Boston School Fire and Fry Pan

February 25th, 2009 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Let’s be plain, our nation’s hope for egalitarianism and fairness lives in the soil of public education. Boston was early in this effort, but has yet to commit to high-quality or even adequate free schooling.

For example, the newish schools superintendent, Carol Johnson, shamelessly waved her new zoning plan. The certain result will be relegate many students who need good school to the city’s worst.

Emotional Baggage

In my house, we’re vets on the zone wars. We have adapted to, researched, fought against, and survived multiple versions of dictates of where our boys could go to school.It is no exaggeration that the rules have totally changed multiple times. We also have the unusual perspective of time. There were 11 years between our first and second sons and three before the third.Boston residents know well enough that missing street signs ridicule the ignorant rather than reflect on the city’s incompetence and indifference. Likewise, for schools, selecting them can be a gamble or long and arduous gaming of the system.

What you read and see out of the School Committee is either not honest reality or at least not full reality. Perhaps the newer lottery-style, rank-your-top-choices schools request is better than the first way we learned. We quite literally had to move twice to be positive we were in the zone for good schools of the right grade.

Despite cost center one being very bright, that guaranteed virtually nothing.We got him in the Quincy Elementary in Chinatown for primary grades. The committee had zoned that for Beacon Hill and Chinatown, with the seemingly accurate perception that parents from the Wasp/yuppie and Asian-American cultures would ensure that their issue worked hard and reflected well on the system.

We got condo’ed out a couple of apartments in the realty frenzy. That ended up with our moving specifically to see that he was in the right zone for the then high-performing middle school, the Timilty.

Boston has retained an atavistic one-year school transition joke. Elementaries  run through fifth grade, middle schools can be three years or maybe a combo with high. The three exam schools —Latin School, Latin Academy and O’Bryant — start at seventh.

That queer year allegedly is for preparing the smarter kids for the rigors of the exam schools. For our first son though, when he went to Timilty, then a six-day-a-week school, and got to Latin School, he asked, “Where’s the work?”

Perils of Passivity

To our amazement, many parents are either ignorant of the game and its possible outcomes or simply so busy with the necessary duties of their lives that they took what they got. In our visits to potential schools, we met quite a few who said a neighborhood school was their top or only priority.We looked at the test results, spoke with parents and teachers and read the papers. The difference among education among city schools here astonished. Yet, if knowing your kid can walk to school outweighs lifelong effects, you’re not going to be shopping opportunities.For cost centers two and three, the formalized zone system changed everything. Residence alone did not give you a seat. We learned from other parents, including one who worked for the committee, that making a regular pain of yourself by phone and if possible in person helped tremendously, as did knowing or being related to those in the selection process.

We ended up with three boys through good schools, with diverse activities as well as high-quality teachers, and all three in exam schools. It was exhausting!

Harder, Better Way

The goal would be clear and the primary method obvious as well. Accomplishing that is far from it. Quite simply, if all the schools here are from good to great, we can stop the games. Those who benefit most of public education would get enough to offer them the chance of careers, higher education, and steps toward economic equality.Since Horace Mann became Massachusetts’ first secretary of education in 1837, the method has been before us. He had fallen in with Unitarians on moving to Boston, thus honing his unusually keen sense of social justice.

Mann proposed:

  1. that the public should no longer remain ignorant and free
  2. that such education should be paid for, controlled, and sustained by an interested public
  3. that this education will be best provided in schools that embrace children of all diversities
  4. that this education must be free of religious influence
  5. that this education must be taught by the spirit, methods, and discipline of a free society
  6. and that education should be provided by well-trained, professional teachers

So, there’s the progressive agenda yet again. In this area, it requires money and brain commitment to high-quality universal public education. While the rough infrastructure, physical as well as employee, is in place, much, much work must happen to elevate the lowest schools and retrain or eliminate the inadequate teachers and administrators. Yet, we are far more than half way to this goal.

Our current Gov. Deval Patrick claims he’ll be about that business. Even before the 2008 financial chaos, he was beset by severe budget constraints. Particularly, legislators had pushed off education and other essential expenses under some pretense that we’d be just fine without higher taxes. Liars.

Of course such real public education includes the risk of intense shock to the comfortable. The privileged can pass along their fortunes through favorable tax and real-estate laws and they can ensure their offspring go to schools that provide lifelong connections.

Even those without malice for the less favored by birth have no reason to campaign for true egalitarianism. It is only natural to watch out for your own. No matter how short and wide the dunghill, there may be only so much room at the top. There can be peril in elevating others.

Yet, the laws and regulations favor efforts for better schools. We have our informal aristocracy, but that conflicts with our long-held and Constitutionally defined ideal of fairness and equality.

I do believe a city first and then a state with all-good schools is possible. When that happens, Mann’s mandates could be much more real than they are.

Surely, were Boston to do that and the whole state to go about the same, the rest of the nation could not pretend it is impossible. They would have to act. The alternative would be endless explaining of failure to their voters.

Mann put it simply in words that work well nearly 200 years later, “Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is a great equalizer of the conditions of men—the balance wheel of the social machinery.”

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