As Tucson kids go back to school, I have to make this declaration:
I gained my education in public schools, and I'm not ashamed of it.
My knowledge accumulated through the staff and facilities of Robinson and Southwood elementary schools in Raytown, Missouri; Raytown South Middle School, and Raytown South High School. I have a Bachelors of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri.
True, I grew up in a different time and place, before schools needed metal detectors and D.A.R.E. PTA meetings would fill the cafeteria. My mother even did a stint as PTA treasurer. Back then, principals backed the teachers on a grading decision. Politicians and interest groups kindly kept their noses out of lesson plans. And believe it or not, the principal of Southwood let a representative of the Gideons come in and pass out mini-Bibles. I still have mine to prove it. Actually, I have two.
It disappoints me when I hear home-schooled friends of mine, or parents in home-schooling families, take cheap shots at the system. One person I know once referred to them as "government schools." He could've pronounced it "gub-mint schools," like the kind of person who thinks fluoridated water is a communist conspiracy.
Another who home-schools joked about the history education kids were getting in public schools.
"I was educated in public school," I mildly protested.
"We're re-educating you," he smiled. I know he wasn't putting people down, but still I felt a bit hurt.
We know the shortcomings of public schools -- the budget and accountability struggles, the sturm und drung over curriculum, safety concerns, morale issues, parent apathy, dumbed-down courses, and teachers who end up being social workers. But I will argue this: if you're the parent, and you instill within your kids the value of an education and hold them to it, they'll rise above these problems. Having a mother as a teacher made a huge difference in my educational life. She made it clear that without schooling, you couldn't even get a job at a 7-Eleven.
I would love it if all parents could either home-school their children or afford to send them to the best schools, but that's not the world we live in. Many parents don't have the patience, smarts, time or financial stability to be home teachers. Many can't afford the cost of private or Christian schools. Those of you who dump on public schools, would you also dump on the working poor who don't have those options? And what of tuition-free charter and magnet schools? A couple of the technology-focused ones here in Tucson look so cool it makes me wish I could back up and go through high school again.
I'm a strong believer in school vouchers. The argument that they hurt schools is exactly the point. If a school isn't educating children, then why keep on pouring our tax money into it? At the same time, collectively dismissing "gub-mint" schools because of all they've done wrong ignores all they do right as well as the students who thrive in them and go on to lead successful lives just like their home-schooled and private-schooled brethren.