Plea to Public Schools: give parents the choice

[I haven't made up my mind about sending to Statesman but keep sending me comments! Also I have to cut it down to 750 words if I want it to be published.]

When I read Laura Cottam Sajbel's commentary titled "A plea to Parents: Give public school a chance" February 16, 2005, I couldn't help but respond with: why?

Dumbing down the students: Sajbel wrote "Taking bright and talented children out of our neighborhood school not only undermines the public schools, it cheats society." So she's admitting that public school students are less bright than those who go to private schools (including us home educators)? And she wants other parents to improve the "brightness" of the public school for whose benefit? Her children's? Let's say that my children are brighter. Would I want my children to be in a school where their brilliance is valued for pushing "the learning curve?" Or do I want my children to be in a setting where they are educated and learning new truths at their own pace?

False community: Sajbel wrote "the benefits of their neighborhood public school. It strengthens our community to be able to watch each other's children grow; and it increases our reach, as parents, if there are other caring adults nearby to give gentle guidance as our little ones mature." I, as a parent, would be very uncomfortable letting strangers guide my children without my supervision or direct permission, including my neighbors. I, as a Christian, would not want a neighborhood atheist or muslim giving "gentle guidance" to my children. I want to pick and choose the communities I want to spend time with and allow to influence my children (be it church or other communities).

False care: Sajbel wrote "Public schools ... [have] many intangibles of educating a child -- a caring environment" Don't kid yourself: Teachers (esp. public school ones) are paid to be teachers. I realize that there are those who teach (or in the system as administrators) in public schools for making postive impact to the students, giving up the potential financial gain in the "real world." However, some (many?) are in it for the pay and benefits (i.e., penty of vacations and able to retire young), rather than real concern for the children. Only parents can guarantee care for their own children. Private, religious school teachers have more than pay in mind when they teach their children so they usually have trancendent, unselfish reasons to care for their students (I don't have any comment for a non-religious private schools, but my father was a school teacher at Christian schools so I know he wasn't in it for the money and I'm sure that he wasn't the exception).

False diversity: Sajbel wrote "Isn't learning to get along with people of all cultural backgrounds a vital skill" Getting along with immigrants' children in America who are trying to assimilate the American way is not the what I would consider cultural education. As an immigrant myself, I recall growing up in California trying to be "Americanized" as much as possible (so much so that I became a naturalized US citizen during college). When dealing with my peers, the only diversity which they were exposed to from me were my skin color difference (i.e., no cultural difference that they could readily tell) -- I even saw myself as an American wanna-bee (until I officially gained my citizenship).

False socialization: "And children who are insulated in more homogeneous schools don't get much practice dealing with different cultures or socioeconomic backgrounds." Public school is too artificial of an environment: Children need to interact with diverse ages, not just with their peers. Being older usually means better knowledge and better (bitter?) experiences, so interacting with non-peers usually bring greater breadth of knowledge (and hopefully some dose of wisdom). Besides, it is up to the parents to deal with different cultures or socioeconomic backgrounds (like immigrating to another county (as my parents did, bringing the whole family to America) or befriending and inviting over families from other cultures). One cannot experience other cultures without personal and family connections, like visting people's homes and seeing how families from other cultures interact (a parent-child relationship cannot be experienced in a sterile, public school environment).

False sense of individual attention: Sajbel wrote "
teachers who teach each child at an appropriate level." How could this be? When there are 15, 20 or 30 students in one class, there is no way each child can get individual attention. What's great about home education is that the oldest child will get the most attention initially but the younger children will learn indirectly from the older children (at first). Then once the oldest gets to a certain age, he can help his siblings directly. And maybe even reverse with the younger helping the older. Unlike schools where the teacher changes every year or so, parents stick with their children all their life (what a surprise) and know the perculiarities of each child (from personalities, to learning style and even love language).

Tax is an expense: Sajbel wrote "Your taxes already support the public schools; given the price tag of our neighborhood's property taxes, it would seem wise to nurture that investment." Let's not kid ourselves: tax spent is an expense, not an investment. Unless, of course, the equation of "properly educated students" = "new tax payers" may be a way of thinking about tax spending as an investment but I don't think this is what Sajbel had in mind. If all parents pulled out their children from public schools, there would no reason to have school tax! I think Sajbel can better choose to direct her money (which is currently being taxed away) rather than some anonymous tax spenders.

Schooling is not education: Sajbel wrote "My husband and I have three children, and education is one of our top priorities. When I heard iffy comments about the school, I went to see for myself." I admire the author taking the time to check out the school but disappointed that her husband didn't go together (for a couple so "concerned" about education). One problem with her commentary is that she equates school with education. Nothing could be futher from the truth. Education is learning new truths and their applications and real education is learning how to learn. On the other hand, schooling takes place during most of the public school business hours (and my children believe that the best class period is recess).

Everyone can win: Sajbel wrote "But when some of our brightest and most successful citizens transfer their children out of the neighborhood school, everyone loses." Actually if everyone takes their children out of public school, every parent and child wins (except maybe public school teachers). Parents will have choices about their children's current needs and their future (and optionally include their children's input) on what's best for them, be it private schools or various flavors of home education. Children and parents cannot help but be winners. Actually, even former public school teachers can be winners, especially those who are passionate about teaching since they can get together and start new private schools (free market will prove how much they were valued by the parents (and students), relative to existing private schools). Some would bring up the "what about the poor" argument but in reality, if the school tax was eliminated, rental properties (e.g., apartment rents) will get cheaper and businesses will charge less money (since they all pay taxes, too) so even the poor will have more cash to spend on education. And those who are financially blessed (along with profitable companies) will have more money to give for educational needs of the poor like scholarship funds or even direct support or individual sponsorship (how about "adopt a child for school" program?). All kinds of great and creative possibilities would open up if school tax was eliminated.

No regrets? Sajbel wrote "We haven't regretted our decision." Only time will tell. My regrets of going to school was being dependent on peers for approval rather than my parents and my sister. I was too bound up with my classmates (i.e., spent more time with them) rather than my family and so I did lose touch with them especially during college years and few years after college. (Looking back, my parents were too busy and not directly involved in my life enough for me to be drawn to them, so it wasn't the schools' fault per se. My parents falsely assumed that the church schools would take care of everything including parent-child relationships.) Relearning Japanese helped me rebuild the bridge back to my parents but after many years of absence, it didn't come (and still isn't) easy for me. Hopefully my children will be different because of the time and love both my wife and I have poured into their lives (as well as setting examples of being in touch with our parents and siblings). "Only time will tell" applies to yours truly as well.