Sunday, February 19, 2017

A privately educated student who sends her children to public school

I was privately educated for 17/18th of my academic life.

I attended a public school for kindergarten because way back in the day Catholic schools did not offer kindergarten.
After that, though, it was --
--Catholic grade school for 8 years
--Catholic high school for 4 years
--Catholic college (for undergrad and graduate---I went to my alma mater for graduate because it's program allowed me to continue to work; had I gone to the public university, I would have had to quit my job and that wasn't an option.)

When I went back for my MAT, I was able to observe in both private and public schools.  I went back to my elementary school and was surprised by what it lacked in comparison to the public school system.

The computer lab was dinky.
There was no band or orchestra class.
There were no special education classes or speech therapists or occupational therapists.
The teacher I observed was teaching a lesson to 5th graders about popcorn.  I was like, "Are you f*cking kidding me???  POPCORN??"

It was at this point that I considered for the first time in my life that perhaps private schools weren't "the best."  My parents attended Catholic schools, and they wanted me to attend Catholic schools, so it was all any of us had ever known.

I had family members who taught in Catholic schools, and when they left the Catholic system to make more money in the public system, they couldn't handle it.  They had gotten used to teaching "easy to teach" kids and didn't know how to manage "not-easy-to-teach kids."  I decided that I would teach in the public system because I wanted to learn how to handle the "not-easy-to-teach kids."  I wanted to deal with what was difficult early on.  I like a challenge, and I may also be an idiot.

What I found was that I really loved public school, and I got a thrill teaching those kids with potential who weren't always the easiest to teach.  I loved it that students got to know kids from every socioeconomic class, every race, every culture, every ability (including disabled).  (Having spent many years in a private, homogenous culture, I thought this was great....and still do.)

D's educational experience was completely different from mine.  He attended public school his entire life, and I looked at him as someone positive who came from the public education system.

I never considered sending my children to private school for a variety of reasons.

First, I didn't (and don't) want to spend a bunch of money on tuition that I think will be better spent for their higher education or career prep.

Second, I didn't want to have to work during their early childhood to afford private education.

Third, with D being a product of public schools and an atheist, I don't think he felt private (and especially religious) education was necessary.  I'm not sure that we ever actually had the discussion because I was pretty well decided that our kids would go public.  By the time we had children, I was a very lapsed Catholic, and even though I now attend a Christian church, my own beliefs don't  congeal well with the more fundamentalist leanings of many religious schools.

Third, my own experience in 1st-8th grade was that being in a very small private school setting sometimes doesn't allow students the space they need to be away from cliches or other unpleasant experiences and people.  I was always in the same classes with the same students because there were only two classes of any given grade.  There was just no "getting away from it" in this small of a population.

Fourth, even though I loved my high school experience in a small, all-girls school, I think its smallness was in some ways a detriment.  The idea of going to a state school terrified me---its bigness felt overwhelming.  I got very used to being in a safe cocoon, and that safety may have kept me from taking chances that would have been beneficial.

Fifth, I didn't want my children to not be around people of all makes and models.  My experience of never going to school until age 14 with children of another race has stayed with me my entire life and not in a positive way.

I have been happy with my children's experiences in public schools.  Both the boys had IEPs for speech issues, and the resources at their public schools were very helpful.  N has been able to play in orchestra for 3 years.  This doesn't mean that everything is perfect in their schools (although my kids' elementary school is pretty darn close).  Every middle school on the planet is a holding tank for hormonal idiots.....there is just no getting around that sad fact.

And all of this about my (and our) choice is not to denigrate anyone else who has made a different choice for whatever reason they made their choice.

My niece and nephews attend Catholic school just as I did.  I have friends whose children attended public school for elementary, and then had an unpleasant middle school experience--some of them switched to Catholic schools and some of them now homeschool.  I know other people whose children attended a very conservative Christian school and hated it because many of the people were very un-Christlike.

But I am writing all this from a posture of very white, very middle-class, very educated privilege.  Most everyone I know is also from this posture.  We have options.  There are whole segments of the population who either don't actually have options or feel that they don't have options or are unaware of their options.

And these are the people I think about when I think about public education.  Public education is not for me or for my children, really.  My children were up-to-speed long before they ever entered school.  We have more books in our house than some communities have in a 5-mile radius (and it may be more like a 10-mile).

I support public education for many reasons, but mostly because it is good for society to be educated. Some may argue how well we are educating society, but I have always said and always will that public education cannot now nor ever will correct the ills of poverty and poor parenting.

Do I have concerns about public education?  Yes, not the least of which is that all the testing is making kids able to remember information but not actually able to THINK CRITICALLY about the information.  As someone who loves Socratic discussion and plays devil's advocate with great enthusiasm, it seems like we've lost the time and ability to discuss things broadly.

Do I think there is a tremendous amount of bloat?  Yes.  I think it is ridiculous to pay teachers to analyze data instead of having their warm bodies in classrooms working with children.

But as a privately educated person who has experienced the public education world, I cannot believe that private education (be it religious or charter or whatever) is going to fix everything that needs to be fixed, and we have to be careful that it won't actually make things worse.  

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