Spacefem (spacefem) wrote,

Why I believe in public schools

When I was in college I dated a guy who'd gone to private Catholic schools his whole life. When we visited his hometown, I was amazed at how many rich friends he had. His house was nice, sure, but when we visited other friends of his I just saw so much more money. Kids whose parents set up a whole suite just for them in the basement. Kids with brand new cars. This was 1999, DVD players were $800, they had them.

My boyfriend worked at Best Buy. One day we were talking about how some kids grow up knowing nothing about computers, and how sad it was that they'd be behind in knowing about technology. He scoffed and said, "That's just stupid parents, not providing for their kids. We have computers for as low as $300 now. Who DOESN'T have $300?"

After a short pause I said, "Uh... dude? I think a lot of people actually don't just have $300."

He couldn't believe me. At all. It was just so outside of his world and realm of thinking, he didn't believe that there were families without savings living paycheck to paycheck who couldn't afford to spend $300 on a computer.

There was also recently a completely wonderful edition of This American Life where they examined what's wrong with "bad" schools. The conclusion? If you segregate schools so that all poor minority kids are together on an island, you're killing any possibility they have to succeed. They will never get the good teachers or examples. The chaos of poverty will take over and rule every day, so even the kids who try hard can't get a decent education. You're setting them up for failure. The only hope for an at-risk kid is to be in an environment where half or more of the kids are not at risk - where it's considered "normal" to line up and listen, where kids were taught from an early age that success is a possibility. If these kids were raised by parents who had to work three jobs, leave them at the cheapest daycares, never read to them... then they had to be around kids who were read to as babies.

That's my kid. The privileged. No - they do not have their own playroom suite or expensive electronics, but from birth my kids have been given markers and crayons and paper to draw with, they could go outside and explore nature because our neighborhood is safe, we had piles and piles of books and everyone around them is educated enough to know that those books must be read to those babies.

I was sitting around in a group of parents talking about how we all want the best for our kids. To them "the best" meant two options: private school, or homeschooling.

Now - my kid is only in kindergarten. People pull their kids out of school for lots of reasons and I won't judge. But I decided right there that for our family, public school should be the option that we try HARDEST at. It would be priority #1: do everything we can to make this work.

I decided right there: I believe in public school.

I believe that I might need a lot of people in my world when I'm 80 years old: doctors, nurses, government leaders, engineers. I only have two kids. They can't cover all my needs. You know who can? The hundreds of kids who live in my community. In that way, they are all my kids. Public school is the best chance we've got to get all those kids to be my doctor someday, and if my own kids are in public school then I'm bound to be invested in it. To get "the best for my kids" I can't just think about the two of them, I have to think about their whole generation, because my kids can't succeed in a world where we marginalize and and isolate half or more of the population.

I believe that my kids are smart, but there's more to success than just being smart. The world is full of systems to navigate. As a public school student, the system might not always set up perfectly for them on an individual level. But you know what else isn't set up perfectly for a single person? The rest of the world. Sometimes you'll be bored in a meeting. Sometimes you'll have a distracted boss who can't hold your hand through your tasks and you have to teach yourself some things. Sometimes the person next to you isn't up to your level yet and you'll have to help them. I'm a manager now at a fortune 500 company. You who I need working for me? Not the kids who learned calculus at age 10 and were so far ahead of their peers school was a bother to them. I need the kids who can navigate a system, hear out other ideas, teach the person next to them, compromise, and realize we're a team.

I believe that diversity is an asset. Companies know this - where racial and gender diversity is higher, financial performance is better too. The big tech companies are setting goals. Diverse groups of people come up with diverse ideas, challenge each other, relate to a wider customer base, and are less likely to slide into the status quo. A school that's diverse gives kids a head start in the benefits that these companies see - they can relate to and talk to people who aren't like them.

If our public school isn't great, I'm going to fight to make it better. PTAs have grown to have a reputation of being obsessed with valentine parties and petty squabbling. They need to be about being involved, understanding and hearing out teachers.

This is why I bought a house in the middle of the city, not a suburban outskirt - I was starting to have these feelings even when I was pregnant. And it's all gotten more solid all the sudden, hearing all my friends talk about their priorities. I realized that my priority has to be everybody. I personally will benefit if I'm helping more kids, not just my two.

Schools should be public. Even people without kids benefit from living in a society where everyone is educated. We should all be pooling what we have and working together to make this happen.

Hell yes, my kid is going to public schools.

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