Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Random business private school thoughts

Random thoughts

More money is not the same thing as more happiness.

"And remember to have fun!" is only ever said by people who A: don't have to do whatever it is everyone else is doing, and B: when "fun" is not a likely outcome.

I don't really love my job, but there are days I love some of the people I work with. Had an hour long conversation a couple of weeks ago about the classic children's film, The Dark Crystal. After a brutal two (now up to six) weeks, the levity was really refreshing.

Business terms that need to die, episode 1: "Thought Leader"
I hate this expression. Absolutely hate it. If it were a six year old yelling "I hate you" I'd yell, "well fuck you you little shit, die, die, DIE!" Ok, I wouldn't actually say that to a six-year-old, as a dad I know you can't do that to kids that young. They should be teenagers at least.

To say that you or your organization are a "thought leader" in anything just sounds smug and smarmy and...other disparaging things that begin with the letter "s."

Private School Blues (and that's just the uniform)
Listening to the radio a while ago there was a discussion about education reform. The debate was more or less what you probably expect, i.e., whether or not there's a crisis in public education and is privatization (for profit education) the answer. While this wasn't exactly gripping radio it raised a kind of disturbing question. If teaching to the test is failing our schools and our students, how does teaching for profit solve that problem?

My formative years in the school system, from kindergarten to sixth grade, were spent in a private, Catholic school. My parents, like many others of a similar conservative leaning mentality, were convinced that public education was equivalent to socializing the teaching of our country's children. Like many other conservative leaning people they felt the best education could only be found in private schools run on a tuition basis.

While attending private school we were indoctrinated to think of public school as a kind of purgatory where mean, dumb kids were sent. Horror stories about the goings on in public school abounded. We scared each other with stories about knives, school yard fights, and atomic wedgies. We were also told the education we were receiving was far superior, and we would be so much better off later in life because we were in a private school.

First, I got the shit beat out of me more in a month attending private school than I did in seven years I spent in public school when my parents could no longer afford tuition. So...the whole image of public schools as anarchic hellholes where bad kids go to eat good kids for lunch was exposed for what it was: bullshit.

Second, we were told that private school would better prepare us for when we became adults. I am now an adult and have been for some time. When I look back I don't feel that I was any better prepared for classes, tests, or new subjects just because of my private school education. If I performed better than my peers in a given class that had everything to do with my own aptitudes, abilities, and hard work than any kind of "privileged" educational background. Thus, the notion that private schools do a better job of preparing students for adulthood is also bullshit.

When this debate comes up the discussion very often turns to teachers, and how they are failing our students. There's a lot of chest-thumping on both sides of this argument. I tend to side with the argument for teachers as overworked, underpaid, and grossly unsung heroes. That said, teachers provide a framework for learning and present students with information. They are professional educators. The actual teaching of our country's youth begins long before they step into a classroom. Teaching must begin with the parents.

This is what makes any discussion of private education or public education at once moot, and much more complicated. If parents aren't doing the things they need to do to nurture learning in the home, there is next to nothing teachers can do, whether they work in a for profit charter or private school or as part of a public school program. If any child gets to high school and can't read at a minimum of a fifth grade level, that's the fault of the parents, not their teachers.

I don't think privatization of education addresses this problem. In the end all privatization of education will ultimately do is make sending kids to school more difficult for the lower end of middle class, and low income parents. The moneyed elite will get the best education money can buy, while everyone else either makes do with what they can afford, or goes without. Right now, rich or poor, most people can read; they've had at least that much education. Can we as a country really afford to change that? Can we afford to go backward to a time when most everyone knew at least one person who couldn't read at all?

Those in favor of privatization of education would argue this would never happen. That parents would have more choice. These are the people who would benefit most if we were to move in this direction. The risk here is the same people who will argue that parents have more choice aren't remotely interested in offering a choice. They're interested in control. First control over who can afford a good education and who can't, then control over the content of that education itself. This is a dangerous road to follow, and I sincerely hope we don't start down that path.

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