Thursday, February 28, 2008

Lessons Learned

One great thing about a blog, I have discovered, is that not only can it be a destination for new work, but it can be a place to post the few things I’ve written in the past.

In March 2005, I wrote this piece for the Oakland Tribune's "My Word." Not being a writer at all until these school issues started to absorb me, I was astounded when they printed it! I was learning that writing about these topics was a great was to get them “out.”

The essay was soon picked up by my local community newspaper, the MacArthur Metro, and appeared on the front page of their April 2005 issue (along with a photo of my family sitting on the floor with our dog). It has led a quiet life of its own and has appeared in a handful of local postings throughout the past few years.

It still seems pretty accurate to me.

Lessons Learned at Public Schools in Oakland

Six years ago when our older daughter finished elementary school, my husband and I made a decision which deviated from our peers. Rather than leaving Oakland, using a false address, or finding a private school, we joined others who were “reclaiming our local middle school.”

The demographics and culture of the middle school were quite different from the ‘hills’ elementary school we knew. The transition was an adjustment.

Today, our younger daughter is attending the middle school and our older daughter attends high school. We have stayed with the public schools and have learned a great deal. For instance:

-Kids who have resources will do well at almost any school they attend. Children from stable families with educated parents have an enormous advantage. Parents who “go private” could be saving their money, because most of their kids would do fine in the public schools.

-Many parents may praise diversity, but they also avoid it. By convincing themselves that myths and rumors are true, they have a set of ready made excuses they can use to avoid public schools.

-Experiencing diversity has pros and cons. When we are stretched to learn about people outside our normal group, we develop a deeper understanding of humanity. However, the stretching can feel uncomfortable.

-It is unfair to call a school “good” or “bad” depending on average test scores. Within every school, some students are more to difficult to educate than others. Too many students at “bad” schools have language, economic, social, emotional, and other barriers to learning. If schools are going to help students overcome their barriers, they will need more resources than they currently receive.

-It has been heartbreaking to absorb the magnitude of social neglect in Oakland. We are witnessing a massive loss of human potential. Most people are oblivious or insensitive to the deep suffering of these children. Unless we make a greater effort to understand, we will remain ignorant forever.

-The same ignorance causes people to concoct unrealistic and simplistic solutions that they believe will fix the problems. The “solutions” that have become current educational policies are ineffective, inadequate and destructive.

-Many people claim to care about the education of children. Very few will turn their words into actions. This includes too many parents.

-Oakland’s teachers are especially worthy of support and understanding, rather than suspicion and criticism. Their practice is extremely challenging and complicated. The majority are highly skilled, dedicated and hardworking.

-Strong families that shun Oakland’s public schools are contributing to the problems in those same schools today. The schools would immediately improve with an increased enrollment of stable children who have skilled parents with high standards.

-The school district needs to work harder on acknowledging and broadcasting the positive accomplishments of its students. Many students are succeeding, but the community is kept unaware.

As our family continues on this learning curve, our daughters are doing well. They are hard working, successful, and savvy students. This community needs to stop condemning our public schools. If parents joined in an effort together, they could begin to improve the schools, one classroom at a time.

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