People who buy into the idea of Charter Schools think they will be getting a private school education on the government's dime. They believe that their children will be in a school where the school will pick and choose the students and only the best students will get in - the riff-raff will have to go somewhere else. (Where they don’t specify – but it is the old “not in my backyard scenario.”) The problem of how to educate children with special needs will not be addressed. These are the expensive children to educate so no charter school will want them. I think anyone can see where this is going – “My kid is the only one who is important and to hell with the rest of you.”
This selfish, amoral attitude is the problem with our youth today – and it is equally a problem with the adults. As a nation, we have lost our compassion and our generosity; that belief that I am willing to have a little bit less so that someone else, less fortunate than I, can have a little more. THAT is what is wrong with our world today - no empathy, no ability to try to walk in someone else’s shoes, no appreciation for the advantages that have been afforded us and a recognition that others are not always equally advantaged. When I talk to conservatives complaining about the welfare state, saying charity is not the government’s job, I always ask them, “How much did you give to charity last year?” They always sputter about sponsoring some child in Mexico and giving to their church. The truth is, there isn’t much “Christian Charity” to be found these days and that is not the fault of the public schools.
I was a teacher in public school in Washington State until five years ago. In days gone by if there was a fight on the playground, we would have a class meeting about it. We would discuss how it happened and look at the situation from all sides. We would discuss what was fair and what was right and sometimes, we would acknowledge that someone behaved badly because (s)he was frustrated and hurt. We would talk about whether letting someone play as opposed to excluding that child was really such a terrible price to pay for having a good learning environment where everyone felt valued. I valorised children who were kind and patient and inclusive. Those kids got leadership positions – because they WERE leaders. These class meetings took time, but educators realised that schools were microcosms of society and the parents, teachers and society as a whole accepted that one of the tenets of public education was to socialise children as preparation for them being contributing members of American society. Looking back, I realise how important these lessons were to instilling democratic values in our students.
But in the years leading up to my leaving the States, school was about one thing and one thing only – test scores. Teachers were told on a daily basis how the “schools were failing our students” and what a crappy job teachers were doing. As if all teachers had to do was open up their students' heads and pour in the knowledge. Time for class meetings and “morality” lessons had to be stolen from the curriculum and weren’t considered a good use of class time. Morality and socialising were seen as being in the domain of parents (only) – great if you were blessed with great parents, not so great if you had a dysfunctional family.
I have taught in high socioeconomic public schools in both the U.S. and Germany and in low socioeconomic public schools in the U.S. And I have taught in private schools all over the world as well - some of them prestigious, some of them low fee parochial. The truth is this: how well children learn and how well they get along with others is heavily influenced by their home environment. If kids are less moral today – more selfish, more inconsiderate, more disrespectful and more focussed on material possessions than they are on their fellow man – that is more a reflection of their families and the values they are being taught at home than it is of the schools they attend. I can tell you, as a teacher, I love having kids in class who are taught to consider someone else and not just themselves. But in our world today, parents are focussed on wanting to make their child feel wonderful and unique, but unfortunately have neglected to teach these same children that others matter just as much as they do.