MUSE WITH ME - I want to be part of a democracy where everyone has an equal chance at “happiness and safety”, as explained in our Declaration of Independence. I want my children to have an equal chance at success, really as defined in precisely that way: experiencing happiness and safety. It is toward this end that I want my children educated. And I want all the children they ever encounter, or could ever encounter, to have that same chance.
Is that really so hard? Too much to ask? It was the promise I thought I heard while growing up, that story of the cherry tree, and the hot potato walked 4 miles to school, uphill, both ways – all those tropes. I thought they were all facets of the promise of equality and fairness for all.
So then what gives when arranging the best for my own child means that my neighbors’ receives less? What does it mean when arranging the best for your child results in there being fewer resources for mine? Competing interests in a democratic free market are part of a system that mediates such interests; what do we want the educational marketplace to look like?
It is incontrovertible that market economics are being applied to our children’s education: public, private, parochial and hybrid. Charter schools are run as for-profit entities, subsidized by investors and corporate tycoons. Public schools are underwritten by industry captains, and ideological training camps are pushed by this same sector to saturate the nation’s public school systems with their dogma.
When a charter school opens in my neighborhood it draws children away from the school I have chosen, my public school. Resources follow these children; your “choice” precludes mine. It results in my school being underfunded, underutilized, neglected and frankly devolving into a far inferior institution that it could have been with adequate, pooled resources.
The current setup that supports, even encourages, such rapacious draining of our public schools results in a public system that becomes increasingly unable to fulfill its mandate.
And what of this draining? It is not even-handed, it is not indiscriminate. It is, as they say, a specific “creaming” or skimming of children, resulting in: segregation. By definition, the setup is exclusionary, generating small pools of children who share one certain characteristic at the expense of another.
Children are admitted to charter schools according to some filter, conscious or otherwise. With small, select schools, comes selection, whether through parents who: choose a specialized educational philosophy that appeals to them, or follow parent-gossip that sounds enticing, or are manipulated to feel that attendance is a special necessity for whatever market-driven or ideologically-driven or scholastic-driven requirement is the pedagogical salvation-du-jour.
Regardless, what results is many, dis-articulated, small pools of learning. They are no better in terms of outcome than the larger, and they provide in fact, far less choice, ironically, than that which comes from a large, unified school district.
So when I am asked: ‘What do you care if my child attends a charter school? Send your child where you feel is best for yours, I’ll send mine where I deem best for mine’. That person is really saying: ‘leave me alone; if I feel like siphoning public resources that were once designated for the good of the whole, to my private corner of the universe, this is my right. Buzz off, I want what I want; my own is more special than yours.’
The trouble is: my own isn’t more special than yours. My own feels more special to me; in fact, my own is more special … to me. Therein lies the end of my public claim. We hire intermediaries to adjudicate the public good precisely because we are so close to our own that we cannot generate a public good for them without our own bias getting in the way. When we select on behalf of our own, it is right and proper that we exhibit bias: it is our job. As my child’s parent, it is my job to consider her special.
And that is why we must have a public school district. Truly public, without private bites carved out.
Because all these children are special and precious, and someone other than the given parent needs to administer a system that treats them with this understanding and respect. This, they deserve: it is their basic, human right. And unless every child has an equal — not selected — chance of an excellent education, everyone’s best interest is denied.
(Sara Roos is a politically active resident of Mar Vista, a biostatistician, the parent of two teenaged LAUSD students and a CityWatch contributor.)
Vol 11 Issue 35
Pub: Apr 30, 2013