Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Universal Orlando, January 8, 2011. (Ian Boichat via Flickr.com). In public domain.
I’ve written so many times already about the state of education reform and how corporate interests via private philanthropy, government conservatism and the technocratic generation have been hell-bent in deforming public education. I’ve even given some glimpses into my own son’s journey through elementary school in Montgomery County, Maryland over the past five years, as they’ve watered-down their curriculum and grading system while ratcheting up their testing regimen. It’s all led me to one conclusion. We need to do something for my 10-year-old son that neither me nor my wife would’ve ever gone through ourselves, especially with middle school a few months away.
The way I see it, we have four choices going into the 2014-15 school year and beyond:
1. Finding a private school for our son to attend, especially for seventh and eighth grade;
2. Finding an appropriate parochial school for our son to attend, especially for seventh and eighth grade;
3. I become a certified home schooler in time for my son’s sixth, seventh and eighth grade experiences, and educate him myself for a year or two;
4. Somehow find work overseas so that my son can get a proper, non-US public education in say, Canada, the UK, even Hong Kong or Cuba at this point.
Gonzaga College High School, Washington, DC, April 12, 2010. (AgnosticPreachersKid via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via Creative Commons.
There are certain drawbacks to all of these options, of course. A good private school in the DC area is a $15,000 per year prospect or more (as much as $30,000 per year at the upper end). And though my son can and sometimes does excel, he’s just a slightly above-average student (at least, according to MSA, MAP-M, MAP-R and a whole bunch of other tests), meaning scholarship money isn’t likely. The past two years of constant testing have sucked the joy of learning out of my kid’s memory banks. The only reason he reads at home at all is because we make him, not because he’s bought into the idea of reading and the world of imagination that it connects to. Not exactly the way to glide in for a tour of a school in Bethesda, Chevy Chase or DC.
With parochial schools, though definitely within our budget, the question becomes how much constant retraining would we have to do on the religious side. We’re non-denominational Christians, and ones would do not regularly go to church, either. Between the Catholic and Jewish schools, it could get confusing for our school. Yes, I know that they’ve become more secular since my days in K-12, but it does beg the question of whether we’d be trading in one set of endless headaches for another. On the other hand, going to a parochial school’s still likely better than a constant battery of tests for students-turned-lab-rats.
I’ve given homeschooling a lot of thought. It would be a piece of cake for the state to certify me. But it would reduce my income, already up and down since I became an adjunct professor and part-time consultant five years ago. It would curtail my ability to find new and additional work, as my days would be filled with teaching my son myself. Heck, my son might resent not being around kids his own age after a couple of months! But a year of homeschooling from me might be all my son needs. I have the potential to do in one year what my son’s public education couldn’t do in three. Especially if I could resuscitate his joy for learning.
What about finding work that would allow us to escape America’s badly damaged public education system? Sure, but I’d be (and am) competing with folks who already live in Canada, the UK and Hong Kong (among other places). My skills include teaching US, African American and World History and grad courses in Education Foundations, writing articles and books and a decade as a nonprofit manager. Unique, but not so in-demand and so unique that Canadians would beat down my door to hire me just because of my skills. Yet, all it takes is finding one job, one position overseas that could change all of our life trajectories.
With all of that, it appears that these are all better choices than sticking with Montgomery County Public Schools for the next seven years. The Common Core — really, the Common Snore of killing students’ imaginations, teachers’ autonomy and the attempt at critical thinking all at once — has arrived. And it is truly a not-so-silent death knell to public education as a vehicle for social change or social justice. So we need to make some life-altering choices, not the kind our federal and state governments and local school boards provide. And we need to make them soon.