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Why I’m Glad I Went to Public School

The best learning experiences we have in school aren't always the ones adults would have picked for us.

by
Bridget Johnson

Bio

October 8, 2013 - 12:11 pm
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I started my education in Catholic school, where I was lucky to get a start with phonics, foreign languages and the spelling bee. Nail polish wasn’t allowed but critical thought was encouraged, with a heavy grade-school emphasis on compassion and generosity toward others. Not all students sent to a Catholic school are Catholic, and each one I attended featured a curriculum that studied different religions and stressed the common ground of shared values. The only negative learning experience I can remember is a school librarian not wanting me to check out science books she thought were too advanced for one so young.

Living in California in seventh grade, I was pulled out of Catholic school and sent to public school for the first time. First came the culture shock — being clad in plaid day in and day out doesn’t give you much guidance on how to dress, never mind that 1988 wasn’t exactly a banner year for fashion anyway.

Once I slowly got the hang of those vile acid-washed jeans with zippers on the ankles (and bows, in case anyone is trying to forget), I got the hang of staking out my place in this new world. And I did the best thing possible: made friends who were supposedly bad for me. Yes, we did things like flip through issues of Cosmo at the drug store, pass notes in class and talk a lot about boys, and sneak in to watch Pretty Woman, which was the only thing bordering on not legal (though I don’t see an MPAA-ratings police at theaters). I learned how to do makeup, went through the awkward junior high dances where friends matchmake (“my friend thinks you’re cute…”), and had my first big crush on a boy from one of those dances (the song: Def Leppard’s “Love Bites”).

And though the education itself was fine — as was the teacher who thankfully told me that even though I was 8th-grade-awkward I’d be better looking my freshman year of college (trust me, I held onto that) — the greatest education came from meeting people who were so different. My dear friend Heather’s life was a complete mess: her mom was in prison for drugs and prostitution, her stepfather had raped her, she lost her virginity when she was 10 years old. Yet as hopeless as her world was around her, she was always keen on being there when others needed a shoulder, ready with a smile and a joke, and being a veritable encyclopedia on Guns ‘N’ Roses. I learned more from Heather about resilience and kindness than I did about Axl Rose.

The best learning experiences we have in school aren’t always the ones adults would have picked for us.

It’s also an extreme reminder that school serves as a necessary refuge for many, many kids whose parents range from mediocre to functionally nonexistent. You may decry these families, both single- and two-parent, or futilely try to convince less-than-stellar parents that they’re not the model families they may make themselves out to be, but the fact remains that kids need a place to escape and grow into adults.

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Top Rated Comments   
I never let my schooling interfere with my education. - Mark Twain
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Greetings:

As the beneficiary of 13 years of Catholic education in the Bronx of the '50s and '60s (with no do-overs), I usually think about the paucity of mentions that it gets among all the paens to the next best rightest way to educate the oncoming generations. In an era in which the business "community" talks about "best practices", the lack of intellectual curiosity about how the Catholic parochial school system does what it does with the resources at its disposal is emblematic to me about how America is being transformed. Personally, what I find most interesting is the fact that Catholics have for more than a century been running their own reverse-voucher system in which they carry their share of the public education tax load (and its other loads, too) while foregoing any of its outcomes in the interest of their children.

While fond memories, and I even have them of my all-expense-paid tour of sunny Southeast Asia, are a useful adjunct to a happy life, these "public" institutions are likely, these days, to be of an overtly politically progressive bent, providing plenty of indoctrination along with a modicum of education. They are, after all, where so many of those "low-information" voters come from.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Glad it worked out for you.

There is no way that I would send my son to the local gang/drug infested/ under-achieving moral equivalency pushing high school. I suppose that if you get kicked every day you learn to avoid being kicked. I find that method of imparting life's lessons to be dubious at best.

Also, what is college if not a cloistered existence? It's certainly not the real world and it doesn't adequately prepare you for the work environment at most companies.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (26)
All Comments   (26)
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I got beat to a pulp by a mob of black students in High School. Valuable lesson learned.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
There's one problem with your conclusion: none of your experiences are unique to public education. Indeed, you probably would have had very similar experiences in a secular private school, some Catholic schools, and, yes, even homeschooling. (You seem to be making the common mistake of assuming that homeschooled kids spend all day at home and don't go to museums or participate in community sports or other activities like Boy Scouts)

The other mistake in your conclusion is that these experiences are more important than academic preparation. Unfortunately, they aren't. You have all the time in the world to have those kind of social experiences, (assuming you don't join your town's Key Club or volunteer with your parish soup kitchen) but you don't really have a whole lot of time while growing up to obtain important skills such as basic math and reading comprehension. I simply don't think it's worth sacrificing learning how to multiply or develop a robust vocabulary just to learn fads and chatspeak. (While someone can learn these things later in life, it's MUCH harder and, of course, severely limits career opportunities)

In short, good try, but ultimately I'm afraid I remain unconvinced.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
In public school we were fed lies: The US government was going to shrink and we would come under the direction and control of the UN; Uncle Joe (Stalin) was our new best friend; the Great Depression started in 1920 but was camouflaged by the activities of two industries – Hollywood and motels! Hourly radio news had in total more information than the nightly radio prime time summaries, and the interesting, unexplained things were deleted. There were unexplained things in the newspaper. If Uncle Joe was our new best friend, why was the State Department trying to talk Rolls Royce out of selling 25 Nene jet engines to the USSR? There were unexplained things everywhere like the Displaced Persons and why the POWs in Italy going home on trains were suiciding when crossing gorges. It was all up to me to figure out. The whole thing looked like such a tangle of falsehoods and concealment that accepting the Public Narrative was not possible. Every element had to be sniffed, kicked, and perhaps destruction-tested first while acquiring a strong stomach. I read newspapers and weekly/monthly magazines. Kid fiction was boring and the library would not check out adult non-fiction to me so I did not attempt books again for five years until I was almost in high school. I graduated at the very top of the lower third of my class; in our junior year when tested with the California Test for Educational Whatever, I got the top score. In effect, stinky education was a boon.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Since we're making cases based on anecdotes, here are mine, some of the highlights...

8th-grade year: our high school was 8 thru 12. 8th graders who are mostly just boys, physically, in a locker room with physical adults, but still mental adolescents. Intimidation and bullying were the norm. The phys-ed coaches were nothing short of sadistic.

9th-grade year: more of same, but slightly better able to deal with the problems, er, more physically. Same sadistic phys-ed coaches. These jerks were also the "health" instructors, and each with a mouthful of pyorrhea brought on by chewing/dipping, they saw no irony there. I particularly enjoyed the time I was used by the coach as a "show and tell" for the ravages of obesity. Meanwhile, the high school senior band had "first-year" initiations that during war time are referred to as "atrocities". A couple of the highlights: being beaten with a tuba strap, being forced to smear Ben-Gay on your nards.

10th grade: the physical bullying had died down, but the phys-ed coaches were still sadists. Ours could barely read (since he was the driver's ed instructor, that mattered), but that's okay, he was otherwise charming. As I'm doing sit-ups with the class, he calls my name in a loud voice and says, "You look like a fat old frog. If I had a knife, I'd dissect you."

Etc., etc., and etc.

I really and truly value those wonderful experiences. I learned at an early age what it often takes a lifetime of Reformed Christian training to impart, namely, human nature is depraved. I saw one of my old coaches at our 40th reunion, the one who used me for show-and-tell. I shook hands with him, put on my most pleasant grin, and said, "You don't remember me, but I was one of the fat kids you used to torture."

I have no way of knowing whether a private school would have been better, and my mom worked, so home-schooling was out of the question. Somehow, your mind through the years pulls the good memories from the bad. But as a general rule, I was smart enough to realize only a few of my teachers were any good. One true bright spot was my second-year algebra teacher, a woman with remarkable teaching abilities, and probably the reason I was able to earn a B.A. in math (though I went no further). As a whole, though, I'd rather be in Philadelphia.
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46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
There are many private schools that are secular and there are many religiously affiliated schools that are far more diverse than some public schools. Generalizations are just that, and while your experiences may have helped you grow and develop empathy for those different than yourself, far too many other young people are now left behind in our public schools.

I know that I began home schooling my oldest daughter because the local public school thought that her reading abilities were too advanced and that I should make it clear to her that she should find other hobbies...she was in the third grade at that time. So, because my child wasn't appropriately illiterate in a majority minority school she was the problem.

Every parent, regardless of income, should be able to use the tax dollars appropriated for education in their locality for a school of their choice.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Please stick to bunnies, Bridget.


46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
You went to public school in the 80's. That is all you need to know. It's different now.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Is this your picture? If so, I attended same school; I recognize boys' vests and crest on red sweater. It was and still is a good school.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Any way you put it, cool it, heat, I don't need it. Public schools are run by politicians, and indirectly by other institutions of the Nation. These today are dominated by the Mentally Disordered Ones, i.e., aka, The Left, Socialists/Marxist/Progressives/Degenerates. Much of the filth overflows from "Depts. of Education" at universities.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
No thanks to public school from the people's republic of Kalifornia.

Example, my youngest girl has three friends she has known since kindergarten. Two go to public school, one goes to Catholic school, and one (my girl) is home schooled. All girls come from intact families with conservative values.

At a recent M other/Daughter book club meeting, one of the public school girls suggested a certain book for that month. She and the other public school student raved about it, said it was a wonderful book. We agreed, and my daughter started reading. After a couple of chapters she came to me and said "Mom, I don't think this is an appropriate book". I went through it, and sure enough it was awful (and if that book accurately portrays our young people today we are in so much trouble)
We then had a great discussion about the book and the messages it was sending. It turns out that the Catholic school friend had the same response. Once the Moms started the book, they were also horrified by the content and a good discussion ensued.

However, the only reason the public school moms knew about the books was because of book club. They never would have known what their daughters were reading at the advice of public school friends. The girls have absorbed the world view of that book without their parents even knowing!

The negative influence is there, it is pervasive and it can negatively impact the moral standards of kids even from intact homes. God help the kids without a strong family structure.

46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
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