A friend asked a question on his Facebook wall regarding the new jr. high and high school boundaries and it got me thinking about what’s wrong with strictly geographic boundaries for schools in the first place. He expressed a concern that I hear pretty often in this regard: Socio-economic balance in our community is a municipality problem, not a schools problem. I agree that our municipal leadership past and present bears a lot of the responsibility and should shoulder a lot of the blame for the socio-economic segregation we have in our community, but the solution won’t come from the Planning and Zoning commissions alone.
The problem with Planning and Zoning committees is the changes that needed to be made there needed to be made 30 or 40 years ago. Now there’s no way to backtrack. It has to be the schools and the city governments working together to fix some stuff that has been allowed to be screwed up for a long, long time.
Does that mean your child should go to a school far away from your home to fix it? No, not necessarily.
In all honesty, geographically based zoning as the single tool used to create socio-economic balance in or schools will always fail. It has failed for decades and it will continue to fail. We need to have new solutions to work in concert with zoning of our schools and our municipalities. Stuff like magnet schools and more focused curricular choices that will allow people choose schools for reasons other than just geography. Our communities are defined by our neighborhood schools and that shouldn’t change, but relying on only one tool to populate our schools has created a system that is segregated along socio-economic lines. That isn’t OK, and it shouldn’t be allowed to continue.
Geography is the shell game. Real estate developers and the other money-making folks who profit from moving the more affluent around need to use geography to get business. In the 50s and 60s, it was the southeast side of Iowa City, neighborhoods like Twain and Wood and Hoover. Now it’s North Liberty, Coralville and other areas where there’s new growth. This is the way it’s always been and it will continue to be that way. But when faced with a system that’s driven by geography, we can fight back against it using geography as our only weapon. We need different tools. And many of the leaders in our municipal and school governing bodies have shown themselves to be adept at say “no” to new ideas, but not very adept and using “no” as a starting point for a more effective yes.
I’m not blaming families and I don’t want anyone to take this as such. Families of every socio-economic background are as much the victims of this system as anyone. Less diverse schools mean less effective learning environments. Our kids are being short-changed because this system has been allowed to perpetuate itself and we have no one to blame but a steady stream of elected officials who have been asleep at the switch for decades.
No matter where you live, we’re all the same at the beginning of every day; we all wake up with the same goals: Try and do the best for our kids. That’s the commonality that connects us all, whether we live in a rented duplex on Taylor Drive or in a brand new home in a new development. The problem actually lies in how we keep trying to solve our problems. Trying to fix socio-economic segregation in our schools and in our community by only moving lines on a map is akin to trying to build a house with only one hammer. It’s just not going to work. You need a whole toolbox full of tools. But for decades our leaders have been trying to get it done with a hammer and nothing else.
We’ve been doing the same things over and over and we continue to fail, we continue to drive wedges through our community and we continue to elect people who are unwilling or unable to make forward-thinking choices and stick by them. We’ve had a lot of great ideas come around and die in committees and during an endless “works sessions” that have provided very few solutions. It’s time for something to change, and since we can’t change the past, we need to change the leaders.