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Amy Silverman: We Shouldn't Turn Our Back On Public Schools

Published: Monday, February 13, 2017 - 2:23pm
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It’s been a busy week for education. A new Secretary of Education was confirmed. The charter school crowd and the public-school crowd cheered and wailed. And the Arizona Senate continues to debate the use of vouchers to pay for charters.

Commentator Amy Silverman has a lunch pail full of reasons why we shouldn’t turn our back on public schools. Silverman is managing editor of Phoenix New Times. She blogs about her daughter Sophie at

As she rounds the bend from eighth grade to high school, it’s increasingly apparent that my daughter Sophie is not so good at math, but has a keen interest in current events. I attribute this to genetics — not just because she has Down syndrome but because she is the daughter of a journalist who can’t add.

Just recently, Sophie came within just three points of acing the civics test that high-school juniors must pass in order to graduate.

I give her social-studies teacher a lot of the credit. And I appreciate his patience. It turns out that Sophie’s just as shallow in her political interests as the rest of America.

The teacher had trouble holding in the laughter at parent-teacher conferences when he reported that just that day, he’d told the class that Rex Tillerson had been confirmed by
the U.S. Senate.

Sophie raised her hand.

“Is he cute?” she asked.

I put my head in my hands.

“Well, you know about her crush on Paul Ryan, right?” the teacher asked.

By now my head was on the table. I looked up.

“Um, no.”

“Oh yeah, she loves him. But she has a really hard time with the fact that she thinks he’s handsome, but she doesn’t like his politics.”

We had a good laugh and I thanked him. As I left, I said a silent thank-you to the entire public education system.

My silent thank-yous begin each morning when I drop Sophie off in front of this school, exhausted by the mere effort of getting her up and out the door, and imagine what it takes all day long to educate her and the hundreds of other somewhat smelly tweens and teens packed into these worn old buildings. It’s not a fancy school — not a charter, not private, it’s not even out of our attendance area. It’s our neighborhood public school, and I can’t think of a better place for my kid.

I wanted her to go to a charter, I’ll admit it; an arts one like her older sister attends, or maybe a specialized one for kids who learn differently. There was no such beast, not for Sophie. There wasn’t even a private school. No one would take my kid.

Except the public school.

Sophie is mainstreamed in all her classes, not just social studies. She has taken visual art, choir, computers and Spanish along with math and English. Her science scores have soared. When I complained that there was no drama class, they created one. When Sophie needed help making friends, they started a Best Buddies program. Sophie is a cheerleader. She’s on student council.

She loves school.

All of this is made possible by a public education system that is increasingly overworked, underfunded and totally maligned.

What kind of lesson/message is that sending?

Not much of a civics lesson.

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