What American Kids Need: Love, Education and Public Schools

What American Kids Need: Love, Education and Public Schools

We all know what education is and we know its purpose. I would not be writing this piece if I had not had some form of education. But I also feel compelled to support with great emotion–public education.

MY PERSONAL INVESTMENT IN PUBLIC EDUCATION 

I minored in education in college and spent five years teaching at the secondary level in a public high school. This school in the far Chicago suburbs pulled together a very diverse group of students, but wow, it was amazing. I loved teaching. It was hard work. I not only had to be facile with my subject matter, but also be able to help students work through physical, social and demographic challenges. They often struggled and so did I. After all, I was so young! Right out of college. But by the time I left teaching, my reputation was a good one and I had some serious “how to deal with unrest and problems” chops. I gave everything I could to those young people.

PLEASE TOLERATE A FEW DEFINITIONS 

But for this subsequent discussion, a definition. These are taken from the website: Center for Public Education:

  • Public education means a tuition-free, publicly funded system that must provide an education to each child in a neighborhood school within a publicly governed school system. The academic standards, the teachers and administrators, the values and methods of operation employed in these schools are all subject to oversight and direction by public policy-making bodies. The rights of students and parents are legally defined and are enforceable by the courts. 
  • Public education means that a wide range of decision making resides at the community level through the operation of locally elected school boards and through other avenues of direct citizen participation in the schools.
  • Public education also means a system in which parents and the general public can obtain detailed information about their schools and be involved in school activities.

The website then goes on to ask a few very important questions.

  • What would education and society in America be like if these principles weren’t at the core of what is meant by public education?
  • What if education were turned over to publicly funded schools that did not have to adhere to these principles?
  • Which of these principles would be eliminated ?
  • Which children would be left behind?

It is so wrong and totally unfortunate when the needs of children are abandoned because of an ideologue’s vision of the future that does not encompass what is good for EVERY child.

SO LET’S TALK ABOUT RELIGION  

Would you believe that I attended private schools (Catholic) from grade school through college, but will always advocate for public education? Why? Many reasons. First because private education should be a personal choice–a family willing to PAY FOR the opportunity to send their child to a religious-based school. Or to get a scholarship to a private school that specializes in some facet of education. PRIVATE schools should not be given funds that are to be appropriated through our tax base to public schools.

Our country was founded on a basis that does not honor one religion over another. There have been times in our history when that principle was seriously challenged–and still is. But when we come together with a variety of beliefs into the PUBLIC FORUM, we should agree to educate American children and not skew educational content to one religion or another. (Note: my grandchildren attend a public school in California. If their parents wish them to participate in any kind of religious education–then they attend AFTER school hours.)

THE CHARTER SCHOOL PROBLEM

The fact that in our history individual citizens have tried to keep their children from attending integrated schools, schools in certain neighborhoods, schools that are housed in older facilities–have contributed to what we are experiencing now: the charter school.

Here is a clear explanation of why charter schools have twisted the law to allow them to utilize public funds. It was written by Barbara Miner a reporter who lives in Milwaukee. She writes: For more than a quarter-century, I have reported on the voucher program in Milwaukee: the country’s first contemporary voucher initiative and a model for other cities and state programs, from Cleveland to New Orleans, Florida to Indiana.

Milwaukee’s program began in 1990, when the state Legislature passed a bill allowing 300 students in seven nonsectarian private schools to receive taxpayer-funded tuition vouchers. It was billed as a small, low-cost experiment to help poor black children, and had a five-year sunset clause.

That was the bait. The first “switch” came a few weeks later, when the Republican governor eliminated the sunset clause. Ever since, vouchers have been a divisive yet permanent fixture in Wisconsin.

So by eliminating the sunset clause of five years, the program continued and expanded. The program WAS NEVER put to a public vote in the state of Wisconsin.

HERE ARE THE RESULTS: Today, some 33,000 students in 212 schools receive publicly funded vouchers, not just in Milwaukee but throughout Wisconsin. If it were its own school district, the voucher program would be the state’s second largest. The overwhelming majority of the schools are religious.

Miner goes on to explain just what that means: Even if every single student at a school receives a publicly funded voucher, as is the case in 22 of Milwaukee’s schools, that school is still defined as private. Because they are defined as “private,” voucher schools operate by separate rules, with minimal public oversight or transparency.

Miner lists some of the ways these schools can get around laws that normally govern publicly funded schools.

  1. They can sidestep basic constitutional protections such as freedom of speech.
  2. They do not have to provide the same level of second-language or special-education services.
  3. They can suspend or expel students without legal due process.
  4. They can ignore the state’s requirements for open meetings and records.
  5. They can disregard state law prohibiting discrimination against students on grounds of sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, or marital or parental status.

You pay taxes for the public schools in the area where you live. If you are good to go with the above–fine. I AM NOT! Violating the above principles that are so deeply a part of public education is not giving children LOVE and SUPPORT. Milner’s article attracted my attention, BECAUSE LIKE ME, she attended Catholic schools. But she writes: I believe that this country’s long-standing defense of religious liberty is a hallmark of our democracy. But the voucher program has distorted this all-important concept of religious freedom. 

The voucher program allows private schools to use PUBLIC DOLLARS to:  proselytize and teach church doctrine that is at odds with public policy;

  1. that women must be submissive to men
  2. that homosexuality is evil
  3. that birth control is a sin
  4. that creationism is scientifically sound.

Privatizing our public schools while forcing taxpayers to pay and not giving then A VOICE, WEAKENS OUR DEMOCRACY. And this is not a small amount of public money that is being funneled into these charter schools. Miner states that this year alone, the tab for the private and religious schools in Wisconsin is 248 million. That’s a chunk of change being taken from the public school system and weakening the education given to many children in that state.

I know you have your own opinions on this topic. But please consider: though it has had deep-seated problems PUBLIC EDUCATION PROVIDES THE BEDROCK FOR PROGRESS IN OUR COUNTRY and is needed to EDUCATE GOOD CITIZENS.

The solution is to fix our public schools–not abandon them. Our public schools are the only institutions with the commitment, the capacity, and the legal obligation to teach all children. With Betsy DeVos’ confirmation, the entire country now must answer this question: If public education is an essential bedrock of our democracy, why are we  undermining it? Why are we thinking of abandoning it?

Want to fight back–attend the school board meetings at your local high school. Get involved. After all, WE THE PEOPLE still have a say.

Photo Credit: onelineathens.com