Why I support public education
By Rose Clark
I love public education that is interactive with children such as I experienced as a child and for over fifty years as a parent, volunteer and employee. “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn” said Benjamin Franklin. All children are free and welcome to enter this democratic institution without regard to ability or status. They are free to learn and to question in an arena that has rules and oversight influenced by their parents in PTA meetings and at school board meetings. Students meet others of differing abilities, experiences and status from all over their community and develop deep community roots. This helps prepare students for the big world they will enter as adults. That serves them well for life.
Education enables students explore their world as they read age appropriate books and strive to find their place in it. Math teaches students that there are hard and fast never changing rules that lead to absolute answers they can confidently master. Grammar also teaches that there are hard and fast rules in speaking and writing to be understood by others who are your audience. Science, from biology to astronomy, expands students’ horizons and opens up worlds of reason and deduction. History teaches where our customs and national identity originate. Civics provides students a firm foundation in how our government operates and the tenets of citizenship. This well rounded education prepares the student to enter adult life wherever that may take her/him.
To me this is the purpose of education. These educated young people, choosing to seek higher education in college or trade schools or to seek apprenticeships, with a strong foundation, will strengthen us as a nation. Opportunities not yet realized will open for all of us as these young people take their place in the workforce and lead us to national heights as yet unknown.
As has often happened education is having problems today. I fear the idea of each child’s education meeting his/her individual needs is being lost. We concentrate on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) at the expense of the arts (art, music, literature and writing, drama and dance). Math, with hard and fast rules, undergoes a new math approach often and we wonder why students have difficulty with math concepts. While science is promoted, the inter-action and individual triumphs are not celebrated. Where have the science fairs of old gone? History is seen as problematic because there is too much to cover. Yet Jefferson said something important: “apprising them of the past will enable them to judge of the future.” Grammar has fallen to auto-correct which does not help speaking orally. Do we need cursive writing when we have technology? Without English/literature who will write the future classic novel or celebrated news item? Civics is just beginning to be taught again “We need to know basic civics, our founding documents, how to think critically, and to distinguish the bogus from the truthful.” said Susan Rice, Obama’s national security advisor as quoted in The NYT.
Parents and teachers worry that today the focus is on computerized programs sold by the technology companies rather than on thinking, reasoning, and sharing in vibrant class discussions. The Washington State Legislature sought to introduce WASL, a standardized computer test, now discontinued. It has left a legacy of standardized computer tests requiring frequent upgrades and lots of teaching to the tests subtracting time for teacher led discussions.
Parents seek options: attending a neighboring school district; home school; charter schools. This impacts the school community with a loss of revenue as students leave, with increased costs as the neediest students have fewer resources. The neighborhood community cohesion suffers as families have fewer things in common. We all suffer as these students leave public schools. This flies in the face of the common public school our founders envisioned.
We need, as a local community, to have discussions about what public education is for: to prepare students for a well-rounded life or to provide them only with skills directed to college entrance or for apprenticeships leading to a job with potential for growth. There is a definite difference with the decision impacting course availability. One leads to students learning to reason and to understand and to think critically enabling future adults to function in the beautiful multi-faceted world. The other is narrower with curriculum that teaches skills through computer driven teaching to a test. What do we, as a community, seek to have our children learn?
Teachers, many buoyed by master’s degrees or higher, are experts who enter the school with a love for teaching, wanting to work with students despite lower pay than other professions. They provide a level of instruction unmatched by a computer. Computers should supplement, not replace the teacher, assisting teacher led instruction. Students need both the wisdom of the teacher plus research skills with a computer.
Education has always lived in an ever changing environment reflecting the community direction or lack of direction. Strong, dynamic PTAs should lead the discussion of education. Parents are absolutely vital to a healthy PTA. Parents expressing themselves to the school board is an age old honorable tradition that strengthens the whole school system. The PTAs, the parents and the elected school board should work in partnership. You see this in every strong, successful school districts. You see this in every strong, successful school district. School boards are elected from the community to serve the local public school community. Who should run for a school board seat? Every one of us is capable of serving in the interest of our children. Supporting public education is much more than paying for bonds and levies.
Jefferson set about establishing public schools every mile in Virginia. Thus was born the neighborhood public school. Referring to public education Jefferson said “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people---They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of liberty.” Public education succeeds best when the “mass” from a community, old and young, opt-in, not out, to keep on improving education. That community involvement and seeing students thrive is why I love public education.