245. Public Schools

Public schools have a lot in common with democracy. In a democracy, you stand a good chance of ending up with situations you don’t like at all, and all you can do is try to bring about change. Does that make you a liberal? The change you want may come very slowly, and it may never come at all. Even when the change you want does come, you have to fight to keep it. Does that make you a conservative?
A friend of mine believes in public schools much more staunchly than I do. He things it’s elitist and undemocratic to remove your children from public schools just because you think there’s a better way to educate children. If you really believe in a better way, he says, you have a responsibility to work to make that better way known and accessible to everyone.
When he made this argument, his children weren’t old enough to go to school yet. Mine were, and they went to a public school. My wife and I were appalled at some of the goings-on in school, and we were busy people who didn’t have time to work for change. Neither one of us wanted to run for school committee, and I suspect that neither one of us would have been elected if we had; we were far from the mainstream.
I’ll never know to what degree financial constraints and other practical considerations stopped us from having our children go to private schools, nor to what degree my friend’s point of view influenced us. We did decide to have our children go to school in Wellesley; we were able to do so because I taught in Wellesley. That decision was similar, but not identical, to deciding to send them to private schools. We lived in a town that did not have a reputation for having outstanding public schools, and we were sending our children to schools in a town that did.
Our children were nevertheless exposed to people who disagreed with us about education. They had some teachers who stressed different things from what we stressed, and we and our children had to deal with some of the discrepancies. Sometimes we learned that our
approaches weren’t always the most effective ones. Sometimes our children’s teachers learned from us. And sometimes there were persistent disagreements.
In retrospect, now, I’m glad we sent our children to the Wellesley Public Schools. I’ll never know whether I’d feel that way about the public schools in some of the other towns we lived in, or whether private schools would have inspired my loyalty. But I urge you, as you consider past, present, and/or future decisions about your child’s education, not to trust easy answers. And no matter where your child goes to school, there will probably be some ups and some downs.

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