News & Opinion

Communities and schools

In The Maven on January 4, 2011 at 8:32 PM

Photo by freeparking

By The Maven | What does community have to do with schools?  Well, quite a lot. Communities are usually built around families.  And families have kids.  And kids go to school.  And since most adults are parents and since many parent interactions are about their kids, much adult intercourse happens as a result of their offspring.

And kid-to-kid interaction — the progenitor of adult interaction and the basis of community life — is developed and nurtured through the school system.

When your kids are teenagers and you wonder what they are doing late at night and who they are with, doesn’t it help that you know who their friends are?  That happens organically if their friends live in the same neighbourhood. Not only do you know their friends personally but you know their parents and have a sense of connection with them.

That is community.

Now that it is so popular to exercise consumer choice (ach, that ugly expression) we find parents researching programs and facilities at schools all across the GTA to find the right ones for their offspring.  Part of consumerist society is to buy into the concept that we express individuality through our purchases.  In the same vein, we express our individuality through our children or, rather, our children’s choices.  So parents are looking for that one program that appears tailored to express the apparent uniqueness of their child.  As if a regular old public school education, that served them quite well, just would not be good enough for their kid.  A short disclaimer here: some kids really are better served by specialty programs, but far fewer than are enrolled in them.

And don’t get me started on private schools.  How may progressive parents send their kids to private school?  They pretend either that the deterioration of the public school system that makes this choice a necessity, or that their child is somehow so unique that the public system can’t meet their child’s needs, despite much evidence to the contrary from international contests to standardized testing.

No, this is not about educational standards and I believe that deep down these parents know it.  It is about connections and the ruling class.  The world has become more competitive.  Even so-called progressive parents are feeling the competitive pressure and, in the final recognition that the 60s were really all about ‘me’ and not ‘us’, they are trying to give their kids a one-up on others.  Private school is about mingling with the ruling class so your kids will make the right connections and feel comfortable in the heady atmosphere of the power elites.  It sure is not about educational standards or the needs of little Johnny.

For those who cannot afford private school, or still cling to a semblance of ideological purity, designer school and programs in the Toronto District School Board often fulfill the same role.

What has this all got to do with communities?  Well, as I implied before, when your kids go to the local public school (yep, that generic everyone-can-come school) then they remain part of the local community. You know their parents, their friends.  When they are schlepping all over the GTA for programs, classes, after school events, not only are they wasting their life with needless commuting (I guess we are preparing them for the commutes to come when they begin working) but they are no longer part of a local community. They are parcelled out all over the place always seeking the best.  You don’t know who they are hanging out with and they aren’t building anything permanent in our communities.

So when you and your children are making decisions about where they will to go to school next year, stop and consider what effect your choice will ultimately have on their communities — the same ones we all say we wish to protect — and what their goals in education are.  Are we really looking at every opportunity for our kids to get a leg up on our neighbours, or is our sense of community and civic society just as important goals for the education of our young ones?

After all, the public education system, for all its faults, is still the most egalitarian and enlightened aspect of our society.

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