The year my daughter started public Pre-K, I was envious of the education she was receiving. If only I could have had that experience! She was learning more, at four years old, than I learned in fifteen years of expensive private schooling.
, I went to a private, all-girls school. The curriculum was a rigorous, International Baccalaureate program, and I was an ‘A’ student. At the age of twelve, I was doing four hours of homework a night. I did homework on Friday nights. I loved it! My sole objective was to get the highest grade on any test. Such an education!
By the time I was in the ninth grade, our school was about thirty percent Chinese. These were the years leading up to Hong Kong going back to China, so parents were sending their children to Vancouver, and staying back themselves to make as much money as they could, up until the last moment.
We knew almost nothing about these students. (Why should we? They were supposed to be trying to be like us!) They kept mostly to themselves though not, I hate to tell you, a hundred percent by choice. Never for a moment did we deviate from our prescribed curriculum of Canadian and European history to ask one of them what it was like in Hong Kong. We never had a single lesson on the history or life of people in China. It wasn’t, of course, part of the curriculum or on the government exams but, looking back, I can’t help but think what a lost opportunity that was. Why, we could have leaned a few words or expressions in Chinese! If you’ve ever been to Vancouver, it might well occur to you that this could come in handy. It wasn’t until years after I graduated that I found out some of these “kids” had been their twenties – going to school in that God awful blackwatch kilt and knee socks! I’ve had nightmares like that.
This impressive education of mine was topped off with a year at a Canadian school in Switzerland, where I hobnobbed with the progeny of Canada’s Who’s Who, as they barfed up their lunch in the restroom of McDonald’s restaurants across Western Europe, before going to the nearest Benetton to heat up Daddy’s credit card. (All right, quiet down, I didn’t pick it. And, to be clear, I spent a lot of time by myself, that year.) Then I went to college where I learned what an idiot I truly was.
What was this? Why couldn’t I get my act together? Socially, I was a mess. I couldn’t get it; couldn’t figure out how to relate to people. They all knew something I did not. Worse, I didn’t even know what it was that I didn’t know; I couldn’t identify it. There was an ease - a confidence they had with themselves and with one another – that made me feel like I was about ten years old.
And then, in school, I wasn’t getting A’s! I was frozen. Nothing was clicking, and nothing would stick. I remember, in some American history class or philosophy class – I can’t remember now – but I was sitting next to this guy who looked and sounded like the guy John Travolta character studied when he was trying to figure out how to portray Vinnie Barbarino. He had bulging, Gold’s Gym biceps, a gold chain, and exuded wafts of Calvin Klein Obsession cologne every time he shifted in his seat. But this guy, he was brilliant! Every time the professor would ask a question, he would wait – seemingly for everyone else to get the answer wrong – before lazily raising a thick, limp-wristed paw, and giving an eloquent, inspired response, complete with quotes and sources, which left everyone gaping.
They were all getting it! They were flying; lit by the education and experiences they were having. They seemed, to me, like fit mountain climbers leaping from crag to higher crag, while I stumbled clumsily up the path below. What was going on here?
Slowly, it came to me. While I expected my education to be handed to me on a silver platter, they knew how to pull education out of things. They had respect for one another, and learned from one another. In public schools, they were used to rubbing shoulders with people from all walks of life, and they understood that there are many different ways to be smart. They were all dancing a dance, and I couldn’t even hear the music. That’s what my private school education got for me.
Today, I can tell you, that none of the girls I went to school with achieved anything out of the ordinary. All that tuition money didn’t buy us extra IQ points. By far, the most successful people I know today went to public school.
So, when my daughter entered public Pre-K, I was warmed by the multi-cultural exposure she was getting. It’s not that she’s color-blind or culture-blind; I think, one day, she will understand, at some level, that there is a difference. But that difference will not be a factor in determining her friendships because there is already an equivalency in her eyes, at age seven, that I did not begin to attain until my late twenties. In addition, she perceives the connection between her learning community and her actual community, and that makes every lesson resonate into ever larger circles of meaning and connections.
So you see I believe there is great value in public school education. And there are two things that I have found most disturbing in this whole charter school debate. The first is that people perceive Success Charter as a free private school education and that is better. A conformist, exclusive learning environment is not a better education. It is much, much worse. Further, the school habitually counsels out students with special needs, English as a second language learners, or students who will not achieve stellar marks on standardized tests. There is an unacceptable level of instructional time spent on preparation for those same tests. It may teach, but it does not educate.
The second disturbing thing to me – the one that makes me want to scream and cry and possibly move to another planet – is that some people, (not all! Not by a long shot!), but some people don’t care what this will cost other children and other families. If you could but walk into a public school like the School for Global and International Studies and see what that school does for those children and that community. It is their home. They are happy, and they are learning, and they will be uplifted by this experience. They could go on to do great things.
Could you look at one of those children and say, “It’s more important for ME to have choices, and for that I am willing to take all that away from you?” Are there really such people among us? If there are, perhaps they went to a private school like mine. Perhaps they did not have the opportunity to meet these people; to know and share and learn from them. Perhaps they think they are more worthy. But they have a lot to learn.
I have heard of a proposal that would give us choices; real choices; winning choices. It is, rather than to use the few extra classrooms at the Baltic Street school to start a charter which would eventually eclipse the host school, . Former DOE Deputy Chancellor Carmen Farina has agreed to help convene a committee of parents and educators to pursue this effort.
An early childhood center would ensure that no students will be denied a Pre-K spot, and class sizes at local schools will remain reasonable. In addition, it would allow the middle and high school to continue to function, and would even provide mentoring opportunities to interested students who wish to work with young children. What a wonderful opportunity for children from neighboring communities to get to know one another!
Finally, if there are families who would prefer a Success Charter Academy, let them start it in their own building. There are plenty of empty factory buildings in Gowanus and Red Hook and this enterprise is flooded with cash to refurbish such a structure. Stealing from other people’s children in order to give to our own, and flaunting that inequality daily in the faces of the losing party, is not a great education for our children or for us. Surely, we can all agree upon that.
The hearing to decide the fate of the School for Global Studies and the School for International Studies is on Tuesday, November 29, at 5:30 p.m. at 284 Baltic (Between Smith and Court). If we are to be successful in convincing decision makers that our neighborhood wants an early childhood center to serve the needs of people living in our community, rather than children bussed in from outside the district, it is VITAL that there is a LARGE presence, there.
I know that, for many of us, that means one person needs to come home early from work to watch the kids, but I really implore you to do your best. It’s for a good, good cause.