Education for a Crumbling Nation
New Jersey. I’ve been told my state is “the armpit of America,” and, “the stinky suburb of New York.” I’m actually pretty proud of my home, with one notable exception – our governor. Perhaps you’ve heard of him, the man with the strange repeating name, the one who threw ice cream at a reporter and closed access to the George Washington bridge in an event that’s now known as “Bridgegate.” The man I’m referring to is Chris Christie.
Chris Christie and I share one thing in common: we’re both New Jerseyans. Born in Newark, New Jersey, Christie moved to Livingston in 1967 – a nicer part of the state – due to a series of riots in Newark. When putting his education plans in context, Christie often refers to the fact that he’s a product of the New Jersey education system itself. He’s proud of the education he received, thinks it served him well, and wants to uphold the Jersey standard he experienced. I feel this way too; however, my path diverges from Christie’s at the high school level. For the past four years I’ve been lucky enough to attend Deerfield Academy, a private boarding school in Western Massachusetts, and I’ve seen first-hand the difference that funding can make. At Deerfield I can take any type of class, from Architecture to Biomechanics. The small classes allow me to have one-on-one interactions with teachers. Because there are only around 600 students, I can adjust my schedule to take the classes I’m interested in, like French and Chinese. Simply put, more money corresponds to more classrooms, more and better teachers, and a better education.
One of my biggest problems with Christie has to do with his education policies. As governor, Christie has brought many changes to the New Jersey education system. Overall, his policies tend to benefit families that send their children to private, parochial, or charter schools, and to take money away from districts that need more school supplies, classrooms, and teachers. For example, he proposed providing stipends to families who send their kids to private or parochial schools, and approved 23 new charter schools in 2011. Ironically enough, Christie’s own four children attend Catholic parochial school. Christie has also been a vocal advocate for eliminating the Common Core, a national education standard put in place to homogenize education across the country. In addition, he vetoed a bill that would’ve established a College Affordability Commission to begin actively exploring solutions to the student loan crisis in New Jersey.
Strangely enough, although Christie doesn’t like the Common Core, he wants to keep statewide-standardized tests, like the PARCC, formerly known as the NJASK. Why are we forcing teachers to teach to the test? Shouldn’t kids enjoy school and love to learn? Every experience I have with standardized tests involves frustrated teachers, worried parents, a lot of pressure, and mental exhaustion. To put it bluntly, it’s an unpleasant experience. Further, these tests are arbitrary ways of measuring intelligence. And they’re teaching students that their intellectual value is determined by some silly set of numbers on a test. Christie may have gone through the New Jersey public school system, but he didn’t experience anything like this himself when he was a high school student in the 1980’s. While I feel it’s important our nation be united in its education standards, I don’t think this has to translate to relying so heavily on standardized tests.
At face value, I disagree with almost all of Christie’s stances on education. I strongly believe that education is necessary, and that all American children should have equal access to excellent education. Knowledge is power, and politicians shouldn’t be taking this right away by slyly shifting funding away from public schools. While I understand that Christie is at least partially basing his policies on his own experience as a student in the New Jersey public school system, he needs to recognize that things have changed since that time, and he needs to address today’s concerns.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it: my school, Deerfield Academy, is a very rich, uppity place. I see it every day in the dining hall. Are those Gucci sneakers? A Trina Turk dress? When spring term is essentially a fashion show for Lily Pulitzer, you know it’s not normal. And I recognize that by going to Deerfield and having received that caliber of an education, I have an advantage over other students who don’t have the same access to excellent education. Education can make a tremendous difference in a person’s life; it can be uplifting and empowering, and every student deserves the chance to experience that. I also know that America’s education system is very unequal – I’ve seen that with my local public middle school and private boarding high school – and contrary to many of Christie’s policy stances, I believe we have to level the playing field.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.