For seven years, I’ve done my best to be a good public school ally. As a former teacher, I felt I owed it to the public school system to stick with it – speak up, do what I can, help where I am needed. As a parent of a special needs student, I had faith that the system wouldn’t fail my child as long as I showed up and had some skin in the game. Some years have been great, but too many have not.
I’ve tried to be patient with all the mundane worksheets and hour upon hour of mandated testing and unsupervised free time on technology. I’ve tolerated (barely) the restrictions on recess and free play outside and the shaming approach to classroom management. I tell myself the teachers are doing the best they can, given the lack of teachers aides and the excessive testing requirements.
I’ve spoken up for our elementary school teachers who have been asked to work longer days for less pay. I’ve helped gather books for classrooms without libraries. I’ve dropped off snacks and jackets for kids missing food and clothes. I tell myself that these small efforts are the least I can do to support schools doing their best in a large school system struggling to educate so many high need students.
When my child comes home drained from spending most of a school day testing on a computer, I tell myself that at least he comes home to a loving and creative home where he can decompress, pick up a book and run around outside. Even though school seems to be run more like a prison than a supportive learning environment, I tell myself that all these rules and structure and lack of freedom are teaching my kid to have grit and be resilient. One direction only in a hallway? Assigned seats at lunch? Assigned games at recess? Silent lunch? No lockers? My kid might be building resiliency but he’s also learning that adults, for the most part, just don’t trust kids to make good choices.
Lately, it seems like there’s no end to me making excuses and holding out hope that next week, next month, next year will be better. When will I learn? It’s not going to get better. At least not in time to benefit my kids.
If we insist on cramming students into schools and trailers, and paying teachers poorly, and underfunding schools, and overemphasizing test scores, there’s really no hope in sight. If we insist on dumbing down curriculum, and cutting back on arts and languages, and not differentiating for bright kids, why should bright kids stay? If we want to mainstream our special ed students but not train teachers to include them appropriately, how can those students thrive?
I used to argue that parents with choices needed to choose public school in order for our public schools to succeed. I’ve been choosing public school for seven years here in North Carolina, and I’ve only seen the education situation get worse. So, thanks anyway, public school. Take my tax dollars and redistribute it amongst the masses. Maybe that’s my new argument: everyone who can leave, should.