At times I feel like some sort of radical or a negligent parent when I tell people that I have made a conscious decision to educate my children in the public school system in our town. Many of my friends send their children to private schools or home school their children. I have never seriously considered either of those options.
I live in Vermont where serene pastoral scenes are common place and independence is a virtue. I live in a town that is socio-economically diverse and I happen to like it that way. Don’t get me wrong I wish none of my fellow citizens had to work two jobs to get by and everyone had health care etc. but I happen to like living amongst a diverse group of people. It feels more “real” to live in a place like this rather than in a cookie cutter community where life is neat and tidy and bad things aren’t supposed to happen. The schools, for the most part, mirror the demographics of my town and the same authenticity of the community as well and that is why I want my kids in public school.
The town I live in is far from perfect but it is where we choose to live and I feel very connected to my community. I want my children to feel the same and to me if they don’t go to school with the “masses” they are somehow missing out. I am more than “OK” with their school experience not being “perfect” just as I am OK with not living in a “perfect” place. You see, I want my children to learn much more than academics in school. I want them to learn how to be part of a group and how to manage difficult relationships. I want them to learn when and how to stick up for themselves and the little guy. I don’t know how home schooled kids or kids who go to private schools filled with kids just like them can learn these things. I think many parents want to protect their children from the harsh realities of life. I want my kids to be challenged and forced to look outside themselves so they are more confident and capable of handling what life has in store for them which unfortunately won’t always be “perfect”.
I am grateful my kids have had to struggle to negotiate with the bully on the playground and they are better people because they had to take their turn pushing a classmate in a wheelchair to music class. They understand that some of their classmates might not have new clothes and get free lunch because they are poor but that doesn’t mean they can’t be their friend. And yes, they go to their birthday parties in case you are wondering.
My children care about their classmates because of the relationships that have developed over the years. They have learned to look past the obvious signs of poverty and truly enjoy each other’s companionship. There is something very powerful about having the common experience of going to school together. Do I love everything about our school system? No. Have I loved every teacher they have had? Of course not. Have they been in some difficult situations? A few. Do I wish some things were different? Absolutely. Am I happy with their education? You bet I am.
The public school system needs families like mine and I feel it is somehow my duty to support their mission and be a part of it. The public school system has taught my kids important intangible things about what it means to be a member of a diverse community. All people deserve to be treated with dignity, respect, understanding and compassion and you never know who will turn out to be a friend when you aren’t looking for “perfection” what ever that is. So I say thank you to the public schools where I live. Job well done!
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