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Vouch For Good Teachers

Where did all the proponents of private school vouchers get their superior education, the education that makes them want to disavow public schools? Did they get it from prep schools and top 20 universities? This seems unlikely; those folks get in with cash and legacies. We are, probably, being harangued on this topic by former public school students who long for both upper-class status and for the imagined good old days––not to mention shelter from immigrants and other fearsome ethnic types.

In 2005, In Wilmington, Delaware, several committed teachers, fresh from college, began giving of themselves in challenging circumstances, working toward the intellectual salvation of a collection of middle-schoolers. The worthy objective of the enterprise is to secure, for the selected participants, grant-funded scholarships to private high schools in the Wilmington area.

This effort ironically makes the same case, though more stealthily, as the one made by voucher proponents: only by narrowing the sample can we ensure success; the system has failed, and only extraordinary measures taken by private individuals can turn this around. In fact, the leader of the Wilmington effort wants to limit that program’s size to 65 students in order to increase the odds of retaining 100% of those selected.

This is a formula for controlled success for a fortunate few. If the sample is limited, with even a moderate audition of character and intellect, results must naturally be superior to the results seen by those who may neither select nor reject a single student––those teaching in public school. Public schools have the noble mission of taking on all the kids that can’t pay for, or be accepted by, the programs of the wealthy and the high-minded.

The fact that these young Delaware teachers are devoting themselves to the betterment of educationally neglected kids is good news. But the better news is that plain, selfless public school educators give of themselves every day. Because a sense of mission guides their lives, good teachers are not permitted by their conscience to abdicate their responsibility to push opportunity in front of pupils. With a mix of something familial and something collegial, they ignite sparks of enlightenment every day in kids they could have only prayed for a week before.

At home, for most kids to have a chance to excel––or to keep up––they require nothing more than encouragement from at least one respectable figure of adult authority. This need not be a mom or dad, but it should at least be the same one who makes dinner or breakfast, the one who signs the kid up for something––anything––extracurricular and shows up to watch; someone who looks with pride or concern at the report card each grading period. Just one loving critic will do. Yet, even without this help, some kids break through anyway under the inspiration of the person at the front of the public school classroom.

Amid goofy, transitory educational trends and stingy budgets, most teachers get it right. Still, persistent underlying problems plague us. Many kids are forever limited by a negative adult example at home, or by parental assumptions that the education of the child is the responsibility of the school and the system. Some kids who get good food and plenty of sleep––between trips to the mall––are no better off than the actively discouraged offspring of bitter, underprivileged or underachieving adults.

Getting the private sector to cough up more money for poor kids is always good. Even though ideas like the Wilmington project are important and worthy of our good wishes, we must not lose focus on the larger picture. Public education demands our attention, undiminished resources and political support; our effort to reach the largest number must not be watered down by a voucher system. The required elixir for nurturing the broadest number of achievers continues to be societal agreement––sought by the parent or guardian, funded by the community and, finally, dispensed by the teacher to our beloved hope––the ordinary, deserving child. 

Posted on Sunday, May 1, 2011 at 11:33AM by Registered CommenterCoEternity | CommentsPost a Comment

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