The Magic of Public Education

posted Wednesday April 25th, 2018

thumbnail-18Once upon a time, in a land scorched hard and dry by the sun, public education was in trouble.

For decades, the state’s leaders had starved the schools — underpaying teachers, letting buildings decay, and concocting elaborate schemes to create shadow school systems to replace the ones they’d all but destroyed.

These leaders founded and worked for these alternative systems; they profited on the backs of the children. The people failed to elect better leaders, and they paid dearly for it. The schools continued to decline. Teachers did not make a living wage. Test scores dipped, economies soured.

That is a true story. It’s what’s happening right now, here in Arizona — my hometown state, where I was educated in public schools, where my children are educated.

It’s not the end of the story. It can’t be. But actually, today, what I’m interested in is the middle of the story.

What I’ve seen happen in classrooms in Arizona in the last dozen years is nothing short of magic. And I worry that in all the marching, the politicking, the negotiating and (sadly) the shaming, the magic has been forgotten.

If you have — or have had — a kid in public school here, I bet you’ve seen it, too.

I’ve written a blog about my daughter Sophie for almost a decade. It’s about life, but when you’re a kid, life is mostly about school, and so this blog has been mostly about school — about Sophie’s experience at Arizona public schools. I’ve done my best to catalogue the good, bad, and uncomfortable, believing it’s important to let it all hang out, but today I want to talk only about these people who manage to educate with little more than thin air.

Like the magic of the pre-school teacher who taught me to be in awe of my kid and her accomplishments (rather than her shortcomings), who quietly urged me to push to have Sophie included at our neighborhood elementary school.

The kindergarten teacher who taught Sophie to write her name by the end of the first week of school, even after therapists insisted it would never happen.

The second grade teacher who could casually clap her hands together three times and instantly capture  the attention of 25 7-year-olds.

The fourth grade teacher who purposefully taught literature that included the word “retarded,” then led an amazing lesson where the kids discussed language and name-calling and life.

The P.E. coach who taught the entire school the Thriller dance.

The music teacher who didn’t mind one bit that my kid couldn’t stay on key, only that she loved to sing.

The fifth grade teacher we still run into at the neighborhood Chinese restaurant, who remembers not only Sophie’s name but her passions and dislikes, and makes room at her table so my kid can sneak away from ours to catch up.

The seventh grade English teacher who taught with such passion and attention that she was able to capture my kid’s imagination and get her to write.

The eighth grade Social Studies teacher who once told me, between fits of giggles, about how Sophie was conflicted because she hated Republicans but had a big crush on Paul Ryan.

The high school dance teacher who put my kid onstage last week and let her shine.

And then there are the therapists who helped to teach Sophie to walk and talk, the school counselor who started a Best Buddies program, the staff who encouraged the principal at her middle school to create an inclusive drama class. That’s a very short list and that’s just what I know about. My point is that these people are making magic all over the state, every day, with all of our kids. Backward, in heels, blindfolded, bound and gagged.

This fairy tale has grown dark and cruel. Some of my best friends are teachers and — clever-ish writing devices aside — they don’t relish the role they’re playing. They are heartbroken that it’s come to this, and terrified. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by the teacher-shaming going on, given the politics in this state, but I am. For years, my friend Rachel ran the school carnival at the school where she taught because there was no “P” in the PTA there. My friend Trish can barely speak of her students without getting choked up.

If you want a villain, ask the governor why he thinks he has any right to make any decisions regarding public education when he sends his own kids to an expensive Catholic school. Ask the vast majority why they don’t vote. Beg our legislators to get lost.

Once upon a time, in a land scorched hard and dry by the sun, public education was in trouble. The teachers walked out and the schools closed and the question remained: Would there ever be a happy ending?

It’s going to take some magic.


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10 Responses to “The Magic of Public Education”

  1. Very good, Amy!

  2. Beautifully written Amy… the one thing that has always kept me going is hope. If we lose hope then yes we will lose everything. Without hope, there is anxiety and fear, but if our future is secured and satisfied with hope, we can be more available to figure out how to move mountains… It doesn’t hurt to believe a little bit in magic too.
    Onward soldiers!

  3. Thanks for writing this. As a mother and a grandmother, I have been amazed time after time by how dedicated teachers are against all odds. It is heartening to see so many citizens step forward to support them now.

  4. Right on point. ( no dance pun untended) We don’t have children of our own buth makes no nevermind to us. Our teachers and the support staff in our schools need to make a living wage and be encouraged to continue making miracles every day.

  5. Thank you, Amy, for not giving up on public schools and those of us who work in them. We truly never want to be anywhere else.

  6. I just teared up a little. Beautiful Sophie and her wonderful family.

  7. bravo – for the teacher recognition (well put and deserved) for the warnings and prodding , for the well placed loyalty to family and the needs of your crew . . . we must do something . .
    Magic cannot be allowed to disappear – EVER!!! !! s

  8. This is so beautiful. I continuously stand in awe at the ability of my kid’s (public) school to accomplish simple, but not simple, everyday miracles. It really is magical.

  9. Thank you for this beautiful post! It really is going to take a miracle, but I have no choice but to believe! ❤️

  10. Bravo! You have said it exactly how it is. My daughter is almost finished with a teaching degree. She has wondered if this is where she should be…but after spending some time in a classroom and preparing for her year of student teaching she is smitten. She is a beautiful soul and loves to teach and loves children. They are our future, not the Governors in office. We have to stand together and vote. God Bless!

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