I believe in public schools. I love the diversity and the opportunity of the public school system. I realized my strong belief as I was sitting in the YMCA gym, watching my son play basketball. I heard a Mom, a home-schooler say, “If only we had a co-operative or something so we could hire the best art, music, and science teachers.” As a mom and a teacher in a public school, I wanted to say, “We do!” It is called your local public school system. Each of us contributes through our taxes so that the best art, music, science, math and language teachers can be hired to work with your children. While I understand that there can be some compelling reasons to home school a child, or send a child to a private school, it worries me that so many parents think that their children are better off outside the public school system.
Children in public school are confronted with people who do not share their religious beliefs or values early on, but rather than detracting from those beliefs, often meeting others with conflicting beliefs help those children to better understand and state what their beliefs are. In a ninth grade high school English class I was teaching, a Hindi girl referred to a Christian Bible story as a “myth.” We had a heated and lively discussion among the students about what a myth is and why the Christian students were offended by the word myth when it was applied to their Bible. As the bell rang and the students moved to the next class, they laughed and chatted about their prejudices and beliefs. Could that happen in a private school? Maybe, but not as easily.
When a student at the school where I teach said his parents would not pay for him to attend his senior prom, several teachers contributed to rent a tuxedo, buy his ticket and make sure he had transportation to the dance. No one knew but the boy and the few teachers who donated. Public school teachers do not look for publicity or applause for the things they do.
One of my co-teachers sends a birthday card to every student she teaches each year, usually a total over 125 students. She does not hand them the card, She writes a note, puts a stamp on it and mails it to the students home: yes 125 or more stamps, 125 cards, 125 trips to the post office. Some of her students tell her the card makes a great difference in the way they feel about themselves. If the teacher thinks they are worth so much effort, maybe they really are worthwhile human beings.
Public schools still offer the opportunities and challenges that they offered our grandparents and great grandparents: to become a part of America, to learn English, to learn career skills, to make friends, to challenge oneself, to become the first in one’s family to go to college. Public schools offer students the opportunity to walk a mile in another’s moccasins, to develop tolerance and understanding and empathy, from first hand contact with students with differing backgrounds. Even the most troubled public schools have amazing successes every day. I believe in Public Schools, free, open, diverse, and wonderful.
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