Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Public Education

The other night Katie and I were talking about school and what special things they do each day: Monday, library; Tuesday, PE; Wednesday, music; Thursday, art, Fridays, reading with the reading helper (me). Fishing for compliments about what a fantastic mother I am for volunteering to be the reading helper, I asked, "Do you like it when I'm the reading helper in your class?"

Katie paused and got this look on her face like she had some bad news to break to me. "Well, not really, Mama..."

"Why not?!" I was shocked.

"Because it kinda makes me feel like a baby when you're there. I like to be at school with my friends and my teacher, not my mom."

"But your teacher needs someone to help her listen to all the children read." I pleaded my case.

"I know! Maybe you could be the reading helper for another class and not mine!" Katie produced a smile far too fake for a five year old. What's happened to my baby?

Wow. This growing up thing is much harder for me than it is for the one doing the growing up. It's so funny how parents give their children what they think they want based on what they didn't have as a child. My mom and dad both worked full time by the time I was in school. I longed for them to be more active in my schooling. So now that I've changed my schedule so I can be more active with Katie, she'd prefer I butt out.

Even though it hurts my feelings to watch Katie grow apart from me, I know it's healthy. I'm proud to see my daughter's independent thinking. There are two major things a child needs to have a good education: curiosity and critical thinking. Not all people are lucky enough to get a decent formal education. As long as they have access to resources to educate themselves, though, they'll be fine.

Some conservative friends of mine were recently questioning the idea of federally funded public television and radio. My argument is that I would be a different person today if I hadn't watched "Sesame Street" when I was a little kid in the early 70s living in St. Joseph, MO. I really think it was "Sesame Street" that got me interested in anthropology, seeing little clips about how people live all around the globe. Those were always my favorite segments. I think it's healthy to show kids that life is not just what's outside their own front door and that there are endless possibilities out there.

Plus, who doesn't love the cool, trippy videos?

I think of "Sesame Street," and similar educational programs on both PBS and NPR, as an extension of public education. It's an inexpensive investment for the vast education it brings us.

For example, Carl Sagan's series "Cosmos". It's brilliant! I can't imagine advertising-supported broadcast TV running such a series. With no public TV, I'd have to put down my novels and my narrative nonfiction to actually read Carl Sagan's thoughts about the universe. Blah! TV makes education fun.

Public television and public radio help educate the masses. One doesn't even need to be literate to watch TV or listen to the radio. If we want to have the most well educated population, we need to pour more federal tax dollars into things like PBS and NPR as well as the public school system.

I "only" have an associate's degree. And yet I consider myself to be
fairly well educated. I will never know everything, which is one of the first things you realize when you're seeking an education. But I can hold my own in many intellectual conversations, and I'm still excited to explore the unknown.

I was able to educate myself after attending public school from grades K-12 by going to a public community college, reading books and watching videos from the public library, listening to amazing shows on NPR like "Cypress Avenue" (on KCUR), "All Things Considered," and "This American Life," and by watching TV shows like "Cosmos" and "Nova" and "Sesame Street."

I've never had enough money to pay for a private education. Thankfully I never needed money to get a good education due to our publically funded schools, libraries, television and radio.

So we'll see if Katie changes her mind about my being the reading helper at her school. I'm not too worried either way. If she wants to explore the world on her own, without my holding her hand, at least I know she lives in a country where she has access to a decent education for an autodidact.

One thing I've learned for sure, being Katie's mom. I'm gonna quit fishing for compliments.