Education, Polarization and Listening to Your Neighbor

Recently while commenting on a thread on Facebook about an article, I was accused by someone I do not know, of stealing his money because I send my children to public school. His belief was that parents should pay for their own child’s education and that others should not be taxed to pay for it. I was accused of being uneducated and not knowing what I was talking about.  I was a bit dumbfounded to say the least. 

This experience for me crystallized everything that I believe is currently wrong with this country and our inability to have an open and frank dialogue. It is impossible at this point. We cannot have a respectful conversation when it comes to beliefs and political leanings. We believe we have to verbally attack people, we think we cannot be wrong so therefore that person has to be wrong and we have to call them out on it. Or we don’t want to upset the conversation so we completely avoid saying what we truely think about a subject to keep the peace.

Getting back to this Facebook exchange, when I stepped back and thought about it, on a few levels I understood where he was coming from. I no longer agree, but I can understand. I had had a similar thought process years ago. Public school had been a nightmare for me growing up and my parents had pulled me out of school and homeschooled me from 6th-12th grade. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me. To this day I love homeschooling and for a long time I thought everyone should do it. When it came to voting for more taxes to rebuild schools I always voted no because I knew there was a better way. Just homeschool! You don’t need another building! Over time, that thought process has changed.

I had children of my own and while I tried to homeschool them for the first couple of years, I learned against my will that it was not going to work for our family. Our children needed to go to someone else to learn and because we have a child with significant special needs, private school was out of the question as all our extra resources were taken up caring for his extra needs.

Putting my children in public school has given me a window into other perspectives as well. Both the city we currently live in, and the previous city we resided, have extremely high numbers of racial differences. The previous city- Anchorage AK, has been found to be the most racially diverse city in America. Both places have had high numbers of refugee children and there are always homeless children. How do the parents of children from war torn countries who come here with literally nothing afford private school?  They could homeschool, but they are coming here not speaking our language and they, and we would like them to learn English so they can function in our society.  What better way than at school? What about finances? In most immigrant families both parents work, and work long hours. How would that work for homeschooling? What about children in abusive homes? Do we really want them stuck all day with the abuser being homeschooled?

I believe that all children should have the oppurtunity to be educated, because uneducated children makes for uneducated adults and that is just not good for our economy or our country. I am okay with paying taxes if it means that every child gets a basic education. 

The older I get the more I realize there are moral truths, but there are many ways that those moral truths can be lived and applied. Often times there are many good ways and just because we have found one good way to live, it doesn’t cancel out all the other good ways. Maybe someone else knows of a better way. Neither way is necessarily bad and maybe it’s just better for that person. Homeschooling was best for me. Going to school is better for my children. Neither choice is bad but one is better for each of us.

People are each different on a very fundamental level. That’s what makes life fun. As such, we have different needs and abilities. We need to celebrate and enjoy those differences. I love learning about different cultures and people. The different thought processes and cultures fascinate me.

We need to back away from arguing and listen. It has been said that Americans don’t listen to hear. We listen to respond. I find this very true. I think we need to step back and listen to the other person’s experiences. Their experiences are valid that they bring to the discussion. I find that when I do that, and can truly listen and talk frankly, one of two things happen. I either start questioning my stance on things because the other person has had experiences or information I didn’t know about or, my thoughts and ideas are solidified and I have a better grounding and knowledge of the things I believe in. Neither one is bad. 

This is my call to the American people to return to civil discourse. 

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