School assignment protests had more passion than perspective
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools adopted a controversial new boundary plan last week, over many objections from parents and students. WFAE’s Tommy Tomlinson, in his "On My Mind" commentary, says there’s something to be learned from the struggle.
I guess I should be happy that they cared.
We always complain about people being apathetic when it comes to civic life. Well, whatever you might call the people who fought Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ new school boundaries, you can’t call them apathetic.
They came by the hundreds to school board meetings, signing up to voice their objections and making a couple of meetings longer than a “Lord of the Rings” movie. They drew up their own plans for school boundaries. They formed a human chain outside Myers Park High and Alexander Graham Middle — two schools that students and their families did not want to leave.
Some of them also accused the school system of gerrymandering and corruption.
CMS is not blameless here. The plan the school board finally passed last Tuesday was the 15th different version of the new boundaries. But the plan deals with a simple reality: Not everybody can go to the same coveted schools.
Most of the schools we’re talking about are in the wealthier areas of Charlotte, where some families have paid premium prices to live in the desired school district. The problem is, those areas are growing so fast that before long you’re stuffing 10 pounds of students into a 5-pound bag. So CMS is stuck with a dilemma: To relieve overcrowding in schools where everybody wants to go, it has to build new schools where nobody wants to go. And it has to change the boundaries in order to feed those new schools.
Undoubtedly, going to a new school is a disruption. Kids might get split from their friends, they have to start over on new sports teams, it changes the routine for parents who drop their kids off. But let’s be honest: That’s not all that’s going on here.
A few Charlotte schools, places like Myers Park and Ardrey Kell High, have a reputation as the elite public schools in Charlotte. Kids — and their parents — want those schools on their college applications. And also maybe their T-shirts and bumper stickers. A brand-new school doesn’t carry the same prestige.
I understand the deeper impulses here, too. Kids can think moving is the end of the world. Parents will do anything for their kids. But it doesn’t mean they have to do everything. And it feels a little off that, of all the injustices going on — not just around the world but here in Charlotte — this is the one worth forming a human chain about.
Many years ago, I was the kid who had to go to a new school.
The summer after sixth grade, we moved from one side of the county to the other. I was slotted for a new middle school. I didn’t know anybody there. I begged my mom to drive me across town when school started so I could be with my old friends. Wisely, she said no.
I was bitter and miserable when I showed up at my new school. That lasted about two days. My teachers were great and I made new friends and everything was fine.
I also learned an important lesson: Not everything is about you. So you might as well learn to adapt to change, instead of always trying to bend the world to your wishes.
It will probably be good for some of the kids in our school system to learn that lesson. But maybe their parents need to learn it even more.
Tommy Tomlinson’s "On My Mind" column runs Mondays on WFAE and WFAE.org.It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at email@example.com.