The true value of public education

Few things have stuck in my brain like childhood memories of public school. I have spent a good portion of my life in buildings owned and operated by the Dolores School District. However, most of the knowledge I acquired during that time had little to do with actual academic pursuits. Going to public school didn't teach me to love reading or make me think math is fun. Instead, it taught me how to deal with the most complex and unpredictable things in the world: How to live with human beings.

This point is illustrated by the name of the institution itself. People go to Culinary School to learn about cooking. They go to vocational school to study different kinds of vocations. It makes perfect sense that people go to public school to learn about the public.

As a child in school, I didn't realize the countless days I spent there were designed to acclimate me to life in our society. Looking back, it is much more obvious.

Public school is full of rules that seem pointless. "Don't whistle in the hall," and, "Only one person at a time in the bathroom," and, "Don't wear hats in the building," are all commands that seem to do little toward helping a student actually receive a diploma. Most students just follow them because it's not worth the trouble to fight.

Where else but in public school do you have to follow meaningless protocols just to get by? Unless you are a hermit in the woods, the answer is everywhere, for the rest of your life. Public school helps us to get used to this when we are young, saving us from perpetual frustration later on.

While it helps us to deal with the ever-present and sometimes arbitrary authority of the civil world, going to public school also teaches us about more mundane interactions with our peers. Public school is where we learn how to share. It is also where we learn that some kids would rather fight and throw tantrums than try to be nice.

These kids do grow up, but they never change. The children who fight and throw tantrums become adults who fight and throw tantrums. They can make your life miserable, but you have already learned from public school that the best way to deal with these people is to ignore them. Besides, it's not so bad when you know the nice kids are still out there, and have probably grown up to be nice adults.

Which leads me to what is perhaps the most important lesson public school has to offer on life as a human being. Going to school for so long teaches us that many things change, but others stay the same.

Every first day of school seemed like a grand and unprecedented experience. New teachers, new classmates, and new topics of study make a child think they have come a long way from the previous year. Yet over time we get used to the new teacher, the few new kids begin to blend with the ones we've known forever, and most of the year is really spent going over things that were already taught in previous grades. In my limited experience with adult life, it is the same way.

Public school shows us that we should neither lament the past nor fear the future. Nothing ever really goes away, and whatever challenges occur in the future are probably not all that different from things we've done before.

Public school has much to teach us about life and other people. Still, I could never blame a kid for wanting to be home schooled.