on public versus private education…some thoughts

My area has some very fine private schools, but they are too far out of my financial reach to consider, even with the fullest scholarship offered. Honestly? In light of the difficulties my family has had with the local public high school, I would have preferred to send my daughter to one of them, rather than home school.  But these private schools are simply not accessible to us, nor to many who are low-income-to-middle-income. Even if the failures in public education are proven  to be the fault of that school, the amount the school district is required to pay to the private institution isn’t enough to cover the full costs. So what can a parent to do? How will the child be educated?  Should we move to another area and try a different public school? Even the cost of moving  can be a deterrent for many, such as myself.  Beyond homeschooling, what choice is there when public schools fail a child?

I do appreciate the existence of private schools. I really do. And I believe in our right to determine if the focus and specialization of a private school is right for our children, as long as the foundation of is based on honest, proven and factual information:

Wanna add your god to the curriculum? Have at it! But tell it like it is: it’s a belief, not a fact. Using the bible as the only source of your claims does not constitute proof of fact; it proves a foundation for your belief.  If agriculture is focus and structure used to educate, fantastic! Just remember to teach those kids the truth about the Native Americans who once lived on that land, and what methods were used to remove them from it; tell them where the survivors live today, and the conditions in which they are allowed to maintain their culture.

The most important aspect of education is to teach kids to exercise their critical thinking skills, so that they make their own decision about in what to believe, and can distinguish between that and the factual truths presented to them in core subjects. Let them decide if we were morally right to take this land, or if we should make reparations for harm done, and let them pray to their god as they plant their corn. As long as they learn that 2+2 is always 4, Hitler really did kill millions of Jews, and dinosaurs roamed the earth millions of years before the emergence of humans, it’s good in my book… and  I really don’t care, then, if you believe it was a sudden, massive and spontaneous BANG out of nothingness that started the universe…or that it was some old guy with a long white beard, laying on a pillow of clouds, who pointed his finger and said “let there be…” and *poof* -there it was!

But privatization is still NOT the answer.  As the push for the privatization of education continues to grow, I have no doubt that we’ll see more children pushed off to the wayside, for lack of access to high quality public schools. And forget about the ridiculous concept of a “voucher system”–that would serve only to segregate wealthy elite from the common chaff. My issue with private schools is the wealthy elite pushing for it so vigorously -who want to profit from our children’s education (and often with belief over substance). Rather than to strengthen a student’s reasoning skills and knowledge base, or encourage a questioning and curious mind to explore alternatives, the sole purpose of privatizing education is to promote a population with a limited understanding of the world, and promises faithful future consumers who will obey the party line, without question, unable to ever pose a  threat to the status quo.

Yet, for public schools I do say that, yes, there does need to be an established baseline that validates a child has learned at least a basic level of understanding of materials that support entry into the workforce, or college, leading to the ability to maintain economic independence. But I also agree that the current education system’s dependence on test scores (“teaching to test”), in order to obtain desperately needed funding, is  ruining the quality of the education overall. But no, privatization is still NOT the answer.

The answer lies, I believe, first and foremost with the quality and skill of the teachers in our public schools. Income levels should be set high enough to encourage others to enter the field of academia, and those chosen to educate our children should receive an income commensurate to their skill. Further, schools be supported with adequate funding to supply the tools they’ll utilize for their work. And, rather that “teaching to test”, the evidence used to measure the quality of teaching and success of the education should not rely solely on test scores, but by the future social behaviors of the young adults that are sent into the world.

I propose that schools be graded by the station in life attained by graduates 5 and 10 years after graduation, looking specifically at their involvement in their society, and the degree in which they do, or don’t, rely on social service supports. Have they gone on to college and gotten a degree? Are they continuing their education for a Masters or Doctorate? Are they working full-time in their chosen field (whether it required higher education, or just HS). If they didn’t go on to college, are they working in a desired field (ie, carpenters, plumbers, office management, small business owner)? Or are they supporting a family? Do they earn enough to support their family?  With, or without, social service supports? Is this their preferred station in life, and if not, do they feel they have access to the means to do better?

To gather such information from former students would require  the high schools to be tenacious in maintaining contact, and tp communicate regularly with the graduate. Also, the graduates must have a vested interest in providing the information (like pride, perhaps, in their former school?).  The questions to be answered would have to include responses about the level of independence the student has, and the degree of reliance, if any, on social support services.The most important factor, however, should include the level of social/community engagement the graduates have, because it invites inclusion of those who may always need to rely on social supports to some degree, such as people with disabilities.

Needing social supports shouldn’t necessarily be a “downgrading factor.  People with disabilities can, and do,  give back to their communities in meaningful ways.  This is especially true when there are services available to assist a person with disabilities to obtain meaningful employment, including home-based self employment;  and when employment is not an option, there are still thousands of ways to be engaged in a community. Volunteer work, even being on a local committee, is still a way of working, and giving back to a community, because it is helping others. Off-set financial supports received with the degree of positive social engagement the person has in their community, whether paid or volunteer work.

People who have had a positive and quality education, who have critical thinking skills–even with just a high school degree– tend to be more engaged members in their community, regardless of socioeconomic status.  Whether its the starving artist who brings us beautiful sculptures or the musician playing on a street corner– or the scientist discovering cures to illnesses, or finding other habitable planets — or even the single mother raising her kids, while also being an active member of the PTA,  and the activist, engaged in political protest, and/or being arrested for civil disobedience, are giving something positive to their world. They are increasing the knowledge base of the others around them -educating!-  and all are giving something of value to the community. They care about where they live, how they live, and they participate in it in positive ways.

A poor education leads to disempowered, highly needy societal members, and poorer communities. Speaking generally, a poor education increases the likelihood of poverty, and all the social problems that go along with it, which drive up the need for more social service supports. A poor education leads to having  less opportunity to become self sufficient.  Even if there are plenty minimum wage jobs, there are few that offer a chance to climb those ladders of success and independence. Without a solid educational foundation, climbing those ladders often proves too difficult for someone with a less than adequate public school experience.

In my perfect world, funding for public schools would surpass military spending, and school performance would be measured by the quality of life being lived by graduates at the 5 and 10 year mark after graduation.  Schools that are flagging or failing would receive additional funding, rather than lose it, to support bringing in better, or more, teachers as needed, to bring the quality of the school overall. Why? Because taking away funding from a school that “fails to make the grade” defeats the purpose. A school that takes away focus from the needs of the students in order to scrabble for funding has begun its death spiral of failure.

Proof that a public school is meeting high standards in education and graduating students who are fully prepared to enter the workforce or college, would be obvious…because a community of well educated, competent, and capable people, who continue learning because a constant curiosity has been nurtured in them throughout their educational years, will be a community of working, creating, donating, inventing, investing, communicating, serving and otherwise engaged, people.

Can we really expect the same from a privatized, voucher-ized, school system? Can such schools produce the same effects from a limited, higher-echelon-only-need-apply, segment of the population? I really don’t think so. It’s time to get rid of the teach-to-test model of “educating”, bring back teachers that inspire our children, and to substantially invest in public schools.

Your constructive comments, dialogue, and thoughts are welcomed and appreciated.

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