Public SchoolIt’s hard to imagine anyone who would object to ensuring that children are educated and that their access to an education does not rely on their parents’ ability to pay for it. Who doesn’t want to see all children able to read, able to to mathematical computations, and learn other basics that allow them to function in the modern world? Children without basic skills in reading and math would be at a serious disadvantage in life, so we are all willing to ensure that children are taught these skills.

One way to ensure that all children are taught those basic skills is through a public education system. In this system, citizens pay local taxes which are used to pay for educating our children. Local taxes are augmented with tax dollars from the state and federal governments. In exchange, we get teachers and buildings to house them and their students. Children receive an education at little or no additional cost to their parents. So why would anyone complain about such a system?

Who Gets Educated?

The quick answer to the question of who gets educated in this system is “everyone.” But let’s take a closer look at that. Every child is definitely entitled to an education paid for by the public. That means that regardless of a child’s abilities, he or she will be educated. Every child will learn to read to do math and will learn basics in history, science, language, writing, and whatever else is needed to function in the world today. It doesn’t matter how wealthy a child’s parents are or what kind of abilities the child has. That child is to get an education.

I repeat that idea because parents of some children have had to fight to get the academic needs of their children met in public schools. Parents of special needs children, for example, had to take their case to court so that their children got what they needed in public schools. Schools are now required by law to provide what these children need in order for them to learn.

But what about gifted children? It seems that people don’t believe that gifted children need anything special in order to learn. After all, they’re smart; they’ll do quite well on their own. But that is a myth. Do they need the same kinds of services that other special needs children require? No, but not all special needs kids need the exact same services either. Will gifted children learn if they are left alone? It depends on the child and the subject matter. Just because a child may learn faster than other children doesn’t mean they need no instruction at all.

What Does it Mean to Be Educated?

What exactly does it mean to be educated? The obvious answer, and the idea that started this article, is that it means children will learn to read to do math and to learn other concepts that will equip them to understand the world in which they will live as adults. But it is more than that. Children also need to be challenged and to learn how to meet those challenges. This is probably one area where gifted children are failed most by our public school system.

Gifted children are frequently not challenged in school. That means that they are less prepared to meet the challenges they are sure to find later in life. Many gifted children never learn study skills or time management skills, both of which are needed for success. When they encounter their first challenge in life, whether in high school, college, or on the job, they are ill-equipped to deal with it. They often give up and become underachievers.

Worse, gifted children can suffer from emotional distress as a result of their needs not being met in school. They may act up or act out. They may dumb down, and they may become depressed. They may end up being misdiagnosed with any number of alphabet soup disorders (ADHD, OCD, etc.). Being misdiagnosed isn’t going to help them, and it could hurt them because instead of being given the appropriate academic services they need, they get medicated.

How Do We Support Public Education?

This brings us to the idea of supporting public education. When people enthusiastically ask us to support public education, what exactly are they asking us to do? We already pay taxes that support public education. And if truth be told, we don’t have much of a choice in paying those taxes. But most people don’t complain about their taxes going to fund public education. That’s true even for many of the parents who end up sending their child to a private school or homeschooling their child.

To be fair, there are some parents (and others) who say that if they send their child to a private school or if they homeschool, they should not also have to pay taxes for public schooling since that means they are paying to educate their child twice. These people tend to be proponents of a voucher system, in which parents get a voucher that they can then give to the public school or to the private school, or to spend on homeschooling supplies. People who want us to support public education seem to oppose the voucher system because they say that it drains money from the public school system.

Fair enough. Leaving aside all other arguments for and against a voucher system, it is true that money that would go to the public school system would go elsewhere. However, that isn’t the whole story behind the call to support public education. Many people want parents to send their kids to public schools, no matter what. After all, they say, how will the schools ever get better if parents take their kids out and send them somewhere else?

Yes, that’s right. We are apparently supposed to sacrifice our children to the greater good of public education. Never mind that if we send our child to a private school or homeschool him or her, the school still gets our tax dollars and has one fewer child to educate. So while many happily and enthusiastically call for us to support public education, they seem to want us to show our support by sending our children to a public school, even if that school is not the appropriate environment for our child and can do as much damage as good.

Carol BainbridgeEducationRants and ResponsesProblems at School,Public Education,Underachievement
It's hard to imagine anyone who would object to ensuring that children are educated and that their access to an education does not rely on their parents' ability to pay for it. Who doesn't want to see all children able to read, able to to mathematical computations, and learn...