I never really gave public education much thought for most of my life. Through fourth grade it was just what you do and I knew not one person who went to private school. In fifth grade our family moved to a small town in Texas for my dad to go back into education after 14 years in the oil field.
During the transition I went from a school where everyone looked just like me except the few kids bused from the “other” side of town. In my new school, everyone from the town went to the only school. My dad was my elementary principal and dinner conversations quickly centered around how to provide education for every child and especially those who moved in and out of the district following the crops to and from California. My dad was an example of how to look at each child as a unique person needing love and acceptance before education could happen.
Over the next few decades my dad continued his journey in education but no matter his position, his desire to make sure all children received quality education was his focus. He talked both my sister and I out of education… she was the first to rebel and become general counsel for a school district over ten years ago. I finally left the dark side four years ago and found my home in education. As a family of educators every family gathering involves discussions on public education in Texas. Over the last many years it has centered on how schools are expected to do more and more with considerably less.
Today this idea hit me so hard. The Texas legislature is meeting and every senator and representative is set to be the savor for schools and especially school safety. My sister and I had a twitter exchange with a lawmaker proposing metal detectors to make sure kids are SAFE (she used the all caps). In an article she referenced in her plight, she mentioned if metal detectors are good enough for airports, it is good enough for schools…
You know what airports have that is not in schools??? The TSA… airports have an entire government agency responsible for security in airports. Individual airports and for goodness sakes airlines are not expected to be experts on security and add it to their expected tasks… yet that is what we are expecting from public schools.
Schools are a dumping ground for everything we as a society do not want to deal with or address. Hungry students? Schools need to feed them. Homeless students? Schools have to figure out how to make sure they get a quality campus and transport them to their home campus. Students with extreme disabilities? Yep schools you need to handle it. Mental health and suicide is an increased problem for teens (and our society as a whole), but once again everyone looks to schools and says how are you going to fix this? Why wouldn’t new legislation ask schools to become their own mini TSAs while doing everything else mentioned… oh and to educate every child who walks through the door with less funding each year. Oh and to make sure ALL students pass state testing regardless of their level when they walked through the doors of the school.
Schools have become the only place where society failures are being addressed and they are being addressed by educators overworked and underfunded. Yet if you walk into a public school you will find the most kind, caring, and generous people. You find educators buying supplies for their room to make sure kids know they are worthy of learning in a warm environment. You will find educators buying food for their students because they know some only eat the two meals at school five days a week. You find educators flocking to professional development on trauma informed education, restorative practices, and mental health because they know their students are struggling and no one else is stepping up to help.
Public education will keep doing what they do, but I keep wondering when the rest of society and especially our lawmakers will expect more from everyone else.