Now that my daughter is in Kindergarten, I’m suddenly thrust into this position that so many parents find themselves eventually. I’m a parent of a public school kid now, with two more sons following their sister’s lead in the next few years. I have to decide now if I want to be the parent who really cares about the schools they attend, or if I’m the parent who drops them off at the bus stop and helps them with some homework, but ultimately doesn’t give the whole schooling thing much further thought. (You know, until the day comes when college tuition bills bust through my living room wall like The Hulk.)
In my case, I can’t help myself. I care. A lot. I’m not alone either and I know it. We want the very best for our kids. We want them to have all the chances that we never had. Part of the gig as parents has always been to hope that our children have at least a slightly better life than we’ve had. Even if our life has been grand. It’s just human nature. It’s just the way love works.
And so I’ve been wondering about something lately. Even if we choose to ignore the staggering problems facing so many American public schools, most of us still know they’re there. It’s a reality and that’s that. But what I’ve been pondering as of late is whether or not the presence of private schools (and let’s be brutally honest here, private schools are often better schools) really messes with the ability of public education to ever move forward.
Sometimes I think that maybe private schools are a big part of the education problem in America. I know, I know, that sounds completely ridiculous on the surface, a grotesquely uninformed statement made worse by the following facts:
a) I’m no expert on education (far from it, actually).
b) I’ve never attended a private school.
c) I don’t have a child in private school (but I do have a daughter in a public one).
But bear with me here, people. My theory is simply my own and is just a gut feeling, but there might be something in it to at least think about.
It occurs to me that while private schools are tremendous places to attend (from better facilities, to smaller teacher-to-class ratios; from drafting the cream of the educator crop into their fold, to obscenely high success rates for graduates) there is also the notion attached to all of that which hints at an ugly fact. In order to get the best education possible in the land of the free, you better have the big bucks to pay for it.
And I think that sucks on a bunch of levels. Look, we certainly aren’t a poor nation (not by a long shot) and yet, there are maybe a few dozen or so special-case public schools in the whole of the land that can compete with even your basic private school education.
What’s up with that? How do we look ourselves in the proverbial mirror and feel okay with that knowledge?
Doesn’t it seem odd for a country that sells itself as the single greatest one in the world for opportunity to stand and watch most of its young people locked outside the gates of the the best education possible? I mean, it seems to me that the elite privilege of a private school education is based on this unspoken agreement amongst us all where we allow that a truly great education, and the true success that comes with it later in life, are both a sword best swung by the wealthiest among us.
But the problem isn’t the fault of private schools.
And it isn’t public schools that are to blame, either.
The problem is that one exists and thrives because the other one suffers. See, every time a kid enrolls in a privately owned house of learning, he or she is, in essence, walking away from an epidemic (failing public schools). And fair play to that. It makes sense if you can afford it, right?
That said, maybe the decision to send your child to a non-public school is also feeding the problem itself by having nothing to do with it, by walking away from it. That’s not any child’s conscious decision, of course, and I understand perfectly well that there is no ill will within the hearts or minds of private school parents either. But still: there is a growing gulf between public schools flapping around in the undertow and all the other education success stories enjoying the sailboat breeze.
Here then, my friends, is the trouble with all of this.
Private schools are the places where the most likely to succeed congregate. They are chock-full of kids from very good homes, for the most part. (And by “good homes,” yes, I mean homes where things have been working out pretty well financially.) Financial success, or any kind of success for that matter, is most often enjoyed by the smartest and the brightest, or at the very least, the most ambitious in the land. So when we look at the fact that so many of those successful American’s offspring will never ever set foot in a single American public school, it becomes fairly staggering to consider what that actually means.
Because not only has the public school system lost the chance to have another kid enter into it, it has also lost some potentially life-changing friends in the form of many top-notch teachers and faculty members. They go where the money is, too. That’s perfectly understandable. Who wouldn’t want to make more money and work in a healthier environment?
That’s not all though. What about all of those well-educated and successful parents who could probably make a vast difference in the plight of public schools? Well, chances are that all of those brilliant minds and potential leaders for every child in our country, they’ve probably lost any hint of interest, you know? I mean, why should they be concerned with the fate of American public education when their kids have nothing to do with it?
The endless cycle thus continues and many of our nation’s brightest parents, teachers, and students never ever rub shoulders with the masses. As a result, they don’t witness what so many public school systems are up against.
Then, when they don’t see what’s really happening, well, they don’t contribute a damn thing to changing it.
And so it goes.
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