Never, ever would I have grasped in advance of my kids’ high schooling, that just rubbing elbows with the ‘Other’ would not indulge an important secondary Education benefit, but is rather an intrinsic primary one. Even despite an idealized vision of academics, this has eventually become clear. As fundamental and vital as the act of teaching and learning is, the learning by experience of interaction without prejudice is most important of all.

Here is a case in point. It is the ethnic distribution of one of the purported “jewels” in the westside’s educational crown, Palisades Charter High School (all data are from This institution made a very public and rancorous break with the district around 2002, changing the relationship of the charter it first developed with LAUSD in the idealistic throes of the nascent charter movement of 1993. Its constituents now form the core of supporters who would elect a school board member to that very institution from which they so carefully divested, long ago.

Apart from the glaring question of why, and skepticism regarding claims of Charter superiority – and ROI – there is this very personal, very uncomfortable matter of demographics.

Since Palisades CHS was granted its charter in 1992 (the first class it enrolled as a charter was 1995), the proportion of Whites that comprise its enrollment has increased by 102%. The proportion of African-Americans? It’s down by -56%. The proportion of latinos has diminished by -34%. All the while that overall enrollment has increased by 50% in this peninsular enclave.

For comparison, my child’s traditional district high school, Venice Senior High, shows a drop in White enrollment around the time Pali announced its status change in 1993.

Following this anomaly total enrollment grew every year until the advent of Animo Venice Charter HS in 2004 and the charterization that began to overwhelm LAUSD subsequently.

Meanwhile, Animo Venice CHS has also grown steadily monochromatic. Now bereft of Asian students entirely, ironically it is co-located on the elementary school campus where the district has been too crowded to grow its popular Mandarin Immersion program:


We’re all of us hurt by this growing self-segregation. It’s not that Charters could not be good schools, might not provide an incubator for educational innovation and excellence as promised, offer a leg up for some, enable “Choice” – in all its euphemistic glory – for many from all across the landscape.

No, the problem is collateral damage that comes unbidden with the design of charters: their setup provides the mechanism and convenient lure of avoiding ‘Other’.

Freely, and equally available school, with unrestricted access, is the kernel of what public education actually is. It is also the very essence of democracy: all for one and one for all.

This has been a very, very hard lesson for me (and others) to take in. I have tried the patience of friends and families worrying: “Am I making a mistake, should I have sent them to another school, to a “better” school, to a richer school, to a whiter school…” It all stopped when one wise and rather humble parent replied: “I don’t know what to say. We send our kids to public school because that is where we want them to be”.

When public schools isolate and segregate part from the whole, they are no longer of the public, because they no longer reflect the public. When we split ourselves apart, we cannot remain a democracy.