Sunday, December 21, 2008

Condition Has Its Cost

Meeting today was comprised of the usual First Hour worship, but immediately afterward we were implored by the Angel Gabriel (an eight-year-old boy in a costume, speaking his lines without much conviction) to walk across the campus to the Bethesda Friends Meeting's annual Christmas Pageant. The site of the Pageant happened to be the stage/lunchroom of the Sidwell Friends Lower School, which will soon have a new student, the youngest Obama daughter. As I filed into the large room where a small orchestra, conductor, and two dozen or so kids dressed up like a fidgeting nativity scene were ready to begin the proceedings, I couldn't help but think about the numerous things which wealth can provide.

Miss Obama will certainly have every amenity imaginable available to her: a curriculum focusing on multiculturalism and diversity, violin lessons if she so chooses, a well-maintained campus, a low student/teacher ratio, eco-friendly, water-saving toilets in the bathroom, and on and on and on. I wonder if she'll take for granted the abundance of her surroundings as the product of two high-achieving, extremely well-off parents. Certainly I hope she doesn't and hope she uses her priviledge to help others. I didn't have that luxury when I was growing up, though I was fortunate enough to be a student in good quality public schools.

When my two sisters and I were children and adolescents, my mother was a popular elementary school teacher who the process of rapidly rising up the ladder towards upper level administration. Though both of my parents made enough money to send us to private school, Mom didn't wish to seem like a hypocrite or to invite bad press, which is why all three of us were placed in the same public school system of which she was an employee and major decision-maker. Though I do not hold her responsible for my misery in a public school, I have since realized I would have been much happier in a private school setting. Yet, I wonder if I would have become complacent if everything I'd ever wanted was placed squarely at my feet. Part of the reason why I was so interested in learning about the outside world, absorbing everything I could from outside sources, and otherwise overachieving was because those things simply weren't available to me during the school day.

What do you think? I know some of you out there choose to send your children to private school, and some of you prefer public school. I'd like to know your reasons.


PENolan said...

Although I would have preferred to send my son to public school for both philosophical and financial reasons, we sent him to the same private school his father attended. Ethical Culture School was founded just after the turn of the 20th Century by Progressives at the Society for Ethical Culture. The primary reason we chose private school was class size. As a teacher myself, I know class size is practically the single most important factor for success in school in the lower grades - not just academically but socially and emotionally as well.

As it happened, my kid was diagnosed with dyslexia and adhd in Kindergarten. We were fortunate that he was evaluated early by the school and they, in turn, sent us to further evaluations so that an accurate diagnosis was made. In second grade, my son went into a Board of Ed approved Private School for kids with learning disabilities -which means district pays for my child to attend a private school that is structured for his specific learning needs. The main benefit of this school is that the ratio is 12:1:1, that's 12 kids with one lead teacher and one assistant. For reading and math, they break the kids into even smaller groups. Kids receive speech and language therapy and occupational therapy as part of their regular day instead of having to go after school.

My kid is a senior now and going to a mainstream college due to the excellent, ongoing intervention he has received at this school. It's his right under IDEA, but the individualized education kids get at this school is actually what all kids need and deserve whether they are LD or not.

Again, it comes down to class size, resource and educational philosophy.

What has chapped my ass the entire time is that there are roughly 500 applicants for every spot in this school which enrolls 350 students K-12. That goes to show you just how many kids need these kinds of services and can't get them because they aren't readily available in either public or private settings. Almost all the students are funded by New York Department of Education, so they've jumped through numerous hoops at the office of special education to get funded.

The thing is that if a family doesn't have the knowledge, inclination and stamina to fight for their rights in the system - the kids are screwed.

I have a friend who is the director of a Head Start in the Bronx with 75 kids. She says that every year, about five of these kids will "make it" through the public school system: graduate and maybe go on to college. That just sucks.

Utah Savage said...

I'm a rabid believer in a public education. If we do not invest in public schools then we will be a nation where only those who can afford private schools will get an education that prepares them for a life full of possibilities.

Volly said...

What Utah said. "Taking something for granted" isn't always a bad thing. It's an indication that whatever you're taking for granted is working -- at least for the moment. So, yeah, my parents sent me to public school. I did reasonably well, but believe any failures were from my own lack of drive. But that was in NY and now I live in the south, where public education is under siege. I live in a county where a solid one-fourth of students are sent to private schools. Elementary, middle, AND high school. Whether religion or racism lies at the bottom of it, is hard to say. In many cases it's a combination of both. There are quite a few parents who homeschool just to keep their kids away from the pervasively religious atmosphere in the schools, BOTH public and private.