Thursday, March 11, 2010

On the Positive Side - a Public Education

I have spent a lot of time on this blog talking about the challenges of public education, but in all of my research I have learned that there is no perfect educational setting. I also learned this week that there are plenty of things that are good about public education. Even in Ronan's fourth day back in public school it is clear to see that there are many good things about it, however imperfect it may be.

- The socialization factor is significant. Because we were eclectic in our approach and non-religious, we had a difficult time finding age-appropriate homeschooling peers to interact with on a regular basis. It is probably easier if you are pure in your approach, like homeschooling with only Waldorf materials and lesson plans. At a public school there is a built-in rich social structure with age-appropriate peers of different races, religions and socio-economic backgrounds.

- The public school we attend is considered a neighborhood school, which tends to strengthen neighborhoods and build communities. In only four days, I have gotten to know a few of the parents of Ronan's new friends and we will both likely deepen those friendships and create more through time and common experiences. This tends to create a web of relationships that support and nurture those who are part of it. It also creates a stronger sense of place for our whole family within our community.

- The separation of the roles of mother and teacher proved to be important in the health of my relationship with Ronan. He had a hard time with making errors because I think it seemed important to him that I saw him as very capable or smart. Every mistake was regarded by him as proof against these traits he so valued, rather than an opportunity to learn. It is often remarked that our kids seem to behave differently with other groups of people than they do within the family. Maybe the stakes aren't so high if a teacher sees mistakes. Also, as a friend who also tried homeschooling for a short time said, being your child's teacher seems to magnify the inherent challenges in your relationship. A separation of those roles helps to reduce the tension that comes from those challenges.

- There is something to be said for having a trained, passionate teacher with a prepared curriculum, who has plenty of support in place to educate your child. The teachers that Ronan has have already found ways to motivate him with novel materials and approaches. It is also helpful for children to learn to cope with different styles of leadership, as they will do throughout the school years.

- Peer pressure sometimes works in our favor. Ronan saw his brother Jude doing a lot of playing and he naturally wanted to join him and not do school work. Now he is with a group of kids who are doing school work when they are supposed to and he wants to gain the level of competence and ability that he observes in some of his classmates.

- Although I have had plenty to say against school bells and rigid schedules, there are positive attributes to it. Kids like routine and like knowing what is coming next. It also helps to have consistent exposure to each subject. I loved the flexibility of the homeschooling day, but that flexibility didn't provide as much consistency and routine that Ronan seems to thrive on now.

- Support and involvement of a school is a great way to be a part of something bigger than yourself. It is the most natural way of doing good and working with a group toward a common goal. This kind of civic duty is one of the earliest examples of philanthropy and altruism your kids can observe and someday emulate.

- A public education is (mostly) free! In that way it has the potential to be the great equalizer in that everyone has an opportunity to learn and better themselves.

I can see the benefits of homeschooling, neighborhood schools, magnet schools, charter schools, and private schools. After having tried nearly all of these options, I know there is no perfect solution. What works for one family may not work for another. What works right now, may not work well later. I am grateful to have so many choices. What riches we have before us for learning and growing! I am especially grateful that our current choice is going so well and has produced a lot of happiness and relief for everyone in our family. After all the negatives I have pointed out in the past, I can't help but appreciate a public education right now.


  1. Thank you for this post. I often find myself judging or not liking public school based on other people's experience. I totally agree with your comments and appreciate the "better" perspective. There is no perfect situation ever but there is what works for right now.

  2. Once again, Tracy, you're a cross-platform, anti-silo sort of lady whom I admire. For me, what the question of education (as it is today) comes down to is that the existing structures are so inadequate and basically flawed that we need to throw them out and start from scratch. That's what Bill did to create his educational approach (and literally what he did to re-learn music after years of private study and graduating from Berklee College of Music, so he could get beyond the 'licks' and 'sounding like' to learn to express who he was). You can't remodel on top of a faulty foundation and expect to create a building that really serves you well -- the same is true with our education today.

    But we humans have a very hard time with change ... especially if we are safe and secure in the system (or, particularly, one of the powers that be) and so our fear of and resistance to real change results in a constant remodel with the results we are seeing today.

    I am so glad the school is working for Ronan - as i think I told you, our year of homeschooling was a last resort, our response to Jen hitting 7th grade in an upper middle class public school ('oh, this is one of the best in the country!') where kids were having sex in the girls room). Homeschooling was possibly the longest, hardest year of my life. I suspect this isn't the last school change you'll make :-)

    I think parents are totally between a rock and a hard place, and that will continue until we as a society take the necessary time to consider what we are doing to our kids (especially those who don't enjoy the family you have, which mitigates their school experiences to some extent) and start to back ourselves out of the corner.

  3. Yeah Mary-Helen (and Mary), there is a lot that is imperfect about it, like any other large institution, but it is helpful to examine what is positive about it. It's amazing to me how many people are all about their traditional neighborhood schools in my area. They would choose that over nearly any other school and rare is the person who would choose/like homeschooling here. Clearly there are many students and families who are happy and thriving in this setting. We hope to be one of them! One of my friends said that her mistake is always assuming that THIS was IT once a school decision was made. This is it, for now, is the better way - much to your point, Mary-Helen. I think anti-silo is a high compliment! Thank you for your comments.