September 16, 2004

school good? who knew?

With Damian happily ensconced in kindergarten, I find myself bemused. Aware of a prejudice I'd never before realized was a false construct. I've always assumed private school was better than public in some empirical, provable way. That people may choose public school for their children out of financial necessity or some idealistic belief that they should participate in the public education system but that everyone really knew in their heart of hearts that private was better. Not every private school, of course, some are no doubt very bad indeed. But in general, if you wanted excellence, you did not look toward the heavily bureaucratized, overly traditional, hide-bound unified school district.

Well. A week into this I can already see I was very wrong. I have no idea how the next several years will go, what the upper grades will teach Damian or how we'll find a good public middle school (which I understand is far more rare here than a good grade school), but damn. This is a really good class he's in. The teacher is warm and lively, she obviously keeps Damian's attention. She's got the kids doing yoga, playing telephone, drawing self portraits, decorating paper bags for their very first homework assignment (to find objects/pictures that illustrate five of your favorite things). She says she has them do a lot of singing, and she's folded phonics and math into the mix.

Tell me how a private school, even a very good one, can shine brighter than this. And this isn't even one of the top public elementary schools in LA, a city not known for its educational system. People move to Beverly Hills or Santa Monica or even Culver City to switch school systems. No, LA is not known for its excellence. Nor is Damian's school one parents whisper about in envy. Some people know about it, yes, but it's not on any Best Of list. Not yet, anyway. It's just your standard elementary school. And good.

I realize there are bad schools in the system. Hell, I know too much about the bad ones. There's one three blocks from here. The school Damian was supposed to attend before we looked into alternate routes. (Hint: childcare permits are your friends. Legal and perfectly legitimate, too.) But there are clearly also some excellent ones. How is it that I didn't know this? Why did I assume that if a school follows traditional teaching methods and has to conform to a rubberstamp set of rules created from above, that this automatically makes it bad? Is it a suspicion that you can't get something for nothing? A belief that any public entity is by nature corrupt and uncaring? I don't know where I got this notion, but it's clearly wrong. Or if not completely wrong (this is, after all, just kindergarten, not exactly a huge sampling here), then at least not right either.

Don't mistake my meaning; I still believe that certain alternative teaching philosophies make more sense than the prevailing public school so-called wisdom. In an ideal world, I'd like Damian to participate in some of that before he holds that high school or college diploma in his hands. But here and now, today and tomorrow and maybe even next week, I'm well content with the regular public school education he's getting. And that's more than I expected. My bottom line is that learning should be fun, should make you want to learn more. As long as school does that, school does just fine by my boy. Public or private, makes no difference at all.

Posted by Tamar at September 16, 2004 11:14 PM

By the way, I loved this post. I've used it as a starting point for several conversations about public education recently. Thanks for sharing your views!

Posted by: Tracy at September 27, 2004 07:57 AM