The problem with schools won’t be solved by aiming to make the students happy.
As a public school teacher and the son of public school teachers, I should know what public school kids need.
But I’m always learning.
Ideally, public schools should be community centers that provide everything a child needs academically, vocationally, mentally, emotionally, and socially to succeed in life from the very start, including safe, comfortable, and “happiness-inducing” environments.
But we all know that’s not going to happen for everyone.
The reality is that public schools ride the spectrum from the top-tier AP-curriculum focused, arts-based, competitive institutions to the “drop-out factories” that bring shame to a system that should work, given the right set of circumstances.
The reality is that the “right set of circumstances” changes depending on where you live, and happiness can be a far-off goal for many students who have grown up in underperforming communities where the happiness level of Maslow’s pyramid needs to wait until they’re fed and brought up to the reading level that all the other classmates are at.
Charter schools, for all the good they do for a small set of students, are just a drop in the ocean. At their worst, Charter schools deny educating the whole public community, so the Limited English Learners, Special Needs and Education students, and lower-level performing pupils aren’t always welcome (literally), and the money that could have been spent on non-Charter public school reform is taken to give to the Charters. Since Charter schools are public schools, they should educate the whole public, and they don’t and can’t.
Google’s approach of providing a comfortable work situation for its workers is praiseworthy, but you can’t apply its environment to the whole public either (nor can you compare a private institution to a public one—both have varied and different layers of directives, characteristics, and restrictions). I’m sure Google employees—many who already belong to a privileged class of workers, who have unlimited vacation time (which, in reality, many employees don’t take because of the reality of a high-pressure market) and enjoy luxuries because of their genius—have a little bit of an unfair advantage over the whole of the general population who attend public schools (or any schools, really).
But keep in mind, public school students have at least 14 weeks off a year, as well as all major holidays. And weekends. So it’s sort of the same.
The “big answer” is to fully fund public schools from pre-K through college, and provide vocational and technical educations for all students. Schools should have longer days and more opportunity for learning outside the major content areas, with less of a focus on sports and more of a mandate for competitive learning. But that would cost money that politicians and citizens aren’t willing to pay or vote for. So private schools—not Charter schools—should pop up to cover the parts of the population who are unserved, right? And that’s not happening because private schools—and private corporations—can’t exactly make money off of the lower classes going to school (yet) unless they’re taking public money, which Charter schools do.
But if we really wanted the best for our children, we’d do this. There is no greater cause than that of children getting a quality education in a democracy.
So what’s a parent and teacher to do? A parent should be involved in the child’s life and education, and more often than not, the parent isn’t very well educated and not involved to the degree that they should be. That’s been the experience for many public school teachers who are teaching students who are more often than not—not getting into Charter schools or working for Google. And yes, the inverse is true: there are plenty of involved parents who make public schools work the way they were meant to be, not as a broken, underfunded system, but as a vibrant, academically competitive institution that a town or city can be truly proud of.
And a teacher should be? That’s easy. An educator should be an expert in his and her content area, excellent in all areas of classroom management, compassionate, wise, highly qualified, a little bit of a social worker, and the utmost of a professional. (Now when they start paying them for that level of professionalism—well, that’s another essay). Of course teachers want their students to be happy. But there’s a climb to happiness that belongs among the many foundations that public schools provide for the child.
A student who is fed twice a day, is getting a quality education, has caring teachers, can be part of teams and clubs, and gets a study hall a day and the prospect of college should be—well, pursuing happy.
Photo: Tom Woodward/Flickr