Sunday, November 12, 2006

Fighting the system for mine and yours

Phleff, phleff, phleff. Eeeeeeeeeerrrrr. Scrabble scrabble. Click. Click.

The sound you didn't hear, dear readers, was me dusting off my soapbox, dragging it across the floor and climbing up. I don't do this that often, so please bear with me as I stand here precariously in unfamiliar territory.

A few weeks ago I met a neighbor while I was out and about on weekend errands, and during our conversation I learned that she'd made the "agonizing" decision to take her son out of public school.

Although in her soul of souls it pained her to know her son was attending what she saw as a "factory" for churning out children who will sit still, line up in single file and ask permission before they go to the bathroom, the straw that broke the camel's back was when her already literate kindergartener came home from school and reported he pretended he didn't know the alphabet, because that's what the teacher expected.

Like many parents, she said she and her husband had wanted to stick it out with public education. They believed in its importance. And, like many parents with a certain amount of disposable income, they ultimately decided that they couldn't let their child's education suffer because they didn't want to fight a losing battle with the establishment.

I don't want to slam her decision. I don't want to look down my nose as the uninitiated mother of a preschooler — who will undoubtedly face the same choice one day soon — and click my tongue in disappointment.

And yet, I can't help but wish she'd stuck it out. We are not talking about an inner city school district struggling to keep drugs and guns from seeping in through the security hurdles; we are talking about a suburban school in a moderately well-heeled community.

"Wait for me," I thought. "We'll fight them together. Maybe we'll even find others."
I think that by moving our kids to the "better" schools, often outside of the community, we are choosing isolation, some might say segregation, based on individual values, ideals and the ability to pay for them.

And why shouldn't we choose the best we can afford? We live in a society in which we are not only free to make such choices, we are encouraged to do so. Why shouldn't we take advantage of every opportunity life and budget allow? Why not advocate for our kids in the most expedient way? Don't our children deserve the best WE can offer?

But I still can't help feeling as if we are losing a sense of responsibility to one another and our communities, and this weighs on me, too.

I think about a different situation. What if we were talking about a school in a relatively wealthy district, where only the poorest of the poor attended because the affluent had other options? Or what if we were talking about a school in which education came second to security?

It wouldn't even be a question for most parents. Their child's safety is just more important than any ideology. But what about the children left behind? Does that mean they're less important?

I don't know the answers, but I know that we need to think long and hard about the question.

I just hope I am strong enough, when the time comes, to stick it out for Ittybit's sake. To make sure that the public school she attends will be a better place for everyone because we did our best to make it that. Or at least that our participation, for her, no matter how many stupid rules she's expected to follow, will have the most lasting effect.


stefanierj said...

This has to be the hardest thing to contemplate. My friend is a teacher and a knee-jerk liberal like myself, and her daughter is in a fairly good school in California, but she said something that chilled me to the bone: "Once I became a parent of a school-aged child, my Inner Republican came out, and I just wanted her to be in an environment that was already fixed, already good for her."

I think about that all the time. Especially now that I work for a nonprfit that has a large, fancy private school attached to it. Izzy has written about this, too-do you read her?

MommasWorld said...

I was shouting from a soap box a few years back. My oldest is 18 and my youngest is 7. I have been through the public and some of the private school issues. When I started my post it became a book long post. I do not wish to make such a post on your wonderful blog. Please email me and I can tell you some trials of myself and other parents who fought the system and won a few battles but in the long son did not get the education a gifted child should have. In the public school system norm means everything. Be anything above the norm and you will be shot down. Below the norm they will pull out all the stops, as they did with my eldest daughter and I am thankful for what they did for her. I just thought they were out to help our children, all of them, find their full potential.

I fought for 10 yrs and the after effect I am sad to say...I keep the home education at a 'mums the word' with my youngest. Private school was not the answer for us but acting below your potiential does seem to work wonders.

Bottom line, the education that matters the most is what is taught at home, not in public or private school.

lildb said...

I'm with you. Er, I *plan* on being with you, in the light-years from now that J is attending la escuela publica.

Because that's where he'll be, dammit. TAG or no. There's only one way to learn how to socialize on a level with most of the world, and that's by living around and with them. Daily. Living in some rarified atmosphere among other rarified air-breathers is only going to convince my kid that he's something he isn't. That is, better than.

With. You. Completely.

p.s. I love you on your soapbox. Stay up there and teach me a thing or two more, lady S.

mad muthas said...

i hope you can manage to stick with this. it's laudable. fortunately, in my part of leafy warwickshire there are no really bad state schools, although there are loads of posh private ones (you'll have to work with me here, cos we call private schools, public schools for some reason, and i may get confused trying to remember to translate) and three state schools that admit through competitive examination - these are called grammar schools.
i despise exclusivity in education - for whatever reason, so would never consider grammar schools. and why, pray, after 15 years of misrule have the labour party completely failed to address this particular iniquity of the uk state system? oh - because THEIR children all go to grammar schools or public (by which i mean private) school - so they never have to mingle with great unwashed.
anyway - we've stuck with state, although i must admit to having played the system a bit. since i'm catholic (or at least catholic enough) we have access to excellent faith schools. because of their ethos, they have a policy of inclusivity for special needs and by definition have a widely varying social mix. sadly, they also have a wide geographical spread - so my kids are going to parties on the far side of worcester (that's along way away) on a regular basis! ok - so i've become a taxi driver - but it's a small price to pay ...
good luck with decision - and i heartily applaud it!

the mad momma said...

Hi Siobhan,
I just read on an old comment at GGC that you had a C-section. Would you be willing to share your story on my blog or link up? It is still very stigmatised in India and needs some more awareness. The link to my story is