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Aug 04 2015
by Michaela Williams

Confessions of a Public School Graduate

By Michaela Williams - Aug 04 2015
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I was never given what I consider to be the privilege of a private school education. Trust me, I could go on for hours about the problems in our public education system. Coming from the Massachusetts public education system, which is considered to be one of, if not the, best system in the United States, I know I did not have it as bad as it could have been. However, being a K-12 public school grad, there are a few things I have learned I've had the privilege to that some people, surprisingly have not.

Meeting people of all backgrounds

My parents are both multiracial, granting me with an enlightened childhood reinforced by interacting with kids on a daily basis who came from different ethnicities, religions and socioeconomic statuses. On average, most private schools seek out minorities and kids of lower household incomes to diversify their student body; however, those numbers often can never compare to that of a public school in a middle class town. I was educated in a place where there were lots of ideologies sitting in one classroom — some of which I strongly disagreed with. Nevertheless, this gave me the opportunity to test the strength of my beliefs by forcing me to stand by them in a way that was respectful and articulate.

Understanding authority

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A good childhood friend of mine, who started attending private school in middle school, was shocked to find out that teachers could indeed be rude, unfair and sometimes a bit conniving (some would even go as far as to say sadistic) toward their students. Most of the time in private school, the teachers are required to have a higher level of tolerance for their students. They generally cannot get away with swearing, demeaning or writing cruel comments on their essays for fear of being sued or receiving heavy backlash from parents and administration. While many might say this is “psychologically damaging,” who is to say that I will never get an insane boss who is impossible to please or that those teachers did not give me something to prove? Despite a teacher’s sour attitude, I still had to remain calm and give respect that I was not being given in return. Is it easy to greet someone with a smile every morning at 7 o’clock when they tell you that your writing is poetic jargon? Not exactly, but hey, I’ve become more patient because of it.

Respecting authority

Tilted Productions and Lionsgate Television

My school had its fair share of eccentric (to put it lightly) teachers, between some who attempted to indoctrinate us with their political ideals to others who may have needed psychological evaluation. It was to the point where the office staff would just let kids sit and do their homework whenever they were sent down by certain teachers. It was frustrating, but not every salesperson will be the most efficient; not every barista will be the most compliant; and not every boss will be the most deserving of their position. So you just have to sit there, smile and do as you are told for the sake of peace and subpar sanity.

Accepting circumstances

Tilted Productions and Lionsgate Television

While funding for public education is increasing, some of us are still waiting for that to trickle down. I went to a school with broken bathroom stall doors, floors that sound as though they’re ready to cave in and the occassional faulty ceiling tile — we have a building that has been around since before World War II. Even though the books were falling apart as they were passed out to us, I still read from those textbooks. Even if you came from a higher economic status than the kid sitting next to you, both of you had the same cheap locker, horrendous gym equipment, borderline expired science supplies and the lack of tools available for the arts. We were forced to make the best of what we were given.

Self-advocacy

Colorforce and Lionsgate

“My school gives you detention if your grades are slipping,” a good friend of mine told me. While my school started a program this year for freshman who were failing one or more classes, I am glad that the program was not offered to me. I understand the point of the consequence; however, it is also important to teach kids that you have to be your own savior. If I was failing a class, I had to do something about it myself. I had to find the willpower to log off social media and Google boring geometry videos 'til I felt like falling asleep in order to pass. If I was struggling with what a teacher wanted, I had to put my big girl pants on and admit confusion. So many times we are told that it is not OK to be wrong or not to have all the answers; however, I have gained enough confidence in order to say “I don’t understand this. Here is what I need from you as my teacher.”

Appreciating the underdog status

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When it comes to deciding between two students with similar credentials for college application advisers, it is hard to think that they will pick the public school kid. Friends of mine who went to top notch private schools saw institutions like Syracuse University as a no brainer, whereas my other friends who sat in the top thirty of my class prayed for an acceptance letter. I retook the same theatre class three times because there was not enough money in the budget to extend to the arts (or at least that is the consistent excuse). There is an entire testing process behind getting into an AP course and it is rare that a public school will have any résumé-popping opportunities. That being said, us public school kids have to bust our behinds to compete with private school kids when it comes to receiving a top notch education that will lead to more lucrative opportunities down the road. However, it is not impossible, just more difficult. It is also noteworthy that not every field warrants an Ivy League degree.

Walking six miles up a hill through the snow

Will I register my kids for public school or go the private route? For the longest time I felt that private school would be best. Not every public school is terrible, although some are educational tragedies — and nearly all have food that rivals with the county jail. Nonetheless, public school is a humbling experience. It exposes you to all types of people and when you ship off to college, you will appreciate your new home, flawed or not, because that is what you have been trained to do.


Lead Image Credit: It's A Laugh Productions, Michael Poryes Productions and Disney Channel

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Michaela Williams - Marymount Manhattan College

Michaela Williams is a 17-year-old freshman Theatre Arts and Psychology double major at Marymount Manhattan College. She is always in search of knowledge and the perfect plate of gnocchi. She is a progressive, spiritual being and pollo-pescetarian. Follow her on Twitter @michaelajcw or on Instagram @michaelawilliams!

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