Throughout my public school career, which spanned from kindergarten through 12th grade, I had a lot of complaints about the school system. All too often, kids fell between the cracks, there were too many teachers who were failing their students, and sometimes you felt choked by the red tape surrounding the administration.
But underneath all of the negativity, there lived pockets of genuine goodness. If you looked closely, you could find teachers full of love and passion, friends becoming closer year by year, and opportunities for growth around every corner.
I do my best to stay mindful of this, now that my own children have reached school-age. Admittedly, I continue to have my criticisms, some of which are substantial, but I also see the beauty within the environment. For the purpose of this post, I will stay away from issues of standardized testing and "no child left behind"; I would like to look at the subtle interpersonal dynamics that I've witnessed recently.
I'm always fascinated by the way people act when they think that no one is looking. I find that these are the moments when you can truly see someone's character. As I drop my son off in the morning, and pick him up in the afternoon, I take notice of the little, or perhaps, not so little things, happening around me.
Every day, I watch these tough looking dads bringing their kids to school; pants sagging down, hats worn sideways, and tattoos running up and down their necks. But this rough exterior is immediately softened when they are walking hand in hand with their tiny daughters. These are the dads who regularly walk their kids right up to the front door, rather than drop them off from a distance. On rainy days, I've smiled watching them hold little pink umbrellas over their daughters heads, while they get drenched in the process.
Yesterday, I saw a young dad go out of his way to hold the door for one of the school's aides. As he walked out the door, he spotted her from a distance away. It would have been perfectly acceptable for him to go on his way, in fact, he could have been back into his car by the time she reached the door. Instead, he waited, holding the door, and then warmly greeted her as she entered the building.
These are the simple interactions that make such a huge difference in the world. He didn't hold the door, because he was trying to impress anyone. As far as he knew, no one was paying attention to his act of kindness; he simply did it, because it was the right thing to do.
This level of politeness is evident amongst the students, too. There have been numerous occasions where my son has entered the building behind an older student. I've felt myself tense up, waiting for the older kid to rush in, allowing the door to hit my son in the face. But almost every time, the older student pulls the door open, steps to the side, and graciously waves the younger child through. It further warms me to watch my son offer the same level of politeness. Sometimes I think he would happily hold the door for the entire school!
Clearly, I'm grateful to see these positive interactions occurring. I'm further delighted to watch my kids participate in such a diverse school environment. I was fortunate enough to go to a very diverse school myself, and honestly, I think that was the best part of my education. You can learn about different cultures from a book, but it's nothing like making friends with someone who is different from you.
I remain close with many of my childhood friends, none of whom I would have met, had I not attended public school. Our parents worked in different fields and socialized with different groups, so our paths wouldn't have crossed outside of the school environment. We got to choose each other, independent of our parents, and that allowed us to form some genuinely unique bonds.
When I look out at the sea of kids; they show a full spectrum of racial and socio-economic backgrounds. They may be aware of their differences, but they're also learning that they share much more in common. This is an invaluable part of public education.
So while I will continue to fret about standardized testing, bullying, labeling, etc., etc., etc.; I will also continue to stay awake for these pure and simple moments. There may come a day where my husband and I choose to remove our kids from the public school system, but for now, I will appreciate the education they are receiving, because these are interactions that I cannot provide for them at home.