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Can public schools be fixed?

Posted on | October 2, 2007 | No Comments

I’m really starting to wonder about the survival of some public school systems. From what I hear, some of them are quite good. Independent school districts are also having a degree of success. What remains is, we need to live where we can work and our choices remain rather limited. I also know, some of our public school systems are horribly broken.

Right now, we (my wife and I) have an easier life than most other parents that I know. I work from home, my wife is a full time Mom, I’m able to spend much more time with my daughter than many fathers (or even mothers, depending). Freelancing is great but it is not exactly a reliable income. I’ll always freelance to a degree, but likely as a supplemental income that I manage from home to avoid the two-job magic trick that makes me vanish from my child’s life. Affording a private school is not now (currently) in the budget, my two year old is headed for school in just a few short years.

My thinking isn’t just influenced by funds. I can remember having friends who went to private school who never quite ‘fit in’ with the rest of us because they weren’t as much of a part of our daily lives. The reverse could also be true, if you lived somewhere that most kids attended a private school. Most of us don’t live in places where the majority of children attend private school. I don’t want to alienate my kid by ensuring that she does not share her days in school with her neighborhood friends. As I said, I can’t afford it anyway, so its a moot point.

Bright kids have a 50/50 chance of doing well in public schools, I don’t think that there is a reliable way to predict how your child will mix with them. I’m looking at this now hoping that I can come up with ideas that might help to improve the school system. Lots of people are complaining about public schools, this doesn’t seem to be producing very good results. In fact, I think this is counterproductive, all we’re doing is forcing school systems into bad knee-jerk reactions.

Recent reports of over-zealous security guards (one actually was reported to have broken the wrist of a student), bans on hugs and other things really alarm me. The schools don’t seem to be listening to the communities, however I think that the volume of complaining and antagonizing has quite a bit to do with schools going ‘deaf’.

When I went through the public school system (I’m Gen-X), they were ‘just ok’. They had some good qualities. Cuts in education spending hit us hard, our text books were old and missing pages, desks / chairs were usually broken or wobbled, needed repairs to the building were delayed or forgotten because there were no funds. Teachers did not make much. My teachers were irritated, but not quite jaded. Some really went way above and beyond the call of duty. I wonder how many teachers today feel inclined to go beyond the call of duty?

Money is a much bigger obstacle these days, I think. The tools to learn cost quite a bit more (computers, gizmos, A/V equipment, instruments, even art supplies cost quite a bit more). From what I learned, text books have nearly doubled in price, a teacher’s salary is also far too low.

I want to be prepared. I’m starting now by thinking of creative ways to help raise money that schools could use. Lots of my free time (what little remains) is spent helping non-profit groups find ways to self monetize using the Internet. Anyone could sell web hosting, for instance, directly to their community with very little costs involved in getting a program going. Completely free information and texts (I.e. Wikipedia) are now being widely accredited, schools will need help assimilating these resources. For instance, did you know that you can download the whole Wikipedia database to run custom queries? Most schools don’t, nor do they see the potential tools that could be in the hands of educators.

We managed to produce Wikipedia, we could produce completely free re-writes of text books while improving their quality and accuracy, it would not be difficult, just time consuming. Teachers could take their free books, modify them and share changes with other teachers, while further improving the quality of the texts. This translates into multi million dollar savings across the board, yearly, which can go right into the pockets of teachers and better/newer equipment. Yes, printing costs money, however you still save money even if you have the books professionally printed and bound (paperback). Many people that I know enjoy reading more when doing it with a computer vs a paper book. I have not proposed one complete idea in this short little rant, but perhaps a few things to think about.

I teach, I’m not a professional educator. I teach people how to use free software and write computer programs. I also teach people how to build on-line businesses that make a few bills go away. When (or before) the time comes, I plan to donate my skills to whatever school my daughter will be attending. Maybe I can improve some things (even just a little) before she gets there. Why aren’t more people doing that?

If everyone spent four hours of their time per month, just four hours doing something for free at their child’s school, we’d have a much better system in place. I think I should start advocating stuff like this now, rather than waiting a couple of years to join a long line of frustrated, complaining parents :)

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