Thursday, April 19, 2007


Tonight I'm joining some other parents in support of our teachers as they make their case for a pay raise in front of the School Board. We are welcome to speak, but I'm so angry about the whole situation that the extent of my eloquence is likely to be, "You know...this is shameful."

And something tells me that won't help much.

It would take a near-catastrophe to persuade me to consider sending my kids to private school. I'm just one of those people who believes strongly in the idea—or is it a dream? I'm thinking maybe it's a dream—of public education. I know I've said this before, but I will repeat myself because it's my blog: I cannot envision what benefits my children could glean from sitting in a classroom full of kids who are exactly like them in terms of culture and economics. How does that prepare them for the actual world? I mean no offense to private school proponents (kids have different needs, and I respect the decisions that parents make to meet those needs); I'm just saying I don't get it. At least not for my family.

This salary business does not qualify as a near-catastrophe for me (though it could for the teachers, of course); I'll continue to throw my weight behind my neighborhood public elementary school. But someone ought to know that I do not appreciate this fucking about with my idealism. It's making me so testy.

Not testy enough, however, to say what I wanted to say to a woman who stopped me yesterday morning as I was leaving the school. She was in her car, and her entire face wore a frazzled and needlessly dramatic expression. She was all pleading eyes and oh-please-help-me-ness:

She [pointing to Lea]: Does she go here?
Me: She'll start Kindergarten in the Fall. I have two daughters here already, though.
She: I just don't know what to do! I'm on the waiting list at two private schools, so I need to enroll somewhere, but I just don't know about this school. Everyone says the kids don't speak English.
Me [wondering how any reasonably intelligent person could believe this is even possible]: That's a huge misconception. We have several parents who don't speak English, but I have never met a student who doesn't speak English.
She [doubtful]: So you're happy here?
Me: Um, I'm ecstatic here.
She: Because I'm such an involved parent, you know.
Me [wondering how—if she is involved as she claims—she knows nothing about the school in her neighborhood]: Oh, well that's great.

And on it went, her blithely lobbing insults wrapped in the sugar coating of concerned parenthood, and me biting my lip and trying to answer in a way that did not sabotage the public relations we have worked to build for the last four years. The thing is...if you strip away all the civility, what she was really asking was whether or not her precious offspring would catch cooties from all the brown kids, and what I was really saying was you are a small, small person.

See? Testy.


Gura said...

We survived Oakland public schools through 9th grade til we got shipped to Catholic school. I felt I got alot out of both experiences. About half the kids in Catholic school came from east oakland neighborhoods, so understandable they were coming to quiet Alameda for school. But it's not like the Catholic school kids were any smarter, richer, better than the public school kids either, some were, some weren't. There are good and bad points to both. When we have kids, we're still not sure which way to go, but like the hubby says, "I don't want the kids afraid of the people on the bus" The bus being quite the melting pot of the cityscape.

ver said...

Hi Gura! I should have noted that I wasn't necessarily categorizing Catholic schools as exclusionary (in the economic sense, I mean). I know that most of them have very reasonable fees, and that there are things parents can do to have those fees reduced, even. When I wrote my post I was thinking about some of the non-Catholic private schools here in my area that cost more than $15,000/year to educate one elementary-aged kid. In my mind, those schools clearly aim to exclude, and it works. So the result in that case is the kind of homogenous environment that freaks me out.

No being afraid of the people on the bus!

This is such a hot-button topic, and with no easy answers...