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Good Public Neighborhood School? Nope

Photograph by Twenty20

New mom and teacher Wendy Bradshaw recently wrote a letter to her school board that has gone viral. You can read the letter, but the gist is that Wendy, a new mom, realizes she does not want her own child going through the public school system.

"My master's degree work focused on behavior disorders," Bradshaw writes, "so I can say with confidence that it is not the children who are disordered. The disorder is in the system which requires them to attempt curriculum and demonstrate behaviors far beyond what is appropriate for their age. The disorder is in the system which bars teachers from differentiating instruction meaningfully, which threatens disciplinary action if they decide their students need a five minute break from a difficult concept, or to extend a lesson which is exceptionally engaging. The disorder is in a system which has decided that students and teachers must be regimented to the minute and punished if they deviate. The disorder is in the system which values the scores on wildly inappropriate assessments more than teaching students in a meaningful and research based manner."

My own child attended public school for two years in Southern California. In fact, we moved to this neighborhood because the district schools are so "good."

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During my son's first week of school his first year in the school, he looked at me and said, "Mom, this is not a good school. There are not enough teachers for how many kids there are. There is a lot of hitting."

My heart sank. I began volunteering weekly for the length of the school day. Each day, two parents volunteered to help the teacher. What I saw made me feel a little ill.

There were about five minutes of a song, and the rest of the day was consumed with moving from table to table and the kids would have to do worksheets. There was no time for the kids to socialize. I saw a lot of anger and frustration in the kids. When one child refused to do her work, the teacher told her her recess would be taken away from her. The child was 5 and in desperate need of 15 minutes of recess.

I had to write the oral presentations, because he could not yet read. In the spring, he stopped taking his backpack to school.

One day, older kids—5th graders—came in. A big buddy situation. All the kids lit up. It was wonderful. Until the 5th-grade teacher said, "OK, kids, you know how this goes. We've got 15 minutes, that's it, rush, rush, rush."

The 5th graders looked dejected.

I spoke with the teacher and told her how nice the idea was. She agreed but said they had so much curriculum they had to get down the kids that there was barely anytime for anything. She was exasperated.

We had our child stick it out and go to 1st grade at this school as well. He had a lovely teacher, yet still he would come home to me and say, "Mom, I have to do really well at my test so my school can get money from the government."

He had a lot of homework, monthly oral presentations and special projects on top of that. I had to write the oral presentations, because he could not yet read. In the spring, he stopped taking his backpack to school.

I told my husband I was done and called up our old private school 30 minutes away. We had actually gotten in to this school but turned it down. I wanted to stay in public school. I mean, I went to public school (even though this experience in no way resembled mine. I started homework in 3rd grade.)

I went on a field trip with the 1st graders, and I lamented to another mom what was going on. She heard me talk about my love for the other school, and she said she wished her child could go to that school. We talked about how both of our kids were even afraid to eat lunch at the school, because the cafeteria people are so rude to the kids and that there was no time for them to wash their hands.

I immediately gobbled up a big slice of humble pie and called up the old school. They let us in. They said it was all right.

Look, I tried. I volunteered, emailed the principal with ideas and questions, and found the whole bureaucracy and system sickening. I felt for the teachers.

I know I'm fortunate to be able to send my kids to this private school that I adore. The homework is not overwhelming, the teachers listen and are not rushed. The aim is not to pass a test, rather to cultivate a love for learning and to be good people.

Wendy Bradshaw closed her letter by saying, "On June 8, 2015 my life changed when I gave birth to my daughter. I remember cradling her in the hospital bed on our first night together and thinking, 'In five years you will be in kindergarten and will go to school with me.' That thought should have brought me joy, but instead it brought dread. I will not subject my child to this disordered system, and I can no longer in good conscience be a part of it myself. Please accept my resignation from Polk County Public Schools."

I no longer dread my kids' school. I truly did dread the idea of two more of my kids entering the system.

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Look, I tried. I volunteered, emailed the principal with ideas and questions, and found the whole bureaucracy and system sickening. I felt for the teachers. Our awesome 1st-grade teacher would stay long after the kids had gone home, buying supplies with her own money. I just kept shaking my head saying, "How do you do this?"

Apparently a lot of teachers are choosing not to continue doing this. Just like parents, they're fed up, too. Me? Like plenty of others, I'm really hoping for change.

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