Photo by Gage Skidmore: Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos
I often lament my substandard public school education when confronted with those occasional usage problems that spell-check does not detect. “Slight” and “Sleight” for example; or “poll” and “pole;”or “canvas” and “canvass.” Generally, once I publish the mistake, I manage to catch and correct. But, as a professional writer, I have always had to guard against this propensity.
Would being able to go to a private school have corrected this tendency? Doubtful, as my dysfunctional family environment would have been a distraction no matter the quality of the school I attended. And truth be told, even though–in the pre-spell check world–I could barely spell, I managed to get descent grades in school and at the state college I attended, frequently made the Dean’s List.
Then, for grad school, I got accepted to a private university and, in my first class, ran head-long into a wall of academic standards that I had never before encountered. After a few desperate conferences with my professor and many hours spent trying to catch up, I did managed a top grade for the course. But why, oh why, did none of my other teachers in 16 years of attending public schools, ever introduce me to these rigorous academic standards?
Few would argue that the academic standards in most public schools are wanting. So why not just raise those standards? Why not just use the private schools as a model and do what it takes to elevate public schools to the private school level?
If I positively knew the answer to that question, maybe I could be Secretary of Education. But, in lieu of knowing, here’s my theory:
Public Schools and Private Schools are essentially two different species.
Public schools are run by a diverse herd of elected officials and municipalities—counties, cities, states. Aside from geography, no unifying philosophy guides these entities but the whims and dictates of their members; everyone involved in the public school experience–teachers unions, parents students and officials–must find common ground and that ground becomes the lowest common denominator in all things: curriculum, standards, security, on-site meals, learning tools, so as to accommodate and appease all parties.
Standards are lowered because we want the least gifted students to succeed. Our hearts are in the right place, as always, striving for that happy compromise that will satisfy everyone involved. Sadly, all students do not learn at the same pace; to set the bar to accommodate the least gifted, punishes all others; to set the bar for the most gifted, humiliates and scars the rest. In our attempts to provide an equal education for all, we fail to provide a quality education to any.
Private schools, on the other hand, are generally run by private organizations, religions, or corporations. They get their funding from tuitions and donations. Policies, standards and curriculum are established by a small body of regents or board members who have a governing philosophy in common, be it of a religious, philosophical or social in nature. Standards, rules and tuitions are set based on this unified philosophy and all students, parents and faculty must adhere to what the school dictates, not the other way around, as in public school.
If you want your kid to attend the Nob Hill Academy, that kid will wear the uniform, get the grades, follow the rules or get expelled. Most private schools have waiting lists and high standards for enrollment. Students must rise to these levels or go elsewhere. And these schools cost money—some tens of thousands of dollars per year.
So, under this system, the privileged get a privilege education and the rest of us must suffer through life constantly trying to rise above the stain of our substandard “free” public school education—not really a system geared to leveling the playing field.
To correct this inequity, the public school system must be totally reorganized, revamped, and rejuvenated or be bulldozed under the turf along with the Equal Rights Amendment.
The idea of vouchers is not completely repugnant to me but only as a stop-gap measure–that is, for those exceptional students who–right now, today–deserve a shot at a quality education, some funding for vouchers should be available on a merit basis. But vouchers, much like natural gas, is not the final cure. Bringing public school standards up to par with private schools is the ideal fix. But that fix will require a serious investment in education by the American people, many of whom would rather their tax dollars go toward tanks and drones than to teachers and textbooks
Meanwhile the morass of right-wing politicians and school board egomaniacs should stop trying to push public prayer in public schools and start pushing a higher standard of learning.
And no, I do not think state and local municipalities are capable of regulating their own education systems; look at the difference between schools in Louisiana, ranked last and those in top-rated Massachusetts.
There are, in this country, public school systems that are comparable to private schools. The Federal Department of Education should seek out these successes, devise a new system and offer funding for implementation in all public schools. Communities should get involved; contractors could donate time and personnel; businesses could provide support. It will take the village, the county, the state and the federal government to raise our public school system out of the mire, but raise them we must or surrender to the inevitable decline of our society.
Why “Education” is not first on everyone’s list of priorities, I cannot imagine. No one deserves a shoddy, half-baked education.
Featured Photo: This image was originally posted to Flickr by Gage Skidmore at https://flickr.com/photos/22007612@N05/33133774205. It was reviewed on 26 February 2017 by the FlickreviewR robot and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-sa-2.0.
Photo 2: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Photo 3: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.