My family really enjoys living in Chicago. This is a great city with a lot to offer. I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else in my life, which is a funny feeling. It sure seems that we’re establishing roots here.

But living in Chicago—especially when you’re raising a family—isn’t always easy. Costs of living are high. The school system is complicated and convoluted. For all of the benefits of a big city there are also the inconveniences, challenges, and dangers.

With a second child due in December and our first getting closer to school age, we have been looking for a bigger home in a neighborhood with a good public elementary school. It would be a lot easier to move to a suburb. But we’re committed to staying in the city. In particular, as a pastor working with youth and families in a downtown church, I feel that I ought to be raising my family in the city too.

For as long as I’ve lived in Chicago, my neighborhood has been Hyde Park. I love the neighborhood feel, the university and seminaries, and the diversity of the South Side. I’m sorry that our quest for a good school is leading us to primarily North Side neighborhood. I’ll be happy to be closer to church and most of our friends, but I’ll miss the diversity our children would be exposed to on the South Side.

I wish Chicago wasn’t so segregated. I wish that we didn’t feel like we need to move to a less diverse and more expensive neighborhood in order for our children to attend a good public school. I wish I didn’t feel like we are contributing to the problems by making good decisions for our family, decisions we are privileged to make while other families are not.


John W. Vest

John is a "church hacker" attempting to overcome the limitations of church as we know it. To connect with him and learn more about his work, please visit

Reader Interactions


  1. Did you look in my neighborhood? Diverse, family-friendly, local school options good and its easy to get anywhere. Still affordable.

    • We have been looking there, but just aren’t finding the right combination of space and price. There are a bunch of town homes that would work, but they’re just south of the South Loop Elementary boundaries.

  2. West Ridge/Rogers Park is the most diverse neighborhood in the whole country supposedly and has the top ranked elementary public elementary school and housing is pretty cheap…it’s just far north. But we like it. šŸ™‚

  3. I don’t have kids and I’ve never lived in a true urban setting (living in the ‘burbs north of Dallas is the closest I’ve gotten to city life, and after my recent vacation to several truly urban Northwestern cities, I’m reminded of how un-urban even “central” Dallas is). I attended a really, really rural, severely underfunded, and highly impoverished public primary school system, and then chose to go to a relatively expensive, exclusive private college. It’s easy for me to talk about this fairly ideologically, hypocritically, disconnectedly, callously, and trivially. I have also worked for two rural, underfunded, impoverished school districts.

    Before I open my big, fat, mouth, let me say very strongly that you and your spouse are most definitely the only people qualified to make decisions like this for yourselves and your family.

    All of those disclaimers having been put out there, I sometimes wonder if the emphasis on moving to a neighborhood with a “good” school at the cost of all of those other things you list is a “good” thing, and I certainly wonder HARD about whether it is good for society as a whole.

    With two exceptions that I’ll mention in a minute, I’ve come to the relatively un-educated opinion (based only on my limited anecdotal experience) that our society places far too high a premium on having our children in “good” schools, when, in fact, most schools are “good enough,” and, in fact, you and your spouse alone can’t really provide the benefit that attending a diverse school provides. The truth is that you and your wife (and the values you live your lives by day in and day out) will have far more impact on your children and their future outcome than the school they attend. Additionally, the community your family chooses (other relatives, neighbors, church members, etc – people your children see you choose to spend time around) plays a huge role in shaping the fundamental outcome of your children. If you and your community value math, your child is likely to figure out math (maybe with alot of your help), even if the school they attend is relatively poor at teaching it.

    I also think that creation as a whole is better off when it’s less segregated. I think there’s real value for everyone (students, teachers, parents, society, future employers, etc) in well-resourced, well-supported, traditionally “advantaged” children attending school with those who come from less-resourced, less-supported, traditionally “disadvantaged” backgrounds.

    I mentioned my two exceptions, so here they are:

    1. School should be and feel safe. If your child doesn’t feel safe at school, or you don’t feel safe letting them spend time there, that should override pretty much everything. I think the feeling of security is mandatory for successful learning and development. I also think we overthink school safety – I think it quite possible that most of our schools are roughly equivalently safe (your child is just as likely to run into many of the same problems at a wealthy Dallas school as they would run into at a poor Dallas school, they’re just more ‘hidden’ at a wealthy school.) But, in the end, the feeling or sense of security is just as important as the actual security, and there’s no doubt that a wealthy Dallas school feels more safe than a poor Dallas school.
    2. I’m convinced that the education and development of special needs children takes special resources, and that under-resourced schools provide poorer outcomes for those children. My Mom is a special needs teacher, and has worked in both severely under-resourced and extremely hypo-resourced settings. There is no doubt in my mind that the special needs children in the hypo-resourced settings have significantly better outcomes than those in the under-resourced settings.

    • Yep, you’ve pretty much nailed the dilemma I’m feeling. I want to do the “justice” thing and break down segregation barriers by living in a neighborhood with an under-resourced school. But I don’t think I have enough courage or faith do that. So I guess I’m just playing the game I’m privileged to play and wishing it weren’t that way. Perhaps I should be working harder for education reform in Chicago. Will I have any credibility after moving into a primo school district?

      • As long as you acknowledge the dilemma, and put some of your energy (and tax dollars) into ensuring that everyone gets a good education, you have cred :). The first time you vote against a school bond election because it would benefit someone else’s kids more than it benefits yours, you’ve lost your cred.

      • I also don’t think it’s just a “justice” thing – that tends to imply that you would be giving up something for your kids in exchange for something for others.

        I think there’s a good chance kids can do BETTER in more diverse environments, especially with involved parents. That takes courage and faith, but it might not take actual sacrifice. I just don’t buy the argument that a “bad” school is necessarily all that much “worse” than a “good school”.

Leave a Reply