Ever since I wrote a column about that feel-icky documentary about America's new charter-school fetish, Waiting for "Superman," I've received lots of e-mails from people who are pissed off enough to complain, but—not surprising—not necessarily pissed off enough to do something about it.
Here's a sample:
Your defense of American schools is ridiculous. We should be educating our kids like they do it in other parts of the world, like Japan. —A.J.
Yeah, Japan really kicks ass. They send their kids to school 10 hours a day, six days a week, and they turn out robots. Teaching by rote turns out people who live by rote. Plus, you've got kids over there killing themselves because they don't get into the right high school or college.
Plus, when's the last time somebody from Japan actually invented something? Not refined or polished or re-packaged, but invented? How 'bout never? I think that's a reflection of their educational system, as well as ours.
And what about all of you people back in the 1980s who claimed that Japan was going to pass us by as the leading economic power in the world? You whiffed on that one worse than when Leland Stanford swung and missed while trying to drive the Golden Spike at Promontory Point, Utah. (I learned that fact in public school.)
Those same people who touted Japan are now ooh-ing all over China, but that's not going to happen, either. China is just Japan writ large: a billion people, and not one original idea. Their government sucks; their music sucks; and their basketball team sucks. Fifty years from now, the mess that is India will have zoomed past China in just about everything.
Tom, data shows that, overall, charter schools are better than public schools. —B.D.
No, data don't. And if you think that should be "data doesn't," well ...
The right wing's oft-quoted "study" by Caroline Hoxby has been discredited, and more serious and unbiased studies show that bad charter schools outnumber good ones by a margin of 2-to-1 or greater.
For those of you who struggle with statistics, that doesn't mean that all charter schools are bad. Just most of them.
It's not surprising that so many people are home-schooling their kids. —S.S.
It's surprising to me, because home schooling is dumb. It's dumb like smoking dope is dumb. Some people who smoke dope think it opens their minds and, at the very worst, it's harmless. Well, it's not.
I know a whole lot of smart people, and I can't think of one who could teach a kid at home everything he/she would learn at a school. I'm pretty smart, and I don't think I could do it. Like everybody else, I have gaps in my knowledge. For example, I don't know much about art (or, as I'm certain other people would add, fashion or nutrition). Yet, home-schooling is being attempted by people who are not as smart as I (if you think that should be "not as smart as me," well ... ). It's scary.
I pay a lot of taxes, and I think I should be able to use some of that money (in the form of vouchers) to help send my child to private school. —E.F.
You do realize that, according to that logic, because you pay various transportation taxes, the government should help buy you a new car.
My kids are stuck in bad TUSD schools, and I fear for their future. —Z.R.
I e-mailed back and forth with this guy, who seemed genuinely concerned about the Tucson Unified School District, but then he gave some screwy answers. He told me that he was afraid that his daughter, who is in middle school, isn't learning anything in any of her classes. I asked if he had gone to sit in on the classes and see what's happening (or not happening, as the case may be).
He responded, "I can't do that. I have to work."
You can't take one day off to visit your daughter's school?
"No, I use all my vacation days during the summer and (over the holidays)."
Well, what are her teachers' names?
"I don't know." (He didn't attend the open house.)
He also didn't know all six classes his daughter is taking, nor did he know the name of the school's vice principal in charge of curriculum. But he did know the name of her club soccer coach. Some people would consider that a start, I guess.
Another e-mailer had similar concerns about TUSD. I asked her why she didn't take her concerns to the school board. She said she didn't know where or when the school board met, and when asked, could not name even one person on the board. That's not acceptable.
There are some hard—but, at the same time, pretty basic—truths in life. One of them is that if a kid grows up with parents who appreciate education and who reinforce that value on a daily basis, that kid is going to learn, no matter what school he/she attends. It's heartbreakingly simple and delineates the difference between reasons and excuses, will and can't, success and failure.