More than one Dumbo parent has tried to explain to me how they’re totally different from other people who fight against integration. They explain that what they really want is a better world in which we spend far more on our public schools, not mentioning, or perhaps not knowing, that New York city spends $20,331 per pupil, almost twice as much as the national average of $10,700, and that much of this money is spent very inefficiently. Of course they want integration, they’ll tell you, but only if it entails no sacrifice on their part. “It’s more complicated when it’s about your own children,” says one Dumbo parent. Well, yes, it is more complicated, and that is exactly what every parent believes, whether they are in Brooklyn or South Boston or Kansas City.
In fairness to the progressive parents of Dumbo, their concerns are not entirely unfounded. Poor students tend to fare worse than better-off students academically, for a variety of reasons. They are also more likely to have serious behavioral problems, which is really the more pressing concern. According to Robert Cherry of Brooklyn College, these behavioral problems flow from the fact that these children face serious stresses that no child should ever have to face. Poor families are far more likely than better-off families to experience multiple-partner fertility, in which mothers have children with more than one father. Though children in some multi-partner-fertility families thrive, Cherry has observed that multi-partner fertility is associated with high levels of father abandonment and child maltreatment. Boys with absent fathers are far more likely to engage in aggression, rule breaking, and delinquency than boys living with both parents, and they are also far more likely to face multiple suspensions. (Indeed, these problems are so pronounced for boys raised in single-mother-headed households that one wonders whether single-sex schools staffed with teachers with specialized training might be the best way to give these boys a fighting chance at succeeding in school.)