Several days ago, I engaged in a conversation on Twitter with a fellow educator. It all started when I saw this tweet. Admittedly, I felt some sort of way about it. Which prompted the conversation. It went as follows:
Me: “Doesn’t this come too little, too late?”
Fellow Educator (FE): “Maybe, but despair isn’t an option.”
Me: “My Dear Brother, who is not an educator, btw (by the way), said 20 years ago that public education in the United States will matter when it hurts enough. Are we there?”
FE: “We are there, but the powerful are exploiting that and reveling in it. It’s very sad.Worse.”
Me: “I’m a 13-year product of public education. Those years were good ones. I was one of the lucky ones who received a good public school education.”
Me: “On the other side of it, I am a 23-year career teacher in independent schools . Mediocrity exists there, too.”
At this point in the Twitter conversation, we discovered that we each have both public and private school connections. It was cool to discover these parallels. I then tweeted the following:
Me: “So, while this conversation is certainly about preserving public education, what, exactly, are we striving to preserve?”
FE: “What we are preserving is an excellent question for discussion.”
Me: “It’s a question nobody seems to want to ask. Because nobody wants to answer it.”
I wonder, truly wonder, if the impending appointment of Ms. Betsy De Vos will force us to confront the question, at long last, which aspects of public education we are striving to preserve. Like all things, there is both good and bad in public education. That said, will the fear and loathing that many are feeling for Ms. De Vos at this time convert into decisive action for improving public education? If so, how so?
It is true: I am an independent school teacher. That said, and, as I was saying to someone just the other day, independent school education is only as strong as public education. In other words, public schools educate the vast majority of children in the United States. There aren’t enough independent schools to do the job, even if they were affordable. And, on par, independent schools are not affordable.
Children need and benefit from quality public schools in their own neighborhoods and communities, and not the charter across town, or, the independent school an hour away. Moreover, the creation of yet more schools – whether independent or charter – isn’t the answer, either. New schools don’t necessarily bring new solutions, or better teaching and learning. Whatever it is we are seeking, it doesn’t seem we have found it.
Perhaps a simplistic question, but I will deign to ask it, anyway: Why can’t we renovate and innovate the public neighborhood schools we currently have? Ralph Tyler, an American educator, once said that change is homegrown. Thus, it’s not imported via a charter school conglomerate, and dropped into community for instant change, like food coloring is dropped into a glass of water. We need to become more thoughtful, deliberate, and intelligent in our thinking. But…can we do it? And, more importantly, will we do it?