Tomorrow is Valentine’s day, and I everywhere I look there are ads for candy. I suppose school--paraphrase Forrest Gump--"is sometimes like a a box of chocolates..You never know what you’re going to get.” So, if an education were Valentine candy what might it resemble?
There are the prestigious privates schools with lovely campuses and small classes. Like deluxe chocolates with carefully hand molded pieces cradled in discrete but distinctive golden boxes, they are exclusive and select. This kind of education comes at a high price and with an implied promise that anything so carefully and elegantly presented must be top quality. After all, you get what you pay for don’t you?
The education marketplace isn’t really all that different from the confectionery industry and there are those who understand that the way to move ahead is to provide a look- alike to the exclusive brand. But to produce a reasonable facsimile at a lower cost requires scrimping a little on raw material, pushing your workers to non-sustainable levels and sometimes settling for “good enough.” Compromises must be made to mass produce something that appears to be the equivalent of those top of line products and sometimes churning out students who have the right “look” may become more important that what’s inside. Kids who wear neat little uniforms and a curriculum that is designed around a “classical” prep school format of may privates and charters that are modeled on exclusive preps promise more than they deliver.
Specialty schools, like products of some small designer candy firms appeal to some. They have the cache of being something different and sometimes they are amazing. But they aren’t for everyone and sometimes chipotle guava nougat isn’t really better than old fashioned peanut brittle, it’s just different. Experimental schools like unique culinary combinations may be just perfect to the taste of a few, but experimentation comes with a risk of disappointment, it’s hard to bring to scale, and it may go out of fashion quickly.
Homemade Valentine candy, like home schooling, is a beautiful idea. When it’s good, it’s amazing, personal, and made with love. The problem is making candy is an art. Even after researching the recipes, investing in the equipment and gathering all the ingredients, making the candy takes experience and the undivided attention of the cook. Even then the rate of failure is high.
So where do public schools fit into my confectionery analogy? I’d argue that public schools are the Sweetheart Candy of education. Oh sure, some people belittle them, but they are the iconic candy of the holiday. Whether you love them or snub them, you know what they are. They are the ubiquitous and traditional Valentine candy that is a mass produced durable, and inexpensive staple. Sweethearts, like public schools come in different flavors, colors, and sizes, but what makes them unique is that they are Conversation Hearts. Sweethearts, unlike other candies, speak to us.
So what can be said that matters that fits on a candy heart?
Public education, of all the education options opens it’s arms and invites everyone in. It doesn’t matter what you know, how smart you are, what language you speak, what limitations life has placed on you, how rich or how poor, or how well mannered or ill behaved you are. In public education, the door is open and there is a place for you.
And that’s love, actually.
The opinions expressed in A Place at the Table are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.