Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Public Option

Since this post is about school, I am going to stay on theme and give you some homework. Straight away -- before reading this post -- please take 3 minutes to watch the following video. Otherwise this post will be nonsensical and you run the risk on getting an "F" in the comments sections. And you know how grad schools and prospective employers mightily weigh your "hey mothers" performance. But no pressure!


Okay? Got all that? This is insane on so many levels. It's as offensive as the day is long. Can anyone hold onto the naive belief that this country is all about opportunity after getting that little peak at how money and connections ... and NOT effort and talent ... "feed" the ivy league schools? George W went to an ivy league school for the love of god. In the interest of not being a red or a blue blog, I will stop there.
Sure it looks cute now, but there is nothing scarier than an out of control ivy demanding to be fed.
BUT, I have serious misgivings about the current state of public education. In particular, my school board seems hell bent on closing every neighborhood school, reaching "maximum efficiency" and making major decisions about MY kids with zero input from me. (btw it makes me really f-ing mad).

Conflicted, I am so conflicted. Please I need your help. I am lapsing into lazy list form because I am far too frantic and chaotic to lend any real structure to this rant:

1. I believe in, REALLY BELIEVE IN, public education.It is supposed to be the great equalizer. It is supposed to put everyone on equal footing and give everyone a fighting chance.And I love that it serves as an access point for delivering all kinds of services to a wide population.

2. I know lots of teachers and they are among the brightest, best educated, most devoted, most passionate people out there. And they are fun to drink martinis with.

3. I HATE that we don't fund this most basic of services; it is to the detriment of everyone.

4. I HATE elitism. I don't want to be a part of any system that perpetuates more of the haves vs. have nots. It makes me want to puke. And a private school that offers 2 minority scholarships a year does NOT constitute equal opportunity, k?

5. I HATE that schools are underfunded, teachers are undervalued, underpaid, and that they are forced to teach a curriculum that revolves around standardized testing and does not honor a kid's need for individual learning styles, and their need for play and movement.

image from 365 ways
I recognize and accept that no system is perfect and that with a "my way or the highway" mentality I will be forced into perpetual anger and a role of victim. I accept responsibility for the education of my children and plan to be an active voice, advocate, and volunteer wherever they end up.

But friends, where will they end up? I feel that my choices are not really choices at all (just the made-up kind I give my 2-year-old). I implore you to share you education philosophy, your choices, your regrets, your victories. Thank you.


  1. You are right, this is insane on so many different levels. I don't even know where to begin. I guess I will begin with the whole concept of an Ivy League school. As far as I'm concerned, Ivy League schools are like designer jeans--you pay for the name, not the education you are receiving!

    Now, I think where these people get confused is that we all want what is best for our children. I recently checked into a private school because I am so displeased with public education. The cost would be $3500/year, which is barely more than the cost of daycare. Of course, daycare about ate our lunch when we had to pay it, but I digress. Honestly, we can't afford that, but we could make it work. I don't want to HAVE to make it work though. I want her to get what she needs from public school. Of course, the least of my worries is if she goes to an Ivy League...I want her to be an emotionally and spiritually bright child before I worry about what degree is hanging on her wall.

    And I guess that's where I get confused. What's this mom's motivation for wanting the Ivy Leagues so desperately? Is it all money? I mean, has our society really deteriorated that much? I mean, maybe it's because we are a two public-service parent household, but is money really that big of a deal? Maybe it's the idea of success..but what is success? I define success by happiness and contribution to society...I think maybe that mom has a different definition entirely.

    My daughter is awesome, and she deserves the absolute best. Unfortunately, her school has FAILED her. She does fine, don't get me wrong, but there is a spark missing. With standardized testing, they are way more interested in teaching the test than they they are teaching. I get it, I know our funding is tied to it, but that doesn't mean I like it. And, I don't think it HAS to be that way.

    I'm a nurse. To be a nurse, I had to take a standardized test. When I was in school, I wasn't taught the test. I was taught how to be a nurse, then I applied that knowledge when taking the test. I think that's how it should be, even at the most basic and third grade level.

    I think most teachers are awesome, and my teachers were some of the most influential people in my life. There are some crappy ones too, I gotta say. There are many who have lost their spark, there are many that don't truly care, and there are many who don't have the drive to see the kids TRULY grow as people. The pay is crap here, so I know we don't attract the elite, but come on! Why do you go into teaching if you don't have that fundamental spark?

    Ok, that's it for now...those are my immediate thoughts after seeing the video (for the second time even). I can't wait to read other's comments, because there are layers of insanity here that I haven't even touched on!

  2. Irksome. Irksome that the people who most need the best schools (single parents, parents working double shifts, lower ses, lower education) get whatever public school happens to be focused on in that administration. I know my girls will be okay wherever we send them because we will be active and involved and also be educating them here. But like you, I want that spark. I want that focus on my individual child and her spark, what motivates her. I feel bad if I don't work from within the system to improve it, I feel like I become part of unfair system. (on account of how crazy rich we are). But every point you make about the tests and the low pay just underscores this horrible feeling I have in my gut about plugging my child into the system. I really hope to get a lot of feedback on this one, thanks for responding, especially since your work gives much more insider knowledge than most have.

  3. As a music teacher, I have been blessed to be a part of two spectacular schools in my professional career. They couldn't have been more extreme opposites--one was a small K-12 school in the middle of a corn field with its main demographic being farm kids, and the other a large elementary school located on an army base (many of the kids had their dads deployed at least twice or even three times in their little lifetimes). In spite of the great differences in these two schools, they had one MAJOR thing in common--real, true heart. The professionals behind these schools (principals, secretaries, teachers, paras, nurses, etc) ALL put the students as their #1 priority. I was proud and delighted to work alongside such amazing and caring individuals. What made these folks so special is how much they care, and how they all seemed to go above & beyond to meet the needs of their students.

    Were there flaws in these schools? Of course! The most obvious ones are those that have already been mentioned in the comment section. Underpaid staff (as is true for most public school staff) and those pesky standardized tests that teachers hate even more than the kids do! And yes, there are always going to be those ugly politics and/or "big guys" making decisions that piss off the small guys. But you know what? The good far outweighed the bad (in my experience). I love to tell the story of orientation at the military school, when the head principal told us newbies that we could do almost anything--lose important papers or keys--and they would laugh along with us and it wouldn't be a big deal...but if we EVER talked down to a child it would not be tolerated. She said it with such conviction and you could tell that the children TRULY were her priority. That, in a nutshell, is why I love public schools. That is the attitude of *most* professionals working within them.

    Unfortunately, you will be hard pressed (actually impossibly pressed) to find an unflawed school. I don't care if it is public or private. There will always be flaws. It is our job as parents to decide which flaws can be overlooked because of the positive things making up for them--and which flaws are dealbreakers.


  4. Thanks, and thanks for reminding me about all I loved about my job with the district, which was also an incredibly positive experience. Unfortunately, I feel that there is an inherent problem whenever funding/budget issues are tied to school. Times are much tougher economically than when I worked for the district. I know the school board doesn't "want" to close schools, etc. I think it is being tied into such a broad system that encompasses so much (including legislature and budget) that gives me that awful "we are just another brick in the wall" sensation. But you are so right, there are a lot of positives, among them are dedicated and passionate professionals, and (a biggie for us, since we would also like to send the ladies to college) affordability. Anywho, thanks again.

  5. There is a ton of research that shows that student success is directly related to parent involvement. I have to wonder what would happen if that mom in the video spent as much one-on-one time with her children as she spends working to make their elite education possible. I'm not judging her, don't get me wrong, but I just wonder. I think sometimes we look so far outside that we forget the real answers are very close to home.

    I should have been more specific in my original post and clarified that I was disgusted with the ONLY public school I have ever known anything about--the one I attended K-12, the one I work for, and the one my daughter has attended her entire school career. Tara, I truly hope I get to be a part of a district like the ones you described. I do believe they are out there, but my experience is limited and has not been as positive. Now that funding is so limited, I hope we don't lose the ones that are out there.

    Of course every school has flaws, and of course there are good and bad apples. And of course there are plenty of really awesome public schools out there. There are some with systemic issues, however. Mine has some deal-breaker flaws. Because I work there, some of my frustration is that I can't openly voice my complaints, concerns, and objections. I'm sure you're thinking 'so, why not do something about it?!?!' My answer to that, is...we're trying! Not only are we trying to relocate, but I do have a very good rapport with one administrator, and I regularly discuss my concerns with him. I'm a part of PTO and Site Council, and most importantly I'm actively involved in my daughter's education.

  6. It's funny that you said that about the lady because I had the EXACT same thought when I saw the video. Then I felt terrible for being judgmental, but like you I wondered how long and hard she must be working to afford that education for her child. The system and the whole world are far from ideal, but keeping it "close to home" gives me a very comforting feeling. For now we will just do our best and make adjustments (just like the ones your family is going through) as they arise. Thank you!

  7. So here is something funny about this post. I have never had one generate so many personal emails and private conversations. It seems people have a lot of feelings about this subject and for some befuddling reason some people don't want to broadcast their every thought on a blog. (so weird, right?) Anyway, I want to extend a VERY sincere thank you to those of you who have spoken with me publicly and privately on this issue. I know I have been consumed, confused, and mono manic. Thanks for putting up with me and thank you for your wonderful and important insights. My husband and I truly value the good information and the reports from those with more experience. Look for the post where I get this all figured out, but in the interim, it's back to business as usual and I will have a new post up in the next day or two. One with no homework!

  8. Okay, I'd just typed one of my typical too-long comments here and accidentally deleted it as I was reading though it. I'm going to take that as a sign that it wasn't meant to be posted!

    But I do want to quickly give a different snapshot of private schools than the one presented in the video. They aren't ALL about affluence. We put our son in private school after he struggled in kindergarten (long story). He needed more one-on-one attention than they were able to give him. The school we're at now is loving and attentive and not full of snobby, would-be ivy leaguers, but families making sacrifices to send their kids to a God-centered school they believe in. The teachers are under-paid, but wonderful. The facilities are humble at best. It's not about affluence.

    I hate the haves/havenots thing too, but I am grateful for choice. Private school, homeschooling, partnering with teachers... whatever we can do within our means. And maybe a bright side of public school attendees and homeschoolers is that they're still paying taxes to support public schools, but not taking up another much needed desk.

    I'm reluctant to comment on hot-button issues b/c I'm not informed enough, but I did want to at least add a different perspective of private schools to the mix.

    :) anj

  9. Hey Anj. I was hoping you would comment here. I posted all this vitriol but have appts to look at 2 private schools. It creates a ton of ambivalence and inner-conflict for me (in case you couldn't tell). As someone who has dedicated their professional life to high risk kids, low ses, working poor families--I just get SO angry to see all the inequality that is built into the system. But then we sort of blame people for being poor and/or not that well educated. I hate the disparity in opportunity. I hate that a system as worthy as public school doesn't function as "the great equalizer" as it was meant to. But alas, the world is a very imperfect place and all I can do is try and make my little corner of it the best it can be. I just always assumed I would be working from within the system to make it better, and chances are I will, I am just having some hesitation.

    I have major chagrin if my post sounded like a blanket statement. In fact since we started looking around I have even heard of some schools that have their tuition as a flat percent of the parent's income. I love this, I think socio-economic diversity is as important as racial diversity. Anywho, I feel angry about that elitist portion of the population. The people out there who really just want to "protect" their kids from the "influence" (read poor kids). There is nothing I can do to refute that lower SES schools can have more behavior problems and have to put out more fires. I just strive so hard to break the stereotype that $ equals protection from problems. In the brief time that I did private practice I saw more bullying, harassment, and body image issues coming from the wealthier schools than you could shake a stick out. People are often shocked to learn how well many of our low SES schools perform on AYP and people are often shocked about the eating disorders, drug problems, etc out of the "better" schools. I REALLY worry that if we go private I will be playing a part in perpetuating thoe kinds of stereotypes I have worked so hard against.

    Finally--I should not stereotype private schools either. I know there are many privates that are NOT all about affluence. I know this is true of your school and your family. Plus, you guys gave public a go, and then had to meet the individual needs of your child. No one could ever fault you for that. Your kid is extra precious and special, and he needed something different. So now this response was longer than my post. We will see if it is meant to be or if it gets deleted. Thank you as always.


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