I went to public schools growing up, and because of this, American public education functionally made me who I am.
Sure, there were things my parents did that shaped my education. My mother, an avid reader, always kept books around and took us to the library whenever we wanted. My dad would read to us when he got home from work, which I consider to be one of my most important memories. My brother and I had toys, but all of them required an immense amount of imagination. There was never a moment in my early childhood when my brain wasn’t in use.
So when I got to school, I was ready. I remember feeling very inadequate on the first day of kindergarten when I didn’t know the difference between left and right, but overall, I was pretty much ready for anything. (Except the rich, blonde girls that plagued me for the entirety of my student career. No one is ever ready for them, though.)
With the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary, I thought I’d take a minute to talk about American Public Education and what it’s meant to me. Or, I guess I should say, what it’s given me.
001: A Path.
When I was eight, I decided I was going to become a writer. I had just finished Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby, Age 8. And for the first time, I felt that I had seen a real-life family being portrayed. In the early 1990s, there was a lot of garbage sitcoms that showed perfect families with stay-at-home moms, gigantic houses, and literally no one ever talked about money. But in the first chapter of Ramona Quimby, Age 8, it’s made clear that money is tight in the Quimby house. Later on, Ramona’s parents get in a fight. I decided then that I wanted to be a writer, and proceeded to buy several blank journals at the dollar store the next time I went to the mall.
I was in Ms. Galloway’s second grade class when I read that book. I checked out a copy of it at the school library before finally buying a copy at the school book fair. To this day, when I think of Ramona Quimby, I can smell the cherry Mr. Sketch markers I used daily in that class.
I’m constantly thankful that I was never homeschooled or sent to some elite private school for rich kids. Why? American public education gave me perspective. Because I was never cloistered away or kept from a broad cross section of my peers, I was always aware of expectations and benchmarks. My ego was never artificially inflated because I never got to the big fish in a small pond. I never got to pay my way into anything. I never got to assume my best was good enough because there were always students better than me.
Because of this, I learned quickly what my strengths were, and what I needed to work on. I can remember as early as first grade being told I was a good reader. And I can remember my junior year of high school when I worked my ass off and finally rose to the top of my Algebra II class. Without that perspective, I wouldn’t have known what to work on, or what I was good at.
003: Next-Level Emotional Intelligence.
I consider myself a communicator extraordinaire. Not only am I great at reading body language and the emotions of others, I have been known to charm my way into promotions, or coveted spots. How? Well, because I went to public school, and you absolutely have to learn that on the fly if you want to survive. And luckily for me, I had teachers who were fantastic at not only teaching the academic lessons, but who also pushed socialization.
And this didn’t end at elementary school. I can remember these lessons occurring as late as high school. Teachers didn’t hesitate to call down students and explain to them why they needed to phrase questions differently in order to achieve what they wanted, or why their body language was incorrect for their statement. At the time, it was incredibly stressful. But I am so thankful for it now, and I consider myself to be a master communicator because of it.
004: A Career.
True story: My high school freshman Spanish teacher asked me if I planned to go college. I straight up said no. I couldn’t see a need for it, and at the age of 14, I totally had everything figured out. Well, she didn’t let that comment rest, and four years later, I went to college. But I cannot stress how much the American public education system played a roll in my enrollment in college.
Without AP classes, teachers who cared way more than they had to for what they were paid, and the perspective to know that I would excel in the college environment, I wouldn’t have gone. This may not seem like that big of a revelation, but it is. Since first enrolling in college, I’ve earned a bacherlor’s degree, two master’s degrees, and now I literally teach college sophomores. ALL BECAUSE OF THE AMERICAN PUBLIC EDUCATION SYSTEM.
Let me rephrase that.
I wouldn’t be where I am today without the American public education system.
I’m not saying I loved every single day of school, because nobody ever does, and I’d gladly erase fourth grade all together. But I am saying that American public education has made me who I am.
I also need to state outright that my experience in the American public education system was nearly ideal. I had the great fortune to grow up in one of the best districts in the state where the textbooks were never more than three years old. I debated about whether or not I should write this, just because it feels like bragging. When it comes to schools, I won the metaphorical lottery, and I know that many people can’t say that they got as lucky as I did.
But I also know this. The American public education system is flawed. And it may need an overhaul. But what it doesn’t need is a person who has never been a part of it at the helm. Betsy DeVos’s advocacy of school choice and school vouchers, I fear, will spell the end of the system that made me, a system I was hoping would make my children too.
I’m not ready for the American public education system to implode, nor am I ready to think about the consequences this will hold for me as a college educator.
What was I saying about nobody really being ready for the rich, blonde girls?