Diane Ravitch posted the question “Do we need public schools?” and a response from Carol Burris earlier this month.
The public schools that I attended as a youth were a (mostly) homogenous representation of the suburbs where I grew up. As I am closing in on my twelfth year of teaching in public schools I have a new perspective on what public schools mean for students and what they mean for us as a country.
When I greet my class at the beginning of a school day I look at faces that represent the vibrant, close-knit community that I work hard all year to create. I see students who are willing to share personal experiences as they write about memories that shaped them. I see students who are learning to disagree with others in ways that move the conversation forward instead of shutting it down. I see students who are interacting with and processing beliefs and experiences that they would never have been exposed to if they were not surrounding by others who are different from them.
This is not the imagined community that so much of our nation has become. Instead these are young people facing incredibly different life circumstances and life struggles who find ways to relate and work together as we inquire about issues that matter to all of us, regardless of where we come from. These are young people who are the only English speakers in their families that have become experts at translating American culture to their elders, young people whose families have lived in neighborhoods in this city for generations, and young people whose families are not rooted in any place at all.
What matters about what I see and who my students are is that together, we create something unique that does not exist anywhere else in our society. The richness of our collective creation cannot and does not happen in environments that are exclusive or in institutions that are not created for the public good.
I am a better person for having known and attempted to understand the reality of my students. My students are better people for having known and attempted to understand each other. We are a better country for having public schools.