Monday, August 18, 2014

A New Adventure

Tomorrow is our District's official First Day of School.  All of my daughter's friends will be pouring out of cars and busses clutching their lunch boxes and backpacks stuffed with shiny new school supplies.  They'll be trundling down the freshly shampooed hallway that I trundled down at their age.  They'll be filing into classrooms, chattering with friends, while their smiling teachers shake their hands and say "Hello!" and "Good morning!" and "Welcome back!"  Teachers who, in our little town, have watched them grow since preschool.  In my daughter's case, infancy.

At my house it will be Tuesday.  The kids will get up early as usual.  Eat breakfast and get dressed as usual.  They will spend most of the morning listening to Toddler Radio and playing with Superstructs or Legos.  As usual.  Just before they go play outside we might do a little reading or math.  My little girl will probably not notice that summer vacation has passed until we see some busses go by some afternoon a week from now.

This is my 6-year-old's first year homeschooling.  It was a decision that did not come lightly or easily to our family.  First off, my daughter loves school.  She REALLY loves it.  Not in the enthusiastic way that 6-year-olds love toys, ice cream, and balloons, but in the way that she loves her grandmother, her aunt, and our pony.  She draws elaborate cards for her former teachers (all two of them), the school secretary and principal.  She wonders aloud what the school janitor is up to.  She hugs herself and smiles when we talk about anything to do with the school.  Not sending her back as felt more than just a little bit cruel.

My daughter's feelings for the school has made our decision hard and my love for it has been nearly as difficult to overcome.  On a political and philosophical level, I absolutely, 100% support the institution of public education in general and our little K-8 in particular.  I think our principal of three years is doing a good job implementing curriculum changes and updating technology use.  I think the teachers are, without exception, wonderfully caring people and skillful professionals.  Many of them are good friends and neighbors.  I feel as if I am abandoning them at a time when they need the support of every responsible and civically aware community member.  As a recent graduate of a Masters of Arts in Teaching program and a state licensed teacher our decision has definitely felt like a betrayal.

So why am I distancing our family (again) from a community of professionals that I support?  I have dozens of reasons, all of them particular to my daughter, me, and our family.  It is the Anna Karenina Principle.  "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."  

I've given a lot of thought to a scathing diatribe, expounding on everything that's wrong with our school district and everything that needs to be improved in public education.  I've run through dozens of  imaginary blog posts and Facebook updates publicly skewering those I could characterize as villains in our school district and policies that I could easily and dramatically paint as harbingers of a zombie apocalypse.

I have decided, in my old age, that I am not as radical as all that.

After all, being negative would serve no purpose except for possibly as fodder for those who would wish to dismantle our system of public education with increased privatization and a voucher system which would be as horrible and ridiculous as dismantling the Department of Transportation.

Instead I will focus my energies on providing an awesome education to my three kids, supporting our local schools and school district in every way I can, and being a resource to parents and kids in my community.

Happy First Day of School, everyone!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Public schools deserve the benefit of the doubt!

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with Mom-nutia. Permission slips, homework, library books, bus notes, lunches, recess gear, water bottles, report cards, conferences, etc. And I only have one kindergartener in public school. As grade levels and the number of children increase, so does the mass of mind numbing details. 

When I become frustrated and overwhelmed at these responsibilities, after I've torn apart the house for the fifth time looking for a $7 dollar library book that is preventing my distraught daughter from checking out more books from the school's library, I take myself firmly in hand and remind myself how incredibly fortunate I am not to have to add budget, transportation, food scarcity, home stability, or a lack of employment to the list of details that I have to worry over. Imagine being a broke, homeless single mom, madly filling out state assistance paperwork on top of everything else. 

My empathy for the situation of the majority of parents in the U.S. notwithstanding, I am APALLED by the media's crucifixion of the Utah school that "shamed" students who were not paying for their lunches. What about empathy for the food service workers, likely barely over minimum wage, likely without health insurance or retirement, who are under pressure from their employers to balance their till at the end of the day? Part of me wants to callously slap people in the face with "way to teach kids to expect a handout!" Or, "I thought you said that there's no such thing as a free lunch."

I will admit that my beloved grandmother was the Lunch Lady of our local elementary school/jr. high for 20 years, including all of the years that I attended that school.  I will admit that I have a very strong bias toward the support staff of any school, as anyone with any brains knows the people who REALLY run the building are the Secretary and the Lunch Lady.  My bias is reinforced by witnessing first-hand the amount of money that I personally saw leave my grandmother's purse and go into her till to cover students who did not have the money to cover their lunches or the parents to sign the paperwork to have it covered.

This issue in Utah may have been simply alleviated by changing the location of the register so that balances could be checked BEFORE students have their lunches but would people still be outraged by children denied lunch altogether? But wait, according to the news, all of the kids were provided with milk and fruit regardless of their ability to pay. With the unhealthy, pre-packaged, sugar-filled modern school lunches, those kids are probably better off anyway. 

What gets me on all of this is how quickly people jump onto the "schools are the bad guy" bandwagon. I am extremely irritated with the seeming assumption by people in our country that those working in the field of education are out to harm kids. Teachers are bad, principals are bad, now even the lunch lady! 

How full of diabolic sociopaths our public education system must be that these monsters would go through such rigorous training to put up with such low pay and grief in order to bide their time, waiting for an opportunity to humiliate your child! Weird!

I would ask that parents and taxpayers, in general, PLEASE consider the following:

1. Most people, the VAST majority of people, who work in education, from the district superintendent to the lunch lady to the bus driver, care about and do not want to harm kids. Give them the benefit of the doubt! Please!

2. Be involved in the school as much as you are able. Public schools are infrastructure. JUST like our roads, our government is obligated to provide them, police them, and maintain them but if you drive negligently, the road is hardly responsible when you and your family die in a fiery crash. Drive safe. Wear your seatbelt. Fill out your paperwork. Make sure they do their homework. Pay the library fine. Be involved!

3. Be a problem solver rather than a problem creator. If you and your child have irreconcilable differences with your school, figure out a way to help your overburdened, underfunded public school improve for the benefit of ALL the children in your community. Whining about the "unfair treatment" of your child simply stretches resources further, hurting everyone.  If you have to remove your child from a local public school for one reason or another, fine.  Do it.  I am currently homeschooling my 10th grader as the name of my blog implies.  But don't  automatically assume that the issues your child is having is a problem for EVERY child.  See numbers 1 & 2.  Spend some time investigating the situation before you freak out.

Like any public institution, our schools are not perfect. But, in my experience (K-27th Grade graduate of public schools, 3 kids, Master's in Teaching, substitute teacher) public schools are constantly working toward perfection. Can you say the same about yourself? Be part of the solution.