Private vs. Public School. How Do You Feel About it?

4781354867_31e8687a41_zIn response to an article about private vs. public schools from the Gothamist, that was posted to Facebook yesterday, an interesting exchange ensued. The Free School Apparent is sharing it here with names abbreviated to protect the innocent. We like exchanges like this because of the variant points of views.

EM: that article is b.s. i went to a private school in manhattan and didn’t die of a drug overdose. granted some of my schoolmates did, but not my friends

EH: harsh.

CT: I dunno man I went to a public high school in Massachusetts that really supported and nourished creativity, art, music. language, etc. Of course 5 years after I graduated, when my sister was starting there, a lot of that got slashed from the budget, but when I was there it was fantastic. I think the issue is really the slashing. Some schools are always better than others based on a lot of factors including financial allocation and teaching talent.

AP: I also had an amazing and formative experience in the Berkeley public school system. Private schools are not necessarily outside the “traditional” education system, and some public schools have a non-traditional approach.What is certain, and what the article really speaks to, is that we as a society cannot afford to abandon public education. Even those of us who don’t have kids need to have some awareness and emotional investment in our neighborhood’s and city’s schools. They are the heart of our communities. Also, for what it’s worth, Laguardia Performing Arts High School IS a public school.

CM: I went to public, parochial and graduated from a city college. Any school is what the parents put into it.

KF: Well said, AP. The article doesn’t mention that in a city as large as NY, there are alternatives to the neighborhood school, even on the elementary level. Brooklyn New School, Brooklyn Children’s School–case in point. Not nearly enough of them & parents need to do research & be aggressive advocates. There are schools for all kinds of special kids. I think it is harder when a kid is “average” in intellect, talent to find a school that nurtures & gives them the advantages of the “special” but they exist. Slashing of the arts has been a major blow to all education and creativity but that is not reason that the system is poor, just the funders.

The Free School Apparent: I disagree with this article whole heartedly. Private schools cannot be painted with one broad brush. On the other hand, public schooling systematically disempowers children of their own learning, so how is that good?

AP: If private schools cannot be painted with one broad brush (positive OR negative), then why is it okay to do it to public schools?

The Free School Apparent: It is not the school but the system. If the idea of education is still “coercion” then it all feeds the same outcome. Public schools still adhere to a CORE curriculum which still maintains the system of standardized testing, which approaches students as “one size fits all.” Until we can allow children to be themselves, and give them the space to find out what it is “they” are interested in, instead of a preconceived set of accepted ideas, we will never move forward. It is the system that needs to be junked so that teachers can participate in this process of redefining what education actually is. And one thing I know that it isn’t is school. Children learn from each other and it is up to us elders to watch, rather then to espouse.

JC: Thanks for starting this conversation Anne! I have wanted to quit during my first year as a NYC public high school teacher because I feel like an oppressor, particularly under this intensive testing regime. I think schools in general have swung far to the right toward more rote, dull, uninspiring education. In the 70s when most of us were going to school, pedagogies/ideologies were much more liberatory. At the same time, I feel oppressed. 40% of my teacher evaluation under the new system will be based on the test scores of students at my school. And these are completely new common core-aligned tests that we haven’t seen and the students have never taken. Teachers’ and community discretion over the content of the curriculum has been completely stripped away. I probably don’t need to tell you that much of what is on the test we don’t agree with, don’t think our students need, etc. However, I am NOT quitting, because I love the kids and I love being a teacher (and, okay, I love having a job), and the people in the system bring the light. With most students in public school living in poverty, and most students of color, it is the system we have, and we cannot give up on it.

CT: Standardized testing is one of the worst things to happen to schools… my mom was a teacher in the MA public school system for 25 years (is now the academic dean for an innovative private school for dyslexic kids in upstate NY) and one of the things that absolutely killed her sense of self-worth as an educator who is passionately interested in innovation and pushing kids to expand their horizons was how much schools now force teachers to cater their curriculums ONLY to standardized testing. The schools are RATED on how many kids pass standardized tests, and what scores they receive. All that matters is that the teachers pump out the material that will help kids pass those tests, and it’s usually really mundane and does not give the teacher much opportunity to express himself or bring his (or her) personality, personal expertise and creativity into the classroom and makes it harder to engage kids. Unless the teacher is REALLY savvy it seems to become a rote passing of information, which is not the key to really good education (engagement is). My mom taught science and engineering and did a lot of great work and found it being stripped back over the years.

The Free School Apparent: Recently, an old friend asked me to talk with his 26 yr old son about his career. In conversing with him, I realized that he had no confidence in his abilities. That somehow, his education had failed him. He did not think in a resourceful manner. He had desire, but lacked passion. It is as if something had been squashed in him, and it was difficult to revive. I have seen this in a lot of young adults who have passed through our PS system. The thing is, I hear from teachers over and over again about what CT and JC speak about. Administrators have confessed in multitude about the woes and the disaster that the current Common Core, Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind have created. Everyone seems to be convinced that the system is a disaster. But like a narcotic, the policy makers cannot ween themselves off of it. My only suggestion is that more people make a clean break. We need innovators and creative thinkers. We need people who can collaborate and troubleshoot. And they need to come from EVERY community irregardless of race and economic standing. It is how our nation can become relevant again in a positive way. It is how we can again be a leader in the world. But as long as people continue to desire what was yesterday, they will not see what is and the future will only be a downhill ride. The current structure needs to scrapped, and everyone needs to look at education as something we do no yet understand, because in truth we don’t.

JC: I appreciate the “just opt out” sentiment, but we have over one million kids in the NYC public schools. They and their parents don’t have that option. I’m leaning toward fomenting the revolution from within. For example, having kids read the “Black Students’ Manifesto” from South Africa in 1975, which paved the way for the protests against Apartheid education policies in Soweto in 1976. I give them this source along with others from the Soweto uprising. I think the students will change the system.

The Free School Apparent: I agree. I know I speak in extremes. but there is an organization Institute for Democratic Education in America (IDEA) that is trying what I am speaking about within the PS system. You may want to check them out.

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