Are They Really That Bad?

I have a progressive friend. Very, very progressive. Totally out there. And she says public schools are ridiculously bad. Her kids are in a highly ranked public school (whatever that means), and it’s very bad. There is barely any recess, almost no playing outside, and mountains of idiotic homework. The 8-year-old is studying the structure of the human ear! This is nuts. Who needs this kind of stuff at 8, especially at the expense of playing outside? (The friend and I are both college professors. We are opposed to homework until the age of 12.)

My friend says she’d put the kids in private school in a blink if she had the money. This is the least snobbish person in the world. Plus, sincerely progressive. The schools must really be bad for her to say that.

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20 thoughts on “Are They Really That Bad?”

  1. It’s been decades since I had any experience with US public schools, but it’s my understanding that a whole host of terrible policies (from ever narrower funding to unfunded mandates and a mania for standardized tests) have effectively gutted the system so that prole kids won’t be any competition for the children of bourgie status whorers.
    I think it’s also part of the Reagan neoliberal revolution: The goal is to ultimately allow the government to disinvest from education by making public schools so terrible that only those with no other options use them.

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    1. Yes. I mean, there are exceptions. But very many public schools are like this now. Also remember they were training the kids at one point to spy on parents, look for marijuana and report them. My daughter couldn’t handle the violence of school and dropped out. As I say, there are exceptions but you really have to watch out. Things are not at all as they were when I went to public school

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    2. I’ll add that one of the next victims of fluidity (that I now fully expect to see within a few years) is the death of the idea of universal education for all children…. and three seconds of googling back that up.
      Liquid capital does not need an educated general public (quite the opposite).

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      1. \ the death of the idea of universal education for all children…. and three seconds of googling back that up.

        Being outside US, I am unsure which developments and google-provided evidence you refer to here. Is it connected to homeschooling or unschooling?

        \ My daughter couldn’t handle the violence of school and dropped out.

        Was it a public school with mainly very poor (black?) students?

        As for violence in American schools, I have already received the impression it is worse than in usual Ukrainian or Russian schools in some places. Since Clarissa mentioned seeing extraordinary poverty along with great affluence in US, it may not even be surprising.

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  2. Some private schools aren’t great either – there’s one near us that for sure is very “tiger mom”, with reports of overloaded kids burning out (I’m talking elementary school here). I agree that public schools should have more recess and less homework, but in my (short) experience they’re not necessarily so terrible. I live in an area where the public schools are underfunded and struggling from low enrollment and morale, but we sent our son to kindergarten at a public school nonetheless and are so far pretty pleased. His teacher is really very good and he is learning a lot just from interacting with his classmates (who are a very diverse bunch in terms of race and socioeconomic status; the local private schools are not diverse at all). But I’m also aware that kindergarten is not necessarily representative of the rest of the school (class sizes are much larger in the higher grades), so we’ll have to see how it goes in future years.

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  3. We also toured a progressive private school and by the end of the tour, my husband and I were both having to restrain ourselves from rolling our eyes. It was lovely for sure, but I don’t think we could have dealt with the level of “special snowflakeness” from the administration for 6 years. And we consider ourselves pretty progressive too, but wanted something a bit more down-to-earth for our kids.

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      1. I’ll get back to you in a couple of days – going through a “children ill plus work deadline plus lots of Christmas stuff still to get done” week…

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  4. \ The friend and I are both college professors. We are opposed to homework until the age of 12.

    I think both of you are wrong here, and see a connection between those two sentences. I am sure exceptionally bright people like your friend and you would flourish even without homework until the age of 12. However, many students I have seen and myself too would not.

    For instance, in math homework is the time to try to solve problems yourself which is entirely different from watching a teacher to do it on a blackboard which looks super easy to students till they try do it alone. You could say students should work by themselves in the classroom, but then to cover some basic material (not anything like human ear at 8 at all) more school hours / lessons would be required. It would not lead to more free time.

    Without studying at home, I would neither have a sufficient grasp of math nor remember new English words. And what for? Homework did not prevent me from socializing as much (or often as little) as I wanted anyway. What would I gain from failing to learn till 12?

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    1. My mom, who taught children from very disadvantaged backgrounds with great success for the entirety of her career agrees 100%, if that helps.

      The whole education system is fucked up because it doesn’t take into account children’s psychology and physiology. When I see those poor 7-year-olds, sitting behind desks for hours – it’s ridiculous. Of course, it doesn’t look like this in schools for rich kids. Obviously. And they all somehow manage to get into Harvard anyway.

      A third of children in this country is obese. Sitting and doing homework is the absolute last thing they need in life. If they are forced to sit at school, then all of the time after school should be about running outside. People have their whole life to study math or learn new words. But the only time in life when they get to play and thereby gain a lifetime of physical and psychological health is childhood. The only time! And they are wasting it on the stupid structure of the stupid auditory canal. It’s so wrong!!!

      P.S. Obviously, it’s still better than homeschooling, in case anybody is wondering.

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      1. It is late in Israel and I am going to sleep, so the comment is more like a stream of consciousness.

        // If they are forced to sit at school, then all of the time after school should be about running outside.

        In practice, it is often about playing computer games and / or using smartphones to visit FaceBook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.

        // A third of children in this country is obese.

        I am sure no HW will not help them. Also, the amount of calories / energy one burns via sports is not high, especially if you think which foods those kids eat and in which quantities. The solution is first of all to stop eating tons of junk food.

        Again, at my school in Ukraine and then in Israel, we received HW. Yet my younger brother and I had plenty of time to run outside and do other things.

        // People have their whole life to study math or learn new words.

        But they will not do that, if they fail at school, fail to get an education and then have to choose between horrible jobs and unemployment.

        // Of course, it doesn’t look like this in schools for rich kids. Obviously. And they all somehow manage to get into Harvard anyway.

        Rich kids have many advantages others lack, and if they start lagging behind, their parents will surely pay for 1001 private tutors.

        // My mom, who taught children from very disadvantaged backgrounds with great success for the entirety of her career agrees 100%, if that helps.

        Even if she is right (I know I do not have such a good memory to learn w/o practice, but may be some others can), I am afraid this “no HW” idea will be used to argue for unschooling and/or promotion of “doing stupid projects and such instead of knowledge” idea in public schools.

        “Kids need to play” is a correct statement I fully agree with.
        However, shifting the emphasis from ensuring kids learn something to other things is what is being done by supporters of neoliberal ideology who are glad to attack public education.
        I understand you mean something different, but in practice ideas like “no HW” are adopted by many unsavory agents of fluidity. Reminds me of Bill Gates (?) talking about how universities are unnecessary.
        Again, I know you talk about school till 12. Others do not.

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  5. To clarify, I am not for mountains of unnecessary, not age appropriate homework. I just imagined myself at 12, if I hadn’t practiced at home while going to the same Ukrainian school I attended, and got frightened and angry. I definitely would not know one word in English since my first English teacher in Ukraine used learning via listening method, gave no HW and I failed to learn a thing. When other students were already writing words on a blackboard, I probably still didn’t know all the letters. Still remember being asked to answer in what was to me Chinese. After the discovery of the situation, my mother paid for private English lessons (she studied German at school) and I finally started learning.

    Your parents taught you English from birth, you talk about the opioid epidemic of forever unemployable, yet are for average children learning less till their teens?

    Again, HW does not have to take hours. But in suitable doses, it is effective. At least, it was for me.

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    1. I didn’t know a word of Spanish until the age of 23. Guess what I do for a living now?

      Everything begins and ends with physical and psychological health. And you get those in childhood, especially the latter. You can’t catch up later on in life, like you can with any area of knowledge. If I want to learn Japanese or the structure of the ear today, I can. But I can’t regain what I already lost with a sedentary lifestyle or lack of psychological health.

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  6. We studied at lot at school and also had recess, an hour for lunch, and so on. And no homework in elementary school, unless it was some very small interactive-type project (often involving asking your parents a question, as in, did they study foreign languages as children? or whatever, something related to class discussion) … although they did encourage recreational reading outside school.

    It remains the case that despite not having homework, I got massive literacy and other skills in elementary school, that apparently few get now and few got then. It was a public school. Now, though, with NCLB, everything seems to be focused on memorization and test-taking skills. This goes directly against literacy, as I can attest, since I get the products of these schools in college.

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    1. I second Z’s comment. If you look at the program of a school for rich kids, it’s always this. A lot of outside activities, sometimes all day long outside activities. Tons of active play. Music, singing, dancing, art. (That is, the first things always eviscerated from public schools). No technology. No homework until ages 11-12. And none of these kids have a problem attending fancy colleges.

      And yeah, I also get the products of these public schools in class and oh, goodness. They are blank slates in terms of knowledge. So I’d much rather they just played outside instead.

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  7. I’ll chime in favour of no/minimal homework. We don’t always have the weather in Scotland for significant outdoor play (and the ‘kids should be allowed to get wet/muddy etc’ educationalists tend to ignore that lots of poor families simply can’t afford increased laundry costs) but I feel kids benefit enormously from out of school activities, more than they gain from doing homework, whether it’s being active or just socialising at a dance class, or a lazy hour in the library.

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    1. Exactly. It’s also very useful for kids to just laze about doing nothing. The endless lazy days of childhood away from deadlines and obligations are crucial for psychological health.

      I think many people really don’t understand that kids are not miniature adults. They have completely different psychological needs and these needs change vastly as they grow.

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