Friday, November 14, 2008

School Daze

As always, when a new President with kids is elected, comes the discussion of where in DC his kids will attend school. The question, "Public vs. Private" is asked, the declaration that "sending your kids to a DC public school will send a powerful message in your confidence in American public education" is bandied about. I even heard a woman on NPR yesterday (a DC resident) "respectfully request" that the Obamas send their daughters to a DC public school.

Okay. How to say this gently... LADY, ARE YOU HIGH?!!

Why anyone who had other available options would voluntarily put their kids in a DC Public School is absolutely beyond me. Sure, some are better than others. But most are horrible. As in, terrible. As in, third world. For real. We left DC a little earlier than planned for my transplant, but the fact that we would be moving by the time Bambina was of school-age was a given. We could not afford private school, the school she was assigned to was indescribably bad, and we just could not run the risk that she would not get selected in the "lottery" for open slots at better District schools. I'll gamble on a bunch of things, but not on my child's education. To be sure, the schools are on their way thanks to new mayor Adrian Fenty and his new Chancellor of Schools Michelle Rhee. But the obstacles they are facing from the old guard just point to the ongoing intransigence of the culture of mediocrity that has plagued DC schools since the 80's.

So imagine you are the President of the United States. Even leaving aside for a moment all the security issues surrounding your child. Would you send your kid to a school with crumbling infrastructure, broken toilets that haven't been fixed in 3 years, test scores in the cellar, and late night drug activity in the playground? (That was the school for Bambina in our district). Of course you wouldn't. You'd be the shittiest parent in the world if you did. So why do people expect the incoming president-Democrat or not-to consign his kids to that, when the vast majority of Americans--and the majority of DC residents--wouldn't do it on a bet?

Hearing this DC mom on NPR yesterday, I involuntarily snort-laughed. I mean, since when did putting your kids in a crappy DC school indicate your belief in the American Public Education system? DC is outside the mainstream of American public schools. It has the third highest per-capita spending per pupil in the country, with the worst return on investment. Maybe putting your kid in a public school in Greenwich, CT would indicate a belief in American public education (it being tied to property taxes and all...), but to intimate that somehow someone doesn't love and support American public education because they won't collude with DC's culture of mediocrity and apathy? That's bull. I am publicly-educated and so is the BBDD. We want nothing more for Bambina than that she have a similarly-public education. But that doesn't mean we have to accede to appalling conditions just to say we support public education.

So I say to the Obamas (because I know they are listening): send your daughters to the school that will guarantee them the best education and the best step forward they can get. It's not up to you to provide a vote of confidence in a failed system, and anyone who expects you to is delusional.


Utah Savage said...

Well said. I can't imagine a worse nightmare for girls that age to not only suffer a school with such problems, but then to be the President's kids? What a security nightmare.

Ken said...

I remember my mother taking flack for being a public school administrator (vice-principal, and later principal) while sending me to a private school. But even though the public schools in our neighborhood were great, the private school was a better fit for me. She didn't see it as her job to vote with her kid.

Julie said...

As a DC resident, I have to say there really isn't that much debate about this inside the beltway. It's pretty much a given that they will go to private schools here -- partly because of the quality of the school system, although I think the on the record answer is more for security reasons. Even when the Clintons moved into the White House, there was some debate over private vs. public, but the majority of the people here understood that the First Family can't really live like the average American family.