Since my kids have been in school here in Duluth, I've done my best to keep them out of the mainstream public school system. From my observations, it's very hard to be an individual in the public schools here. Classes are taught to the vast middle and if you happen to be on the top or the bottom, you will suffer.
We started out at Birchwood Elementary which was a Core Knowledge magnet school in the Duluth system. We loved it there, it was fabulous, the staff was superb, so of course it was shut down. (Some bitterness never dies...). I took the kids out of Birchwood for their last two months of school so they could attend our neighborhood school (which shall remain nameless to protect the guilty). I wanted them to get to know their classmates so that when summer rolled around, they could have friends to play with and the following school year wouldn't be so traumatic.
For anyone who is under the delusion that schools can't be so incredibly different, I offer this story as proof that a school is only as good as their worst teacher...
I took the kids to meet the principal and their teachers the week before they would start and we rode the bus there. My daughter was in third grade and my son was in second and when we met the principal and I mentioned that we took the city bus, he turned to my son without hesitation and the first thing out of his mouth was "Do you ever come to school hungry?" And my son, who always ate a healthy breakfast, sometimes more than once in a morning, immediately said "sure!"
It was official...we were stamped with a big "white trash" sticker on our head and everything went down hill from there.
My daughter's teacher was quite taken aback when I wanted to sit in on her class and observe how things were run...this was something I did at several schools before I chose to send my kids to Birchwood. This should have been another red flag...if the teacher can't get over having a parent interested enough in how she teaches and how the kids learn, she should be avoided. Good teachers can take lemons and make lemonade on a dime...I've seen it in action.
My son's teacher barely had control over her class and I was amazed to learn that the kids were at least a couple months behind what they were learning at Birchwood. The kids were talked down to and it seemed to be a glorified pre-school.
The biggest kicker though was the system of rewards that this school employed. The kids were given candy at every opportunity. Did they come into class and sit down without talking? Here have a toffee! Did they get their homework done? Here have a jolly rancher! Did they get a good score on their test? Here, have a sucker!
Now, I am by no means a "No candy ever!" kind of parent. But I am the kind of parent that realizes that whenever you set a precident of any kind, you had damn well better be ready to do that exact thing every time or else you are setting yourself and your kids up for a hard time. I don't believe that kids need to have candy every time they do the slightest thing right. I do believe that kids need to learn delayed gratification. I don't believe that food should ever be used as a reward. I do believe that kids need to learn to do things because sometimes, we all have to do shit that we don't necessarily like to do but there is something that is called life...
Needless to say, this was not the philosophy that our neighborhood school used. I complained to the teacher. I complained to the principal. I was told by both that they would be happy to remove my children from the system of rewards and that it was obvious that I knew nothing about how to handle children...
Hmmmm. Not to toot my own horn, but when I am in a crowd of kids, I find that my kids are usually the most polite. They are funny, goofy, enjoyable, and know what actions are appropriate at what times... I spent countless hours volunteering in their head start classrooms, I spent time volunteering in their school classrooms, and in all of that time I NEVER saw candy being used as a reward and the kids that I saw at those times were better behaved then the ones being bribed to behave. Boy, it's hard to be so totally naive!
The kids at this school were horrible bullies and if I have ever looked at a third grade girl and thought "You're gonna grow up and be the biggest slut on the block"...it was at this school. Third grade girls that wear makeup, crop tops, and tell other girls on the playground that they must be lesbians do not come off as growing up to contribute much to society...Yes, I'm harsh in saying that but it was all I could do to not throttle these children...they were horrible and I can only guess where they learned it all from... I'm not one to make excuses for kids that age.
So, needless to say, we didn't return to our neighborhood school the following autumn. We went to our local Edison School and it has been a wonderful experience. My kids are treated as individuals with individual needs and individual atributes.
Sooooo, where is all this headed? Straight up my ass as usual? No, actually this time it is headed to high school. I would have to be smoking crack to let my kids go back to our neighborhood high school after the experience with the neighborhood elementary school. Those horrible children will be as tall as I am now and I might be forced to kick their ass and go all gangsta on them... No, we are going to stay firmly outside the system once again and last night we visited Harbor City International School.
It was "International Night" and all of the exchange students were there with informational tables on their countries and there were even international students from other schools as well. It was fun and kicky and I appreciated the energy that the students brought to the evening. My daughter's friend came, along with her dad. Unfortunately he is not sold on this school and I'm not sure what he was expecting when he was told that it was "International Night" but I don't think they moved more than a couple yards and then my daughter's friend told me he wanted to leave.
I have a feeling that this is a very sore subject in their households...the parents are divorced and seem to be complete opposites. I wonder how much of it is an objection over the school or rather just an objection over the fact that the mom is ok with it.
What is important to me is that the kids are allowed to pursue their interests, that they exhibit honest excitement over what they are engaged in, and that they treat each other warmly and give encouragement to each other....that, and kicking those rotten neighborhood kid's asses!