This is a piece I wrote a year and a half ago. I’m posting it today in honor of the President’s budget proposal.
I woke up this morning a rich man.
Never mind the fact that I’m actually a recovering songwriter, mother of five and wife of a teacher living in the um… “gentrifying” part of East Nashville, TN.
I dragged my butt out of bed at 5 am with all the usual things to do: make bottles and breakfast, locate both the left and right of each pair of children’s shoes, sign forms, start the first load of laundry, unload the dishwasher… All so I could get my two eldest out the door at 7am to go to the second day of their new school.
This is where the rich part comes in. My children are going to a new school this year. Actually it’s an old school, it’s been around since the 1960s and my husband has been teaching there for ten years. But, like the beloved 2001 Suburban in the driveway, it’s new for us.
I’ve wanted them to go to this school for years. In fact, at least once a semester while on campus for one of my husband’s plays, the faculty talent show, or an all school picnic, I break down into tears and a pique of jealousy. Thanks to the grace of God, Kathy Rayburn, and the Board of Directors of Currey Ingram Academy, this year they get to go.
Here’s the thing: the Kindergarten tuition is more than I paid for college. Yes, Kindergarten. And I went to a private college. In Boston. Which is like, the home of pretentious, expensive colleges.
So why is Currey Ingram so expensive? Well, it’s not just any private school. It’s a school for kids of “average to superior intelligence with unique learning styles.” What? I know, right? What this means is that the school caters, through very small classes of 8 or so, to college bound kids who learn differently.
Differently than who? Differently than each other. Kids who are gifted in math, but struggle with Dyslexia; kids who are way above grade level in reading, but struggle with math; kids who excel in all subjects, but have trouble making friends with other kids their own age; kids who are crazy smart but get their ideas out so slowly they seem just average and they’re bored fidgety doing average work.
So basically, kids.
Let’s face it, all children have “unique learning styles.” All children have strengths and weaknesses. For that matter, so do all adults. Very often the characteristic that distinguishes successful adults from others is not being highly and equally talented in all areas, but possessing the skills of self-awareness and self-advocacy that allow them to highlight their strengths and compensate for their weaknesses. It’s what makes this friend of mine, who is a brilliant engineer, plug the names of all his coworkers into his phone so he can be less awkward at corporate dinner parties. It’s the same awareness that led to the development of tip calculators, audio books, and calendar apps that remind you to take out the trash and call your mother. Successful people recognize that you can’t be good at everything, but with the right tools you can be good enough at most things and spectacular at some.
It is imperative that children are taught these skills of self-empowerment.
We sing to our kids about letting their light shine, but we don’t do enough to help them find their particular light. With an over-burdened and cookie cutter education system, we’ve only got the time and resources to look for one type of light and to make sure it’s lit, not necessarily burning at it’s full potential. Man, what unnecessary darkness we are relegating ourselves to.
Over the last few days I’ve discovered that there are perks to attending a ritzy private school. My kids have equine classes. Yes, horses. In the second grade. It makes me feel like a Kennedy. Additionally, every child in grades 2-12 has not just a computer available to her, but her own MacBook. In fifth grade and above they can bring them home. Poor K-1, they have to suffer through using individual iPads. Perhaps my favorite fringe benefit is that many parent functions are catered. With a bar. Hallelujah. Wow, it’s great being pretend loaded.
Here are some other things my kids have:
- Breakout classes of 2-5 kids for reading and math so that each child is with peers of similar ability and can work to his or her own potential.
- Curriculum choices so that the teachers don’t have to use the same math or reading materials for visual, kinesthetic, and oral learners.
- PE – Every Day.
- A salad bar in the cafeteria, which also, by the way, serves fabulous food and fresh vegetables that are readily identifiable.
- A technology class where children learn to, you know, type, and use this new thing called a word processing program.
- A full complement of enrichment classes: visual art, music, indoor/outdoor science lab, theatre, so children can find out if they have a strength, a light, that might otherwise go unnoticed.
Unlike the horses, these are not things that should be reserved for the children of loaded parents. Pretend, or otherwise.
Am I gloating?
No. Actually, I’m racked with survivor’s guilt. I know what it’s like on the other end of the spectrum. I’ve struggled through public school. I’ve volunteered. I’ve organized. I’ve squeaked. I’ve watched talented, dedicated and hardworking teachers gratefully struggle with “small” classes of 22 students. Hell, I’m married to a teacher. I’ve watched them buck up and try to implement new standards in an old system as if their livelihoods depended upon it. Which, come to think of it, they do. I’ve given up and homeschooled. Whew. It’s awesome. It’s also exhausting, and I wouldn’t recommend it if you’ve got newborn twins and any parents in poor health.
So, I feel guilty for my good fortune, and also a little angry that waking up every morning sure that your children’s educational needs are going to be met is a luxury afforded to the very few. The differences between public and private education are not hypothetical for me. The same policy that enables my two oldest children to attend this fabulous school only allows two children per family to take advantage of the tuition break. This means that sometime in the not too distant future I will have to decide which THREE of my children are “average” enough to do “well enough” at a “good enough” public school. I know it’s hardly Sophie’s Choice, but I’m already struggling with the discrepancy of opportunity.
As someone at the (catered) New Parent Dinner said, “Our children deserve more than ‘good enough,’ they deserve the best we can afford to give them.”
You know what? ALL children deserve the best we can afford to give them.
To those who say, “We can’t afford to spend more on public education,” and “Throwing money at a problem doesn’t help,” I call, “Bullshit.”
Over the last week I’ve seen what money can do for education. Let me tell you, it’s amazing. Perhaps we can pool all the Federal money for the Departments of Defense, and Energy, and Health, and Commerce, and Labor, and Transportation, and Agriculture, and Justice, and Education, and the Arts (there has to be a nickel around there somewhere), and start from there. Because when we are talking about the education of our children, it is the future of those Departments we are talking about, after all.