From kindergarten to my senior year, I attended public school in Wyoming, the state whose “grizzly bear school” became a flashpoint for Betsy DeVos’s confirmation hearings. Because I was in the city of Cheyenne, though, my school’s greatest threat was probably ourselves, the students; I hated living there as a teen, but one benefit, in retrospect, was our amazing school system.
Wyoming has relatively few people and many natural resources, so in the 1990s a lot of money was funneled towards the public education system; the only private school in my town, St. Mary’s, was a Catholic school connected to my church, but the high school was shut down due to lack of funds. (My mom went there and has many stories of nuns racially profiling her and the other Mexican kids, including one incident during a lice breakout in which Mexican students were lined up for head inspections, but white students were not.) For the duration of my schooling, I enjoyed excellent, attentive teachers and small class sizes, though the latter may have had to do with Cheyenne’s population which is, at present, around 62,000.
I benefited the most from Cheyenne’s well-funded public schools in high school, where my instructors were for the most part exceptional—my wonderful former English teacher, Sheryl Lain, helped me to believe in myself and my writing abilities, while my Sociology teacher, Nate Breen, taught me about history and justice and why it is always important to act on the instinct of righteousness. (A miraculous side effect of my public high school having enough money was that I even had a Sociology class at all. Mr. Breen was also my teacher for Seminar, an advanced lecture course that incorporated philosophy and history that somehow culminated in my senior project being a short documentary exploring my school’s attitudes about sex. I got a freakin’ A.)
I recognize how fortunate I was to have a supportive school system that allowed me the room to flex my creativity, and I can’t imagine going to school in the era of standardized testing, which sets up a trap where learning is secondary to bureaucracy. The now-confirmed Education Secretary is notoriously hostile towards the public school system, historically lobbying for charter schools over public schools—public schools like Wapiti Elementary in Wyoming, the one whose fence keeps bears from wandering into the playground from nearby Yellowstone National Park—with an already quantifiably disastrous effect.
The public school system needs improving, not dismantling. Jezebel would like to hear about the ways public school benefited you, as well, and why it’s imperative that we fight for it. Leave your stories in the comments below, and we’ll collect a selection for a future post.
Correction: a previous version of this post said St. Mary’s School in Cheyenne was shut down, but only the high school was; the kindergarten through eighth grades still exist.