The other day in my Women’s &Gender Studies class, we were given a school district to analyze. The school district given to my group was a tiny place called “Dansville, Michigan.” We were to find information about the district, and then find its ranking on a website—schooldigger.com. We are to fulfill four rough requirements with this information:
1. Briefly describe community and district
2. How was it ranked and speculate why?
3. How might gender and race be experienced there?
4. Is the district Desirable? Would you send your kids there?
So, let’s begin!
Dansville, Michigan is a rural agriculture town, whose population is 563 and 95.6% White.
Its school system serves 898 students, and it has one elementary, middle, and high school. The student body is about 96% white, with Hispanic children making up most of the other 4%. The average percentage of students that are eligible for discounted or free lunch is 31%. In contrast, the average percentage of students that are eligible for discounted or free lunch in the district ranked 2nd in the state is 6%.
Dansville was ranked 330th out of the 602 districts in Michigan. It’s single Elementary school was ranked 727th of 1493, it’s Middle school 383rd of 661, and it’s High school 471st of 814. These statistics put it somewhere around the middle of the rankings for the state.
To illustrate the point of view I’m coming from, I would like to mention that my school district was ranked almost exactly in the middle of my state, and there were only about 300 more students in the district.
Perhaps Dansville is ranked at a relative average because it is a small, relatively poor school. Schools with poor student populations and smalls student bodies are less likely to get as much money as large districts with wealthy students.
A combination of race and wealth may also have something to do with Dansville’s “middle of the road” ranking. The next to last ranked school district in Michigan is a public charter in Detroit, which comes to 601st out of 602 districts. It’s student body is 97% African-American, and 93.3% of the students are eligible for discounted or free lunch. Money isn’t given to these low-income schools, and systematic racism forces individuals to stay in their school district, without any real possibilities to move to another. This leads to a cycle of poverty and poor education.
Dansville may also have been ranked in the middle because, despite its small size, it still has a K-12 Spanish program, AP classes, and dual-enrollment options. These are all great assets when small schools are ranked against one another.
The racial experience of a child in Dansville would depend on that child’s race. A white child would likely go through their education thinking that whiteness is default, and that a deviation from whiteness is uncommon—other races would likely be novelties. Children of color would possibly grow up thinking this as well; that people of their race are not very common, and that white people are the majority.
The only information about Dansville that could give clues to the treatment of gender in the district is that it’s an agricultural town. This means the city could go to either end of the spectrum of gendering. Either there is a polarized gendering–the boys learn how to hunt, fish, and farm, and the girls do no such thing–or they are like my rural-Midwestern town was, and a great many girls learn these skills as well. Because it is a majority white district, the gendered norms the girls learn would be centered around white femininity.
I did not enjoy growing up in a racially homogenous and small school. In my experience, the school will talk up the opportunities they provide students, but will, in reality, have very little of what they advertise (for example: they say they have AP classes, but they only have 3). There were only 4 clubs at my high school, and one was not constant through all my years there. I was also one of the few students interested in other cultures, but the people surrounding me were unfortunately all white or “passing-for-white.”
I want my child to understand all that there is for him or her in the world. I want her to have friends who may know a different language, or who have cultural traditions that differ from their own. I want my child to be able to be in clubs that truly fit their interests, and to take classes that will challenge them and put them in a better position for the future.
If I have a choice in the future, I would not send my child to Dansville, or any district like it. Better opportunities are out there!