I’m a product of public schools, and my daughter is attending them, too. The only child of four to graduate on-time, my schooling wasn’t nearly adequate. The mostly white teachers in my high school were overworked, under-appreciated, and stressed from working in a low- and middle-class magnet school in the African American neighborhood I grew up in in the Midwest. My daughter attends a public school, though remarkably different from anything I ever attended.
It’s a sad day when our society has effectively stigmatizes the very institutions we need to rely on in order to have a successful society. The fact is that the founding fathers intended for public schools to be the places where our kids grew into capable, complete citizens. I believe in that vision, expanded for everyone to have free and full access to learn, and to incubate the desire and capacity to learn for life. We have to have public schools, and without them, hope for our democracy is limited, at best.
Private schools are inherently limited in their ability to affect the greater society in which they operate. Those who have the ability to access their services (read: money) are generally responsible for how things have always gone in our society – that much is true. However, as conscientious parents we have to make a deliberate and intentional choice as to whether we are going to contribute to the continued skewering of the public good by subjecting our kids to the exclusivism, classism, and segregation inherent in all private schools. And I understand that in some situations that is apparently the only way to go. I get that! But I also get that every time a caring, concerned, conscious parent retracts from engaging their kids in the public school system, we loose an ally for social justice, student engagement, and equality in public education.
I would pose that rather than choosing not to subject our children to the inadequacies of public schools, we choose to actively engage in them starting right now. As members of a democratic society with the levers of democracy in our hands, we ALL have the opportunity and desire to learn, so do this: learn about the school system, learn about how to change public schools, and then do the opposite of putting your kids in private schools – actively, meaningfully, and fully engage yourself and your kids in promoting the health and well-being of democracy by getting parents, students, and other communities to work changing your local public schools. We have to take responsibility for schools, and there are examples to aspire to and follow.
Let’s not shirk our responsibility any further. These public schools are one of the greatest hopes we have of ever realizing the full possibility of our democracy.