Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Don't Think Your School Is Good Enough, Get Involved

Many parents believe their public schools are not good enough. They complaint incessantly about the deteriorating state of public eduction. The rants are warranted in many cases, but it is my experience that few parents do anything about it. By this I mean that very few donate money and time. My daughter's public elementary is one of the best in California. It ranks consistently in the top 5%. It has earned the designations of school of advanced studies and distinguished school, but it still is too slow to meet my daughter' s intellectual needs. There are many potential solutions to this problem, but most involve after-school, enrichment activities. Other potential solutions center on advocacy, but this tends to be confrontational and ineffective. As a result, homeschooling is growing in popularity. While I believe that homeschooling is ideal for some children, others like my daughter are extremely social and crave close, daily interaction with other children. This leaves parents like myself with two options: fight the system or make it work for you. I have opted for the second option, by getting involved in my daughter's classroom, and the results have been surprisingly positive.

LAUSD is crumbling due to California's budget crisis. Teaching assistants have been eliminated in many grades, and class sizes have increased markedly. Teachers are more overworked than ever and even have to clean their own classrooms because LAUSD has cut janitorial staff. I offered my daughter's homeroom teacher to teach the weekly computer class. She accepted gladly because my technical background is extensive, and kids like working with me. Computer lab worked out well. I taught the kids about graphs, data analysis, logic puzzles, simulations, and other fun topics. Things well so well that the teacher asked me to pull out a group of gifted learners for a weekly math class. The experience has been extremely rewarding. Over the past three weeks, my group has learned binary arithmetic and how it relates and compares to decimal arithmetic, various topics involving the platonic solids -- including Euler's formula --, and the concept of measure in 1D, 2D, and 3D. I am planning to introduce them to graphs (i.e. the discrete mathematical kind) and their relationship to the wire frames of the platonic solids. This will lead into a discussion of how to represent various problems in terms of graphs. I am excited because the kids have been enjoying our sessions and are always ready to work on problems and discover things on their own.

The moral of this little story is that you can always make a direct difference in your child's education by getting involved. Most parents complain, but they rarely get invest enough energy to make a difference. Getting involved means giving as much money and time as reasonable. Failing to do so is perpetuating the very problems you complain about. I am not certain what the next few years hold, but this one is turning out much better than expected.

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