Thursday, November 13, 2008


Before you think I believe we have no social obligations as a nation or community by my comments yesterday (which surely you wouldn't), allow me the opportunity to say my peace on public education.
I am a product of the public K-12 school system. I receive an undergraduate degree from a private institution. I earned a Master's degree at a public institution. Now I go in and out of the work force as a contractor in the public school system providing speech-language services. No I have never taught an entire classroom of children and no my children are not yet school-aged. We send them to preschool and daycare in local church sponsored settings, but soon they will go to kindergarten at the local elementary school. I say all this so you have an idea what my experience is with public school in general. I have not studied the history of public education, nor do I know very much about its origins other than what I have read or been told by others in my life.
I think for the most part, people in the US have chosen to believe education is a privilege we want our children to have. As a nation, we collectively believe it is in our best interest to provide and pay for a system that educates all children with minimal cost to them. I absolutely and unequivocally agree. We do our nation a great disservice if we do not give our citizens access to learning.
Maybe public education started out as a social experiment, I don't know. I do know that for as long as there have been written documents in the United States, people have valued what education provides. People who can read, write, and "figure" are far less likely to be taken advantage of and have a far greater chance at participating in our literate society that bases most of its communicative structure on the written word. I know there are many many ongoing debates out there about access, and what does "free" mean, and what does "appropriate" mean, and what does "equal" mean. I do not go there, for I have no answers for you.

But here is where I do go. It is not the responsibility of the public school system to teach your child respect for adults, respect for authority, respect for others, the value of education, or manners. That's your job as a parent. The development of these principles is certainly a worthy aim of education, but you cannot build on social principles that are absent to begin with.
We have removed, replaced, or reviled every possible avenue for teachers and principals to keep order in their school to the point where it is often impossible to teach. Now no one wants their child to be afraid of the teacher, but a healthy respect for rules and grown-ups is not a misguided principle of learning. There was a time growing up that I dreaded getting demerits, I lived in horror of going to the principal's office, and a note home to my parents was sure to get me in big big trouble. There was a time in this country when people built their own school building from donated materials on a donated piece of land, and then took up a collection to pay a teacher and boarded that teacher in various homes. The community was more than grateful that someone was willing to come and teach their children.
I feel that education has lost its most fervent supporters--parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, neighbors--community. I'm not blaming all or even some parents, I'm lamenting a loss of belief that education is important. Education has been free and accessible (for the most part) for a long time now and I think the value of it has been diminished. The idea of education has mutated from a privilege of learning to a kitchen sink where everything is going to be taken care of including teaching kids to mind their p's and q's. Our tax dollars go to provide buses to transport children, buildings, light, heat, air, teachers, staff, books, computers, extra supports for learning, libraries, special education, in many instances free lunch and free breakfast, before and after care. Why are we not demanding from our children who are the recipients of these services that we get our money's worth?
We are so busy complaining about all the problems in education today, we forget the first and most fundamental problem of all--family buy in to the importance of learning. The school can't be mom and dad and grandma and grandpa and uncle and aunt and cousin and older sibling. We've lost our sense of community investment in school. (There are many reasons for this, but that's another blog.) We have robbed our teachers of the belief that they will be supported in their efforts. We blame them when our children's education suffers, and yet we have fallen short in giving them what they need from us-- showing our own children that education is important through our presence and our practice.
Before we say, well, school just isn't for my child, or well that teacher just can't hold the class together, we should ask ourselves, have we done all we can to help? Do we ever ask ourselves what is our responsibility in this failing school? Much can be done to improve a situation that doesn't require money--faith in, interest in, involvement in, protection of, respect for, and a sense of ownership in a school community is invaluable. Money can't buy those things. You can throw all the tax dollars, fundraised dollars, and grant dollars you want at something, but if the underpinnings of that system are faulty, it's never going to work properly. I'm not saying we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. However, before we get lost forever in a world of CYA paperwork, legal battles, and testing that doesn't test real knowledge, we should get a good grip on what else is missing in the equation.

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