Sunday, September 07, 2008

Rident Stolidi Latina

So says my chocolate chip cookie recipe. My nine year old niece was giving me a reminder of what exactly to tell the naysayers when it comes up that Mr. Clarateaches and I are planning on using a Latin-Based Curriculum when we homeschool Gianna and subsequent bambinos. Now when I pull out my crusty, trusty notebook of recipes and see this (unintentionally) partial phrase, I can feel very smug and self-satisfied, until the occasion actually arises that someone does question our choice, and I completely forget what I was planning on saying, and I accidentally tell them, " Nauta precor procul mare." I need to pull out the Prima Latina and actually learn the mother tongue myself, one of these days.

She meant, "Rident stolidi verba latina," of course. "Only fools laugh at Latin." While this has so far only happened to us once, it does seem that as "terrible" and "failing" as public schools are perceived to be in the minds of many of the general public, the act of schooling one's child at home is seen as slightly insane by some ("What! You do realize you'll have your children underfoot all day long, right?") and as practically criminal by others ("By keeping your child out of public schools, the schools receive less money and therefore are not working as well for the other children, you selfish prig.")

I was sent an article by the eagle-eyed and bitingly witty Michael at Open All Night that both moves and troubles my soul. The article opens by saying:
NORTHFIELD, Ill. - More than 1,000 Chicago public school students skipped the first day of classes Tuesday to protest unequal education funding, a boycott organizers said would continue through the week with help from retired teachers who will turn office lobbies into impromptu classrooms.
I'm moved because the masses are actually coagulating and working as one, from the bottom up. This is always necessary, especially in a school system, as the changes are excruciatingly difficult to do from within. If the parents of my students ever had an issue with the school that they took up with me, I would heavily encourage them (in other words, I would carry them in a fireman's hold all the way to the office and inject them with sodium pentathol) to tell the office, and the school district administrators, as parents can get more fires started than teachers. I'm troubled, because as usual, the solution (as always) seems to be to toss more and more money at the problems, rather than to take a good hard look at where the money is all currently headed.

More and more and more money. And then what? More money still. Mitchell, in The Graves of Academe, argues that the perception of public schools failing is misleading. He argues that any institution that persistently does a shoddy job and continues to have money tossed at it is thriving well. I tend to agree- from the inside, a school is always searching, seeking, and finding (and going back to searching) for more money. When austerity budgets were instilled, the first things to go were usually the so-called "fluff" of the programs- art supplies, music, and finally sports. Yet administrators typically (and this is only my experience, which so far, including student teaching and substitute teaching as well as working as a certified teacher, is composed of six different public districts) do not initially option for pay cuts for themselves. These are people who are making six figures a year. The bulk of the "filling in" lands on the parents of students and then teachers themselves, pooling together for supplies.

Back to these students in Chicago, who are symbolically signing themselves up for enrollment in a "better" district (more highly taxed, wealthier, that probably without looking has a higher retention and graduation rate than the Chicago Public School District). Back also to the adults who are with them picketing and working hard to do what they think is the very best for their children or grandchildren. I have to wonder- if the adults with them so strongly want better, and are able to hold days-long protests, what is stopping them from schooling their children at home? Are they on leave from jobs that are waiting for them to come back from demonstrating? Are they under the impression that homeschooling is expensive and only to be done by those who are "certified?" Do they feel that the omission of their children will leave the remaining children in even worse shape?

These students, as the article points out, already realize that what they are doing is largely symbolic. They can't reasonably expect to commute 30+ miles to a better district, while also paying out-of-district tuition. Michigan schools actually have a halfway decent idea, with parents having the option to bring their children to the best available school within their county as a part of the "School of Choice" initiative, which makes districts competitive.

We are choosing, as many others are doing in droves, to go one step further and go back to the way some of the most brilliant minds of the onset of this country were schooled. Gianna will have slightly more than a slate and a Bible with which to learn how to read, write, and "cipher," but it will be without the several useless administrative positions and without the state-stamped "approved material" and without the general mindless dance of the drones that accompanies the typical public school experience of all but the very best districts. Don't misunderstand- this is not without a great deal of thinking and guilt and consternation on my part. What about the others? What about the single moms working long hours who cannot homeschool and are not near a decent alternative? What about the hard-working teachers who do their level best, under the worst of circumstances (and I know from personal experience and deep personal expense what goes into this)? What about the special needs children who need the services that are only offered in a public school setting? Change, I tell myself, is never easy. Transitions are difficult for adults, too. If there is to be an actual "change" in the current public school system, the agents of change need to be those who remove themselves from the cycle completely. The rest will have to fall into place, or fall away.


Eve-Marie said...

There is also a population of parents of special needs kids who would love to home school their children but cannot afford to stay at home to do so. They are put in a position to choose food and heat or a better education because the school DOES NOT meet the needs of every special needs child. This is heart-breaking to say the leaset because the child suffers yet again over something that is NOT their fault.

clara said...

I'm willing to bet that larger than half of the SN kids whose parents would love to home school are not because their parents have to work. It's definately not easy, and I would not presume to go farther than to imagine the sadness involved in feeling that one is "pushed" into that decision.

It is much more complicated than a simple "More money" or "More enrolled students" makes a difference. I long-term subbed as a second grade teacher in an extremely wealthy school district in Naperville. In that school was one of the most worthless "educators" I've had the misfortune to work with. In my class was a student with Downs Syndrome, and while I was there, her annual IEP meeting came up. Less than two hours before the meeting, the lead special education coordinator came rushing into my room with blank forms, begging me to help her fill out her portion of the paperwork, on this child I had known less than three weeks. This woman for sure earned more than twice what I made, and probably four times the amount that the little girl's 1:1 aide (who was worth her weight in gold) made.

It's a rock and a hard place. The services are through the school districts, by law. To receive speech, OT, PT, etc. either requires battling the schools (if you home school) into services, or locating private services and hoping you're accomplishing what you need. Through the swing towards homeschooling, there is hope that public schools examine why... and then accommodate.

If there is to be an actual "change" in the current public school system, the agents of change need to be those who remove themselves from the cycle completely. There needs to be a catalyst. Change will not happen with more and more money being blindly tossed towards a district, and hoping it manages to trickle down to the right spot. If a change in money needs to happen at all, it needs to be with where it is aimed.