less likely to let their kids stay up that late.
The school serves close to 600 students from pre-K to 2nd grade, and was impressive… art and music rooms support vibrant programs, a new playground was just completed for the pre-k and kindergartners, and the library even had a half dozen iMacs. My elementary school had none of these things (well, we did have a great new playground, which Mrs. Waltzer helped put together, even if she wouldn’t allow me to go on the monkey bars), but I loved it then and remember it fondly now because of the kinds of people I was exposed to as a Verlinden Little Red (school pictured at left). I had some good teachers and developed academic skills; but more importantly, I was exposed to a variety of types of kids and families and ways of looking at the world, which shaped me just as much as learning how to read or add and subtract.
Kaya’s about to become a Bulldog (the mascot of her elementary school), and I hope, hope, hope that when she looks back upon her own elementary school experience as an adult she feels its lasting impact as deeply and fondly as I feel mine. She did turn to me after we toured the school last night and said “this looks like it’s a fun school, dad!”
That’s a good start.