, Volume 39, Issue 4, pp 375-404
Date: 13 Jun 2007

Space and Place: Urban Parents’ Geographical Preferences for Schools


Prior research documents the almost universal preference for schools that are “convenient”. Drawing on longitudinal interview data gathered from 36 urban parents, I argue parents’ preference for “convenient” schools is more complex than previously understood. Conceptions of geography used by policy makers do not adequately capture the ways in which parents think about geography. Instead of thinking about school as solely a location one must travel to, parents’ preferences for schools are informed by space and place-based notions of geography. Parents’ geographic preferences connect to larger, more deeply held ideas about parenting, family life, identity, child development, and one’s place in the larger stratified society. Further, these preferences do not exist in a vacuum. Parents’ geographic preferences have implications for the resources parents’ must activate in order to make certain schools possible. Geographic preferences also compete with other school preferences. This paper shows how notions of space and place shape the schools parents choose as well as the schools they are willing to consider. The study describes a fuller, more accurate portrayal of parents’ thinking. It also draws attention to the ways in which existing historical and social contexts influence parents’ understandings of choice policy.