Why We Pulled Our Daughter Out of a Private Suburban School and Enrolled Her in Public School in New Orleans — a headline intended to provoke. New Orleans public schools have such a bad reputation. How on earth could we send our daughter there?
It’s an act of hope.
Also trust. And determination. And a lot of other things, I suppose, but let’s come back to hope.
Hope for our daughter. Of course we hope our daughter gets an excellent education. We all want what’s best for our children. This is trite but true. We would not send our daughter to a school which was not up to our standards. As we are educators ourselves, with some graduate education under our belts, our standards are pretty high.
Hope for our pocketbook. We are not so poor that money is the determining factor, but we’re not so rich that I can avoid considering it. We are stuck in the middle. We can afford private school tuition. We’ve paid it for the past year. But it would not be easy. Money is an object. The least of all objects, but still an object. We are already paying taxes after all. If we pay tuition we pay twice, and that offends my sense of economy.
Hope for our community. Ah, here’s the rub. In my lifetime I feel that local communities everywhere have been undermined and weakened, to the point that many of us don’t even know what a community is any more. Our sense of the public sphere is diminished. The common life and the common good have all but evaporated. And that is a shame.
It seems our national political discourse has framed the relevant issues in terms of a conflict between individualism and government control. Libertarian types refer to public schools as “government schools.” I’m somewhat sympathetic to this critique, in all honesty. But what is lost in this debate? There has to be a way to think about and talk about our commonalities without resorting to the authoritarian structures of the state or the private model. Recently, the Occupy movement returned some attention to the idea of public space. I found that heartening, even though I’m skeptical that any real progress has been made.
Schools are among the most important public institutions we have. While private values such as religion may get reproduced at home and in the church or temple, whatever shared public culture we have gets reproduced in the public schools.
But make no mistake. Sending our daughter to public school is not some sort of altruistic act. We are not sacrificing our child on some altar of ideology. That would be perverted and wrong.
Rather, as I see it, we are thinking ahead. We are thinking not just of our daughter’s education but her overall quality of life. What kind of city will the next generation inherit? We need more quality public schools here. Everybody says so. The health of this city depends on the health of its public schools, both of which have languished far too long.
By investing in the school, putting our lives into it, we are investing in our future, and our daughter’s future.
A school is not a clockwork toy that one can wind up and let go. It requires constant effort and constant renewal. Every year there is a new crop of kids, a new crop of families to bring into the mix. This year we are part of that new crop. We plan to do our part. I’m not sure exactly what form this will take, as we are still getting the lay of the land, so to speak. But we hope to find our roles and make meaningful contributions.
This is how a community uplifts and sustains itself. This is what we believe in. I hope this hope is not misplaced.