A letter from a School District superintendent

Dear Parents,

As you reach the exciting day when your child starts to attend one of our schools, I would like to explain the philosophy that our school district adopts when dealing with you.

As local taxpayers, all paying your share of school taxes, you deserve to know about our philosophy when it comes to education. You deserve to know it because you need to feel confident that your child will end his or her time at one of our schools in a place where they are sufficiently educated to move on to their next phase in life.

You also deserve to know because you may determine, after hearing about our philosophy, that you do not want your child to be educated in one of our schools. In this fine country of ours, you do have other options. You can use private tutors, or you can homeschool your children. That is your right and choice.

Let’s talk fundamentals.

  • You are not our customers

Yeah. The big one.

No, you are not our customers. You provide funding for the district by paying school taxes (although I should point out that single people and people without children also pay school taxes, so don’t forget about them, they also have skin in the game), but we are not educating YOU. We are educating your children. If we do a bad job of educating your children, and (for example) they go to college and flunk out, because they were poorly or incompletely educated by us, and were unprepared for that next step in life, that is on us. We directly failed them, not you.

This means that we are not going to always take direction from parents. We will consult with people who are, surprise, surprise, experts on child education. We may also consult with the children themselves. No, that is not the same as letting the children run the show. Remember how annoyed you get when you’re not consulted about something by your family or partner before they may a decision or do something? How that feels? Think about that and apply it to the children. They may be small, but inside that sometimes-confused head of theirs is the brain of an apprentice adult, which often thinks and feels the same way.

  • Education is not just about teaching, and does not include obedience training 

Many of you seem to think that our primary  job (in some worldviews, our only job) is to ensure that your child passes all of the right exams, ticks all of the right boxes, and sails through essential education and on into life.

The truth, as many of you well know, especially those of you who did not pass a lot of exams, is that passing exams, to a fair extent, is a skill, just like learning to ride a bicycle or learning to read music. Some people just happen to be good at passing exams. (In my youth, jealous or resentful people who were not good at passing exams used to call those people “swots”). Some people are just not good at passing exams.

There is a more interesting truth hiding behind the obsession with exam performance, namely that all that matters is the information that we cram into your child’s head over a limited period of time.

We have a much more expansive view of the word “education”. It is not about your child being able to remember most of the 10,000 things that Miss Smith taught you in History. Sure, remembering stuff is important. But one day, your child will no longer be in school, and they will then need new skills. As in, teaching themselves new skills and self-learning, especially when those skills apply to the whole of their lives, and not a narrow area that fits into a box or zone covered by education systems.

Education, for us, is about giving a child the tools and processes so that they can teach themselves as they move through life. Many successful people have little in the way of a formal education, and they are largely self-taught.

We also regard an integral part of education tools as including skills such as logical analysis and critical thinking. As you know, the world out there is full of what might politely be called Bullshit. Separating useful information from bullshit is a task that we all have to perform on a daily basis. Giving your child the tools to perform that fundamental task is, we believe, rather important, which is why you will find it on our curriculum as its own learning stream.

One item you will not find on our learning stream is Obedience Training. We are not in the business of forcing children to behave like well-behaved domestic pets or chattels, obeying any order, no matter how asinine. As you will no doubt know, many bad events in human history occurred when large groups of people did Bad Things collectively, because they had been told to do those Bad Things, and they automatically obeyed. We intend to reinforce respect, politeness, and honest inquiry. We are not in the business of mandating unquestioning obedience. We use various words and phrases to describe those kinds of societies. The most commonly used word is totalitarian, and it is not intended as praise or as a compliment.

Your child is not simply going to be shuttling between classes, forever learning Stuff. The school is also a social system, and your child will be learning social skills, many of which we do not explicitly teach, although we can provide help and guidance. Those social skills also include fundamentals like how to not be an ass.

  • It is not our job to create a clone of you and your worldview

Your children are likely to be heavily influenced by you, because they will grow up in your household, and will spend more time with you than they do with us. For that reason, we do not consider our task as being one of ensuring that your child ends up as a clone of you. Education is not an a la carte menu where you get to choose which worldviews your child is to be exposed to, and which attitudes you wish your child to be taught.

Respectfully, if your desire is that your child exactly matches your personal worldview, preferences and behavior, then I would suggest that you consider home schooling.

  • We will not prioritize your parental rights over the needs and requirements of the education process

While we value input and feedback from parents, we do not structure our curriculum around their needs, collective or individual. There is a state curriculum that we have to adopt or adapt, and that is legally required. As I said earlier, you cannot choose your child’s education from some a la carte menu where you get to discard all the bits you don’t like or which you consider to be irrelevant. Some of what we teach is non-negotiable. Some of it is a matter of customer choice (i.e. the child).

if you consider the curriculum to not meet your needs, then I would again, respectfully urge you to consider home-schooling.

  • We will not tolerate anti-social behavior or bullying

Lots of school districts say this. They (and we) have to, because our lawyers demand it. Then we usually get down to the business of ignoring bullying, because it’s a rite of passage, right? Stand up for yourself etc. etc. Plus, it is messy. Too much he said she said, “he made me do it”, and all of those other bullshit excuses or evasions that children learn from their parents or from other children.

We actually have a different practical approach. We simply do not tolerate it. If a child is found to be bullying, we will apply any necessary and appropriate sanction, up to and including expulsion, and, if necessary, activating law enforcement. If your child is behaving like a jerk or an ass, they will be held accountable. That’s part of the learning process, otherwise known as actions have consequences.

  • We will not change policy or strategy based on public meetings

Having seen the horrible results when school districts try to implement policy changes or make personnel decisions based on the excited or angry rantings of a small number of parents in a public forum, I am informing you that we do not intend to practice decision that way.

The members of the Education Committee and the School Board are elected by the electors (who, I would remind you, do include taxpayers who may not be parents at this point in time) to represent the electorate in school district policies, strategies and decisions. This is not a direct democracy. The school board meetings are not a policy-making or policy-changing forum.

We will not be taking input on school board decisions and actions from people who do not live in this district. They may have interesting views, but if they are education professionals, there are other avenues for them to express those views. If they happen to be citizens, they should be paying attention to what is going on on their own school district, not ours.

We will treat attendees and speakers at meetings fairly and in an adult manner. That will involve terminating their involvement in the meetings if they cannot or will not behave like sensible adults. You wouldn’t tolerate an asshat crashing your meeting or gathering and disrupting it. We are not going to tolerate it either.

We owe it to you to treat your children as well as possible as they move through childhood and adolescents. We also require you to move beyond the limiting idea of you as customers, and us as providers, towards an enlightened partnership to provide an environment where your children can learn to be themselves in a socially advantageous way for them and those around them, while acquiring both the knowledge and the tools to allow them to make their own way in life. At some point, they will leave your home, and our oversight, and they have to be as ready as we can make them for that time in their lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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