Friday Question of the Day

IMG_8510, originally uploaded by Prince of Petworth.

Seeing this hoop in a city alley got me thinking about kids in the city. I’ve recently heard about a few folks who are moving out of the city to raise kids in the suburbs. Not that I don’t understand it but it always saddens me when I hear it. Dang, there was even a piece in the Washington Post a few months ago about a guy who swore he’d never move out of the city and then did when he had a kid. (If anyone knows what I’m talking about, please post the link in the comments.) Anyway, I myself grew up in a suburb which was pretty good living for a young kid. So we’ve talked about schools and how that is a major factor. But I’d like to hear about the other factors. I’d like to hear from folks who grew up in a city or are (would) raise kids in the city. How do you weigh the pros and cons? Do you think you are disadvantaging or advantaging you kids by raising them in a city as opposed to the ‘burbs?

43 Comment

  • I wish I grew up in the city but the schools are so bad here unless you go to a private school, which are both very competitive to get into and expensive.

    But, more importantly, did anyone else spot the lawn sculpture of the day in that picture? That brontesaurus along the fence is HOT!

  • Raising children in the city gives kids a multitude of opportunities that suburban kids don’t have quite at their fingertips….and in a morbid turn, I always like to point out that the majority of the mass-school shootings have not been in cities but in smaller towns and the ‘burbs….

  • Yeah, I have no problem raising kids in the city, aside from the schools issue. The proximity to mass transit, free museums, diversity, more walking/less driving, are all good things! I think the need to have a large suburban backyard is overstated and certainly not the norm worldwide. However, it all comes down to schools. When I have a kid, if they don’t get into a good out-of-boundary or charter school, and I can’t afford private school, I may have to reluctantly move. More accurately, my wife will drag me by my ankles while my fingernails are dug into the soil and I’m screaming at the top of my lungs. 🙁

  • I don’t have kids, but I was thinking about this very issue last weekend.
    As many of you know, I grew up here. I am not a big fan of suburban living, but
    if I had kids, I would not raise them in DC. Yes, there is the small (ahem) matter of the schools, but there’s also the huge (yet rarely discusssed) class and race divide.And, well, some other stuff I won’t go into…
    Still, I think I’d opt for a smaller city, rather than Sripmallville USA.

  • PS. The article in question concerned the travails of a writer named David Nicholson. It was in the Outlook section of the paper. I know David, and I know how much he wanted to raise his family here. But I also understand why he left. The city is greatly diminished
    when we lose folks like him.

  • It’s ALL about the schools. I don’t have children, but unless the DC schools vastly improve or husband and I make scads of money and can afford private schools, we too will be jetting out to suburbia when our kids hit school age. I would love to stay and fight for this city and the schools, but I’m not willing to subject my kid to poorly run, unsafe schools just to make my political statement. I wish it didn’t have to be that way, but until things change, I don’t see another option.

  • My wife is about a month short of giving birth to our first. I now completely understand David’s article. I doubt we could ever afford to live west of the park, so I’ll probably be joining him in burbs… and I’ll hate it. I’ll try to stay and fight as long as I can, but I have a feeling my wife’s patience will wear out very quickly. I think Fenty and Rhee are moving as quickly as they can given the climate, but I doubt it’s fast enough.

  • I have kids and you know how there are those awful people on your block who never do anything but sit on their porch and talk about TV and gossip? They make up about 1/4 of the DC Public School teachers I’ve met. None of them realize how bad they are. They feel that getting out there and working for 36 hours a week for 10 months out of the year is a responsible job, unlike their cousin who is on welfare. When I was a kid, teachers would invite their cousin the congressman to school and they were considered the lazy relative. I don’t know any DC Public School teacher who told me about a more successful relative. How, then, are they able to teach our children entrepreneurship, or why you need a PhD if they are the most educated member of their family with an undergrad degree? It’s mortifying.

    I really, truly feel that Fairfax, Virginia offers many more amenities for kids than DC does. they have, I believe, three public water parks. DC has zero. They have multiple nature centers. DC has two. They have better schools. They have 2-3 times the number of playgrounds and all the playgrounds are better with better equipment. I saw a drug deal go down on a DC elementary school playground last fall in front of kids and teachers.

    Just keep adding everything up and proximity to museums seems much less important.

    I bought my house with the idea that the city would improve, but it barely improved. Now I don’t really want to move, but I don’t really want to stay. It’s truly miserable.

  • Is it the schools or the people going to the schools? I see school age kids every morning that I would not want my kids associating with. And by judging their behavior on the trains and buses, I can only imagine how they must behave in the schools.

  • I mean, when I was in the 5th grade we had 3 teachers who taught as a team and each of them was married to a lawyer. One drove a Mercedes Benz, one drove a BMW, one drove an Audi. I always believed I’d get my degree and then go to law school and I’d marry some creative woman who could teach or paint or run a small business because those three teachers taught me that. Do you know how weird it was to go to college and learn that it’s not common to drive a benz? I grew up thinking I could do anything I wanted if I got educated enough… possibly unrealistic, but definitely a good thing!

    Do you hear the same kind of optimism from DC teachers?

  • This is not even just a problem in the city. My sister and her husband bought & renovated a bungalow in Riverdale, MD…and are trying to decide what to do when their daughter enters kindergarten next year. The PG County schools have a lousy reputation and while my sister is leaning towards sending her daughter to the local public school (after all how will the schools get better if everyone who can manage to opts out)…but it feels a little like experimenting on their child. They can’t afford to move to Takoma Park or Montgomery County. They’re talking about leaving the DC area entirely. So depressing.

    Anyway…if I have kids I am just facing the facts that will prob mean moving out of the city. But I hope at least to live somewhere like Takoma Park or Silver Spring close to the metro, so there is at least a somewhat urban feel…that includes walking to stores and restaurants. Sigh.

  • “Do you hear the same kind of optimism from DC teachers?”

    It starts at home. And most of these kids are not hearing any optimism at home. If your mom is cussing, raising hell, shepherding man after man through the home, it is unlikely the school can overcome all of that.

    Bottom line: the schools in DC will not get better until the bad kids are dramatically dispersed between the schools or eliminated altogether. The best schools in DC are the schools with the least amount of kids from Wards 4,5,7,8. There is a reason behind that. And it isn’t poverty. I grew up poor. My mom wouldn’t allow me to use that as an excuse.

    I had a neighbor here in DC that let her kid drop out and sell drugs with her. Now it would be naive to assume that this kid was the model of good behavior in school before becoming a drug dealer. He was likely selling his drugs and influencing other kids to sell or buy his drugs before dropping out…

  • Wow…I know a lot of bright, polite young people who are products of DCPS…all living east of the park. To read the comments above you would think that every student at DCPS is an illiterate, drug-dealing, thug. How many of you actually *know* any of the kids in your neighborhood?

  • Last Sunday, I saw my 8th grade gym teacher at the barber shop. I (belatedtly) thanked him for his guidance, and yes, for the tough love they sometimes laid on us. (This was 1969) When I was in Jr. high, I thought these teachers were Stalin’s children…. Now, of course, I am ultra-thankful that we had both good, caring teachers, and teachers who would set us straight when we needed it. Guess if I had kids now, I’d move west of the park. But that is another theoretical story..

  • I give Fenty and Rhee credit for beginning to attack years and years of dysfunction. If those of you with kids think this transformation will occur as quickly as, say, a coffee drink whipped up by a fast moving barista-then, well… come back and visit DC on the weekends.

  • Adams Morgan,
    Actually I do know many of these kids. I’m a former mentor. I have several households with kids on my block, including the houses next to mine. And, I live a few feet from Meyer Elementary and Cardozo High. The polite hard working students, are vastly outnumbered… They same was true when I lived on Capitol Hill.

  • The only kids I ever see in my neighborhood are hanging out at the gas station asking people for money.

    I WISH I knew some potentially responsible kids in my neighborhood- I’d hire them to walk my dog!

  • I grew up in DC, went to the DCPS (WIlson ’88), and now live on Capitol Hill. The ignorance displayed by the posters on this board is disheartening. These massive generalizations and blanket statements do nothing but reinforce ridiculous stereotypes.

  • PetworthRes tell your sister to move out of Riverdale, MD…there is nothing good to be gained from living there! I lived there for a year and it was awful. 2 mins walking down the street and I would be harrassed by the male neighbors. One was so indignant when I refused to talk to him, another screamed at me for “being too good respond to his cat calls and whistling” and then 2 kids were shot in a gang related incident just a few houses down from my rental. I felt like almost every food place, grocery store, etc, the customer service was grossly lacking and you were often greated with a look of disdain for the fact that you chose to buy groceries in their lane. I was followed to my car by a drunk man who was puking inbetween cars who tried to get in my car with me, I was afraid to get gas or leave the house alone after dusk, I was constantly harrassed for spare change. We moved to Bladensburg only 5 min away and it was even worse, we were burglarized twice and mostly by our own neighbors. If your sister and her husband want to make a point, they would probably be better off letting their kid play Russian Roulette. I am not saying these things to be dramatic or make them look bad, I’m just warning you from personal experience. I would absolutely never live there again or let me kids grow up there because it is just too scary. 🙁

  • mostly= most likely

  • I live near McKinley Tech. It is a very beautiful school that the city has restored; however, I see children, I mean thugs, standing on the corners peddaling drugs and shooting each other in the alleys behind my home. I have been mugged by a child with a gun who was drunk and claimed he had AIDS. He told he didn’t care if he went to jail for killing me or not. I have also been called “cracker; cracker faggot” by children and I have been told to “git out” by children. I have no respect for DCPS and I have no faith that things will improve within the next decade. I will never let my children attend a DC public school unless it is west of Rock Creek Park.

  • I actually caught a lot of crap on this board for pointing out suburban problems like what was described about Riverdale. I had friends there and in Bladensburg 20 years ago and even then, those kinds of things were happening.

    Good friends of ours bought in Silver Spring because their daughter’s school had a good reputation and in the 5 years that it took her to get to kindergarten age, the school has shifted to majority ESL and suddenly there’s no budget for art and music and special reading, the whole school is wrapped up in primarily teaching English to immigrant kids and my friend’s daughter spent hours in the first grade class because she already knows English.

    And it’s not just MoCo or Arlington or DC, nationally 25% of kids under 5 years old speak Spanish as their primary language. 25%!!! For those of us who grew up with really special teachers, to learn that all those programs like art and music are getting scrapped to teach kids how to speak English is just plain sad. And not like we had, where the ESL kids went to a special class for an hour or two while we had advanced reading. ESL is the majority in Silver Spring and the kids who already speak English go to the special class- at grade level reading. But it’s true too, and even suburban parents have to deal with the idea that private school is the only place their kids can get into an accelerated program.

    And so I come back to my son’s mother’s day program. My wife went and reported back that parents brought in Mountain Dew, Coke, the cheapest dollar store cookies and candy for the party. My wife, of course, baked cupcakes because it’s what you bring to a party, right, cupcakes. So the kids ate the snacks entirely based on class lines. The one set of kids gulping down dollar store candy while the other group of kids were like, I want milk with chocolate cupcakes! One group of kids spins out of control on Mt Dew and the other group is able to do the song routine correctly. It’s an absolutely awful and heart-breaking thing to see play out in a kindergarten, knowing that every bad behavior is imprinted on my son and has to be counteracted by us reading multi-culti books and finding the kids of the well-bred families who combat said stereotypes. My wife and I bought here presuming my son wouldn’t believe in stereotypes if he grew up in an integrated environment. As it is, too many kids appeal to the werewolves inside themselves (to paraphrase Hunter S Thompson) and make everyone dislike them.

    anyone who thinks it’s easy doesn’t have children.

    It’s really really strange and school and childhood as we envisioned it even in the 1980s, is long gone, let alone as TV talked about the 1950s.

  • Also, because the demand is so extremely high, no parent should plan to send their child out of boundary.

  • Hi PoP,

    I really like your blog.

    We are leaving the Petworth area now that we have two kids. They are not school age yet, but soon will be. While we love our house, we need to leave for a bunch of reasons, the biggest is the school situation. The schools won’t be fixed for a long time to come and I want my kids to have a public education as I did. Also, there was a shooting too close to home last month and this is my thought on that: What if I ahd been walking in the street (the shooting was in the daylight) and had been hit by the bullet? What if I had been walking with the kids and they were hit by a bullet? Another reason for leaving, we are all ready for a more peaceful, quiet existance where there isn’t any late night horn honking, load thumping music, shouting and other irritating city noises.

    I have enjoyed my time in Petworth and am so happy to see the growth, but I and my family are ready to move on.

    I will miss you Blog.


  • I too am a bit offended at stereotypes taken only from your observations of kids on the street and on public transit.

    I’ve been interning in a DC public school in Northeast this past year, and will be working in the system next year. I’d say, by and large, that the majority of the students there are good kids. When they have a good teacher, they do well. When they have a crappy teacher, they act up.

    I grew up in a middle-class suburb, and I know that many of my classmates did not share the kindness and creativity that I see in the vast majority of my students.

  • DCer I don’t think you can really blame the teachers 100%. I have a friend who works a rough school in the VA Beach area. She spends all day trying to get through to them, to get them to listen to do their homework and finish their classwork. She can’t discipline them because they are so many laws against that, and she says that sometimes the parents of the kids show up to fight the teachers or even the students on their child’s behalf. She teaches 4th graders. She has told them that if they work hard and they get good grades they can go to college and get jobs doing whatever they want. They laugh at her and say that their parents told them that isn’t true and they aren’t going to get to college so not to get their hopes up. I think the blame has to start at the child’s home life or probably moreso the lack there of. If you have absentee parents if you have no discipline or structure in these kids’ lives it won’t carry over in the classroom. If you don’t remember, kids are extremely mean to each other when it comes to fitting in and breaking from the norm. So if you have a bunch of kids that don’t want to learn, its not going to be cool to learn, your parents told you college is not an option, than who cares what you do? The no student left behind just means you now have these students forever or they are passed even though they should not be. I blame the Parents, then the school boards, and last the teachers.

  • i find it hard to believe that the problem lies as heavily on the teachers as some of you like to claim, and i agree that its pretty disgusting to make such statements as a general accusation. i have family members, friends, and associates who are teachers…its a labor of love, not a job that you pick up after you get fired from the drive through window at mcdonalds. we all had teachers who we thought sucked, and we all had teachers who changed our lives… the point is, i doubt any of them got into the field thinking ‘ screw dem kids…dis job gon gets me my benz!!’ (i use the ghetto slang to represent someone with *gasp* only a bachelors degree!!!!)..i do think the problem starts at home. why would a kid aspire to be more when their parents could care less? and like nate said, its not just being poor…ive worked sine i was 16, put myself through college, moved myself to dc, and have a great job…yeah, im the first one to go to college in my family, but that doesnt mean that my parents didnt tell me that i could do any and every thing that i wanted. they werent the kind of parents who helped with homework or bought me the coolest new bookbag every year (poor, remember?), but they damn well did not sit around watching jerry springer, smoking pot with the trick of the week on the couch next to them every evening..if anything, i think a humble begining helps people grow up to not be spoiled entitled little bitches. monetary wealth aside, the parents have to instill a good moral and civic wealth in their kids that no school bully/thug can shake, be it in dc or fairfax…kids become their own person so early these days, and its up to the parents to shape them into the adult theyre going to grow into. you cant rely on a 3rd grade english teacher to raise the hoodlums youve created.

  • I’m not knocking raising kids in DC, but to those who keep trotting out the tired trope that “diversity” is something the city necessarily has over the suburbs don’t know what they’re talking about. I grew up in the suburbs of Northern Virginia, and I grew up with more diversity than my fiancee who grew up in DC. I had friends in school from families from West Africa, South Asia, East Asia and Latin America. I know there are plenty of people who grew up in white bread suburbs, but enough with the throwing all suburbs into the same pot.

  • Oh yeah, and DCPS also has some really good magnet schools, so don’t throw all those into the same pot either. Banneker and Ellington come to mind.

  • So, do the charter schools help? It seems like there’s a real market opportunity for either new high-quality (ie. non Afrocentric, non service-industry related) charter schools along the college prep model; and/or moderate-cost private schools that give a basic no-frills education at lower cost than Georgetown Day or Maret. How come nobody is stepping up and satisfying what is an obvious need? Is it just economics of running a school?

  • My wife and I are several years from having kids. When we do, we will either move or send our kids to private school. I do not make that statement lightly–my wife and I are products of Virginia public schools from kindergarten through law school, and we believe that as a principle, people with means should not abandon America’s public schools. That sacrifice is just too great to ask in DC, though.

  • Anon 1:28… arent principles something that you stick to no matter what?

  • Miss K, why would you move to Riverdale or Bladensburg? I’m black, went to school in PG County and even I would never purposefully move to either Riverdale or Bladensburg.

  • I am from out of the area and didn’t know better 🙁

  • and the BF was enrolled at UMD so we needed to be close and somewhere relatively cheap…he should have known better but he is pretty naive about things…a lot of things..sigh.

  • bleh. this blog drives me crazy sometimes.
    1st: please don’t blame the cuts in art and music on today’s immigrants. these programs were being cut out in the 80’s (and maybe further back but I’m too young to remember. :))
    2nd: I think the Human Rights Watch report that just came out about the disparities in enforcing drug laws should be considered when people discuss the home life of the children. Basically, young adults and teenagers living “west of the park” and involved with drugs have been given a pass by those enforcing the laws. They are equal to their peers living east of the park when it comes to drug abuse but significantly less likely to ever come in contact with law enforcement, let alone be prosecuted or incarcerated.
    I don’t think if I was in this position of being essentially a target that I could easily raise my children with the skills they need. I say this not to excuse poor parenting but to invite people to step back and take a look at the bigger picture.
    These adults who have children now in DC saw the city consumed by the crack epidemic and apparently have been chosen by the police to suffer an inordinate amount in comparison with their crime. Those west of the park (and this is just a vague generalization for the separation of ethnicities and color in the city) essentially can continue to abuse drugs without fear of arrest.
    In my personal experience, even though I was a heavy drug user for ten years in this city, not once did I get arrested or even questioned by a cop. And believe me, when I look back at that time there was ample opportunity for law enforcement to intervene). Now I know it wasn’t luck or a guardian angel, it was a decision made by someone else, maybe not consciously, to direct the enforcement attention at others “different” than me.
    Granted, not all of the people who are incarcerated are there for drugs. But I assume that there is often a common thread in the crimes that relates to drugs.
    I have this same argument with my sister and her husband. I insist I will make my kids “guinea pigs” because I believe they’ll be ok with my and my husband’s support. I believe that going to school with neighborhood kids will make everyone’s education better. If my children have more support, they will gain from the experience of sharing their skills with the other kids. It can be a symbiotic relationship for lack of a better metaphor.

    Finally, if Parkwood Place needs a referral for help walking his dog, I often employ my neighbor’s son to help me on the weekends (in fact, I got mucho compliments on the spice drawer he alphabetized). He’s a great kid and a big help. Let me know.

  • Anonymous,

    there is a difference between using drugs and selling drugs and committing violence while selling drugs that you simply ignore.

    Most drug users are never arrested.

    Drug dealers who are dressed in gang colors and get involved in beatdowns are arrested.

    Of course there’s a massive disparity if people act in very different ways when the difference in their actions are also illegal. When I was in high school I thought of dealers as a kind of quiet, sneaky, robin hood and then as an HS senior a friend was shot at in DC by a gang who was openly violent and harassed people.

    People think that it’s a mystery how a yuppie businessman who sold powder cocaine at a nightclub to other wealthy people was punished differently than a crack dealer who had 4 teenage lookouts and carried a gun and threatened everyone in the neighborhood until the kids abandoned their playground. It’s not a mystery- one terrorized people and the other didn’t. One drug terrorized people who could least rebound and the other did not.

    People act like it’s a mystery, but growing up in the 1980s, it’s no mystery- the violence surrounding each market was and is different.

  • Miss K, you have some points. I did say that about 1/4 of the teachers in my son’s school have “limiting beliefs.” So far I have not been impressed by the work a single teacher has done at their school (which I won’t name because I want to attract the best and brightest out of Petworth to go there).

    Because I live in Ward 1 I deal with teachers who really do have odd historical attitudes about what success means AND the current education and success levels of parents. I’ve had multiple teachers tell me that “most of the kids [here] can barely get a good breakfast in the morning / have a warm coat / know their fathers.” Something decidedly NOT TRUE. Only two of the parents at my son’s school appear not to have white collar office jobs and one dad has union stickers on his truck, so hardly a day laborer. Two kids out of 18 are in single parent households.

    I had teachers that pushed us to get ahead and many of my classmates really did go out there and become multimillionaires. We weren’t poor, but much of my neighborhood thought they’d work for the government and watch tv and sit in a hammock. The teachers told us about volunteering, entrepreneurship, and graduate school. I had a teacher in the second grade who told me I could design pottery once and then pay a factory to reproduce the image or I could become wealthy merely licensing the image to manufacturers. When I was 7 in the 1970s that was mind-blowing to me. I looked at a job as SELLING shirts in some corporate store. This teacher explained how licensing worked so I never had to do more than bring designs to corporations! Some surprise that one of the neighbor girls became a grunge-era fashion designer with a NY boutique. I had a math tutor that year who was going to law school and explained how after college you went to law school or med school. (ha)

    I heard my son’s teacher complain on the playground that it was hard to get parents to show up for a conference, yet we’ve had SIX parent teacher conferences and the schedule for today showed all 18 parents had registered for times. So that teacher is a liar and you know, I sort of stop believing their stories after too many lies about kids needing free breakfasts in Ward 1. My son will eat DCPS chocolate chip muffins and chocolate milk with gusto because I make him eat unsweetened cereal and skim milk.

    No teacher will make themselves the villain in their autobiography.

  • This was an interesting discussion for me to stumble on today. My husband and I recently relocated to DC purely to take advantage of the charter school options and pre-k which is not available where we were living in PG County. Public pre-k will really help reduce those daycare costs!

    I also believe that parents are one of the best resources for the schools, so I’ll be glad to get involved in our child’s public school whether it’s a charter school of our choosing or the assigned public school where we live in Ward 5. All children can learn, but parental commitment and involvement is essential.

  • It’s not just about fixing the schools. It’s about your children, your babies. As someone posted, do you let your children suffer because of your beliefs in diversity and public education? It’s about having your kid in school with classmates whose fathers are in jail, whose mothers have children with different men, none of whom are around, who are not educated professionals like you and your spouse are, who don’t value learning and school not just to make money but because they like to learn and study, whose goals involve buying fancy clothes, who don’t listen to NPR on the car radio and have their children eat healthful snacks but a bag of potato chips. I know the suburbs aren’t so great. But still.
    Look at the neighborhood schools in Petworth, Brightwood, Columbia Heights. They all have high free and reduced lunch enrollment, compared to schools in ward 3, and many of those kids come from out of boundary and are not from the neighborhoods the schools are located in. DC parents who really put education as a top priority have their kids in private school and make sacrifices to pay tuition, or opt for charter schools whose teachers are better, but the kids are still from the same lower socio-economic strata. Yes, a lot of DC teachers think it’s a job that will vault them into the middle class, not because they love learning and want to impart that to children.

  • I don’t see how or why we as parents would want to shield our children from the reality that our neighborhood children face each day. And really, I don’t think that any of the above described characteristics (except maybe the potato chips in the morning- a personal pet peeve of mine) are exclusive to a lower socio-economic strata. And aren’t those situations opportunities to teach your children?
    I know I never appreciated my education until my parents cut me off after 4 years of undergrad and I had to pay my way through the remaining credits that I had been to busy partying to complete. I get your point about the parents who are motivated finding the “best” schools no matter what. I just still think middle class white and black etc. kids will be fine going to school with poor kids whose parents are not involved as much.

  • I was a mentor for three years to a young girl whose mother was a less than ideal role model – boyfriends of the week, no education, allowed her older daughters boyfriend to sleep over, etc. This girl started out wanting to work at Walmart, because that’s where her mom worked. By the time I moved away, she was going to go to school to become a vet, then go to school to become an astronaut, then go to school to become a teacher. If you don’t like how the kids in your neighborhood act, maybe you should volunteer a few hours of your time to help them learn how to dream.

    BTW, I got free lunch when I was growing up, spent the money I earned working part time to buy groceries for my family, didn’t have a dad at home. You know what? I put myself through college, I got a good job and now I’m a homeowner in DC who doesn’t have kids yet but is still getting involved in the local school system. Don’t assume that because people are poor they will never amount to anything.

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