When I started first grade in Nashville, Tn, it was 1976. My parents were given two choices for my schooling. They could either send me to private school, an option that was only afforded to the wealthy, or they could put me on a school bus and ship me to the public school I was zoned for. They chose the latter and didn’t think twice about it. There were no choices in those days and the fact that both of my parents worked, meant that my siblings and I would get transported by a school bus to school and back every day until I got my driver’s license at 16. It meant that we would wait outside at a bus stop by ourselves with random children in the heat, rain, wind, and cold. Not having a choice in schools meant that if something went wrong at school, our only reaction was to suck it up and deal with it. There was no transferring schools because our school had a letter grade indicating inferiority or because we were getting bullied. In 1976, the only concern my parents had was this new concept called busing. In Nashville, it was the late 70’s when the powers that be took us from our neighborhood schools and shipped us 45 minutes away from our homes. In the end, the only issue my parents faced was that they bought a house in an up and coming neighborhood solely for the schools, just to see their children get moved to another school. As a child, it didn’t matter to me. There were still no choices and I still waited in the heat, rain, wind, and cold to catch a bus to go to school and if I didn’t like it? Deal with it! By the time I graduated in 1988, I had attended only 3 schools and had been with the same group of kids since first grade. We all went to elementary school together. Transitioned to middle school together and eventually graduated together. It was a good childhood and we loved it.
Welcome to the new generation. Welcome to the new millennium. It’s a time when testing dominates the conversations. Charter Schools have infiltrated the city. Private school vouchers are available if you happen to be zoned for a school with a grade of “F” and the teachers change schools more than restaurants hire and fire its waiters. In this generation, parents are made to sign Bullying Creeds that are nothing, but a veiled attempt to prove to the parents that the school cares more about their children than they do the standardized test schedule. It’s a time Post-Sandy Hook, where the choice in backpacks comes in red, blue, and bullet proof. It’s a time when the parents receive robocalls about reading to their children for 20 minutes a day and making sure their child gets a good nights sleep the night before one of the many tests they take throughout the year. In this new millennium, the phrase “parent engagement” is a buzz word creating connotations that the parent is a lazy slug drinking martini’s all day long, while the child plays in traffic; dirty and naked. Instructions on a half sheet of paper of how to teach your child respect comes home as a reminder as if it were a part of the weekly curriculum that we as parents just happen to forget about this week. Homework is given to kindergartners and a middle schooler prepares for high school, much like previous generations prepared for college.
Parents no longer talk on the playground about little league and swim lessons. The conversation revolves around the best way to get into charter and fundamental schools. Parents in the middle-class plan for elementary school much like the wealthy plan for prep school. “Getting your child into the best school” dominates the conversation and it plays out as a competition between rivals. In the Sunday paper, we read about failing schools and blame the teachers, parents, and surrounding community, without ever looking at the ultimate consequences of a system pitting parents against each other and teachers against the community. The first day of school no longer represents the ultimate passage of time that reminds us of a simpler era. It’s a time where parents wonder if their children’s friends will still be in school as the annual move to the local private, charter, fundamental, online, or home school takes its toll. The first day of school in today’s world is a constant reminder to a parent that their child is getting closer and closer to that elusive “test.” The first day is a yearly reminder to look at the school and see if your child is a “good fit.”
The dawning of a new millennium brought us stressed out children, overworked parents, and undervalued teachers. We lost pieces of our soul when the arts and music were cut and wonder why our children can’t think “outside the box.” A new system called “Common Core” was implemented, but no one bothered to tell the parents what the hell it is. No one can explain it and most haven’t even tried. Kids are legally prescribed drugs to settle them into a system no adult could manage without a bottle of Jack Daniels and parents frequently ask the question, “What meds does your child take?”
In this dawning of a new age, the middle class is moving out of the public school system in droves and moving to charter schools, fundamental schools, and online schools. This, leaves our public schools underfunded and lacking diversity. The classes are separating themselves and our politicians can only blame the teachers. Parents are choosing schools based on a letter grade and the ability to transport their children to a new school, with better resources and like minded people. It is legal segregation and is based on a parent’s ability to mobilize outside their immediate community.
Our children are being sold to the highest bidder and in this millennium, that bidder is called Pearson. In the quest to privatize our schools, our children have been sold down the river and the community sold a false bill of goods. Our teachers, who should be the hero of the community are vilified. The parents are shamed for not doing enough and the children victimized by the community that should love them. A parent’s choice is to fight and claw into the best public school and that public school might not be public at all. Parent’s share hints on how to circumvent the supposed “lottery,” used to choose children for charter schools.
It is 2015, and I would do anything to go back to a time when it was as simple as putting my child on a bus, where they went to school and just simply learned. Now, I have to concern myself with the grade of his school and a test that could make or break his educational career. I would love to send my son to school when bullying was a scuffle on the playground, instead of an internet nightmare where his identity is shattered into a million pieces for the world to see. I long for a time when I’m not given a list of foods I can’t send to school and a time before a recession took our money and jobs, inhibiting us to save for a college tuition that is beyond our reach, to begin with. I wish Columbine and Sandy Hook had never happened, so I didn’t have to worry whether or not he was coming home at night. I wish, however, more than any of this, that we could return to a time when the community pulled together to make sure our schools weren’t being dismantled one by one, for a system implemented by politicians who are bought and sold by corporate greed.
This is my plea and it is time for parents and teachers alike to stand up and say, “NO MORE!” It is time for us to attend school board meetings, write our Congressmen, and get involved, because if we don’t, it won’t be us that pays the price. It will be our children’s diminishing love for learning that is the ultimate victim. We must hold our political appointees as accountable as they hold us. The conundrum for me is that I believe that a parent should be able to educate their child in the way that they see fit. Their beliefs should be fostered, whether it be the quest for science, art, or religion. Parents should also hold their child’s school accountable for the quality of learning being offered. This concept might have been the original intent behind the current school culture, but it isn’t what is playing out. Parent’s aren’t sending their kids to the school that best fits their beliefs. They are sending their kids to school as a competitive, educational option that creates chaos school year in and school year out. It is the middle class, educational version of “keeping up with the Jones’s” and is being played out with our tax dollars and our children. Instead of building our schools up, using some sort of industrial age, private sector model of dog eat dog where schools should compete for the market share as if children were a traded commodity on Wall Street, it tore our schools apart. It tore the community apart and it has torn away that natural love for learning children are born with.