Why This Lutheran Teacher Supports Public Education

Education

After spending the first seven years of my educational career (from pre-school to fifth grade) in a Lutheran school of some kind, I was under the distinct impression that I would spend the rest of my life in Lutheran schools.

Then my family moved to Wyoming a couple months into my sixth grade year.

After years of being given the impression that attending a public school was a fate worse than death, I suddenly faced one of my worst fears. As my father and I toured two different public schools (one a standard middle school and the other a much smaller K-12 school in a town several miles away), many of my fears were put to rest. In fact the middle school didn’t look so bad, especially since it offered some things that I really wanted. And while my parents decided that I should go to the smaller school several miles away (a decision I lament to this day), it was nothing like I had imagined it would be. It was…school.

I spent five of the next seven years in public schools, mostly because there was no other option once I got to high school. When my family moved to Michigan, my parents flirted with the idea of sending me to a very small private school near our house but finally agreed that I could go to the much larger public high school that was similar to the high school that I left. While my entire teaching career has been in Lutheran schools, my personal high school career was all in public.

And while I went to college with the full intention of teaching in Lutheran schools, the reality that I could, someday, be in a position to teach in a public school never left my mind. And while I love teaching in Lutheran schools, I believe that it is also important for me, a private school educator, to support my public school colleagues and the work being done in public schools. I do not believe that this is hypocritical; it is essential.

Why?

  1. A strong education system, regardless of who is providing it, is essential to the reduction/elimination of poverty in this country. The reality is the higher one’s education level, the less likely one is to live in poverty. Children living in poverty are also more likely to live in areas that have poor education, but the poverty/education links go far beyond that. I’ve seen proponents of vouchers make all sorts of claims about how that will solve the problem for families living in poorer neighborhoods. That SOUNDS great, but it ignores a couple of really important factors. One, families who live in poverty stricken neighborhoods typically do not have the funds to travel outside of their neighborhoods. It is physically impossible for many of them. Two, even if they have a private school available in their neighborhood, that does not mean that the private school is any better than the public school available to them. Just like not all public schools are created the same, so are not all private schools created the same. I know. I taught in one that I would NEVER send my children to. Saying that making it easier for poor children to attend non-public schools is not the solution. Better public schools is. Poverty is a root cause of many of our nation’s problems, and if we are serious about solving the many issues that stem from poverty, then all American citizens should be concerned about the quality of the education system, regardless of the provider.
  2. What happens in public education will trickle down to private schools, so I better care about what is happening in public schools. While currently private schools in Texas have a significant amount of autonomy, that was not the case when I lived in Indiana. We had to follow nearly all state regulations, and those we didn’t have to follow we usually had to apply for special waivers for. Pedagogical trends, teacher training trends, building trends, testing requirements, classroom changes to accommodate for testing requirements, school lunches, they all start in public schools. If we private school teachers are not paying attention to what is happening in public schools, we will be lost, and we better hope that what is happening will benefit our students. Listen to your public school teacher friends and pay attention to what they say about what is happening in their buildings. For better or worse, it’s going to make it to our buildings sooner or later.
  3. There are some things that public schools can do better, and there is no shame in admitting that. This is especially true in big academic and extracurricular programs (think vocational classes, marching band, and some athletics) and special education programs. Private school teacher, if you are lucky enough to live in a state that provides funds for private schools to get public assistance for special needs students, you better hope that the special education programs in your district are top notch, regardless of the socio-economic situation. Then there are the children who cannot attend private schools because of limited resources to provide for their educational needs. Quality public schools ensure quality special education resources for those children. It also guarantees that your child, should they ever need it, will also have access to the necessary education that will help them succeed.
  4. Students are going to transfer in and out, and we need to be ready for them. I’ve seen it time and time again. Students, who are coming from public schools with lower success rates who then attend private schools with higher success rates, struggle academically and sometimes socially and it usually leads to them either barely making it through to graduation or leaving. I do not want to see people attending the private school I teach at because they are trying to escape a horrible public school system. I want them attending my private school because we provide what they need in terms of a Christian education or we offer things that they cannot get at a public school. And I do not want students who are coming from public schools to be struggling so much that they have to leave.
  5. Depending on where one lives, a private school may not be available. And even if a private school is available, it may not be a quality private school. I love Lutheran schools. I wrote about how much I love Lutheran schools, but I taught in a bad one. And while that issue is another post for another day, I don’t want to ignore the fact that just because a school takes tuition, it does not make it better than local public schools. And it is a fact that many people in this country do not live in areas that have quality private schools. That means that we NEED quality public schools everywhere so that when people move from city to city and from state to state, they have a smooth educational transition. We are a mobile society. We need to make sure that a move does not mean a decrease in educational quality.
  6. The educational quality of our society affects all sectors of American business, from CEOs down to fast food workers. Far too often I see people on social media making fun of people who work in retail and service industries, especially the food industry. And I admit, there have been times I’ve made a trip to a fast food restaurant or retail store and wondered if the employees working there really deserved to be paid a living wage. Not because I don’t believe in people earning living wages, but because of the quality of worker. But what if we’re looking at that backwards? Even if higher education affords people the opportunities to get jobs outside of these industries, those who don’t go beyond high school could still be better employees and better at serving customers if they had the academic skills to do so. And doesn’t that benefit all of us?
  7. An educated public is necessary for a functioning democratic republic. As John Green famously said, “I don’t like living in a country with stupid people.” Think about it. Unless one lives in a commune, we have to interact with a lot of people from a lot of different walks of life. And our friends, neighbors, grocery store clerks, doctors, everyone we encounter that is 18 or older is eligible to vote. As we move further into the 21st century, we need people who understand history, economics, government, and who know how to read and how to read well. If we really care about where the country is going, a really good education system in every sector is a necessary place to start.
  8. Pushing for an educated public is the decent, humane thing to do. Period.

I know many public school teachers who are caring and amazing teachers. I know people who send their kids to public schools, some by choice and some because they have to. Public education should never be the lesser choice of those who are better off financially. It should be understood as the education provider for the majority, and those of us who work in the private education sector should support our public school peers.

Private or public, parochial or charter, we’re all in this together.  We are not enemies; we should instead see each other as partners. Teachers have the power to change lives. Let’s help each other do it.