Public schools and investing in all our children

Everyone who cares about education should read this Indianapolis Star guest column by Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis professor Edward Curtis IV.

Headlined “Why we love our D-rated school,” it explains why Curtis sends his two elementary-age children to their neighborhood public school, regardless of test scores and school grades. The decision, he says, reflects his family’s deepest hopes for all children, not just their own.

“My choice is based not only on our family’s ethics, but also on calculated self-interest,” he writes. “We act out of our deepest values while also providing our kids with great opportunities by sending them to a multiracial, multireligious, multilanguage, working-class school.”

Curtis describes the joy that he sees when he visits the school’s classrooms and attends after-school activities. He celebrates that his children are learning by experience to live in a world that includes poor people, people of color, refugees and families that are learning to speak English.

This is the opposite of the ideology of “school choice,” which appeals to self-interest and assumes parents want the best deal for own kids regardless of everyone else. Curtis implies an argument for voice, not choice; that working together, we can make all our schools great.

“When we make the choice to send our kids to neighborhood schools, we are choosing to invest in all our children — of different abilities, colors, classes, languages, religions and more,” he writes. “We make our schools and our society stronger by stubbornly ignoring test scores that tell us very little about a kid’s heart and a kid’s head. We choose to believe in ourselves as a human family.”

Most people love the idea of diversity in schools, as long as it’s not too much — or it’s middle-class, highly educated diversity. Most parents want their children to empathize with those who are less fortunate, but they worry that sharing classroom space with poor children means their own kids will learn less. Curtis says that’s not so.

“I wish you could see the learning that goes on inside the walls of our D-rated school,” he writes.

Too many people never will. If they look at all, they may focus on gaps and deficits, not the unique individuals that children are, or the gifts and assets they bring to school every day. And that’s a shame.


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