Jun 10, 2012

One Fix For Public School

I have just left San Francisco, where I attended the eighth grade graduation of my niece and nephew at the Nueva School, a school that says it is for “gifted” children.  Or, as one mother evidently referred to it, “jif-ted.”  The graduation is primarily comprised of 90 second speeches by 53 different eighth graders, all of which were pretty polished ~ some more revealing than others   Many were retrospectives of 13 years in Nueva’s wam cocoon.   No doubt these kids are impressive, and so is the school.

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There is a faint whiff in the air at elite private schools which causes me to recall Mark’s sometime-ago comment “These schools accept the smartest kids, put them through school, and then take credit for their brilliance as they prepare to leave.”

After graduation, we decamped to a celebration at my brother’s home where another family joined us, as did several grandparents and six classmates from Nueva.  The children sat at the opposite end of the table from the adults, regaling us with the true tales of Nueva which we had not heard at graduation.  They were smart and wonderfully funny, and proof that no matter how you try you can’t take the eighth grade out of the eighth grader.

What was most impressive was their confidence and their care for one another.   Thinking about the whole evening afterwards, it struck me that the principal things about most public schools that is different from private schools is the care, the self-referencing celebration and the deliberate creation of hallowed shared experiences.  What kids are taught matters so much less than how they are cared for and how much they are taught to believe that they matter.

Some charter schools do this, and so do some “public” schools ~ Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone~ do the same, but most public schools don’t.  We rail against teachers unions and the need for us to quicken the pace of our math and science programs when perhaps the most important thing we can do is institute a culture of caring and a belief system that each of us matters.

As Tony Robbins says, “success leaves clues.”    It doesn’t take ten or twenty or even forty thousand dollars a year to do this.  All it takes is an understanding of what it means to be a human being.

This might be hard to do in today’s America where “you matter less than I do,” but it is worth trying, and it could, maybe, set our lives on the right track again.    Not long ago, when private schools were not so abundant and the need to go to them so achingly painful, public high schools managed some of the caring and confidence building that we see in the world elite children inhabit today.  It was managed primarily through sports, and it was known as school pride.

How hard is school pride when the world is assailing the institution you attend, the teachers who teach you, and even you?

Smart and confident people can learn where ever they are.

What is hard to learn in this world is that we matter, and that we can make a difference, and that most important of all, together WE can make a real difference.  What if, instead of scoring teachers on classroom achievement, we started scoring them on the number of decent human beings they turn out.  We wouldn’t have to stop teaching, but we could create an environment where kids really want to learn.. and a world they might really want to live in.



  • Regarding public schools abilities or inabilities, what are your thoughts on:

    -Giving more control to the parents by eliminating (drastic step) The Department of Education which only gives a one-answer fits all for all students?

    -Should we bring educational decisions to the state and community level?

    -Should schools be managed locally to achieve greater accountability and parental involvement. Recognizing that the education of children is inextricably linked to moral values, should we return authority to parents to determine the education of their children, without interference from government?

    Just thinking.

  • Hi Sherry:
    I don’t think getting rid of the Department of Education — I think we should change it.

    A big part of education is socializing children and that is less likely to happen if their parents are running the show…

    But that is a whole other discussion. I was just thinking about the sad state of the world, especially in this country and how we might become better people.

    P.S. in no way do I think all private schools produce decent children. but most kids who graduate from private schools do think they matter…

  • What I am thinking though, in becoming better people, it is inextricably linked to having moral values, (what ever organization). Perhaps that’s why Private schools can turn out a more confident and centered child is because private schools have specific moral values as a standard. Teachers that have those same values apply and get hired/and become stewards of those values.
    ? That may create an environment where kids really want to learn.. ?

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Gloria. Circa 1955.

Gloria. Circa 2012.

Other than working for the American Red Cross in Korea for two years, Gloria Garvey has lived in Hawai`i since 1971. Her opinion and other writing has appeared in: The American Philatelist. Honolulu Weekly, The Honolulu Advertiser, The Honolulu Star Bulletin, The Star Advertiser, Hawai`i Reporter, Pacific Business News, Island Scene, The Design Management Journal.

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