Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Why We'll Choose Public School

This isn't going to be a diatribe against home schooling. We all know some people do that well and others do it poorly. It's not really against private education or charter schools or online school or any other alternative form of education. My wife was home schooled for half her education; I went to a private high school. I am all for people choosing the best course of action for their kids. I know a lot of people who have special circumstances or needs and make decisions accordingly. I don't want to disparage the choices other have made, but I wanted to lay down why we're committed to public education for our daughter.

First off, it's not because public education is great. It's not. The reason private schools and home schools and charter schools, even unschool, are so popular is because there are a often a lot better ways to educate the next generation than the way it's done in public school. That's just fact.

It's also not because my wife is a public school teacher. Although, having and supporting public schools is what keeps our family in food and clothing. My wife, while certainly not paid what she deserves for the time she puts in, is well compensated. The salary and benefits provided by the State of Delaware allow us to live comfortably. For that I'm really grateful.

For the most part, when it all comes down, we choose public schools because some kids don't have the option.

I spent some time in Kansas City, volunteering at a youth center that worked with what might be called "at risk" kids. More than anything, it gave a little peek into what had been (and maybe still is?) one of the more dysfunctional public school systems in this country. Oddly, though, their chosen method of redress, lots of charter schools, didn't seem to solve any problems. In fact, things kept getting worse.

I noticed that most every kid whose parents were in any way on the ball, were able to apply for and be admitted to a charter school of some kind. Yes, some are better than others and some are downright awful. But, over time, given the system, we could assume that the best schools would emerge and, if given enough space, could accommodate any kids whose family wanted them there.

One of the big reasons for such charter success, however, is the ability to turn kids down. Whether because of learning difficulties beyond the scope of the school, parents unwilling to be involved, or the downright lack of proper decorum from the student themselves, the really "tough" kids got funneled back into public school. Public schools that were then comprised almost entirely of students with no parental support.

I guess what it boils down to is our belief that we're (and this is the proverbial we, not just my wife and I) - we're not just responsible for the education of our own children, but for the education of all children. As unfair as it seems, we're not isolated individuals; we are necessarily interconnected.

The average cost of keeping someone in prison, even at its most favorable ratio*, is a little more than twice the cost of educating them. We pay for other people's kids one way or another.

Any large, public institution is going to have problems - and change is going to be difficult to come by. That's the nature of the beast. Public education has its own unique and often outrageous series of challenges. There are lots of good, honest, caring people who work tirelessly to improve our public education system, while also providing an alternative education for their own kids. That's an important choice and one I won't disparage in any way.

For us, though, we value having that skin in the game. I think it provides a bit more credibility to speak where speaking is needed. There's real value in true solidarity. It's easier to combat poverty if you live in the midst of it. It's more painful, for sure, but its a shared pain. And, not to bring theology into this (although I am a preacher), but if there's one thing that makes God truly worthy of worship it's God's decision to enter into our pain and suffer with us.

My daughter may not get the same depth and rigor in public school that she could get other places, but with active and involved parents, we're not really worried about her learning what she needs to learn to get into college. I'm even more excited about her being part of a flawed community that works together, for good and for ill, to try and live life well.

Our best efforts will not keep our daughter from pain and suffering - neither her's, nor others' - but we would like to instill in her the notion that there are no hopeless causes.

I recognize this post can sound like I view public schools as a terrible place in need of redemption. All things (and people) need redemption, of course. But for all its faults, there are a lot of dedicated people who give their lives to making public education the best it can be. My wife is one of those people - and she works with a lot of others.

There are lots of great public schools with great students who provide the kind of high class education that most alternatives can only dream of providing. It can be and is done well in a lot of places.

In the end, though, most people would be supportive of successful schools, those that provide a great education to everyone. In the end, though, there are kids who fall through the cracks - sometimes willfully, sometimes through no fault of their own - and we're committed to following them down those cracks and being present in any way we can.

Public education is where that happens and so it's where we need to be. We'll bring our daughter along because we want to be sure every child knows they are as important to us as she is.

*The highest average per pupil spending average I could find is around $11,500; the lowest average per inmate spending average I could find is around $25,000. Most estimates places the cost of incarceration between 7 and 10 times higher than the cost of education, but I want to be as fair as possible.

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