Charter Schools and All That

A couple of days ago I got myself in a little trouble on Facebook for my strong anti-charter, anti-voucher notions about public schooling.

Today I am asking for more, with a post at BlogHer on the same topic.

In the interest of full disclosure, I attended a three-hour event last night in downtown Chicago (along with a room full of teachers, education professors, grant makers, and maybe a few other parents) to learn more about a new charter opening in the fall. It will be a Chicago version of the Quest to Learn Academy in New York, which really does look like a fabulous program.

As most of you know by now, I’m quite sold on the Montessori model of education (interest-led, hands-on, whole life, student-centered, cooperative, etc. etc.) and the Quest school and smaller, less ambitious programs modeled on it look to me a lot like Montessori for older kids with lots and lots of new media and technology added to the tools of the classroom. So I was definitely interested.

By the time my kids are in high school (we are committed to our Montessori school through 8th grade if at all possible), Chicago Quest will have been around long enough for us to know whether and how it is working. And we might well end up sending the girls there.

So see? I am a pragmatist when it comes to doing what you have to do to get your kids the best education possible.

And yet…

I woke up this morning feeling sad about the kids left behind. Even if Chicago decides to implement a lottery system, nominally giving every kid an equal chance to go to this school, there are plenty of kids who really won’t have that chance. I still think about Nat’s siblings (in her first family) who don’t have the social capital to even know about the school, let alone fill out the application, enter the lottery or whatever. And why should the kids with the very fewest resources be penalized? And even if they did enter the lottery–even if they got in–what about the kids who don’t get in? Why should a great education be based on chance in a participatory democracy in which we are all supposed to have an equal shot, regardless of background?

So I started arguing a little bit with Cole (who is in love with Quest, having studied it for over a year now, for the Media Studies part of her academic identity) this morning, saying that maybe all the money McArthur is putting into two schools in two big cities (so far) could be distributed to more kids and more schools if it went to support one laptop/one child programs and after school tech programs like Digital Youth Network and YouMedia, both of which were highlighted in last night’s presentation, to sell us all on Quest. Yet the shining star students presented to us didn’t go to a Quest school. They went to one laptop/one child schools and participated in after school media programs at the main library downtown.

Why not give every kid in the public schools a laptop and bring the resources of the library media program into the schools?

Cole argued that Quest isn’t just about providing computers or other tech, but is all about changing the very model of pedagogy, and I agree and think it’s awesome. I would love to see that model changed. But when I think about who I want to see it changed for, it’s not really my own kids. Because my own kids have me and have Cole and have Josiah teaching them guitar (more on that soon) and Whitney teaching them art (you should see how Nat’s vision has grown in her artwork since Whitney started spending concerted time on it with the girls). Our kids have the resources to go to a private school, have parents well equipped to home school them, etc. etc. My kids are going to be just fine, no matter what happens to public schools.

But I think about the unmotivated, hungry, barely literate kids I taught in a D.C. public high school and the utter hopelessness of their vision of their own futures and I know that a radical pedagogical change like the one Quest is making would absolutely revolutionize their lives. I want THEM to have it–not just the kids whose professional, well-educated parents who are hip to the system enough to get their kids into a tiny program (they’re starting with two grades and about 300 students next year).

And in a side note that is actually sort of central to my sadness about all this, I find myself wishing, wishing, wishing that our open adoption in theory was an open adoption in practice and Mama Rose would get in touch with us. Because we would love to help her get her brilliant kids into Quest. As it is, I’m going to dash off a letter with all the information and hope she looks into it herself.

One response to “Charter Schools and All That

  1. Hey, Shannon.

    Why not submit this to a newspaper as an editorial? We’re all on board with this. There are others who need to hear your message more.

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