An Ode to Our Public School
I know I’m supposed to complain about my children’s public school.
There is so much wrong with our country’s education system — scarce resources, overcrowded classrooms, deteriorating facilities. Too much standardized testing; not enough recess, P.E., music, art. Racial inequities, class inequities. Underpaid, burnt out, and disempowered teachers, unequipped to handle increasing behavioral challenges in the classroom.
I could go on (and on) about the myriad ways in which our public education system is failing our children. But that’s not what I’m going to do today.
Today, I want to tell a story about a public school in Northeast Portland, Oregon that has, against steep odds, forged a thriving community and strong sense of school pride. It’s not a rich school. It’s not a “white school.” In fact, it is designated by the city as a low-income school, and students of color, including my children, make up over 50% of the student body.
The Internet does not give our public school a resounding endorsement. Test scores are low. The school ranks 45 out of 61 Portland public elementary schools, and proficiency in math is deemed “well below average.”
If I were a prospective parent with the privilege of school choice, I might think twice about sending my child there. In fact, I did think twice about sending my child there. At the advice of my neighbor, who was a school parent, I entered every charter school lottery I could find. I attended info sessions where 200 parents were vying for 10 spots.
The truth was, I wanted to send my children to our district school, but I wanted to feel good about it, too. I myself never experienced public education. From preschool through eighth grade, I attended the independent school where my parents both taught, then went on to a private high school and college.
I benefited from a wonderful education in a nurturing community, but it came with a hefty price tag — even with the steep discounts my parents received. Plus, my friends were spread all over the city, and they nearly all came from families who could afford private education.