I’ve decided to write this blog post to address an issue that I know some are raising — should people who have serious concerns about aspects of public education, support the teacher walkout?
To me, the answer is YES.
But to explain a little bit more, I want to tell you a bit of context, both of my criticisms of the system but also why I still support it, warts and all.
I grew up in a small town in Oklahoma and my public school education. I had some stellar, highly motivated teachers. I also had some dreadful teachers. But mostly I had teachers who were doing the best they could with very limited resources and way too many students, folks like my mom (who I think started teaching when I was in late elementary school) who cared deeply for their students and wanted the best for them.
Unfortunately, my educational needs were not met and the needs of many of my classmates were not met either, but we got enough of those needs met to get by and move on to other things. Taken as a whole though, it was an impossible task that my teachers were given, to try to meet the unique educational needs of way too many students, with very little resources. I probably was more frustrated than some of my classmates (I was a stereotypical “twice-exceptional” kid, gifted in some areas, impaired in others) but I know some others struggled much more. In short, I vowed that I had kids I would do my best to do something different for them.
Fast forward to today. I’ve been a step-dad to an incredible 11 year old son for the last 6 years, and he is every bit a misfit as I was. And I can see that as awesome as he is, he would struggle in most conventional school settings. And so my wife and I have tried many other forms of schooling — church-based private schools, secular/farm-based private schools and now home schooling. (and we’ve looked at public schooling as an option too) The reality is that there is no easy answer for us. We’ve learned the hard way that the price of a private school is not a good indicator of whether a school will be effective at doing its job, and that many of the problematic issues of many public schools (i.e. too large of class sizes, lack of truly individualized education, etc.) are present in private schools too. And homeschooling is not easy… it is in many ways working well for us, at this moment, but it requires a tremendous amount time of time, patience and creativity, plus some money for supplies and to get help from other educators/therapists on some specific areas. It also requires, at least for us, two parents who make enough income to make ends meet and not work 40 hours/week. This is a struggle for us to pull off, but it is realistically out of reach for most of the families we are friends with… which brings me back to the issue of public schools and the question of whether there are do-able alternatives to public school or not for most people.
Oklahoma’s median household income is around $50,000 (cite) but we also have one of the most inequal distributions of wealth in the nation (cite), so much so that if you omit the income of the top 1% of Oklahomans, the median income number drops to $41,995. And many make far less than this, since 16.1% of Oklahomans make less than the poverty line ($24,250 for a family of 4. (cite)
Here’s another breakdown of these economic demographic numbers:
95th percentile – $157k
60th percentile – $56.6k
40th percentile $39.9k
20th percentile $19.3k
Thinking in realistic terms about educational options for each income bracket:
- 95th percentile – These folks can afford any private school in Oklahoma, at least for one kid. If they have more than one kid, it might be a stretch but probably still doable. Home schooling is also an option, depending on how much the parent(s) have to earn to maintain their high standard of living.
- 80th percentile – Private schooling for more than one child is too expensive for many in this bracket, absent very frugal life choices. Homeschooling can be an option, particularly for families who can afford to have one stay-at-home parent.
- 60th percentile – Absent scholarships, private schooling is out of reach. Homeschooling is only doable for those who can make ends meet on one income or are especially flexible.
- 40th percentile – Absent scholarships, private schooling is a no-go. Homeschooling is only doable for the especially frugal and flexible. Even public school families with more than one child will be pinched for their kids to afford to do extracurricular sports, etc, most of which require fees to participate these days in Oklahoma.
- 20th percentile – These folks are struggling to even have their kids manage public school, given the cost of providing clothes and supplies. Extra-curricular activities are out of reach, but the one saving grace is that these families will likely be eligible for reduced-price lunches.
Despite the propaganda of the so-called School Choice movement, the majority of Oklahoma families absolutely depend on public education. There are no other realistic options, assuming of course that our state still believes that ALL children deserve an education.
And so that is why I support the #OklahomaTeachersWalkout.
And my challenge to those who have chosen (or arguably have been forced by circumstances) to go the home or private education route, is to:
1. Recognize the privileges we have that enable us to choose other options which might be best for our child(ren).
2. Resolve to do our best to use our privileges (including monetary resources social influence, etc.) clout to support public education and improve it.