Why Public Schools Rock [and do not turn you into a cockroach]

A writer friend who lives in the Bay Area told me that she was worried that she and her husband could not afford the 20 + grand a year per kid that it would cost to send her two children into private schools in the Bay Area. Her children’s ages? 3 and 6 months.

They are nowhere near the school age, yet this young mom feels the pressure that many middle class professionals in the Bay Area feel: Should I put my kids in a private school because the public schools will turn them into cockroaches, or should I let them turn into cockroaches on their own? “Hey, I went to public schools from age 5 to age 24,” I said, trying to console her, but when she got  strangely quiet, I thought that maybe I wasn’t the best example.

The problem with private K-12 education is–it porports to be better than public school. But what are you really getting for all that money except for excellently tended grounds, ionic columns, and an experience of social isolation based on socio-economic class?  What does it really do for the kids except for shelter them from the rest of society and teach them to be entitled?

It probably didn’t help that my one experience as a student at a private school was in graduate school which caused me to come home and pass out in my unmade bed every night like a narcoleptic after being stressed out by all the competitive bullshit.

Believe it or not, I was actually taken aside and told in the cafeteria to start dressing better by two of my classmates. I was told to wear Prada during my critiques by these women, because they felt like if I wore Prada, at least I would feel strong and not collapse into a bubble of tears after the fellow students in my class told me that my story about my family’s historic village was crappy, or that they just couldn’t stand my main character who was a thinly veiled autobiography.  “What’s Prada? Can you get it at Ross?” I asked.  The whole time I was at a private school, I felt like most of the people didn’t get me.

But, my professors at the public college I attended were prestigious, and in many ways more accessible than the professors I had at my private graduate school and my classmates from public college all have jobs and are doing something interesting. Though, to talk to some of the young undergrads at the private school I went to, you’d think that they were paying all that money to learn from Socrates himself.

I’m not really against the idea of going to a private school for college, and I could see many reasons why somebody would choose one.  Since UC tuition is through the roof now, maybe private schools are really not that much more. But  I think any middle-class parent should not choose private schools for their children aged 5-18.

So, what should we public school advocates say to our private school leaning friends as they fret over whether they can afford to cough up half a million bucks to send two kids to private schools for their entire childhood?

When you send your children to school, basically the main lesson they are supposed to learn is how to be citizens of society. When you send them to a private elementary, jr. high or high school, you are turning a willful blind eye to 88% of America. You are teaching them to be elitists, to be entitled, to have servants, to demand service, and you are not teaching them how to be a citizen of society, but in effect removing them from any perceived unsavory elements and you are constantly forced to buy into the fact that people with money are safer, that people with money have better schools, and that people with money never have enough money, because if you are the family like my friend’s who are struggling and can’t really afford to put your kids in private school, you are saying to yourself and your children that you are not as good as the people with more money than you. You will chase the money and you will teach them to chase the money the rest of their lives, and it will never end.

That will be what breaks the civil society apart, not terrorism, or economic collapse. If anything will kill the American Dream, it will be the crumbling of the socialized education which has been a cornerstone of the American Dream since the beginning, and as you opt out of public school, so will you opt out of the free municipal service that you pay taxes to support.  And when savvy parents who are educated and intelligent like you pull your kids out, heaven help public schools, because the poor and the downtrodden don’t have the resources to fight for their kids that the educated middle class parents do and that could do away with democracy itself.

That’s why it makes me so sad when I see the horrible budget cuts that are being imposed on public schools in California and all over the country. It’s threatening the essence of our ability to believe in ourselves.

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