We live in the West End nestled between some of the city’s most prestigious private schools. But when it came time to enroll my son in kindergarten, we didn’t even consider them. We chose public schools and for my daughter this year we will make the same choice.
Education is really important to me.
I was a high school physics teacher before I decided to become a stay-at-home-mom for this season of life. My mom was an elementary school teacher for thirteen years before she decided to do the same. I grew up in a home that valued the importance of education in big and small ways. I know that one of the greatest gifts I can give my children is a quality education. That’s why we chose public schools.
Public schools aren’t our fallback. They aren’t our default because of the prohibitive cost of private schools or the admissions process. They are our first choice.
In my family, we have a wide range of education experiences from my brother who started in public schools and transitioned to private, to my sister-in-law who only attended private school, to my husband who attended a public magnet school, to me who attended my districted public schools. Each path has its own strengths and challenges.
There is no perfect choice and there is certainly no choice that is perfect for every student. We have friends that do extraordinary work teaching in both settings. We have friends with children enrolled in both settings. But when my husband and I weigh our experiences and values, public school is the clear choice.
Education is about more than academics.
Yes, great education involves strong academics. It is cognitively stimulating and teaches students to be great thinkers. It inspires a life-long love of learning, cultivates critical thinking and problem-solving perseverance, and stretches students to defy their self-imposed limitations.
And it’s also more than that.
Great education teaches students how to be great people.
The most important learning, particularly in early elementary, is not academic. It is social-emotional. It is how to be a kind friend. It is learning to appreciate differences. It is how to advocate for yourself and others.
So it is imperative to me that my children go to school with the community that surrounds them, not an isolated microcosm.
I want more than tolerance for my children. I want them to have a deep-seated appreciation of the diverse backgrounds, cultures, and families around them. To understand that we all learn differently and different isn’t bad. To know the values of our family and how to navigate with kindness and sincerity when they encounter values that differ from ours.
I want the book All Are Welcome to be their reality.
My son’s first-grade class has students learning English and students that read far above grade level. As a teacher, I know that it is difficult to make sure every student in such a wide range is getting the support they need as well as being appropriately challenged. But our teachers are professionals; meeting these challenges is what they do.
And whenever I get a chance to peek in on my son’s classroom, it is magical. The laughter that fills the room is contagious. The attention they give is remarkable. They work together not only in the classroom but also in the lunchroom and on the playground.
They are a community.
A community that is comprised of students from different countries, students who worship in different ways, students with all types of family structures, and students at all levels of learning. Students of all backgrounds and abilities.
I can work on reading and math at home – I can remediate or do enrichment. I can be intentional in talking about accepting others. But there is no substitute for daily experiencing and appreciating community.
Our public schools offer an extraordinary number of different resources and learning opportunities.
From elementary STEAM classes in the East End to a new gifted academy for middle school to extensive vocational classes and specialty centers at the high schools. Our public schools have strong academics. But that’s not why I chose them.
I believe our public schools have the ability to cultivate a unique level of tolerance, acceptance, and community – the kind of understanding that can change the world.
Our society doesn’t need more students that have been pushed to be smarter, faster, better in a manufactured community.
It needs children that love to learn and love others. All others.
I know public schools have their flaws. So do private schools. But we have to get past the connotation that exclusive equals better. As my kids get older, if they have needs that require a different learning environment, we will reassess.
But my heart, my passion, and our collective future – it’s in the public schools.