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hey Brooklyn:

I've also written, in my head "Why I believe in public schools." I'm an immigrant (I came to the U.S. when I was 5 1/2). I went to school in Columbus, Ohio, in series of elementary schools that went up the socioeconomic scale, but were never rich. I think libraries and public schools are the fundamental basis of our free society and the basis of the american dream.

I'm an example -- I came to the US, speaking no english at the age of 5 1/2. I'm now a faculty member at a major research university. I credit free public education for the opportunity (which of course, my family and I took advantage of). It makes me ill with worry for the future of the country that public schools are failing. Without public schools, I think we won't be the America that I truly adore (as someone for whom it is a gift and not a birthright).

I've posted before that you seem like you're going to be a great teacher. I'm glad you believe in public schools.



If I am ever blessed with a child, I will put them in a public school and be a part of their education.

I currently teach in a public elementary school in a very low socioeconomic, transient area. Yes, it is very difficult to see what these kids have to go through and to see so few parents participate for a million different reasons. Private schools offer the students and teachers an entirely different set of problems.

I currently have the opportunity to teach in a more affluent area, but I feel that these students are more in need. Like I told a new teacher the other day, "ALL students need great teachers, regardless of what "area" they live in." Suprisingly enough, sometimes the 'rougher' areas have better teachers because they are not looking for an easier road to haul.

The only issue at some local public schools is the "dumbing down" of education we hear about so much. You know, "Well, Joe and Jane can't read this, so why even teach the class?" Like you said, though, even in private schools there are children with learning disabilities and special needs. 99% of the time they are going to get more of what they need from a public school. (I scream and holler until someone listens.)



I also believe in public schools. I am very frustrated right now about how unfair funding is that it is based on property taxes. This needs to change quickly. It is separating the haves and the have nots very quickly.

My parents moved to rent a house in a better neighborhood so I could go to the best public school in the area. Unfortunately we're looking to do the same for our daughter. We live in an area where the public schools are so bad most middle-class kids go to private schools. I don't want to go that route, so we're looking to move a state over within the next year. Our daughter won't start kindergarten until Sept 2006, as she's a month past the cutoff.

In the meantime, I'll continue to support coming up with more fair ways to distribute public education funds.


Personally, I believe the entire school system in this country is broken. Public and private. My husband teaches in a private high school, and the stories he tells are hair-raising. They make passing through a metal detector every morning seem like a mental health break.

So I absolutely don't see it as a debate between public and private. I see it as a basic flaw with the form of "school" in this (and most other) countries. It's a false environment that teaches kids to work for externally-designated goals instead of for their own internal satisfaction. It breaks up their time so they can't spend more than 55 minutes concentrating on any one thing. It wastes unbelievable amounts of time with bureacratic nothings. At its best it's manipulative and deadening; at its worst it's deceptive and destructive.

I have a ton of respect for teachers. But I don't think there's much a gifted teacher can really do within the framework of a traditional school.


My daughter is 2 years into the NYC public school system-so far so good (and with out metal detectors, either!). She goes to PS 165 in Morningside Heights. It's a dual language (english-spanish) gifted and talented program. We are out of that school's district by a couple of blocks, but we were able to get a varience based on the fact that we had her tested for G&T (actually, the testing was technically for Hunter, but we had her tested before I saw the school and a) I didn't like it all that much and b) she didn't meet the criteria).

Her school also has a dual language program that is not G&T, but unfortunatly it serves as a de facto ESL program. Her class is actually a really good mix. There are kids in the class who do have spanish as their primary language-not as many as would be ideal, but better then some programs. There are kids of many different ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. I also like the fact that they class size is fairly small, right around 20. Also, the kids stay together until 5th grade (I know, that has pros and cons).

My kid is not a genius. She's a very bright kid, but she's also a kid who's the product of educated parents who read to her, travel with her, take her to zoos, museums, shows, give her dance lessons, etc. She's lucky in those ways, and also to have parents who were able to navigate the system. Knowing the amount of work that we had to get her tests, look at schools, fill out forms, etc, I cannot imagine how people who don't have english as a primary language do it, or what they do if they can't take off from work to visit a lot of different schools. The system is definitely not fair, and I don't pretend to know what the answers are, especially in a school system with 1 million kids. I do know that there's more choice here than in many suburbs. Our best friends live in a NJ suburb that people move to for the schools. They are underwhelmed. Their 2nd child is VERY gifted, and the school district has nothing to offer him in terms of intellectual challenge (he does, however, need the socialization aspect!!)

I'm not really sure what my point is. I do know that the idea of spending 20K+ a year just for school was abhorent to me. In our little corner of the universe it currently works for us. That's pretty much all I know!

Miss W

Ah, my dear, you have hit it on the head: the reason that I, a teacher, intend to teach only in public schools and would not consider sending my children to private school (providing we live in an area with schools that are physically safe; they are not in my current city, yet I teach in them).

Honestly, this is a post of my own, but I'm going to hold off on that for a bit. Suffice it to say, I have experience teaching in both a private school and inner-city public schools. I find that private schools are limiting and the teachers are not as...necessary. You don't have to bring "the light" (yes, Dangerous Minds reference--sue me!). In fact, in my experience, any warm body would do. "Read the first 10 pages of chapter 7, we'll discuss it tomorrow" Tomorrow--everything read, kids able to quote it verbatim. There was much less creativity involved in working with those students, and the parents and administrators didn't want any more. This worked, their kids did not need to waste time with "fluff" and analogies. This to me begged the question: What of the children here who DO need that? What of the vastly different learning styles of these children? And yet we were instructed to continue with the status quo.

Public schools, provided you have a teacher willing to do it (which you my dear, seem to be) allow you to tease out ways to bring everyone onto the same page. You are allowed to discuss rites of passage as a whole in multicultural tones in order to get that one child who simply doesn't understand the significance of the ear-piercing. You are allowed (ENCOURAGED) to take new approaches to literacy learning in the younger grades. I could go on, but as I've said, this is an entire post that I will write sometime this summer. But I'm thrilled to read your words--it feels so good to know there are others out there in inner-city public education who feel as I do about it.

Brooklyn Girl

Moxie--I'm just not sure that there's such a category as "traditional" schools anymore. The middle school I student taught in had block scheduling so kids had most subjects for a minimum of 90 minutes a day (math and humanities were the only subjects that met everyday). 90 minutes is a LONG time for kids to pay attention to anything--and I don't think that's the fault of schools, but rather modern life (TV, video games, etc.).

While I would love for kids to be internally motivated to learn, I'm just not sure that's how we're wired as human beings. Most adults don't work because we love our jobs (internal motivation) but because we need to pay our rent (external motivation). Though I don't think schools exist exclusively to prepare kids for the "real world," I think that is a valuable part of what they do. In life, you have to do things that don't interest you; you have to jump through bureaucratic hoops; and you are constantly evaluated by arbitrary systems and criteria that don't unearth the real you. Being exposed to these facts of life in school--hugely mitigated because we are talking about kids afterall--doesn't seem like the worst thing in the world to me.


I teach (full-time) in brooklyn too (high school, and we do have metal detectors & x-ray scanners). I'm 23 and have no kids at all, but if I did have teenagers I would send them to a public high school -- even in nyc, just not one of the ones like south shore where kids get stabbed with letter openers in the lunchroom -- and teach them to find the amazing benefits in a system that may be utterly bereft of resources, organization, & priorities, but is rich in pluck and diversity of all kinds. I love my students and want to give them everything I can -- if that dedication doesn't extend to involving my own family in public education, then I am a hypocrite.


I used to say that I would never send my child to a private school for elementary school, unless he was really, really , really smart or learning disabled and needed the extra time and attention. I made the assumption that I would have neither.

Now, it appears that my son may fall into the "highly gifted" category. So I guess I'm not going against my "rule" to send him to a private school.

I think I've learned that every school is not for everybody. I think public schools can do a great job, but when I heard that the public schools don't worry about teaching reading in kindergarten, and my son already is reading, I worried about him getting bored and having a negative first impression of school. I want learning to be fun and challenging for him.

When I was having qualms about it all, his preschool teacher said to me "You need to put away your preconceived idea of private versus public, and decide what is best for your son, " It made sense, and then I picked the most diverse private school in the city, both ethnically and socioeconomically. It helps a little to assuage my guilt about not participating in the public school system.


When I lived in NJ, I sent my first child to Montclair Kimberly. However, I was disappointed with the lack of diversity and worried about paying for several children. I actually moved to NYC for the public schools!

However, I'll admit that with children right now in PS 87, Mott Hall, and Stuyvesant, I sort-of feel like I'm "gaming the system." PS 87 in particular is heavily dependeant on parent contributions. Most public schools in NYC are doing without all that extra money.

I have to say, the one thing that bugs me most about private schools in this area is the uniform for girls. Short skirts in the winter? Why?

Brooklyn Girl

Patricia--I agree that the most important thing is finding a school that's right for your child. Period. End of discussion.

But it's a fallacy that "public schools don't worry about teaching reading in kindergarten." Yes, they do. Of course they do. But because a good majority of the pre-K programs (in New York City anyway) are private, kindergarten is often the point of entry into the school system for many kids so they are at different stages of readiness for reading.


This is an issue I think so much about. I grew up in California going to public schools. Over half of my family members are public school teachers/administrators. I believe in public schools for the same reasons as Brooklyngirl and BJ, who posted above--democracy and freedom.

However, a few years ago, due to DH's work issues, I moved to a poor state in the South. The public schools here are almost always ranked 49th or 50th on everything. When desegregation happened (long before I arrived), most white families in my town pulled their kids out of public school and put them in private. Private schools here are 90% white and public schools are 90% African American. The income disparity between whites and Blacks is pretty extreme. Our property taxes are almost nothing, because whites have fought long and hard to keep them that way (they spend their money instead on private school tuition). So the public schools are awful, how could they be anything but? They function on almost no money at all. The teachers' salaries are ridiculously low. I tried to do some numbers, comparing what my parents pay in California in property taxes in their lifetime and with school being "free" for my sister and I, to what an average family with two kids pays here in private school tuition plus what they pay in property taxes. I think it probably works out about even, probably less here, but cost of living is less, etc. I bet it balances out. But in California everyone gets a decent education, whereas here, only some people do (okay for the sake of accuracy I have to add that the California system is not perfect--poorer communities still don't have the same revenue base and so education is not the same for all, but it is better). I would much prefer that everyone be educated. And then I hear so much talk in this state about the lack of economic development and how industries don't want to come here and how we lose the best and the brightest of our state to other states where there are better opportunities, and I think that at least some of that would be better if everyone was getting a decent education.

And yet... now that I have a child, I must ask myself, do I really want her to go to public school here? And I still have several years to work on this, but my gut says no. I don't want to sacrifice my own child on the altar of public education. But I'm sure there are other people like me who feel the same and do nothing, and that is how the system here has been so messed up and will continue to be so messed up. So I will feel guilty if I don't support the public system, but also guilty if I knowingly give my child a substandard education while having the means to do otherwise. I don't know what I will end up doing 5 years from now.

Brooklyn Girl

Jen--I think that's the toughest issue of all. I don't even have a kid yet, and I'm already worried about the notion of sacrificing "my own child on the altar of public education."


I guess I don't understand the argument that because A,B and C happens in the "real world" than its okay for A,B anc C to happen during childhood and in a school environment. Perhaps if children weren't conditioned to accept certain things for 12 plus years of their young impressionable life, than it would not happen in the real world.

Brooklyn Girl

Amie--I guess I need some particulars about what you mean by A,B, and C.

As I said above, I don't think schools exist exclusively to prepare kids for the real world, but it is an inescapable truth that that is the world in which kids will eventually live. By being a part of a public school--and finding a place in that world--kids (and parents) have a role in determining what that real world should look like and what their place in it will be.

Other schooling options--home schooling and some private schools--can set up kids with false expectations and a limited view of what that world is really like.

Do I think kids should be treated unkindly or without respect because that's how it sometimes goes in the real world? Of course not. But I do think it's valuable for kids to have to learn to be part of a broader society and culture in which they are not always at the center.


woo-ee, look at all these long, intelligent comments! all i wanted to say was, thanks for the interesting school-related post! =)


It's amazing to me that in a country where the dropout rate tops 50% in places as diverse as Los Angeles and the state of Georgia, people still sing the praises of public schools as if most of them were in fine form and the problem schools were the exception. The vast difference in dropout rates between white students and students of color is the shame of this country (or it should be.)

The US is ranked below 21 countries when it comes to Mathmatics knowledge of high school secondary school graduates. We do slightly better in Scientific knowledge, but not much.

Even when I had a child in a very good public school, I was very aware of how poor a job our public schools do on a national level. My family is full of gifted, committed public school teachers and while each one of them is deeply invested in their students, the observations they've made about the flaws in the system itself bring tears of frustration and sadness to my eyes.

What I have found is that the vast majority of children are internally motivated to learn, it just gets drummed out of them in a traditional school setting. Children's inherent curiousity doesn't evaporate, it just gets pushed aside. While in public school, my son could stand on line, sit quietly, speak when spoken too, take standarized test, and was quickly learning the "Lord of the Flies" rules of the school yard but those are not qualities I prize over an excellent education.

Now we homeschool. He's gone from a very shy child to an outgoing, very social child. He plans his own course of study, asking us to purchase the books, sets his own schedule and goals. He is now two grade levels above his peers in math and reads books off of college reading lists he finds on-line.

We've gone from fighting about homework to standing in awe as our son directs his own, rigerous education. From having to constantly remind him to work on his science fair project to watching him organize and execute a science fair with other homeschooled children. From having to use a chart and stickers to get him to practice the piano to having to ask him to stop playing at bedtime because he's working on pieces for the band he and his friends formed.

I still support public education, I just don't support it as it is currently practiced in most schools. Until there is a real educational revolution, the system in place will continue to suppress child's natural curiousity and then act surprised when so many of those students decide that public school has nothing to offer them.


I think the thing that bothers me the most about the public vs private argument is the assumption is you pay for something it must be better. Obviously there are some public schools that are very good and the same is true about private schools. There are also very bad publics and bad private schools. You definitely can't make any sweeping generalization or assumptions. As a parent of an infant I don't have to worry about it for awhile but I've spent time thinking because I have many friends and relatives that are teachers.
I think you have to make individual choices depending on the child. As we all know all children are different and flourish in different environments.


I know being a parent is a crazy time commitment, but for people who care about public education yet are worried about the damage it will do to their children... what is preventing them from getting involved, somehow, with public education no matter where their children go to school? (or maybe even if their children aren't in school at all?)

as for singing the praises of the public school system -- I think a teacher will be the first to tell you how screwed up the system is, and how we're not giving most of our kids what they deserve. but for all the kids in this country who are neither wealthier or smarter than average, public school is often their only option. you want a good future for your kids? you should care about (among other things) public education in this country, NO MATTER WHERE your own children get their education.


All four years my son was in public school, both my husband and I regularly volunteered in his classroom and the school. We attended meetings, helped raise money and tutored other children. We learned that no amount of volunteering can overcome a flawed institutional system.

As for caring about public schools, I do and deeply. I gladly pay my taxes, every chance I've been given to vote for bonds or a tax increase for schools, I've done it. I vote in every school board election (unlike a lot of of parents who have children in the public school system.) I support organizations that are trying to change things.

We didn't choose to leave public schooling, we were forced out when it became clear that the choice was between public schools and a good education for our child.

Brooklyn Girl

Interesting further thoughts all around. I echo the sentiment that whatver is best for your own individual kid is what's best, and for Kathleen, if that's home schooling, that's great.

I agree, too, that the droupout rate is appalling. The published dropout rate for New York State kids is about 12%, but in New York City students it's officially something like 20% generally acknowledged to be closer to 40-50% (Source: NY Times, 1/6/2005). For these kids, who are at the low end of the socioeconomic ladder, home schooling isn't generally a possibility.

In many ways, though, my notions about education are old fashioned. I don't think it's terrible for kids to learn how to wait in line (bear in mind that I wait in line for the subway with about 4,000 high school students at the end of every day) or for them to be compelled to study subject that they don't find inherently interesting: algebra still bores the heck out of me, but I'm glad I learned it, even if totally in hindsight. Part of exposing kids to a diversity of opinions and cultures is getting them to stretch beyond their comfort zones (or interest zones), and I'm not sure that a program completely tailored to one child's individual interests is always capable of doing that.

Robin Tsong

Wow! This whole discussion absolutely grabbed me! As a tree-hugging liberal, I whole-heartedly believe a democratic society MUST have an educated populace to survive - while society continues to "dumb down" all around us. Thought of home-schooling my own little darlings, but ended up in the best school district in my state -( which may not be saying a lot, because my state is about 49th in the amount of money spent on students) - and am fortunate to have "easy" kids who are thriving. But the whole issue is so complicated. My sisters live in a large mid-western city whose schools were abandoned by the white middle-class during segregation. Even the poorest of them scrape up enough money to send their kids to private schools. I've heard public school teachers there talk of having knives pulled on them. There's no question that our schools are not democratic. My kid's school district is the best in this state because it's in one of the richest neighborhoods - a neighborhood that opted out of the city system solely to develop their own separate and not equal school district. So I'm able to send MY kids to public school AND keep my guilty liberal conscience quiet enough to sleep most nights. But I know that it's not right that my kids are in safe, excellent schools that provide a level of education not found just a few miles south of us.

My seventh grader is planning her trip to Paris next summer with her French class.....doubt many kids in the "other" school district are laying such plans....I just try to make her aware of her blessings without sucking all the joy out of her life and making her feel as guilty as I do - I carry enough for our whole family....Well, I was blessed with a very conservative mid-western Christian education myself - I've overcome most everything they tried to instill in me but the guilt!


I stumbled across your blog while I was doing some online research. You make some excellent points in your discussion. I think your support of public schools is logical, given your arguments.

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