OK, I’ve let it go about a thousand times, but this was just one time too many:
“Parents have spoken out enough to make lawmakers understand that they deserve choices,” said state Rep. Eric Bedingfield, R-Greenville, a lead sponsor of the bill. “Education is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Each child is educationally unique in how they learn.”
Of course, that paragraph is chock-full of nonsense (parents have all the choices they could ask for; this issue is about whether they should be rewarded, at the expense of the public schools, for exercising those choices in certain ways), but I want to zero in on one point we haven’t discussed before: The laughable notion that public education constitutes a “one-size-fits-all” approach to education, while private school education does not.
In my experience, it’s the other way around.
Of course, you don’t really need personal experience to understand the obvious: Public schools take everybody, and therefore have to make teach all types of learners. While there are some private schools that are specifically set up to address different learning styles, the private schools that get the largest numbers of those fleeing public education tend to be of the “keep-up-or-fail” variety.
Our kids started out in Catholic schools — in Tennessee, then Kansas, then here. After we’d been living here for about a year — this was the late ’80s — we decided for several reasons to switch to public schools. (One factor was cost, another was travel time — we had a very good elementary school in walking distance of our home, as opposed to having to drive the kids downtown every day.)
Another factor was that my younger son, who had always been bright — we marveled at his vocabulary from the time he was a toddler — was really struggling in the first grade. He never got to go to recess, because the teacher kept him in to finish his work. He would strain to complete homework late into the night, past bedtime. He was very conscientious, and always applied himself to finish the work, but it was a struggle — and he was under way too much stress for a first-grader. Like his Dad, he had trouble focusing on a task, but there was more to it than that — we would later discover that he had a form of dyslexia.
His teacher at the Catholic school didn’t know what to do with him, except to make him finish his work however long it took.
After he started in the public school, as soon as his teachers saw how much trouble he was having, a meeting was called with us and the teachers and specialists from the district, to draft a strategy for helping him keep up and learn the material. This strategy was updated and followed all the way until he graduated from Brookland-Cayce High School.
Were the methods perfect? My son, who now has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, says no — he believes the schools still had a lot to learn. And in fact, his dyslexia wasn’t specifically diagnosed until much later than it should have been. But the point is, they did something to help him, and kept on working with him. And that gave him the space and the tools to learn how to learn, to graduate and to earn a college degree. As wonderful as Catholic education is for mainstream learners, that just wasn’t going to happen where he was before.
By definition and by necessity, public education is not one-size-fits-all. They have to educate everybody, so they have to stock all sizes. Many of the debates we have over education — such as over the impact of putting children on different tracks — result from the wide variety of learning needs different children bring to school.
(I don’t know what I would do if I had to attend school in my children’s or grandchildren’s generation. In my day, you could get by just on being smart, being good at tests, and class participation. My teachers knew that I knew the material even if I didn’t get assignments done — I aced the tests that were such a large part of my grade, even when I didn’t finish them. Since then, schools have become much more task-oriented, and place a greater emphasis on homework and daily assignments; I’m not at all sure I would have kept up.)
And for that reason, it really ticks me off when people who want to drain public resources from the public schools try to make us think it’s the other way around.