The big ‘one size fits all’ lie we keep hearing from school ‘choice’ advocates

OK, I’ve let it go about a thousand times, but this was just one time too many:

“Parents have spoken out enough to make lawmakers understand that they deserve choices,” said state Rep. Eric Bedingfield, R-Greenville, a lead sponsor of the bill. “Education is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Each child is educationally unique in how they learn.”

Of course, that paragraph is chock-full of nonsense (parents have all the choices they could ask for; this issue is about whether they should be rewarded, at the expense of  the public schools, for exercising those choices in certain ways), but I want to zero in on one point we haven’t discussed before: The laughable notion that public education constitutes a “one-size-fits-all” approach to education, while private school education does not.

In my experience, it’s the other way around.

Of course, you don’t really need personal experience to understand the obvious: Public schools take everybody, and therefore have to make teach all types of learners. While there are some private schools that are specifically set up to address different learning styles, the private schools that get the largest numbers of those fleeing public education tend to be of the “keep-up-or-fail” variety.

Our kids started out in Catholic schools — in Tennessee, then Kansas, then here. After we’d been living here for about a year — this was the late ’80s — we decided for several reasons to switch to public schools. (One factor was cost, another was travel time — we had a very good elementary school in walking distance of our home, as opposed to having to drive the kids downtown every day.)

Another factor was that my younger son, who had always been bright — we marveled at his vocabulary from the time he was a toddler — was really struggling in the first grade. He never got to go to recess, because the teacher kept him in to finish his work. He would strain to complete homework late into the night, past bedtime. He was very conscientious, and always applied himself to finish the work, but it was a struggle — and he was under way too much stress for a first-grader. Like his Dad, he had trouble focusing on a task, but there was more to it than that — we would later discover that he had a form of dyslexia.

His teacher at the Catholic school didn’t know what to do with him, except to make him finish his work however long it took.

After he started in the public school, as soon as his teachers saw how much trouble he was having, a meeting was called with us and the teachers and specialists from the district, to draft a strategy for helping him keep up and learn the material. This strategy was updated and followed all the way until he graduated from Brookland-Cayce High School.

Were the methods perfect? My son, who now has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, says no — he believes the schools still had a lot to learn. And in fact, his dyslexia wasn’t specifically diagnosed until much later than it should have been. But the point is, they did something to help him, and kept on working with him. And that gave him the space and the tools to learn how to learn, to graduate and to earn a college degree. As wonderful as Catholic education is for mainstream learners, that just wasn’t going to happen where he was before.

By definition and by necessity, public education is not one-size-fits-all. They have to educate everybody, so they have to stock all sizes. Many of the debates we have over education — such as over the impact of putting children on different tracks — result from the wide variety of learning needs different children bring to school.

(I don’t know what I would do if I had to attend school in my children’s or grandchildren’s generation. In my day, you could get by just on being smart, being good at tests, and class participation. My teachers knew that I knew the material even if I didn’t get assignments done — I aced the tests that were such a large part of my grade, even when I didn’t finish them. Since then, schools have become much more task-oriented, and place a greater emphasis on homework and daily assignments; I’m not at all sure I would have kept up.)

And for that reason, it really ticks me off when people who want to drain public resources from the public schools try to make us think it’s the other way around.

62 thoughts on “The big ‘one size fits all’ lie we keep hearing from school ‘choice’ advocates

  1. `Kathryn Fenner

    Hear hear!

    Richland One, for one, has IB and AP classes. Special needs kids (and that isn’t necessarily code for “retarded”–it includes kids with diagnoses on the autism spectrum, kids with ADHD, and so on) get individualized educational plans (IEPs)–I could go on.

  2. Silence

    We already have school choice – You can either go to your local public school or you can move to a different district or you can pay to send your precious snowflake wherever you please.

  3. Matt Bohn

    K-12 education accounts for 36% of the budget from the general fund. Over 1.8 billion dollars. That’s what the real argument is about. The choice plan is the first step in shrinking the largest user of state funds. Students like your son will be the real losers if they succeed. Throw that in with parents who want to keep their children from those who are different and things really look sad. They use misleading arguments like comparing SAT scores and graduation rates with states that cherry pick those who take the test/ require fewer units to graduate. It’s all so depressing. What do they want? No education for the poor? Are they that selfish that they’d rather pay less in taxes and not provide services for the children of SC? I’ve had many poor students, especially when I taught in Lee County. Many were able to succeed and graduate from college. What will happen to them? Will Robert E. Lee Academy welcome them with open arms because they have a voucher?

  4. Silence

    I wonder if the voucher promotors really understand what they are getting into:

    1) It’s just going to push up private school prices by the voucher amount, helping nobody.

    2) If the SC’s payin’ – then SC’s sayin’. Sayin’ what goes and what doesn’t in your formerly private school. Once you get dependent on those vouchers, you’ll do whatever it takes to keep getting them, even if it means adjusting your beliefs or curriculum to stay in the game.

    3) The advantage gained by going to private school would be diluted if more students went there. If your kid does better with smaller classes, too bad. Can’t make the varsity anymore? Oh well.

    I just really don’t think they’ve thought this through.

  5. Doug Ross

    The “choice” is simple: spend more on the same system and cheer for minuscule improvement (and ignore bad results) or let those who want to try to escape failed schools have a chance.

    We’ve seen what happens when more money is spent on public schools: nothing.

    And, I’m sorry, but graduation rate is all that matters. We are ranked 49th in the country (58%) compared to the national average of about 70%. It would take billions of dollars and decades to move those numbers a few percentage points.

    You would also need someone in the black community to stand up and lead on this because the issue is much more related to them.

  6. bud

    The big ‘one size fits all’ lie we keep hearing from school ‘choice’ advocates

    As a matter of civility wouldn’t the word “lie” in the headline be a bit over the top?

    Otherwise a pretty well argued post.

  7. Karen McLeod

    That’s exactly what I hear. These are people who want to move their children into lily-white schools, and not have to support public school so much. That’s just it. We haven’t tried. So many go to private (read “white”) schools, which means that those parents are not making any attempt to help the public schools. This bill, I think, is basically an effort once more to return to “separate but (un)equal schools.”

  8. `Kathryn Fenner

    @bud– I think Brad’s general tone is civil, and he means “lie”….there is no way to sugarcoat that–intentional misrepresentation? It lacks the nice rhythm of “lie.”

  9. `Kathryn Fenner

    @Karen–C’mon–they have some persons of color at those schools. You see them on the billboards and literature. Hand-selected scholarship students and a handful of upper-class scions–just not random hoodie-wearers.

    The private schools are gated communities.

  10. Brad

    Yeah… I appreciate that Bud is trying to keep me honest — we all sometimes fall short in reaching toward the level of civility that I aspire to.

    But I went with “lie” because I keep hearing this, and it is the opposite of the truth.

    As I said, there are exceptions to what I’m saying — there are some niche private schools that address different learning styles, and exist to do so.

    But as a generalization, which is the way these “choice” advocates use it, there is no question that if there is a “one-size-fits-all” model, it’s the private model, not the public one.

    Now, to bend over further — perhaps “lie” goes too far in the sense that those who say it are not CONSCIOUSLY lying. They actually believe that public education is Brand X, generic, cookie-cutter education. They believe this because they don’t know anything about the reality of public education.

    Interestingly, among the same folks who hold to this canard (I almost used that word in the headline; perhaps it would have been better) are some who also complain that too little of the money that goes to public education goes “into the classroom,” defining that narrowly. When you hear those assertions about “only X amount makes it to the classroom,” they usually don’t include the kinds of specialists who step into the classroom to help kids who need some accommodation to learn — or librarians or school bus drivers or cafeteria workers or others who are essential to running a good school. To hear them talk, you just need a plain ol’ teacher teaching plain ol’ material, without “frills” — which truly WOULD be “one size fits all.”

  11. Steven Davis II

    @Karen – As a parent would you ask yourself, “How do lily-white students do in a lilly-white school as compared to a lily-white student in a public school?” Where would you prefer your child go if cost were not a factor… a school that boasts of 90+% of graduates go to college on scholarship or one that boasts of a 50% graduation rate?

    Why do people with no children in school feel the need to tell parents where their kids need to go to school?

  12. `Kathryn Fenner

    Failure to investigate seems a lot like an intentional disregard for the truth. I don’t have kids, and I know that public schools are not one-size-fits-all.

    Even if you are the governor, you are expected to do some fact-checking (As in Florida’s corporate income tax rate is greater than ours). You don’t get to just assert whatever suits your position.

  13. Kathleen

    Karen is right; we(SC) have never really wholeheartedly tried. Noone who understands the history of public schools in this state could believe that a “choice” bill,in any form, would benefit all South Carolinians. If lie is incorrect or uncharitable, ignorant, all caps and bolded, is not.Choice bills, in any iteration, can only undermine any minute progress we have made.
    Personal testimony: My family has been here since before the revolution and like most Southerners we have long memories. I have letters from early in the last century decrying the state of education. Southern students transferring to NY schools at that time were automatically put back at least one year. As a teenager I received a lecture from my mother(very white) on the state ofthe “separate but equal” Black schools. I began school in a very rural county and before graduating attended public school in four counties as well as a year at Heathwood in Columbia. My siblings experience was slightly different, as was that of my children and grandchildren.
    From my perspective, there is a place for private schools and many forms of public education. Nothing that siphons our limited resources away from our public schools benefis our state. My children did not all receive all they needed in any school I could afford, public, private , or parochial, but that only reinforces my opinion.

  14. Scout

    I don’t think it is a lie when you are talking specifically about students with disabilities. The majority of private schools don’t want to deal with them. It’d make it a lot harder to get the stats they get that proponents of school choice like to cite all the time, even though they know (or have some kind of bazaar blindness to seeing) that it’s not a fair comparison – kind of like comparing mortality rates of a doctor whose caseload is entirely patients with the common cold to an oncologist who specializes in the deadliest cancers. If you are willing to draw serious conclusions about the quality of the two doctors from that data point alone, then it is your own analytical powers that would seem to be the most lacking.

    Full disclosure – IDEA (Individuals With Disabilities Education Act) pays my salary. I think it is kind of important. I teach a class for 3 and 4 year olds with speech and language impairments.

    Another incidental point – IDEA is a federal law. If certain presidential candidates had their way, they seem to imply that they’d like it to go away. If it were up to South Carolina alone to do right by children with disabilities, I’d be worried.

  15. Mark Stewart

    The public school system would go a long way toward innoculating itself from these false claims if the state would get smart about rationalizing the current delivery system.

    How hard would it be to simply legislate that no school district shall have less than x number of students (5,000 or 7,500 would seem sensible to me) and that while the area covered must be tightly clustered, the districts need not follow county boundaries?

    This whole thing is like Haley saying churches can deliver social services better than the state; private schools are just that, schools. Public schools are not only schools, they are districts. They provide far more than the resources that an individual school

  16. Mark Stewart

    Edit feature! Phone commenting error…

    Anyway, was trying to say no private school could ever efficiently deliver a broad range of learning services. School systems are needed for that – which is why they have evolved from one-room school houses. We haven’t been simply permitting beaurocracy to swell these past hundred years; we have been shaping a responsive system aimed at delivering for the largest number of students possible. No private school will ever have that priority as its goal. And that’s what we all need as a society and as parents to our future generations.

  17. martin

    This is an amazing piece from a Texas school superintendent about what the Texas legislature is doing to destroy public education.
    It needs to appear in a paper in every state in the union so that people realize this assault is going on nationwide and it is for the purpose of making certain people rich onn the backs of taxpayers and it is another vast right wing conspiracy that is not supposed to exist.

  18. Kathy

    I have many problems with public schools. I was a student, teacher, and administrator. Many of those problems are caused by “know-it- alls” in Washington and Columbia. Most of the other problems are caused by parents who have little or no involvement in the education of their children due to ignorance and/or lack of concern. However, draining public schools of resources will not make the schools better. As much as I believe in free enterprise, it is not the solution to every problem in the United States.

    I am 100 percent convinced that the voucher/tax credit ideas being promoted in SC are simply step number one of a plan to dismantle the public school system here. How anyone could think that is a good idea defies reality and common sense. I have long thought that many people who think they have a lot of answers to real and imaginary problems need to get out of their cloisters more and see what life is like for huge numbers of people. Many of you would truly be surprised—I daresay, even appalled.

    By the way, I don’t support teachers unions which don’t exist in South Carolina anyway.

  19. Brad

    In support of Kathryn’s point, I’ll quote Daniel Patrick Moynihan:

    “You’re entitled to your own opinions. You’re not entitled to your own facts.”

    Ah, how quaint that sounds now! In today’s information explosion, everyone can shop around for “facts” that fit their proclivities, and everyone now believes they’re entitled to them.

  20. Brad

    In an earlier time, South Carolina’s own Bernard Baruch said, “Every man has a right to his own opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.”

    And he was a smart guy. He coined the term “Cold War.” In a speech to the S.C. Legislature, no less. Bet you didn’t know that. I didn’t, until just now. Of course, he said it six years before I was born.

  21. `Kathryn Fenner

    The ever-insightful Stephen Colbert coined the term “truthiness” for just these people.

    Doonesbury did a series on a business that sold versions of the “truth” made to order.

  22. Al Fulton

    In The School District of Greenville County, we essentially have school choice. If you want your child to go to a school other than their geo-coded one, you just ask.
    We also have a Magnet School program that has done wonders to fill up the unpopular schools by staffing them with highly qualified, motivated teachers. Most of the Magnets are schools that were heavily black or hispanic prior to the program’s implementation and are now HIGHLY sought after schools to attend.

    A similar approach was presented to the legislature some years ago and promptly turned down as being too expensive…..Which makes no sense that I can see.

    The issue to me is that those people still wanting segregated schools think this is a way to get them and have the state pay for them. Given South Carolina’s past history this seems to me to be a guaranteed way to have a Department of Justice lawsuit in short order, and perhaps federal oversight of the school system in the state.

  23. `Kathryn Fenner

    Ah, but Brad, your link is not an example of a falsehood. I thought your thoughtful email exchange with the woman illustrated that very well.

  24. doug ross

    And you will pay for the additional funding you think will solve South Carolina’s education issues how? Are you willing to cut any government spending in other areas to do this or will it just be the usual method of raising taxes on those who already subsidize the lousy education delivered in many public schools? Other people’s money is always the first option.

  25. Brad

    Not “other people’s money,” Doug. Our money. Yours, mine, all of ours. The money we decide, via the process of representative democracy, to devote to these services.

    As long as we pay taxes comparable to those paid by Americans in other states, we’ll have no problem affording an adequately funded state government.

  26. `Kathryn Fenner

    I gladly pay taxes for all y’all’s kids and I’d like to pay more, if everyone else did. I realize I am fortunate and in the top quartile, at least, of income. I had great education courtesy of the wives of the SRS scientists–gotten for a song. I got the Honors College, too. I cannot pay enough taxes to fix this, but less money isn’t the answer!!!

    We pay so much less than most, and we have such greater needs:Jim Crow and before, and a cultural disdain for education– I compare this to my friends who grew up heavily Jewish communities. Huge cultural difference to overcome.

    The powers that be down here seem to want the population at large to be as ignorant and malleable as possible. I’m not usually a conspiracy fan,but really!

  27. Steven Davis II

    So what programs are you suggesting we cut? Or is this just another increase taxes program?

  28. Doug Ross

    How much more do you think the average tax payer would have to pay to get the education system, healthcare system, and bus system you want? Make your case based on value instead of trying to guilt people into paying for the needs of others via government redistribution.

    And, anyway, if you don’t like what the politicians are doing, you have two options: vote them out or run for office yourself. If your case is so compelling it should be easy to take control over the career politicians who have created the environment you oppose.

  29. Steven Davis II

    Kathryn – I don’t think anyone would object to you contributing more than you’re required. So break out the checkbook and start writing checks. You talk the talk, now walk the walk.

    What your husband makes (public knowledge) puts you in the top 25%? That’s surprising.

    “I got the Honors College too.” What???

  30. `Kathryn Fenner

    My last comment was about the German compulsory service, and should have gone under my comment under health care reform….

  31. Brad

    Doug, I doubt you’ll ever get this, but it’s not about the “needs of others.” It’s about what the whole community needs; it’s about what benefits us all. The failure of so many people to understand that for the lack of these things we are ALL the less is the greatest political problem of our age, particularly in SC.

    Everybody needs to go read some John Donne.

  32. Doug Ross

    The “whole community” needs each person to take responsibility for himself/herself. That would go a long way toward fixing the community.

    When we provide a safety net for women who have multiple children out of wedlock, that is rewarding behavior that is detrimental to society as a whole. I do my part by paying a significant sum in taxes each year – what are those on the other side of the equation doing? and why is it wrong to expect them to contribute in ways that don’t cost them a dime – like not having kids out of wedlock, staying in school, staying off drugs?

    The problem we have is that you define community as government. That the only mechanism to handle the poor and downtrodden is forced redistribution of wealth. You abdicate the large portion of the responsibility for others to the nameless, faceless government and think you are doing God’s work in simply saying “tax them and give it to them”. That’s the EASIEST thing to do.

    Kathryn is fond of saying “too whom much is given much is expected” – but as far as I can see there is no obligation that the expectations be made via taxes. I can live up to that philosophy without paying a dime of taxes.

  33. Mark Stewart


    A state would need to value education to have a wide knowledge of John Donne. This state suffers from an inability to think past “the chicken or the egg” scenario. Sadly.

  34. `Kathryn Fenner

    yeah, Doug, ask not for whom the school bell tolls!

    I totally agree with Brad. *I* need good schools for all children. Can no one see how poor education has resulted in all those jobs for trained or trainable workers who cannot be found in SC?

    I guess it’s a vicious circle here–people are not well enough educated to appreciate how important everyone’s being well-educated is, so the next generation is not well enough educated to see…..

  35. Brad

    Doug, what you say simply doesn’t make sense.

    Any system that a community has for working together to address issues it has in common is government. You can’t escape that. You can’t have community over here, and government over there. If a community exists — as opposed to alienated individuals at war with each other, each grabbing for himself without regard to the rest — then there is government. By definition.

  36. Doug Ross

    There are church communities, charitable communities, neighborhood communities. Each does a far better job of taking care of others in the community than the government does.

    The difference: people participate by choice, not by law.

    And the government community has spoken via its representative democracy: we want to try out school vouchers because what we have in public education doesn’t work. It’s not just here, it’s nationwide – and its a growing movement in response to the outcomes and performance shown by public schools.

    Maybe if there was any evidence shown in any of the worst schools that spending more money could make a difference then the voucher movement could be held off. But we’ve seen the results – more money doesn’t equal better performance. You can’t fix people who aren’t willing to step up and take ownership of the problem.

    Show some results. Show where tens of millions of dollars spent on PACT testing made any real difference. Show where all the extra money poured into lousy schools has changed the community. At some point results have to matter more than noble intentions.

  37. Brad

    Those are subsets of the community, on the level we’re talking about, Doug. And it’s not true that each does “a far better job.” Some do well, some don’t. I’ve been involved in all sorts of such organizations. I’ve told you about my experiences with Boy Scouts, for instance. There are great troops; then there are the kind I was in.

    And each of those mini-communities has its own government, and is therefore an illustration of the general principle that I’m talking about here. My scout troops were poorly governed; other are well-governed.

    And like all governments outside of places like North Korea, these are free associations. Just as you are free to live in South Carolina and the United States or not. If you live in those places, you abide by the laws and procedures that govern those places.

    You can call it coercion all you like — just as you can rail against a church that requires you to tithe. But all you’re doing is making yourself unhappy about a necessary fact of life.

  38. Silence

    Obviously it benefits a community to have a strong public (and private) education system. It can provide a competitive advantage that can be leveraged to attract desirable employers, and personally, I like being around educated, not ignorant, people.

    You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear though – the additonal dollars we seem to be putting in don’t seem to be yielding additonal benefits. Nowadays we have ABC vouchers, 4 year old Kindergartens, breakfast at school, free lunch, special programs for kids with different needs and my favorite – VERY fancy school buildings, at least around here.
    Bricks and mortar don’t teach kids, and apparently a lot of parents don’t do much teaching either.

  39. Doug Ross

    Which church requires you to tithe? I’ve been a member of a couple churches that preached the value of tithing but there was never any review of contributions.

    And it looks like the South Carolina Press Association isn’t do much to be part of the community. They are fighting a bill that would eliminate the exemption on sales taxes that newspapers have — an exemption that has no reason to exist.

    Do you think newspapers should be exempt?

    Opponents of the bill — including the South Carolina Press Association, which wants to keep the exemption for newsprint and newspapers — are glad to see the House will be on furlough for the next two weeks.

    Read more here:

  40. Steven Davis II

    Brad, reading yours and Kathryn’s comments, neither of you will be happy until this country is known as the Commune States of America where everyone will be entitled to an equal share regardless of the work or effort they contribute.

  41. Silence

    @ Doug – I think that newspapers have historically been exempt from sales taxes, I guess relating back to having a free press. I don’t know why they should get special treatment though.

  42. `Kathryn Fenner

    Yes, Steven–Those lazy kids expect a decent education and what do they do for this country? Lazy slackers!

  43. `Kathryn Fenner

    @ Silence–How are under- or un-educated parents supposed to help their kids?

    A full belly and a decent school building are necessary prerequisites to learning, but not sufficient. It takes a lot of different things to beat the ingrained, inbred ignorance that plagues our state, and we have never reached the tipping point that would achieve success because we starve our efforts.

  44. Brad

    Horrors! Just what we all KNEW would happen, every time, if our precious white offspring were exposed to negroes!

    Apparently, all racism, and all hostility BASED in racism to the concept of universal education, are justified! By one video! Amazing!

    Now, back to being serious… Yes, we know from whence the hostility to public schools springs. But thank you for confirming it.

  45. Silence

    @ Kathryn – undereducated/uneducated parents can help their offspring out by being involved and making sure that their children fully avail themselves of the opportunities available to them. Many parents in all socioeconomic strata do this. Too many do not.

    I agree that decent buildings are required, but what was wrong with the old Dreher High School that required them replacing the entire thing with a new one? Decent is required. Fancy is not.

    I honestly fail to see how we starve our efforts. We spend a TON of money per pupil. How much would be enough? $11, 754 per/pupil/year? Should we get them all iPads as well? Oh wait, in many school districts, we are.

  46. Steven Davis II

    Your welcome.

    Actually this is just one example which happened to be caught on tape of it appears to be 3-4 black kids beating up on a white handicapped kid. Look at what happened over one video in Sanford, FL.

    Single sex classrooms have proven to work… who’s to say segregated classrooms by race might work too. They already split large classes into “smart” and “dumb” groupings.

  47. Steven Davis II

    @Kathryn – “Lazy slackers!”

    Unless they’re over 18, you’re just labeling their parent(s).

  48. Steven Davis II

    “It takes a lot of different things to beat the ingrained, inbred ignorance that plagues our state”

    Not to forget the “baby daddy” or “12 year old mother” mentality which is not frowned upon in some local societies.

    Kathryn, have you ever thought about going into teaching? I know one female lawyer who did, so it can be done. It’d give you a whole new perspective on the day-to-day happenings in our public school system.

  49. Steven Davis II

    Brad, I’m sorry if that video brought back flashbacks of your jr. high school days.

  50. thoughts from a teacher

    It’s not one size fits all, its no consistent sizing system whatsoever. Public schools can be horrible or great, yet we all pay taxes for them and have very little control as to how they are run—even those of us who have taught in them or vote in every board election. Some are fortunate to live in districts that have excellent schools that can handle the challenged learner as well as the average or gifted. Most are not. Even in affluent districts, there are too many variables. Some folks can move into better districts. Most cannot. Ideally, wouldn’t we want a good school to be able to address a variety of leaners? After all, a child is a work in progress, not a stat. After all, they are our future. Parents who send kids to private school tend to want their children to perform well on EVERYTHING like show ponies. Parents who send their kids to public school are willing to take what they get as if THEY owed the schools something, which they do not. Or, they lie, cheat, or move across town for better options, because deep down they know their child is entitled to something better. With a broader choice option, I know there are many parents who would be in the market for a more enlightened approach if it existed in either realm. The growing popularity of charter schools that emphasize everything from high scores to personal creativity show that.

    I think this ‘loyalty’ to the idea of the public school is misplaced. The public school systems are totally unpredictable and broken, yet people act like they are supporting a personal cause in supporting them, when in fact, there is nothing personal about public education—its a totally hit and miss proposition. Private schools can be anything—-prep schools with a lot of pressure, religion based or nurturing havens for kids with disabilities —but they do offer to customer options. Unfortunately, ‘options’ don’t exist in very many school districts., (unless we’re talking charter or magnets plans) which is exactly the point of school CHOICE in seeing where one’s taxes go!

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      No, public schools are NOT “one size fits all,” but I mean that in a different way.

      Since they have to take all kinds of kids, they have to approach them in different ways. I’ve had experience with both public and private, as a student and as a parent. And I’ve seen the way public schools can muster the resources to address the learning needs of a particular child in ways that private schools can’t. With private schools I’ve experienced, a student adjusts to the way that school teaches, or falls behind.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Silence, whether they do or not is difficult to say.

          Some private schools — say, Catholic ones in inner-city neighborhoods in big Northern cities — do a great job of teaching kids from disadvantaged circumstances. But among private schools, that’s unusual. Usually, you don’t see private schools even attempting to take on ALL kids, so it’s hard to say how well or how poorly they would do at that, compared to the public schools, which take ALL of the kids — minus the ones whose parents have the means and the initiative (that is to say, kids highly likely to pull up the averages at public schools were they to stay) to send them to private schools of the more elite variety.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I had a very varied school career. I went to a couple of private kindergartens. Then I started first grade at a public school in SC, but spent most of the year in a private school in Norfolk, Va. Then I went to a public school in Woodbury, NJ, for second grade, and a public school back in Norfolk for third. I attended a couple of weeks of the 4th in SC, then a couple of months in Kensington, MD. Then I moved to Ecuador, where the school year ended at the end of the calendar year and started back in April. So that I could start in the 5th grade in April, I had a private tutor get me through the rest of the 4th. I liked to say I did the 4th grade in 24 hours, because that’s what eight weeks of lessons, three times a week, an hour each day added up to (there was a lot of homework). That experience persuaded me that most of the time kids spend in school is a waste, in terms of productive instruction.

        I spent the 5th and 6th grades in the Clase Especial at Colegio Americano. Half of my subjects (English, math, and some others) were in English, and half (geography, Spanish, history, science) were in Spanish — only the Spanish courses were a year behind the English.

        Then we returned to SC in April on 1965, the midpoint of the longest “summer” of my life. I was free of school from the first days of January to the first week of September, which played a big role in how much I thoroughly enjoyed that time of my life, as touched on back in this post.

        Then I attended 7th and 8th grades at the public Karr Junior High School, in suburban New Orleans. There I was first exposed to standardized testing. I did so well at it (testing was always a forte, where I made up for being a bit of a slacker at the studying thing) that I was earmarked to attend some special elite public high school had I stayed there.

        But I didn’t. When my Dad was shipped to Vietnam, we went to stay with my grandparents in Bennettsville, where I spent the 9th grade — the public B’ville High School, now defunct. Then my Dad was stationed at MacDill AFB, so I attended 10th and 11th grades at the public Robinson High. In my junior year, I got my high school ring from there, even though I would not graduate from there.

        My Dad was assigned to Pearl Harbor, and I finished up at the public Radford High School with Burl.

        My education could have been even more varied. When we moved to Ecuador, my parents considered sending me to a school for German expatriates, but that didn’t happen — to my relief. Now, I wish it had, because it would have made me tri-lingual at an impressionable age.

        When we first moved to Tampa, they thought about sending me to Jesuit High School (even though we weren’t Catholic), but I protested strongly against an all-boys school.

        But as it was, I had a lot of experiences…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Adding to the variety of my experience was the fact that, while I was always qualified for more advanced classes (especially in English and math), the fact that I moved around caused me to be put into the general classes early in the year at a new school.

          Their idiotic, chauvinistic attitude was always, “Well, you may have been in advanced classes at that other school in that other state, but we doubt it was up to OUR standards…”

          So I’d spend half the year in a general English class being bored to death about the parts of speech and getting perfect scores on all the tests in which all you had to know was the difference between teach and learn, lie and lay, etc., then they’d transfer me and I’d spend the rest of the year arguing about Moby Dick, or Huxley’s Brave New World, or Catch-22, or writing poetry while we listened to records brought in by the teacher (which turned me on to the Donovan live album) or records we brought in ourselves (I brought in Paul McCartney’s first solo album right after it came out).

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            The only time I failed to get tranferred to the most advanced English class was in Hawaii.

            They had a very weird setup. They had English 1 through 7. A kid of average abilities might take one through four, and graduate. More advanced kids took higher levels.

            They put me in Mrs. Burchard’s English 6 class. I fulminated against that injustice for a bit, and Mrs. Burchard told me she wouldn’t let me go over to English 7 (where I think you would have found Burl, and others who had come up in that system) until I wrote in a more disciplined, expository (that is to say, boring, in my view) manner.

            But after awhile, I broke with my pattern and quit agitating for a transfer. I did this, I think, partly because the class was so much fun and I had made several good friends there. But I also stayed because I had a crush on Mrs. Burchard (which I would not have admitted at the time, but which was probably pretty obvious), as well as on the girl who sat in front of me, as well as on her good friend who sat farther away in the same class…

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