One of the few aspects of child-rearing that hasn’t required much discussion between Kyle and me concerns education. His parents were public school teachers, my mother and maternal grandparents were public school teachers, and he and I each attended public school, kindergarten through graduation, in our respective districts in Oregon and Ohio. When we lived in New Jersey, I meticulously researched school districts and would have bought a shack in Millburn to get my kids into that district. When we moved to Colorado, we narrowed our home search based on public school performance. Our commitment to good public education for our own kids has been a consistently high priority.
This week, the levy in my hometown school district failed. Here in Colorado, our own ballot issues have failed, and there’s been continuous tussling between the board/the superintendent and teachers/parents since the power shift on the board in 2009 and the hiring of our new superintendent in 2010.
None of this is surprising. When I fundraised in middle school and high school, I routinely fielded questions about why weren’t property taxes enough, why did I have to ring doorbells and beg? (This is one reason I donate my time and pay fees without griping; my own kids don’t need to be sounding boards for disgruntled adults.)
In some cases, I went without participating in activities for which I hadn’t raised enough on my own, like our drill team trips to perform at Disneyworld and the Orange Bowl. Sure, I was disappointed to have to stay home, but even then I understood that tax dollars (and my own parents’ money) were better spent elsewhere.
The struggle to fund education in a way that satisfies everyone isn’t new, and it isn’t going away. Technology evolves, the economy shifts, priorities differ, and demands escalate. The world is changing and expanding, and education in any format must follow suit in order to remain both viable and valuable. If we want education to do more and deliver more, it will take more time, money, and energy from teachers, taxpayers, and parents.
Think of teachers as the wait staff at a busy and highly-acclaimed restaurant, while we parents and our kids play very much the same role that we do as diners, complete with broken crayons on the floor. We selected this particular restaurant (school or district) because of its reputation, and the wait staff (teachers) may be the only faces we see, unless the manager (principal) makes the rounds, asking about our experience. Do we ever interact with the owner (superintendent) or board of directors (board of education)? Unlikely. Yet they are often what makes a difference in the service we perceive that the wait staff (teachers) are rendering alone.
In short, teachers get more blame and less credit than they deserve, along with often minimal cooperation from those they serve, just like the wait staff.
But unlike the restaurant analogy, we parents have to take an active role in shaping and realizing those services. We’re not back in a restaurant kitchen, carrying trays of food or shouting “Medium rare, I said!” at the chef, but we’re helping out in classrooms, chaperoning field trips, creating yearbooks, overseeing fundraisers, and working with our kids at home to ensure they get to school ready to learn.
Public education doesn’t mean outsourcing your kids’ development; it’s an ongoing team effort where cooperation is essential. Funding, whether it’s deemed adequate or not, doesn’t absolve parents of our role as facilitators. Let’s work on being good education customers.