Reverse Elitism

Over the years, many folks have accused my husband and I of being elitist, because we choose to send our kids to private schools. I have heard the same sort of derogatory arguments among the private school parents when speaking of the home schooled kids. As adults, we really have a tough time with live and let live. Everyone has their own assorted reasons for selecting the educational format that they feel best suits their children, and meshes most closely with their parenting views. Personally, we wanted things like the Pledge of Allegiance to be included in the daily routine. We liked the idea of having a direct say in policy through an active parent's organization. Smaller classroom size is a plus, but it really had much mnore to do with content and a pervasive ethical and moral environment. It was great to feel that the majority of parents were at least reading the same book if not exactly on the same page as you. You could actually speak directly with teachers instead of the sterile websites and emails.

In a private school, equality is actually the norm. While we were not the wealthiest parents, by far, once everyone was in their required uniforms, you weren't able to pick the rich kids out from the poor kids. Both my kids thought that they would hate the uniform thing. Yet, before all was said and done, both admitted it was great, and had the added benefit of avoiding the daily waste of time trying to decide what to wear the next day. I spent a whole lot less on clothing overall, and once in the system, there was a great deal of trading and pass downs among families that made the whole uniform thing even more budget friendly. And I bless private schools for keeping the singularly ugly gym uniforms alive and well. You can run co-ed gym class, as well as intramural sports activities without any danger of boys and girls having impure thoughts about one another-not in those get ups anyway. The focus was on what you could do, not what you owned.

I sense a huge difference in the public school. Teachers and counselors appear to think that they are superior to me, that they have some sort of inside knowledge about my child (whom they have met for all of fifteen minutes), an insight that I appear to be incapable of forming in their eyes. And they know even less about me than they do about my child. I have at least as much formal education as any of them, and perhaps more. Having lived with my child for 14 years, as opposed to their 15 minutes, I would at least like my input respected. And there seems to be a very negative, self-fulfilling expectation that parents don't care, don't want to know, don't want to be parents. And I grant you, I am sure that those types of non-parents are much more prevalent in the public school than private, but I don't like being automatically rounded up with the herd. It is almost as if choosing the public school option automatically labels you as a less than concerned parent. Can't help but think that is a very destructive mentality for teachers and counselors to hold as it almost precludes any sort of positive interaction between parents and staff.

Shock and puzzlement seem to be the reactions when, as a parent, you indicate that you fully expect your child to go on to a four year college and perhaps beyond. As my child has already proven the ability to score at a freshman in college level on national achievement tests while still in grade school, what purpose would be served by aiming for a two year junior college program? Does that mean that she is to idle away four years of high school and not continue to progress? This would appear to be the absolute opposite of elitism, setting goals at the lowest possible level. I have the sinking suspicion that I have already been labeled as a parent who is pushing their child beyond their limits, and to a limited extent that is true, because nobody grows and learns without pushing beyond their present capability. You won't successfully run a mile unless you push past the comfort zone of running a half mile. And kids, being kids, particularly my kids, are going to seek the course of least resistance, the least amount of stress and effort. Would any of us excel if we hadn't been pushed a bit?

I learned the most from the teachers who made my existence the most uncomfortable. At the time, I hated them with all the passion of a teen. As an adult, I can thank them for not letting me wriggle off the hook, not accepting second best. We all remember those instructors, who literally did a throw down at the beginning of the year, promising that nobody had ever gotten an A in their class. Strangely enough, we believed them and the response was one of two things: determination to prove that somebody could get the A, or resignation to just getting through with the best grade possible, accepting that A was out of the question. Only later did I understand that if nobody truly ever got an A in the class, in all likelihood, the instructor wouldn't be teaching all those years. At the time, we felt that we were being belittled and made to feel stupid, when in reality, we were being taught to leave our arrogance at the door, to actually be prepared to learn something as opposed to believing that we already knew it all.

And why is it popular to set our kids up for failure? Why does everyone insist that the transition from primary grades to middle school is so difficult, or middle school to junior high? Why at every milestone, do we fill kids heads with the notion that they simply cannot continue to do well at the new level of competition? I took Psychology courses, and this would seem to come under the heading of self-fulfilling prophecy. Telling kids that they are expected to do worse translates into them actually doing worse. I remember hearing those very same messages, and when looking back on them, wondered when things were supposed to become difficult? My experience didn't match everyone else's expecations.

After only a couple of days of classes, my daughter has already come home with the "just shoot me, now" look on her face. She was adamant that she wasn't prepared to function in Geometry class, that two years of pre-Algebra and Algebra had not prepared her sufficiently.

Basically, her biggest math problems, indicated by her advanced math instructor, was a lack of proof reading. She fails to remember to use negative signs, or fails to insert the decimal point. The pure numbers and process are correct, just a lack of checking her work before moving on. But, I actually bowed to her lack of confidence and she is taking Algebra 1, yet again. They are doing basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, and her classmates are willing to publicly announce that 2 X 3 = 7......Not sure that they will get to the level of work she was doing last year by her senior year at this rate. But hey, it is all in the name of confidence and self esteem, right?

We have noted a true lack of clarity in course names and descriptions. Where we would have a history class, it is now called a retrospective. And there are interdisciplinary offerings to even further muddy the water. Hybrids that can count as history, sociology, psychology are offered under intriguing names that leave no clue as to what era or cultures are actually being discussed. I am anxious for the American History, because I suspect that the textbooks have largely been rewritten since my taking the course. My daughter has an advanced English Grammar course, but judging from the homework assignments, it would probably be more appropriately called a writing course. And yes indeed, grammar is an incredibly important component of any writing, but why isn't it called a writing course? It appears that just as when I was in high school, they read literature selections, composing essays on various aspects of the construction such as scene setting, characterization, theme, conflict resolution, and imagery. Used to be that these classes were referred to as writing and rhetoric as they not only involved learning grammar, but how to construct logical arguments and conduct critical analysis. Isn't cloaking the content of coursework in exotic sounding titles a bit elitist?

Finally, the school labels a goodly number of classes as "AP". In this context, I am given to understand that this means these are the honors classes. Back in the day, "AP" meant a class that could potentially translate into college credit or a waiver of required college classwork, (after completing an arduous national exam in that subject, of course). I know, as I took several of them and had the joyous experience of being mental jello at the conclusion of the testing process. The whole college final thing held no fear after those "AP" experiences. My daughter, as a freshman, has her social studies course listed as "AP", and I somehow doubt that I will be ponying up a testing fee for potential college credit at the end. I would think that playing fast and loose with the "AP" logo and definition could well be considered as a form of elitism as well.

After all these years of being jeered at as "elitist" when it comes to my childrens' educational experiences, I am wondering who are the real elitists, and who is out to impress whom? Is education becoming a mirror of the adult world? Are smoke and mirrors the order of the day? Is all the fancy jargon by way of justifying the use of tax dollars? I am still finding my way through this maze, and longing for the days when I understood exactly what my daughter was studying. Geography and History were actually separate pursuits instead of blended into a multicultural retrospective of world societies.

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