Has the system failed?

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My life as a private school teacher with no kids has, by default, kept me pretty insulated from the public school system.

I don’t have anything against public schools (unlike many people in my circles).  For one thing, a nation has a responsibility to educate its people for the good of society and future growth.  I don’t see Christians busting down the doors to open their schools to community kids (usually), so I think it’s silly for Christians to then sit back and complain about the public schools.  Either take on the burden of fixing what you think is broken, or stop talking about it.  Complaining without taking action to fix (not just flee) reflects an unbliblical position on problem-solving.

So I’m not proud of my lack of real knowledge about education in America beyond the narrow walls of my school, but that’s how my life has been thus far.

Yesterday we took Amber (who lives with us) to a meeting at Tri-County Tech about the Gateway for College program. Sponsored and funded by the Gates Foundation, 18 Gateway sites around the nation are attempting to stem the tide of high school dropouts.  A student who is behind on credits for her age can apply for Gateway and take community college classes to complete her diploma requirements and set aside credits toward a TCT degree. It’s a great deal.  At 18, Amber still has 2 years of high school to complete.  TCT is much more inviting than 2 more years at T L Hanna.

As the student applicants worked through a reading assessment yesterday, one of the program directors called the parents into a separate room for our own meeting. I thought she was going to talk at us about the program, but she simply asked each parent to tell his/her story — why are you at this meeting? why did your child drop out? why do you think this will work?

Hearing those stories (about 30 kids applied yesterday) brought me face to face with the marginalized students in our public system.  The families at the Gateway meeting spanned economic, racial, educational, and geographic boundaries.  Many families were obviously broken and struggling to keep some semblance of support for their children.  Many had tried private school and public school and home schooling, with little success.

Mothers wept as they described their intense desires to see their children live a better life than they have. Others wept as they described tragedies that had ripped their marriages apart and driven their children away from them.  Everyone there seemed dejected, finished, grasping for hope.

Time after time, parents targeted the “drama” of the public high school as enemy #1, closely followed by “the wrong crowd” or “the wrong boyfriend.”  Teens simply stopped going to classes after months or years of unchecked bullying and ridicule. I don’t believe any particular story in its fullness (there’s always another side to a tale), but collectively the trends were hard to ignore:  school administrators ignoring deep-rooted social problems in the school, which then interrupted the academic life for these kids.  Many openly admitted that their kids don’t fit “the mold” of students sitting for hours behind desks doing pencil-and-paper assignments.

Compared to much of what we heard from the families in the room, our story was laughably positive: We had an 18 year old former foster kid living in our home who wants to get her diploma more efficiently and work toward college someday. A few heads twitched when Coart introduced us as private school teachers and mentioned that we had taught Amber for 3 years before inviting her to live with us.  One father in the meeting was representing an adopted son … I think he might have understood.

I have many seed thoughts swirling from yesterday’s encounter.  Here are a few observations:

  • Our public system is monolithically huge. Schools are hampered by fear of litigation and a mindset of ‘equality’ that actually works against biblical fairness or grace.  To educate the masses, you must sacrifice the marginal.
  • Only a few families even considered private high school education for their struggling student despite the fact that many of the middle class families in the room had sent their kids to private elementary schools. I figure that the cost or the perceived poor academic quality of many Christian high schools kept many parents away from private schools.
    …One man’s ex-wife kept switching his daughter between a local public school and a private Christian school that still uses PACE’s. I nearly fainted. No wonder the kid dropped out — neither school would accept the other’s credits.

    And if the teacher is central to education, how on earth are people still using PACEs? [I’ll save that rant for later.]

  • Christian themselves are one of the problems. We gripe about the bad, awful, nastiness of the public system, yet we design schools that are financially out of reach and philosophically unaccessible.

Let me round out that final thought–
I firmly believe in covenantal Christian education.  Parents must be on board philosophically for a school to be successful. NCS requires at least one parent to make a credible profession of faith for a child to be enrolled. I am 100% in support of this.

However, we cannot continue to complain that the government educates badly, yet purposefully close our doors to families and children who want out of the public system.  The tuition costs alone prevent many minorities from applying.  Education remains elitist and cliquish.

I am sure that some of the kids sitting in the Gateway interview yesterday would have been helped by a school like NCS where teachers emphasize God’s law above rules and  personal relationships above ‘fairness.’

I am sure families in that room were ripe for the Gospel to take root in the midst of their tragedies … but they are not interested unless the message is big enough to rescue their children too.

At some point, Christian education must reach beyond its own borders to encompass ‘the world’ too.

… still thinking.

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