Orinda, Calif. is a rich and prosperous suburban school district neighboring my own home in Berkeley. My family and I once lived there; we liked it and still do.
Last week, the local paper reported Orinda had just expelled a behaving, and performing, 7-year-old girl for having legal residence in another district. The girl lives in Orinda with her Latina mother who is a six-day-a-week live-in nanny for an infant child of working professional residents of the district. Upon hearing of the district’s decision, the latter hired an attorney who proceeded to embarrass the district into reconsidering the case – and in the end, to relent.
The happy outcome of this absurd conflict will not be my subject here, but the story carries a message. The case is a clear and common example of the effect of the prevailing American school system (still claiming to be “public”) that continues to corrupt the entire life experience of the poor – the child, the parent and thus, their part in the society to come. The well-off parent is invited by that society to responsibly evade such conscription by choosing to move to the suburbs, by qualifying for elite public schools in the city – or by going private. True, the new semi-private exception to the crude social division is the charter school; may it prosper along with the struggling church schools that have so long offered to both parent and child the opportunity to play a responsible role in society and, thus, to grow as individuals and engaged citizens.
Is there an educational alternative to our entrenched oddity, one that could value parent’s responsibility and nourish family life for all our people by assuring them the choice enjoyed by the well-off? Of course, there are many such options for society; they travel under the common banner of school choice. Why does it continue to be so difficult to get state legislatures to act to rescue the poor from their humiliation and their corrupting disempowerment?
Is it our teachers? No doubt, some of them prefer the system as it is; even if they don’t get their first job in Orinda, they can start in Oakland and work their way out to serenity. Knowing only this system so carefully partitioned according to wealth, perhaps one can’t blame them. My own considerable experience with teachers suggests the contrary. Continue Reading →