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Public education offers lots more than textbooks

A friend of mine told me that the grass-roots group that I am involved with is a noble cause. I thought and thought about what she had said. I do not look at it as taking on a noble cause; I look at it as taking on a just cause.

She went on to say that she is so glad that her grandchildren are being home-schooled because they don’t want the public schools to destroy their children.

As I thought about that, it occurred to me the grandchildren of most of my friends have choices because their families have the financial wherewithal to find a school they like, or if they can’t, they have the resources to augment what the kids get outside of school.

However, when we bemoan how the schools are destroying kids, what happens to the kids who come from families that do not have the means to home-school or to send their kids to a private school or whatever?

While I understand the desire of young parents to protect their children and who are willing to take the time and responsibility to home-school their children, there are important things that kids can learn from working with others – like building community, learning to share, learning responsibility and being able to collaborate with others – that they cannot learn in the isolation of their own home.

As Diane Ravitch profoundly remarked, “Public schools belong to the public.” Among our group goals is to educate and inform our community. Instead of a handful of people whose qualifications are somewhat suspect making decisions about how we will educate a nation, we need to have parents, school officials, teachers and the community at large involved in making decisions about our schools.

Unfortunately, people such as Bill Gates and Eli Broad and the Walton Foundation decide what is best for kids, and because they were smart and lucky enough to be rich, they must know what is best for all of us. What they have created is a Brave New World of alphas and betas and gammas and deltas – good for a workforce, but not so good at teaching community or collaboration or critical thinking – not to mention the inability to express creativity. What has been forgotten is one of the fundamental principles of teaching and learning – each child learns at his own pace and fashion. One size does not fit all.

My friend lamented that our culture is off track, but I think a lot of that is because most people feel as though all of the issues facing our society are so overwhelming that ordinary people cannot do anything about them, and thus, we are passive and we look at what is wrong with our society, find a scapegoat and then look the other way.

Our policymakers (both Democrats and Republicans) have decided that they know better than the rest of us what is good for us in every part of our lives, and yet, their main goal – instead of being for the greater good of the society – seems to be for the greater good of getting re-elected. And in the meantime, the rest of us feel helpless, and in so doing we cling to our apathy. We look for someone to lead us who will give us easy answers, and there are no easy answers to the complex issues facing us.

There is no quick fix to education or to health care or to any of the other larger issues of our time, but if we choose to look the other way, then we deserve what we get.

Even though our grass-roots group’s mission may turn out to be a quixotic one at best, if we don’t stand up and say “enough,” then who will?

“Somewhere along the line we’ve forgotten that education is not about getting this or that score on a test, but it is about enlarging hearts, minds and spirits. It’s about fulfilling human potential and unleashing human creativity. It’s about helping children understand that the world is a place full of wonder, truly wonder-full. It’s about giving children the tools they will need to participate in a complex global world where we can’t imagine today what the next 20 years, let alone century, will bring.”

– Susan Zimmerman

in “Comprehension Going Forward”

Phyllis Bush is a retired Fort Wayne Community Schools teacher and one of the founders of the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education. A version of this first appeared on the group’s blog.