Sunday, August 24, 2008

Striving to Thrive In Urban Public School When Private is not an Option
Is buying new shoes enough?

School starts tomorrow, so we went yesterday for the yearly ritual of new tennis shoes. The shoe
department was crowded with like-minded families. Shopping in Walnut Creek, aka out of the bounds of Oakland Unified School District, I wondered how many of the kids there face the same challenges as Oakland kids at school: no supplies in the classroom, no permanent teacher, the threat of violence, huge odds to succeed despite the best efforts and strong will of passionate educators. We can't pay for private school for our daughter. Is buying her new shoes an effort to make up for that?

Luckily we fought, talked and were blessed with a spot in a fantastic public school here in Oakland that not only is better than our neighborhood school (where 1/3rd of the kids are reading at level by 5th grade) but enables us to visit all of Oakland as we cross it each way to school. We go to the public school to which the private school my wife works at donates all of their supplies, old books, etc. to. Kids of one community call the other the "welfare school", while the other community calls them the "rich kids." I can afford the $50 GEOX my daughter wanted, but not the $16,000 education that might give her a leg up (and definitely not the $1,000,000 or so mortgage that would buy our way into a good neighborhood public school). Urban middle-class guilt, or decreasing class purchasing power as I'd call it, makes me often feel inadequate in terms of what I can give to my kids. And at the same time I'm committed to my children (and others) having the chance to mix and learn not only together but from each other - in a public school.

I think Oakland is stuck in some ways because of the repeated family flight to sub & ex- urbs in the search of better schools since private here is out of reach for so many. If those families stayed and took ownership of OUSD - and increasingly more are - what would happen in and to our city? Is public education worth saving? Is going to all the playdates, school visits, budget meetings, and spending all that money and efforts for school fundraisers worth it? And who will save it?

If you're interested in the saving of public schools - maybe even OUSD - here are some links to thoughtful posts and resources:
Link to a new book on similar experiences in New York [Who will save public schools?]
Link to a podcast of the author at
Link to the Oakland Tribune's blog special "My First Year" - detailing the life & challenges of rookie teachers in the frying pan of the Oakland Unified School District.

1 comment:

Kristy said...

My kid gets just as good an education as the kids down the street at the private school.

PS it actually costs $18,500. Lots of Geoxes.