by Tammy Drennan
Last year (2007), 12% of 8th graders in Washington, D.C. schools were proficient readers. 8% were proficient in math. And that, according to Leonard Pitts, Jr., was an improvement over past performance.
Some people, says Mr. Pitts, would like the Obamas to put their children in D.C. public schools as a show of their faith in the public school system. We can be pretty sure that the Obamas are more responsible parents than that.
We as a nation have been showing our faith in the public school system for a long time. 86% of our children attend public schools. Government at all levels continues to fund public schools, at ever higher rates every year. Businesses not only pour money into public schools, but they allow them to dictate the terms on which they’ll hire employees. Parents raise money for public schools, students rah at their schools’ sporting events, the elderly and working folks volunteer as mentors and tutors. People who can afford private education for their children nevertheless commit them to the public education system. We allow them to experiment on our children with one new teaching method after another, one new reform after another.
We have been showing incredible faith in public schools, in spite of the endless problems and failures, the dismal academic results, the heartbreaking social ills, the emotional and moral damage inflicted, the eternal demands for more of our children’s time and more of our money, the arrogance and self-righteousness that continues to make demands and hurl accusations of inadequate support.
We make all manner of excuses for the schools – teachers are underpaid, look at some of the kids they have to deal with, school buildings are old, there aren’t enough computers, on and on.
We search microscopically for anything we can praise – there really are some good teachers, the new cheerleaders’ uniforms look great, they got new computers, the principal subjected himself to a pie-in-the-face smashing to get the kids to read more books, the football team won all its games last season, the first-graders collected $200 in pennies to save the whales, the fourth-grade teacher went to Germany to observe their schools.
We’ve been showing incredible faith in our public schools.
We believe our public school officials when they tell us they’re using our money responsibly, when they say they’re doing their best with what they have to work with, when they wave that IEP – Individual Education Plan – under our noses and insist that our children’s learning styles and needs are being met.
We dutifully cower when they threaten us with tribunals and even jail if our children miss more than six days in a year, when they question our fitness as parents if life interferes in any way with the school’s agenda, when they insinuate that it is we and not they who have failed our children.
In order to show any more faith in public schools, we’d have to deliver them our babies before they could gurgle mama or dada, along with our paychecks on our way home from work on Fridays.
“Can we be honest here?” Mr. Pitts asks. “I mean brutally honest? District of Columbia public schools are not good enough for the Obama kids…. And we need to ask a simple question: if public schools are not good enough for the president’s kids, what makes us think they’re good enough for ours?”
Here’s another way of asking it: If the Obamas have no faith in public schools, should we?
Should we continue to hand over our children then act as cheerleaders for a system that most of our leaders would not use for their children and feel is so awful that it requires a huge new reform effort with every new president who takes office?
The bottom line is this: Education by the state is not a characteristic of free or healthy societies. Faith in the state is also not a characteristic of free or healthy societies. Faith in education by the state is a recipe for disaster, and we are reaping the fallout of our 160-year experiment with it.
It’s time to stop trusting the state to educate and rear our children and make the hard but effective transition back to true freedom. It’s time to have faith in ourselves.