Not interested in fixing schools

Public education is a complete mess in the US. A deep, structural, crisis kind of mess. Anyone who does not see this is totally out to lunch. Fortunately there are a lot of very smart, very well funded people working on that issue.

In the meantime, I don’t want my kids to be part of the fixing process. I want my kids to do the best thing for them right now. This is not a new approach to schools. Bill Clinton took this approach when he ran for President on a very liberal platform and then sent his daughter, Chelsea, to a very elite school in Washington DC. The same elite private school that the Obama girls attend now.

It’s not that I don’t care about fixing public schools in the US. But I care about it like I care about ending the war in Afghanistan. Both are really important issues and lots of peoples’ lives are being ruined but I don’t want it to affect my kids’ day-to-day life if I can help it. And being a parent activist definitely takes it’s toll on family life (these people actually quit their jobs to do it).

Remember the opening scene of Sex, Lies and Videotape? The woman is talking to her psychiatrist about world hunger or world garbage or some other world problem, and she sounds like a nutcase because she’s not taking care of the problems that are close to her.

I think that’s what parents sound like when they talk about school reform. We should just take care of our kids. Right now, today, is it better for your kids to be at home learning or in your particular school learning? That’s the issue that interesting because that’s the issue we can really act on.

12 replies
  1. Karen
    Karen says:

    When I pulled my kids out of my local public school to homeschool them, the principal accused me of selfishness. He happened to be a guy that I went to high school with so it was a friendlier conversation than it could have been.

    I was, and still am, sympathetic to his argument. We were one of a precious few intact families at the school and my husband and I were heavily involved with the parent/teacher group and volunteered tons of our time for fundraising, school trips etc., so that the impact of us leaving was pretty large. I apologized profusely but had to basically tell him that I was unwilling to sacrifice my kids for “the greater good” and if that made me selfish then so be it.

  2. Paul
    Paul says:

    Wow. That principal is what’s wrong with America. Fixing the school that HE runs is not YOUR responsibility. It seems like I constantly hear the education community screaming, “more parental involvement!” in one breath, and “down with homeschooling!” in the next. Maybe it’s just me, but homeschooling seems like it’s the ultimate in parental involvement. But of course that’s evil, because you’re keeping your involvement all for your own kids instead of spreading it around to other kids with crappy parents.

    IMO you shouldn’t be sympathetic to his argument. It’s based on the premise that someone else’s need is a claim on your time and resources. Screw that. Your time and resources are yours, and you can dedicate them to your own kids if you want.

    • Karen
      Karen says:

      I don’t disagree with you, at all. But man, I felt his pain. I live in a small town in Ontario, Canada. We have three K-8 schools and you have to go to the one in your part of town. The school in our neighborhood is the worst because it gets all of the kids from the government subsidized housing units in the town, so most of the hard-to-teach kids are congregated in one place. Middle-class families are selling their houses to move across town so they can get their kids out of there. So he is being abandoned by the “good” families in droves and I don’t doubt that it is making his job harder.

      The principal is a good guy who means well and is doing the best he can in really difficult circumstances. There is talk of redrawing the boundaries to try and fix some of the problems but the parents at the other two schools are screaming bloody murder about it so I doubt anything will happen.

      Funnily enough, none of this has anything to do with why I am homeschooling my kids. Both my sons have educational needs that were not being met; one is gifted and the other is mildly autistic with horrible verbal communication skills. They could fix every problem in the place and I still would not send my kids back there.

  3. Brianna
    Brianna says:

    I think it’s possible to be concurrently supportive of public school reform and homeschooling. I have a consulting business, and several of my clients are non-profits that support/advocate for public schools and public school programs.

    However, I don’t hesitate to share with my clients that I am a newly-minted homeschooler. Reforming public schools to make them effective at providing an excellent education for all students (as opposed to improving “schooling”, which Penelope has parsed before) is important to me, because I want my country to have a productive, well-informed, innovative citizenry.

    So, I support (professionally and personally) public schools and their improvement. With regard to my children, I don’t have the luxury of fighting for monumental change while they participate in a system that *negates* their ability to be creative, flexible, innovative, etc. I can’t waste their time, and mine, fighting the small battle right now, because I have limited time and resources. What I can do is give them an excellent education at home, while supporting school reform in my city, state, and country.

    It’s a hard line to walk, but it’s what’s right for my family. I opt-out of a broken system so that my kids get the education they need, while still believing that, in theory and in practice, great public education is POSSIBLE and something I support.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I think that’s my ideal — where I am homeschooling and I’m also being a good community member. I believe really strongly that all kids should get a good education. I don’t want to make it *harder* for my community to achieve that. I guess I could approach the issue as two different problems:
      1. How to get my kids the best possible education?
      2. How to contribute something positive to my local public school system?


      • Karen
        Karen says:

        You are still contributing to the public school system even of your kids are homeschooled. Most education funding comes out of property taxes which no one is exempt from paying and very, very few school districts offer any kind of financial assistance to homeschooling families. The public schools have fewer kids to teach but face no reduction in resources. It’s win-win for the schools.

      • Brianna
        Brianna says:

        In response to #2, Penelope, I’m really interested in the work of Charles Best and DonorsChoose DonorsChoose I like to fund projects based on some very specific geographic and pedagogic criteria that are interesting to me. Perhaps one small way to contribute to your local public school is to help them get really great at using DonorsChoose, which is basically a web-based education grant marketplace. It dovetails nicely with your own advice about becoming more social media savvy.

  4. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    You have to do what’s in the best interest of your children. Who can fault you for doing that? However, I would recommend maintaining a good relationship with the school district regardless of whether or not you decide to home school. No bridge burning. I think the best scenario is having the option to work out some sort of customized plan with the school to use their resources as necessary. Maybe certain classes, team sports (e.g. – soccer), etc. can be made available. I really don’t know how plausible it would be to implement but it may be one approach. The decision to home school requires a leap of faith IMO. I mean, how do you really know whether or not it will work out until you give it a try? Whatever decision you make will be the right one for you and your kids.

  5. le
    le says:

    surely if enough parents take their kids from the public system then it sends the message … part of the real problem is lack of engagement by parents with their kids in the first place … school is a dumping ground for six hours a day to allow parents to pursue their own interests, hit the gym, have some me time or mostly to earn a living … we have the equation wrong – if we were serious about supporting kids parents who choose home learning would be funded to allow this to happen. End of rant.

  6. Cathy
    Cathy says:

    As a long-time homeschooler (all my kids are grown now), I personally know of many situations in which the existence of homeschooling has helped particular parents and their kids who utilize public schools. The fact that they have a real honest-to-goodness choice, should they choose to bow out of public schooling, has given them strength as they negotiate the system to get their needs met.

    Another point to make is that a lot of smart and passionate people have worked for a really long time (at least 40 years, and that’s just the effort that I personally have kept tabs on through reading and observation) to revolutionize/improve/reform/rethink/remake education. Public schools as a whole have not gotten better; in my opinion, they’ve gotten worse. I’m not saying it’s hopeless, but I do think that it’s possible that people leaving the system in droves is the best thing for the individuals who leave AND for society.

  7. Mariana
    Mariana says:

    hello Penelope, I’m a reader of your blog and mother of 2 from Argentina.
    I don’t have the choice here of home schooling, and I’m very curious about it.
    I like it.
    Before trying to fix schools it has to be established that they can be fixed.

  8. Caroline
    Caroline says:

    I don’t think the compulsory public school model can work on a national or even state level. The only way to meet the unique needs of all children is for the parents and the local community to take full responsibility for the raising of them.

Comments are closed.