Thursday, March 16, 2017

School Choice

There is a lot of talk about school choice in the news right now.  I wanted to share my thoughts.  I have been for school choice for probably for over 20 years before it was a buzz phrase, before I owned my own school and before so many were arguing for and against it.  I graduated from the University of Cincinnati with an Elementary Education degree.  I taught in rural West Virginia when my husband and I first married.  I entered my classroom with such hope and enthusiasm, but was quickly disheartened by all that was broken.  I was naive and confused.  I loved my students, carried them in my heart each night when I went home and constantly tried to think of ways I could meet each child where they were with the challenges of their circumstances and the limits of the school.  I had amazing mentors-older, wise, loving women who taught in classrooms near me as well as a wonderful man who was my principal that supported and loved me as I learned.  A couple of memories come to mind that really shook me.  One was, on days I had lunch room duty, I watched as many of my students (over 70% on free breakfast/lunch) threw away entire trays of food each day.  I didn't really understand.  They then would purchase ice cream everyday as well.  After watching this go on for awhile, I talked with my students asking them why.  They shared and we talked about how important it is to feed our brain and bodies good food and that heading into the afternoon with only ice cream doesn't support their learning, alertness, focus, not to mention nutritional needs.  The waste of food bothered me, but mostly, it really wasn't good that my students weren't getting a good meal.  The other thing that happened was the school I worked did a big fundraiser to purchase new playground equipment (desperately needed).  In my mind, they manipulated the students by really pumping up the new things they would get to play on and encouraged them to ask family/friends for donations.  The kids were very excited, so I went along.  Then, at a staff meeting, there was a discussion about not using the money for playground equipment, but instead buying new desks and chairs, which were also needed.  I couldn't believe my ears.  I looked around to see if anyone else was looking uncomfortable.  I was a new teacher, young and taking in so much, I didn't say anything.  But, they decided to go ahead with the desk/chair purchase.  I felt like that was so wrong-to raise money for one thing, then take it and use it for another and the adults in the room seemed to have no problem with it.  To me, it was a violation of trust for the children.

Those types of systematic problems went on quite a bit.  It was like no one else was noticing that some things weren't working.  No one was questioning-it was just the status quo so it was habitual more than helpful.

Today, I hear from many parents struggling to get the needs of their child(ren) met.  I believe that parents should  have choice-whether that comes in the form of a tax credit or voucher I don't know.  Many families are trapped in schools that aren't meeting their child's needs b/c of cost-their own hard earned money is going to pay taxes for schools, but when their child has needs and concerns that can't be addressed b/c the school is so overwhelmed with trying to meet the needs of all students, it's not ok.  I don't see it as a de-funding of the public schools nor is this a political statement of any kind.  It's a pro child-pro family statement.  I see it as asking all schools to step up, think of children first, and be up front about what they can and can't do for a child.  We get to choose so many things in our lives and I believe school should be one of them.  If 2 restaurants are open near your home, one has food you prefer and enjoy more-if you choose that restaurant over the other that has food you don't like, it's not considered de-funding that other restaurant.

I know the challenges of education are big and complicated.  I am speaking from my heart and speaking for children.  We have to get serious and make tough decisions.  The powers at be have to stop acting like things are going well.  The first step to change is realizing what is broken.  There are many, many people out there doing beautifully creative things in education and it's working!  The inner cities have some beautiful examples of loving schools, empowering students and literally changing lives.  The adults in this arena have to stop being offended and start thinking outside the box as well as take into account child development and the science behind learning.  It's very clear what is good for children and what is not-we need to stop doing what is not good and start providing environments and schools that support the child-period.

The education of even a small child, therefore, does not aim at preparing him for school, but for life.  Maria Montessori

Free the child's potential, and you will transform him into the world.  Maria Montessori