Dear Betsy DeVos,
I bet I can guess your two least favorite words! Let’s see… Are they “public school” by any chance? Ah, yes, I can imagine you cringing as you read that. And would I be rubbing salt in a wound if I told you that am a graduate of a public school?
You probably think that my 13 years of education in a public school was a waste of time and taxpayer money because I didn’t attend some swanky, expensive charter or private school. You might even think that the quality of my instruction was lacking because of where I went to school. On the contrary, you should be praising the public school districts and the teachers within them who work with students like me, day in and day out, to equip us with the knowledge necessary to become the people we are meant to become.
For instance, I went to school every day and was met with demanding classes, challenging coursework, and ideas that stretched my previous thoughts and knowledge. I was also surrounded by teachers who cared immensely about my education, prepared me for college, pushed me to learn more, and inspired me to give the best in all aspects of my life. The things that I learned, whether part of the curriculum or one of the life lessons I got along the way, will guide me and shape me into who I am for the rest of my life.
But perhaps the people who benefit most from public schools are not ones like me who already have a decent lot in life, but rather the ones who don’t. The school district I attended was very poor; it had so many underprivileged kids that over 60% of the students qualified for the free or reduced lunch program. Having a free, public education afforded these kids a chance to come to school, escape their lives for a little while, and eat what could possibly be the only meal they got all day.
A public education also gave many children of immigrants an opportunity to get ahead. I remember walking down the hall at school and hearing just as many people speaking Spanish as there were people speaking English. Some of these people were bilingual already, but some of them had the opportunity to take classes to learn English so that they could better converse with the people around them.
My school also had programs for people who had disabilities, whether they were physical, mental, or learning disabilities. These kids received an array of assistance, ranging from helping them find the right classes and study skills to learning simple skills to help them live on their own.
My school even had programs in the arts and technical sciences for students who were interested. There were a ton of my peers, myself included, who found their solace in playing a musical instrument, singing, acting, sewing, cooking, or taking art classes. I know from experience that the arts allowed many people a chance to express themselves and find a loving community of people who supported them and their interests. I also knew a lot of people who didn’t enjoy the traditional classroom setting very much, but then would go down to the drafting, autos, metals, or woods lab, and excel. It was within the noisy, messy world of machines, cars, and hands-on projects that these kids found their true calling. These experiences helped them to graduate and move into the technical careers that literally keep our world moving.
So, Betsy DeVos, if you think that public schools and the teachers that work in them aren’t worth anything, think again. Millions of students walk through the doors of public schools all over this country and are cared for, inspired, and receive wings to fly. Remember that.
A Public School Graduate