Shopping for hope.
A few weeks ago when charter schools in Washington State were deemed unconstitutional because of funding, a parent on KUOW spoke about her disappointment for her child:
In the interview, the mom Deanne Kilburn struck me as genuine and sincere. The public schools had not challenged her son, and nor continued the promise of providing the breadth and scope of what is demanded for 21st century children, and their futures.
But this is what hit home:
“He’s gone from being an angry, frustrated boy to a wonderful, responsible young man. And I know that that’s always been in him, but the poor teachers at our old school couldn’t nurture those qualities because their hands were always so full with so many other disciplinary problems.”
We teachers see this every day: kids who come to school with far more than milk money, or lack thereof. Parents don’t want their children exposed to this trauma, and potentially danger. (We are under new leadership, and it’s refreshing. The school feels much more safe now, for everyone.) But fear often drives decisions, and it’s difficult to undo a stance taken with one’s amygdala.
The separation of funds will create more inequality, less opportunity, and the cycle may continue. And this mom doesn’t want her son to be caught in the whirlpool. Neither would I.
Before I became a teacher, now ten years, I would have felt the same way had we lived somewhere where the public schools weren’t as excellent as the ones my sons have gone to. Intentionally, we raised our sons K-12 in the same area. That was not something I grew up with: we moved often, and I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything. There are always trade-offs in life, and we tried to give our sons experiences of travel outside of our little berg. We’re lucky, and have a lot of family support, and sacrifice what we can. We are interested in experiences, not things.
And why can’t every child have this?
I read some of my friends’ Facebook posts fighting to get funding back for their private/charter schools. They have opted to send their children to fundamentally Christian schools, and cannot fathom why public funds shouldn’t pay for their child’s
charter private education. Our playing and spinning of word choices are dangerous: ‘charter’ sounds like a beautiful ship, white sails billowing in the winds of change, headed off to grand adventures. “Private” means something secretive, exclusive, perhaps even conspiratorial. No wonder why parents who support charter schools don’t call them what they really are.
This past summer, I met many wonderful teachers from private schools, and they marveled at what we public school teachers dealt with. But it’s important work, and needs to be met head-on.
There is a charter school in my public school’s backyard, too. I hesitate to link it, because I don’t want to seem like I’m promoting it for free. I’m sure it’s perfectly fine, with the best of intentions. One rumor I heard about its creation included the fact that the local schools don’t offer ‘high cap’ programs after elementary, so students who wanted to be academically challenged in an honors environment started to look elsewhere. And I have to say I understand parents’ motivations to support charter schools: everyone wants the best for their child, but ‘best’ is elusive. In my own school, our enrollment in music programs is down, and I wonder if the private/charter school provided those options. We don’t have honors at our school, and for nervous parents I can see how that might be an issue. This isn’t about race or class at my school — we are 75% free and reduced lunch and the diversity is vast and wonderful. So no pretenses: this is about fear, control: and it must shift to partnerships.
But let’s talk about best:
Look into your child’s school: do most of the teachers have a masters, or are National Board Certified Teachers? (Most of our NBCT teachers left last year, leaving me and one other teacher, but that was due to much bigger issues outside of the charter school one.) Does it offer support for special education, knowledgeable staff about inclusion, how honors students find their voice in the classroom, and how does group and collaboration work? There are many unwritten questions to ask teachers, administration, and your child. Does their teacher make them feel capable of learning? How are mistakes handled by students and staff alike?
Perhaps “best” is the ability to know your child is prepared not only academically, but socially to meet the demands of a world environment that struggles, conflicts, and ultimately listens and hopes. We public school teachers do this every day.