Make Public Education Work for Everyone

My husband is a Dutchman who moved to America to be with me. We have experienced many things together over the last seven years that have made me feel the need to apologize for my country. But, navigating the American education system on our children's behalf has made me sorrier than anything else. When..

My husband is a Dutchman who moved to America to be with me. We have experienced many things together over the last seven years that have made me feel the need to apologize for my country. But, navigating the American education system on our children's behalf has made me sorrier than anything else.When I first explained the options available to a kindergarten student in America, my husband was completely baffled. The first private school in Holland opened just this year. I had to explain that American parents who can afford to do so have to weigh the many benefits of private school education against the costs of elitism. Since we happen to live near a good public school, our decision was relatively simple.Then we discovered that our son has a learning disability. The public school classroom choices available to America's more than 6 million disabled children are fairly limited. The Board of Education decides which type of class it deems most appropriate for your child. If you disagree with its placement recommendation, you have two choices: You can either let your child suffer in the wrong classroom while you fight for reassignment, or you can pre-emptively place your child in a special private school and sue the Board for reimbursement for failing to provide the legally mandated free and appropriate education.
Wouldn't it be smarter to invest in making public-school education in America meet all students' needs?
My husband and I watched as our self-confident, friendly 4-year-old became isolated and insecure in the wrong kind of classroom; we didn't know if he would dare to be fully present again. So when a group of experienced teachers and psychologists who knew our son told us that they believed he would feel lost and inadequate in a collaborative team teaching classroom-the placement the Board of Education had given him-my husband and I rejected it. When the Board responded by offering us the exact same type of placement in a different neighborhood, we put our son in a private school for children with learning disabilities-which costs $40,000 a year. And then, like 70,000 other parents of special needs children in America, we fought the Board of Education. The Board would not settle with us, so we requested an impartial hearing.We spent four days in a stiflingly hot room in Brooklyn listening to people who had never met our son testify that they understood his needs better than we did and imply that we were elitists who would never send our child to public school no matter what the circumstances. I had to testify under oath that I did not think that my beautiful boy could learn alongside "typically developing children." I am sure that both the Board of Education lawyer who impugned us, and the special education teacher who said, "when I think of your son," without having ever laid eyes on him, hoped to help disabled students when they took their jobs. But the existing system has turned them into our son's adversaries.And we are the lucky ones. The parents of disabled children who do not know the laws, who cannot afford a lawyer or the cost of a private school, do not have the option of challenging their child's placement or suing for reimbursement. Nor do the parents of "typically developing children" who think that the public schools are not providing appropriate education for their children. School vouchers have been proposed as a solution to this problem, but I fear that school vouchers merely make American education even more segregated than it is now. Allowing a few parents to buy their way out of a broken system is no way to fix it.Wouldn't it be smarter to invest in making public-school education in America meet all students' needs? Dutch citizens spend 30 percent of their taxrevenues on education, compared to the less than 5 percent we spend in the United States. The Dutch spend more tax revenues on education than on any other sector of their society. The Dutch educational system ranks ninth in the world. America's did not even make the top 20.But what if we did make education a priority? What if we provided all American students with those things that wealthy parents are buying when they send their children to private schools: smaller class sizes, better resources, better-trained teachers, and more inventive curricula? I, for one, would have a lot less apologizing to do.Cohn is a writer, writing teacher, and mother who lives in New York City.Author Portraits by Forrest Martin
via Honor Africans / Twitter

The problem with American Sign Language (ASL) is that over 500,000 people in the U.S. use it, but the country has over 330 million people.

So for those with hearing loss, the chances of coming into contact with someone who uses the language are rare. Especially outside of the deaf community.

Keep Reading Show less

Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

RELATED: Bill and Melinda Gates had a surprising answer when asked about a 70 percent tax on the wealthiest Americans

"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

RELATED: Bill Gates has five books he thinks you should read this summer.

The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.

Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash

The future generations will have to live on this Earth for years to come, and, not surprisingly, they're very concerned about the fate of our planet. We've seen a rise in youth activists, such as Greta Thunberg, who are raising awareness for climate change. A recent survey indicates that those efforts are working, as more and more Americans (especially young Americans) feel concerned about climate change.

A new CBS News poll found that 70% of Americans between 18 and 29 feel climate change is a crisis or a serious problem, while 58% of Americans over the age of 65 share those beliefs. Additionally, younger generations are more likely to feel like it's their personal responsibility to address climate change, as well as think that transitioning to 100% renewable energy is viable. Overall, 25% of Americans feel that climate change is a "crisis," and 35% feel it is a "serious problem." 10% of Americans said they think climate change is a minor problem, and 16% of Americans feel it is not a problem that worries them.

The poll found that concern for the environment isn't a partisan issue – or at least when it comes to younger generations. Two-thirds of Republicans under the age of 45 feel that addressing climate change is their duty, sentiments shared by only 38% of Republicans over the age of 45.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet