Making a painful decision

Throughout our adult lives, my wife and I have been committed to public schools.

I am a product of a public K–12 education, having attended Wooddale Elementary School (now torn down) and Edina East High School (now consolidated with Edina West). I did well by those schools, having gone on to Carleton College for my undergraduate degree and Northwestern University for my graduate degree. My experience makes me a strong advocate for the blessings of a good public K–12 education.

Intellectually, public schools make sense. Our economy is ever-increasingly dependent upon a well-educated work force given the evolution of the barrier-less, flat-world economy in which we are said to exist. An educated work force may ultimately be our best competitive advantage. If true, then to not invest in education, either on a personal level or as a society as a whole, is short-sighted and dangerous. It will set us back.

And, emotionally, public schools make sense. An equitable distribution of per-student spending would allow for a greater level of equalization of all students. Theoretically, a fair distribution would indicate that a student in Minneapolis is every bit as valuable as a student in Eden Prairie or Ortonville or Red Lake. It is precisely this reasoning that our country was founded on the democratic principles of a meritocracy rather than an aristocracy.

Beyond lofty ideals, my wife and I like the thought of our children spilling out of the house each morning, joining their gang of friends, and walking the four blocks to our community school. Our sons are a part of a group of boys with whom they have played since their toddler years. Each school day, during these walks, the boys discuss classmates, teachers, girls, and yes, even politics during these walks. They also throw a lot of snowballs. They are valuable moments well spent.

School activities have become a part of our adult social life, as well as our own children’s. Over the years, we have participated in school fundraisers, PTA activities and annual carnivals. We’re involved.

And so, given this, it is a difficult decision that my wife and I now face and one we do not take lightly. But at a certain point during the current school year, we discussed whether our own ideals were truly serving our own children’s needs. We recognized the impossible learning situation in which our children find themselves. Each was stuck within classrooms of 35 children that no one adult should ever be held responsible for overseeing. Within such a setting, it is simply too easy for the bulk of children to be lost and overlooked. That fact, combined with the nature of rote learning made necessary by national standardized tests, forced my wife and me, for the first time in our children’s lives, to seriously consider private schooling.

Once upon a time, as a young, inexperienced adult, I could not for the life of me understand why school systems needed to fight and scrape for every available dollar in order to have teachable class sizes, textbooks, and equipment. Being naïve, I felt there could be no better investment of public dollars than those which were put toward educating and enriching the lives of children.

Now that I am older and arguably wiser, and have studied the arguments of those who feel our educational system is a bloated bureaucracy, I can honestly say: I still haven’t a clue as to why our schools are not better funded. As a humorous — but all too sad — bumper sticker says: It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.

Glenn Miller and his wife, Jocelyn Hale, share this column. They live in the Fulton neighborhood