3.01.2014

why i don't hate on the public school system

If there's one thing I've seen since becoming a mother, it's that other mothers sure love to trash talk the public school system. I can actually remember being young and hearing my mother rant and rave about the idiotic thing she heard so-and-so's mom say at the park the other day but at the time, it was lost on me. Now I'm an adult and I'm a parent and it's not lost on me. I also realize that if there is one issue that is far from universal, it's public school versus private school. The school systems are different everywhere -- heck, drive ten minutes away from the best school district in the county here in South Florida and you'll probably end up in a district zoned for less than stellar schools. If it's this wacky in South Florida alone, I can imagine it varies tenfold when you leave this county or state. And because I've lived in South Florida my whole life, all I can attest to are our schools here. The schools where I was educated, my friends were educated, my husband was educated -- the schools that make parents on the internet shudder and say "not my child." (I'm also not counting religious based schools or specialty schools, like Montessori, that people prefer their children to attend.)

I get the need for private school. My cousins grew up in downtown Fort Lauderdale and there were literally no options for public schools so they attended private school. When I was in middle school, our city didn't have a public school. I also get that you can have really nice homes zoned in really poor school districts. It happens. But it doesn't always. Our schools are always ranked high. The high school I graduated from, where Ethan is zoned to go, was ranked in the top 1% in the country. We've always had top notch technology. Maybe as a kid it went unappreciated, but when my husband and I are house hunting before kids were even a thought, we knew the school district we wanted to be in. We knew how fortunate our kids would be to attend these public schools, with this technology, with these opportunities. My husband will work his butt off so that we can live here, so that one day Ethan can attend these schools, and I'll sign online and see local moms complaining about the "outdated" technology or the "better" schools with the fancier bells and whistles. It drives me crazy. Because the truth is, there are schools in our county alone who don't have any computers, who don't have any books, who don't have an ice hockey team or a swimming team or all of the other teams these people complain have "outdated uniforms." It's like everyone becomes some sort of jaded zombie who doesn't realize how lucky they have it and, you know, if the uniforms are outdated, private school. It's the only logical solution. It's the only choice to make when you're zoned for a public high school that ranks the top 1% in the country because, duh, the painting is old and it looks like it's falling apart.


My sister's 2011 high school parade, she was on the dance team

I attended public and private school. I was a pretty miserable kid, so I won't pretend my misery started once I hit private school. It didn't. But my misery expanded once I hit private school. Maybe it started the day the rumors began that I was on food stamps or carried guns in my backpack (because I had written in a "getting to know me" assignment that I was born in Miami so -- same/same?). Or maybe it was eating lunch in the bathroom and feeling like I was the lowest of low of all the specimens to ever exist. My only friends went to public school. My school let out early and I'd loiter in front of the public school entrance to hang out with my friends when their bell rang. The thing is, lots of people seemed to love private school. They all fit in like this weird little clique of people who had known one another their whole lives. I was never part of that clique. I never really wanted to be, to be honest. But although my parents paid the same tuition as everyone else, I didn't have a horse, or a housekeeper, or a professional driver. And I always thought it was funny how the one kid who smokes pot in the public school bathroom gets an evening news feature while an entire senior class in private school can be expelled for a Xanax ring and no one hears a peep. My dad wasn't on the Forbes list. He was a fisherman with a TV show and you can imagine how much cooler that made my entire situation. I get I'm focusing solely on the social aspects but social aspects are important when you're a 'tween and teen. But since education is huge to me as a parent, I'll touch on that: it was the same. It was every bit the same as public school, almost down to the books being read. Only, my public school friends didn't get clubs like The Calligraphy Club (where we literally didn't do calligraphy once, much to my dismay). But they were learning the same stuff I was, at virtually the same time, only without being sheltered from the outside world. Private school was a place where the administration controlled your clothing, your hair color, your make-up. Everyone was forced to look the same. If there is anything that I think it beyond important when you're growing up, it's self-expression. There were a lot of years I was robbed of the ability to express myself, where I'd have to come home and put on my clothes and glob on disgusting amounts of eyeliner. It sort of sucks to not be able to be yourself or express yourself, at least if you're as emotional as I was growing up.


Because I'm just a kid and life was a nightmare?

But the education. My grades sucked in private school. After much coercing, I was allowed to start sophomore year in public school. I met my husband on the first day. I had people to have lunch with, to skip math class with (sorry, mom), to talk to. I was allowed to wear my silly clothes to my heart's content and hang out with other people who wore silly clothes and strike up conversations with people because we both had GBH (the band!) patches on our backpacks. It was awesome and it was liberating. Of course, my grades were still pretty crummy because I admittedly was always bored with school, but I learned in public school. I had the ability to have my writing skills recognized and be mentored by my favorite teachers while I wrote a novel. I had special curriculum made for just me by my English teacher who said I was performing higher than the honors standard. I was actually a person with strengths and weaknesses because, seriously, it's okay to have weaknesses. We're all people, not well-oiled little robots performing for grades on a piece of paper. I graduated high school and lollygagged my way through community college before finally calling it quits on formal education (sorry, mom). My husband, who was solely public school educated, has his Master's degree hanging on the wall and a successful accounting career. I think of my friends who are the greatest educators that I know and think of how they, too, were public school educated -- and how hard they work to make our public schools amazing. And, I can assure you, it's not for the pay they receive in return.

I can't think of anyone I knew in public school who graduated to be a professional panhandler, but I can think of a few in private school who ended up a little close to that. Because how much money you have has nothing to do with the success you can achieve. Because how much money your parents have has nothing to do with the success you can achieve. Because the paint color of the exterior of a school has nothing to do with the success you can achieve.


My husband and I in 2001 before we were dating. Aww.

I am proud to say that we don't need private school where we live because Ethan is zoned for some pretty sweet public schools. I am proud to say that our choosing public school does not mean he's doomed for a life of inferiority, that he's robbed of the arts (photography class was my world in high school, my friends and I created our own literary magazine appropriately titled Misanthropy -- the arts are alive in our public school system). I am proud and excited to say that one day he will graduate the same high school that his daddy and I did. I am proud that even if the computers are an older version of Windows or the swimming team hasn't changed their uniforms in ten years that Ethan will have the opportunities I am sensible enough to know he's lucky to have because, let's get real, how many other high school students get to be on a swim team that shares a pool with Olympic swimmers? I want him to learn and be allowed to have strengths and weaknesses. It's okay if he can't do better than a C in math and is rocking his English classes. I want him to get a rational sense of the real world, both good and bad. I want him to attend school with kids who have and kids who have not, with kids who drive their shiny new Mercedes to school and kids who rely on public transportation and government assistance, to understand that the world is broader than how it feels. And, seriously, if he wants to pierce his nose and dye his hair purple, he's got my blessing. I want him to be young, and find himself, and not graduate high school confused and stunted. (Or, heck, willingly wear Abercrombie everyday of his life -- whatever makes him happy.)

I'm not saying everyone has a negative private school experience. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who did. Sometimes people want to choose private school because it has what they're looking for -- and that's well and good. But I'm saying that sometimes we need to step back and count our blessings and realize how fortunate we actually are, and that there's more than one right way to do things (gasp, shock, horror). I'm proud of our public school system and proud to know my kids will be attending. And the next time I hear "if you want your kids to go to college, they have to go to private school," I want to know that person's academic merits and what beyond exceptional thing they've done with their life. (Because, newsflash, graduating from an ivy league university isn't grounds for being a successful adult and, newsflash, you can graduate from both public school and an ivy league university just fine.) And the next time someone says they're choosing private school because a public school building is ugly, well, for some there is simply no hope.

6 comments:

  1. Ashley Ponder RichardsMarch 1, 2014 at 9:32 PM

    I live in rural Arkansas so you can only imagine what we deal with when it comes to lacking. As a classroom teacher for a few years and now as a elementary librarian, one thing I know we are not lacking in is passion for the job that we do everyday. The pay sucks but we don't care (well we do but we do it anyways). All of us have spent plenty of our own money to provide whatever necessities needed. The biggest issue for us is wanting to spend our money giving to our kids. Many of them come from less fortunate families and it is hard not to spend all your money buying them the things they need.

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  2. So many (good) thoughts on this post I'll start here: love the Simple Plan reference!! I went to private catholic school bc the public schools were not safe in my neighborhood. It wasn't a rich kid school by any means. I would say blue collar private school. Am I any smarter than my husband who went to public school? Not at all. In fact he is so so much smarter than me it's embarrassing. The public high school that we attended (when we moved) is one of the best/most prosperous districts in the state. It makes me sad though to think that in all my old districts prosperity, just 10 miles down the highway in the Chicago public schools kids get shot just walking to school. Seems so petty to critique a district for the small stuff when one can't even keep their kids safe :(

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  3. As a public school teacher (who went to private and public school as a child) and a mom...all I have to say is Education starts at home (sort of). I loved being in private school and had a hard time adjusting to public. I am super passionate about my students...so to me...it doesn't matter where Mya goes...because education will start at home. I also hope she is blessed to have teachers who work hard...cuz trust me there are some laaazyyy teachers out there...hahaha but they can be in any school!

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  4. Lindsay @ youaretheroots.comMarch 2, 2014 at 4:00 PM

    I 1,000% agree! Education definitely starts at home regardless.


    I definitely had some lazy teachers at both private and public school, but I still keep in touch with a few of my public school teachers! I always felt like they were more invested in us as people, not just students who had to perform to a certain standard in class.

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  5. Lindsay @ youaretheroots.comMarch 2, 2014 at 4:04 PM

    Yes! You hit the nail on the head EXACTLY.


    Sometimes public schools aren't safe, and I get the need for private schools. The school I went to was a rich kid school, but to be fair, Adam Sandler owns a home in the city where my public high school was so most of the student body there isn't, uh, much worse off. (But it's also a mix of more middle class neighborhoods, like where we live now.)


    I just feel like these people are being such spoiled brats about it! Let them drive a half an hour into some pretty awful schools in Fort Lauderdale or an hour into Miami where the kids don't have BOOKS, or FOOD, or CLOTHING -- where the kids are homeless, living in hotels and have NOTHING, where volunteers have to build playgrounds and donate desks -- and tell them about the sheer outrage that is 'ugly' paint or 'outdated' ice hockey team uniforms! It's so petty, and it's so unfair. I guess it would be refreshing to hear "wow, we are so fortunate that every student has access to a working computer -- how can we give back so everyone else has that luxury, too?" I'd probably fall out of my chair in shock.

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