Friday, November 4, 2011

How to do it when you're 98 years old

I have a friend with whom I'll often argue, good-naturedly, most of the time, about private and public schools. Her children go to two of the most expensive schools in the city of Los Angeles, and she is adamant that they are two of the "best" schools, that having money gives one the opportunity to have one's children go to "the best schools." And while she doesn't come out and say it in these words, I know that she thinks the public schools in Los Angeles are terrible, and that if one had the money, one would never go to them. I chafe at this and have probably reflected for hours upon it. Would I send my boys to "the best schools" if I had the money? Am I so filled with resentment that I don't have a lot of money that I find reasons to not want to send my children to these bastions of privilege?

I don't know, and I think I do know.

I know what I want to be. I know what I hope my children will be. I know that I don't want to be surrounded by wealth and privilege. I know, too, that my judgments of that wealth and privilege are often harsh, but I don't know of any other way to be, to reconcile this churning conflict. While I yearn for peace, I have a red-hot core most of the time and feel, when I look at the excesses of our culture (including the spending of $40,000 to send one's child to high school), of our country, of capitalism in general, that it's all rotten and perhaps even rotten at the core. I don't know what that means -- whether I'm just an angry fucked-up individual, or whether I am just out of place and should, rather, be flying my freak flag with similar minds.

Anyhoo. (how revolutionary does that sound?)

I watched this series of videos of Grace Lee Boggs who thanks and champions the Occupy Wall Street movement, but I was most struck by her challenge to the Occupy Wall Street protesters to examine their own minds and motivations on whether if given the opportunity, they would join the culture they are against.

Part 1

Part 2

Grace Lee Boggs' Message to Occupy Wall Street Part 2 from American Revolutionary on Vimeo.

I think I know where I want to stand but do I have the guts and strength and fortitude to stand there? These are the questions that torment my little mind when I'm not peeling my daughter off the floor after a seizure, or arranging medical consultations or buying laptops that need to be installed with special software for the learning disabled or warning my son about the dangers of sniffing crushed Smarties (he didn't but kids are doing it).

How about you?


  1. I remember flipping through the channels one night looking for some vapid entertainment only to find myself hypnotized by an interview with her.

    So strange, this post this morning. I thought of how I would be raising my kids kids in LA as I pulled out Layla's "new" winter jacket this morning. We have enough money to order her up a $60 one but I just can't do it! I got her TWO for $20 at Main St. Kids Consignment where all the moms shop and shout with glee about how they scored a major deal. One of the jackets was probably over $100 new. As I scratched out the original name with a sharpie this morning, I wondered if I would have the guts to send my kids in something like that when I lived in West Hollywood. Oh also this is her school and Michael Moore mentioned Grass Valley on Rachel Maddow last night so I guess the pressure I feel is that maybe my flag sometimes isn't freaky enough.

  2. My grandparents, my parents, some aunts and uncles and myself make or haved made a living in public education, both K-12 and higher ed. I was raised by teachers in the public schools system. I went to public schools in a fairly rough town and I believe I got a good education. But education, like so many aspects of life, depend on what you put into it. I believe absolutely that kids can get excellent educations from public schools if they and their parents are diligent and apply themselves. I sometimes think that public education was the religion of my childhood.

  3. And those videos are really something. I need to learn more about her.

  4. I got a little pissy when asked to take the day off work for the cause. I work my ass off here and if I take one more day (I am without paid sick leave or vacation) my job will be on the line. Literally. Lots of people want in the doors. There's no way I'm risking that to stand around in the rain with a sign. I did urge my son to quit his bank and go with a credit union which he did which I think is a good move of putting your money where your mouth is.

    When my son was in the 3rd grade I pulled him out of public school because he couldn't read (dyslexia) and put him in a private school that cost $800 per quarter. I was a single mom at the time working in a factory. My biggest fight and his was to get him out of that school and streamlined back into public school which he finally did to graduate with honors and go on to college.

    I don't really know where to stand. I make under $25K a year and some guys just showed up at my job to drill something and it's really loud. Good morning.

  5. This is such a thought-provoking post. Here is my view: I come from a family that has a sprinkling of entrepreneurs, some many generations back, who came to this country to escape persecution in Europe (before the 20th century), and some much more recent (such as my father). I have heard the praises of the capitalist system my entire life. I am coming to believe that it has great benefits and provides great opportunities, but it is not enough by itself. We need a balance of justice, of caring for our neighbors, of not working simply to get "rich," and not feeling rich until each of us does what we can to improve the world in some way. I think that capitalism was based upon the idea that everyone deserves the right to a decent life, and that everyone deserves the right to freely make an effort in that direction. At its best, I think capitalism enables that idea to become reality. At its worst, its culture becomes subject to unbridled greed, and "enough" is never achieved. That is not necessarily the fault of capitalist ideals; it is the fault of greedy individuals who hide behind the ideals.

    I support the idea of mandatory national service - not necessarily military service, but serving the country (including teaching, building, etc.) - either after high school or college. If each one of us was required to employ our resources and skills for the benefit of our country and countrymen for two years, it would strengthen our love, our abilities and our ethic as a nation. I wish I had been able to enter such a program at that age.

  6. Sigh. I wish I could honestly say otherwise, but if you can get your kids into any of those top schools, and can afford to do so, they provide the most sterling education by far. Not for every single kid, but for those who can get through the school. I am envious of those who can do this.

  7. You are a highly intelligent and loving mom and that is what makes a child successful.

    This may help you just for today.

  8. I love your always-questioning mind. I love your never-ending search for what is truly right and what is truly good.
    I have a lot more to say about the private vs public schools but what I really want to say is this- it is the mind of the child which creates the love of learning which leads to a good education, no matter where one goes to school.
    Of course it's not that simple. But- I don't begin to believe that paying big bucks creates a smarter child.

  9. All I can think of is "why would kids sniff crushed Smarties?" Exactly what would that do for you? ( Sorry about not answering the other stuff. My brain is paste today. And not because I've been sniffing Smarties.)

  10. Elizabeth,I can understand your resentment towards people who are financially well off, however until you see how they behave, learn their beliefs and understand who they are, it would be a mistake to let jealousy frame your thoughts.

    My income is meager however my daughter attends a private school where there are families who have above average income. What makes the environment so special is their philosophy AND the parents. I have NEVER observed a school where the parents are as involved in their child's education. You would have to have serious issues to resent any of these parents for any reason, let alone their financial status.

    The "Occupy" movement, to me, is has nothing to do with being against "the rich." Though I know it is almost exactly what is conveyed by some of the occupiers themselves. It is more about "money" being what rules/governs the world as opposed to compassion, love, or even just plans smarts (any of the latter 3 would work fine)

    but when you have a government who collects more than enough revenue to efficiently govern our country (arguably more than enough to rule the world) yet those who are employed to "run" the government are so detached from reality that the revenue is used as it currently is, even those "rich" families may share you views but probably would prefer they don't wrongly get blamed for the problems that created the occupy movement.

    It's hard to not get angry when many top employees of our government are too detached to be able to see, just how see through their motives really are (which is the attitude that it doesn't matter much what the actual policies are, but rather how the public perceives them)

  11. Sheila -- My heart's aflutter at the mention of Grass Valley -- except for Michael Moore who makes my skin crawl. :)

    Steph(anie) -- I just wish that all the money spent on exclusive private schools could have stayed in the public sector. Sigh.

    RadishKing -- I'm not exactly out supporting the protesters either, but I do admire them.

    Karen -- As always, your thoughts are so clear and compassionate. You have given me more food for thought!

    Catherine -- I have to disagree that education is yet another thing that one must buy. I think it's a scam that we've all been sucked into with good intentions.

    Birdie -- Lovely link and thanks for it!

    Ms. Moon -- I'm with you -- it makes me ill that education is now only as good as one can buy --

    Leslie -- I know; it's bizarro.

    Who -- I hope I'm not letting jealosy and/or resentment frame my views, but I'm certainly aware of their potential. I just hate the idea that education can somehow be bought, and that the richer one is, the better education one receives. I think that's bullshit, and when you live in a city like Los Angeles, in the area that I live in, you see it all the time. I agree with you 100% on the OWS folks -- but I thought Boggs' admonition was a good one.

  12. One does not have to buy better education, absolutely not, but to be able to do so and to avail oneself of those schools in place that do cost so much is something I do covet, much as I hate to admit it. We have done what we could for our children, and I wish that had been doable for all of mine. It was not. It would have made some things easier and happier, I think. I had two of mine in such schools for a few years and loved the experience.

    The problem is that if the money that the 1% spend on any such endeavor like these schools, when spread out among the other 99% is not going to amount to much per student.

    I think that things have reached a point in this country where the gap is just too large between those who have so much and the vast majority of us who are "middle class". The differences in how things are done in some of these private schools vs many of the public schools are tantamount to first and third world countries at times.

    I would not go so far to make a sweeping generality as some expensive schools do not live up to what they charge, and there are some wonderful public schools, but there are some private options here that are truly what I would have loved to have given my children.

    And then we see what is available for those children who are not considered "the brightest and best", who have needs that have to have more efforts, and what is available is terribly, terribly lopsided.

  13. Catherine -- Thank you for your comments, and I would add that the school my boys attend is a charter school. It's public in the sense that it must meet standards set by the LAUSD, and it's free, but it's run very differently with a constructivist curriculum. It's more like a private school in what it offers, but we have an obligation that we welcome to serve the poor and disadvantaged. Currently, over 40% of our students are from low-income households. I am so grateful that my children are receiving an education equal to any private school AND being exposed to real life without the trappings of excess and privilege.

  14. I think there are lots of different types of "good" schools. Can you buy academic advantage? Probably. Always could, however, so that's not new. But finding ways to eliminate the divide... and helping the next generation SEE the divide... now that's good stuff. There's value in becoming a citizen of the world, likely even more value than learning advanced physics in high school. Getting that experience and understanding from wherever - public, private, at home, from a mentor - seems a worthy goal. As Malcolm Gladwell showed in Outliers, you don't have to go to Harvard to win a Nobel... and with IQ, "enough" is enough. There are many paths to success, and being happy with the one we've chosen doesn't mean we have to dismiss or resent the path others chose. I mean, I've heard there are people out there who DON'T LIKE CHOCOLATE, but I wouldn't end a friendship over that (maybe, of course, because it means more for me!).

  15. Gregory K -- Brilliant, as always. It's much more difficult for me, though, not to "dismiss" the path of choosing to spend $40,000 a year on your child's education when, by doing so, you've arguably fled the larger good of the community. I just don't buy that it's right. Perhaps I'm just a red commie after all. :)

  16. Not quite a commie, Elizabeth,you are too well balanced. I've been in every position of the school debates. It comes down to matching the best school and system for individual children, but few of us have that kind of choice. Sometimes the bes choice is simply not attainable.

    We are going through charter school wars here. In some city areas, the charter schools have depleted public schools of their more active families, leaving those who are disadvantaged even more so. I was just watching the wait for the lottery results for a charter schools that was shown on TV.

    I don't have any answers to these problems though I have taken many different positions. AT my age, I know that the answers fluctuate depending on the times and situations.

    We have what is considered an ideal public school system where I live, but I still chose to put my kids in private school. Ideal overall may not mean ideal for a particular child.

  17. Similar to what Ms Moon and Gregory K said, or a combination of the two, a person can buy academic advantage, but what really counts for more are the kids themselves.

    If the analogy of the garden is used, our kids can be thought of as the seed starts, and the school system (either public or private) can be thought of as the fields on a farm and the care taken to tend them.

    World class farms won't produce the best fruit no matter what is done if the seeds are not started right. Children need to feel loved and wanted and know that they have infinite value. The quality of the children or the seed starts, depends mostly on the first few years of life.

    Many private schools were started because their kids are super-sensitive to forms of poison in the fields of public schools. They are often subtle and don't harm everybody, but little things like being close minded (socially acceptable bigotry)in regards to other ways of life and other practices of spirituality and religion.

    I do not think it is any coincidence that nearly every type of Orthodox religion has numerous private schools scattered across the United States. Probably because their children were super-sensitive to harsh judgement by the majority due to their families private beliefs.

    Now days some kids may be super-sensitive to harsh judgement of anybody for any reason. I believe if this is true, than parents are doing a good job with the most important lessons children can learn which is to be aware of and not tolerate any form of bigotry.

    So when I see schools start because they want to create a safe place for kids that they can be assured there are no bullies or unrecognized anger (which is most often presented as bigotry) It renews my faith in the human race.

    And these days it seems that some private schools are started just to have their kids be among children with similar values of not judging others harshly or in other words, open-mindedness.

  18. I really do feel that there is so much more to "education" than the stuff that the teachers talk about in the classroom. Having had my kids in both public and private schools, I can say that the need for each of them was entirely different. And despite the fact that we live in the richest school district in our state, our public schools are more concerned with passing standardized tests than teaching kids usable skills. Also, we chose to go private because the kids in our local public school are so homogenous and their culture and values are so myopic that we wanted our kids to know a much different reality. There are private schools out there that embrace diversity and offer true scholarships (not just lip service - our daughter's school has fully 40% of their girls on scholarship). I think each family ought to choose for themselves what works, but for those who have no choice, the public schools ought to be more accountable and responsive and responsible to their constituency.

  19. Okay, first things first. Sophie and those damn seizures. Wish I could lift them from her, and you.

    Second, the Smartie thing, scares the crap out of me. Smarties are now the gateway drug??

    The post: Well, I can weigh in on both the pubic and private and where I stand on it today.Older 2 graduated from a ridiculously expensive highschool in Westlake Village. It, the school, didn't start out to be the way it is today. They now are the very things you abhor, oh, that and football. ... But we sent them and let them know, in no uncertain terms, that that place was not the real world. Not even close and they turned out, well, amazing.Despite the environment at times. My advice of take what you need and leave the rest, was heeded. The 3rd came along and she wanted to go. We sent her. How could we tell her no? In hindsight we should have. We withdrew her midway through her sophomore year ... long story but to say that I have not one good thing good to say about that school, is an understatement.

    So the boys, they will certainly NOT be attending that private school.OR any private school.They will be fine anywhere they go, as long as they go with the foundation of what we give them. If parents think that sending their children to a private school will shield them from the big and bad of this world, that is crazy. Or the drugs. The private school kids just can but better drugs. Trust me, I know.

    Wait till I tell you the reasons we left. You will hate private, especially "christian", schools all the more.

    Fucked up? I hardly think so.

    And, we never had our phone date. Hope you were busy planning our get away.

  20. The premise that "more money buys a better education" is only true up to the point that money can purchase more or better supplies, technology, buildings and teacher education. But money cannot buy motivation, integrity, commitment, or plain old stick-to-it-ive-ness. Those qualities can be found in any school (public, private, parochial or home). Really, the home environment of the students is just as important as the schools they attend. No "good" school can make up for a lack of guidance, support, commitment, discipline and integrity at home, and no "bad" school can take that away from a student raised to honor those character qualities.

    I grew up going to public school, and have a number of teachers in the family. I home schooled our children for 6 years, to better meet our son's needs after his diagnosis with Aspergers. We had our kids return to public school in 2010 when I was burnt out, and our son needed more help than I could give him on my own. If our local public school hadn't had such a positive reputation among special needs parents, we would have pursued private school. I'm currently back at work - substitute teaching in public school in special ed.

    I've seen good teachers labor day after day to instill a work ethic and passion for learning in students who weren't raised to care about such things, and who couldn't care less. I've seen teachers with tenure who had no business teaching, through ineptitude, laziness, or bad attitude. I've seen students from well-to-do homes make staggeringly poor choices in spite of good teachers and concerned parents. I've seen students with very difficult home situations thrive in their education through their own inner drive, against great odds.

    Money is a tool, like any other, and it can help in education as in any other field of endeavor. But it can't take the place of CHARACTER, for the teachers, administrators, parents or students. I think our whole society is suffering from a character deficit, and no amount of money will fix that problem in any school setting.

    For the parents who pay for private school - good for them. Private school is not usually a poor choice for students. But for parents who can't afford or choose not to use private schools - don't feel bad about your educational choice. Invest in what you DO have, with your time, energy, votes, presence, encouragement, and respect.

    And a side note: sniffing smarties - what's with that? Some of my students do that. They use powdered candy like pixie sticks too. They say it's to get a sugar buzz. Really??? I think it's just that it LOOKS like doing real drugs, to impress other equally insecure, attention-hungry, immature kids. . . .

  21. Elizabeth, after I wrote my response, I decided to use it in my own blog. I linked to your original post so my (handful) of readers could see what triggered my comments. You can see my post at:

  22. I wish we had Charter Schools near us as I would love to let R. attend one. He has always been such a fine student and still is but the social side of the public high school is terrible. His school is large, cliques everywhere (I know all schools have them), and I don't really feel from what he says he is happy with the few friends he has. As a mom we want our kids to have the best of life. Would I send him to private if I had the money? I would like to have the choice and find the school that fits him. That is what I wish I could do. I wish it wasn't about money but what talents, strengths, needs our children have.

  23. You are amazing, my dear, and I stand with you. You're definitely not fucked up. I promise. You're an inspiration.

  24. Elizabeth, look what you've started. You always provoke us to think! Can I just say how much I love that?

    As for where I stand, I am a pragmatist on the matter. My children attended private school because I live in the worst school district in the city, and black boys are routinely shunted aside and labeled for behavior that is nothing more than being a boy, and i did not plan to have my son marginalized. That meant however an exhaustive search of schools so as to find ones that had a minimum level of diversity and open minds and creativity among the teachers and politics I could align myself with among the parents. my two went to different schools, because they are each so different, and i think i would go the private school route again, given where we live and what i know now. my daughter's elementary school sounds very much like the school that your boys attend, and my son's high school, a jesuit all boys school, was perfect for him and protected his emerging self. school has never been easy for him, but he works so hard and i needed him to be in a place where he wouldn't fall through the cracks and worse, be surreptitiously slipped the message that he was unimportant and less than. My daughter? Perhaps she is who she is because of the school she started out in. I don't really believe that, though. I think she came here that way. Our gift. But she was dreamy and quiet as a child, and the school she went to nurtured her and emphasized social justice and compassion and taught her she had nothing to fear of the world, it encouraged her to engage fully with her life, and she is indeed fearless today (as much as a human can be). I would definitely make that choice again. Still, private school tuition is the reason we are poor, and its really not okay that I felt forced to make the choices I did because there was no good alternative or my particular child.

    the problem is, when you're busy raising your kids and trying to secure them, and trying to make enough money to pay for private school, you're not out there agitating for better public school options, so the cycle continues. in my inaction, i am part of the problem. i know this. i hope i will do something about it in the future.

  25. Going back to what Grace Lee Boggs says: we must reinvent our culture. The private vs. public school question -- the fact that we're even having this discussion -- just points further to how broken our culture is.

    Without a solid public school system, I believe we are, as a country, lost. When a public school system is funded as ours is -- by local tax dollars -- we end up with wildly varying levels of education based on location.

    In most most recent (and divorced) life, I lived for a few years in the land of wealth and privilege, and the attitudes and pretensions that existed there made me want to vomit.

    My step-sons were products of an exclusive private-school community, and while one seems to have successfully entered the world of the honest living, the other, at the age of nearly 26, has yet to hold a job other than a few hours a week. Why? Fully-funded private university education, plus he has a stipend.

    Granted, I made a choice to enter into that part of society, and was unexpectedly booted out. Most of my life has been about putting food on the table and being a member of the educated poor. To be back now among working class artists/musicians/writers is to live a life containing more wealth and privilege than a single dollar can buy. Let me also point out that those among whose presence I mingled were good liberal, voting Democrats, in favor of social justice, practicers of philanthropy. But it's easy to stand around waving a flag when you don't have to spend your days slogging through the hours at the factory accumulating enough change to pay the rent.

    Would I go back to that life of privilege?

    Would I prefer the financial security that that life dangled before me?

    Therein lies the dilemma.

    My sons took a public school bus through downtown Seattle every day to attend their (public) alternative school. The education they received those hours commuting and getting to know the urban center of our community possess a value that no $40k a year private education could provide.

    Reinvention is key.

    Grace Lee Boggs is spot-on. We have a helluva lot of work to do.

  26. I do like the fact that since Chicago instituted selective enrollment High Schools the parents of the kids who remain in expensive private schools no longer would ever consider saying that their school is the best. Indeed, because you have to be the brightest of the bright to get in if you are wealthy, everyone knows that if you at the private school it's because you failed to make the grade. There are still inequities in the system. Pleanty of them. But they do avoid your friend's attitude about private schools!



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