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From assured seats in public schools to free and quality education, here are 4 reasons this mom loves the U.S. public school system, despite its share of problems.
When my Religion in the Media professor at American University instructed me to call him Jack, I visibly and violently recoiled. “But Professor, I can’t call you that! It’s so disrespectful.”
My professor was 70 years old, with a long-white beard. I’d been living in the U.S. for 2 years by then. I was enrolled in a Master’s program in Film, Video and New Media here in the U.S., and was steadily falling in love with the whole American system of education. I never did call my professor by his given name, but my love affair with America’s education system continued way beyond my American University days.
I now have a middle schooler and an elementary aged child, and am experiencing the public school system through them. There are plenty of pluses and minuses, of course, but here’re my top reasons for why I love the American system.
I live in the state of Maryland and here, elementary and middle school education is mandated. Rules vary state to state, but elementary level education is compulsory in most places. Not sending your child to school is actually a prosecutable offense – a child has to be enrolled in a public, or private school, or registered as being homeschooled.
As a parent, I can be assured that my child will definitely have a seat reserved for her in my zoned elementary, middle or high school. “Sorry, our seats are full” can never be put forward as an excuse by the zoned public school.
Not only is education a right, it’s free! If there are reasons why I find absolute joy in paying my taxes on time, they’re these: the public school system, the library and museum networks, the roads.
An American woman’s response against uniforms stopped me in my tracks. She said she had had a hard life, and she’d often had to settle for hand-me-downs or buy clothes from thrift stores. She said she embellished these items, and upcycled them into her own creations. If she’d been forced into conformity like everyone else, she would’ve died inside, she said.
I see the value of her comment now. In my daughter’s public school, you see kids walking in the door with hair dyed blue, pink, purple with Kool Aid. Older kids have visible tattoos, long hair, piercings. Eventually, when they head out to college, or enter the job market, which values conformity, many of them dial down their looks. Many of them don’t. All of it contributes to creativity, self-expression and ultimately diversity.
My husband and I wanted to know – shouldn’t kids be expected to know multiplication tables by rote, and do all their math calculations by hand? No, said the teacher, we’re okay with that. In the county school system, educators are much more focused on teaching concepts to the kids than on making sure they do everything manually.
The curriculum tries to relate what kids learn in one subject with what they’re learning in another. Which is how, one year, right around Halloween, my daughter’s 1st grade class read a Dr. Seuss poem in Reading and Learning, and learned to make oobleck, a gooey mess inspired by Dr. Seuss’s book, in Science class. Most 1st graders might not able to name the chemicals in oobleck, but what they’ve learned early on is how much fun it can be to make some.
Gun violence is a real threat in some schools. In such places, it is not uncommon to find metal detectors installed at entrances and security personnel on duty.
Activities and amenities at individual schools are largely dependent on funding. If School A has an active and involved PTA whose members show up for school board meetings, and School B doesn’t, it is possible that School A will get way more state funding for optional projects than School B.
I'm a writer, wannabe-comic-strip creator, naturalized US citizen, small town desi girl
When I was growing up even low end schools that my brothers went to imparted good education. Teachers were dedicated and only weak students opted for private tuitions. That was fifty years back. Now private schools offering English as the medium of instruction are mushrooming because teachers in government run schools have no accountability. We have vegetable vendors and dosawallahs paying through their nose to educate their children in such schools and bear the additional burden of sending their children to private tutors because being uneducated they cannot teach their children even while in primary classes. Very often the tutors are teachers from their own school who take up tuitions to supplement their income which is much lower than the salary paid to government school teachers. For this reason teaching is not a preferred career option and ambitious students flood the IT sector.
Having taught in both in India and US High schools for a considerable period of time I must admit that Math teaching in US public schools leaves a lot to be desired. I was asked to teach Algebra for freshman, the first year in the public school that I taught and I was so aghast to see that students would use calculators to even add simple single digit numbers. The problem may have been more severe in my school but in general most students do not view Math favorably at all. The problem may lie somewhere in the elementary school where students need to be taught multiplication tables.
More importantly as a teacher I feel we are too restrained by the evaluation methods that are used to assess teachers .These methods are too subjective and lays the blame on the teachers for every student who fails. I don’t want to sound like the bad carpenter blaming the tools but American system of education should learn to place more responsibility and accountability on the shoulders of the students especially in high schools.
In India however we have over anxious parents trying to do better than their best and over stressing the children.
We have to learn to do things in moderation.
Valid points all. I don’t know that the American school system pays all that much better. I really have no reference point to comment on that. However, I do see plenty of super-motivated new grads joining in the elementary school system all the time. You can tell from the way they interact that for some, it is a calling.
I too have a bit of an “ick” reaction when it comes to calculator use. Similarly when it comes to online research vs. actual sitting-in-the-library-poring-over-encyclopedia research. Definitely, in the days calculators weren’t so common, and Google wasn’t a verb, these things had a time and place. Now, I’m not so sure. Are we simply overstressing manual skills over actual concepts?
Math – wonder if it is a cultural hardsell in the US, reserved for the nerds and geeks. Or boys? Especially with my daughters and a couple of their close friends I interact with – they seem to do well in the subject, but somehow never seem to enjoy it as much as I remember enjoying it at this age.
Kamala aunty – great point @moderation.
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