I never thought I would be going to school with my kids.
The summer before my oldest daughter started kindergarten, I'd been warned at our neighborhood playground: "Stay away from those PTA moms. Once they get you in their clutches, they'll never let you go."
But the school community was new to us, so a few weeks in, I hosted an afternoon tea at my house so we could get to know the kindergarten girls and their mothers. Not long afterward, I had a playground conversation with a Mexican-American father of a fifth-grader, who admitted that he did not feel like a part of the community. Before I knew it, I had an organized an international potluck to replace the school's annual Harvest potluck, and created a multi-cultural committee.
I served as our PTA's first vice president of outreach. I was a member of the school's leadership team and served as a reading tutor. I competed for and won city and county grants to create a tile-mosaic reader board, renovate the playground and install an environmental rain garden.
I became one of those PTA moms.
Though it's clear I was (over)compensating for my pent-up career ambitions, my years of volunteerism were personally and professionally satisfying. And I'm happy to report that, in at least one instance, I broke the stereotype.
"You’re not a typical PTA mom," a refreshingly frank parent, originally from the South, told me. "You don’t have a stick up your ***."
I don't know if the expression "A little knowledge goes a long way" is appropriate, but here's what happened: The more I started caring about my kids' school — not just making sure my children were thriving academically and socially, but also that their teachers and administrators were well supported — the more I started caring about learning environments beyond our school, including those where the picture wasn't so rosy.
I began subscribing to newsletters from local education-advocacy groups. The information they provided was useful, but I had trouble distinguishing one group from another. I suspected I wasn't the only busy parent who was confused.
So I wrote an article about them. One article led to another; one publication led to another. And thus, I became an education reporter.
I saw that the education debates raging in my hometown of Seattle are the same debates being played out nationally. I started following national education journals and advocacy groups. It was only a matter of time before I began following what was happening with education internationally.
When it comes to education, the more I learn, the more I want to know. This may make me kind of a bore at parties (ask anyone who hung out with me during my "math curriculum rant" years. Better yet, ask my husband and kids). Still, I've found that other busy parents appreciate that there are tireless advocates working to improve education, as well as geeks like me to tell you about them and about issues you should be concerned about.
There’s a phrase that particularly resonates with me, which I like to work into my education articles whenever possible:
Education is the civil rights struggle of our time.
When experts evaluate how to break the cycle of poverty, when inspirational role models tell you how they turned their lives around, when we look into a crystal ball to try to assess the future economic and social well-being of our kids, the same conclusion is reached:
In this weekly column, I plan to examine a variety of education matters and also share with you interesting tidbits that I've read or heard. I'm the parent of two school-aged daughters and have been following education for nine years. Surprisingly, college is right around the corner.
But believe me, I’m no expert.
So I’m asking for your help. What are the issues that concern you? What are the resources you’ve found? What do you wish our local and national policy makers and legislators would do to improve the state of education for all students?
The other night my husband and I were walking our dog past a neighborhood Little League game. I stopped to chat and I became engrossed in a conversation about advanced learning and school communications. A teacher friend of mine, who’d been working all day and just wanted to watch the game, got up and left. I suddenly had an image of myself on a stage in a top hat and bowtie and my husband pulling me off with a cane.
Education matters, but sometimes the topic can be dry.
I promise to try not to have a stick up my ***, to keep this conversation lively and thought-provoking, and to recognize when a baseball game is just a baseball game.
I look forward to getting to know you.
Alison Krupnick is a former world-traveling diplomat, turned minivan-driving mom and writer. She chronicles this transformation in her book Ruminations from the Minivan, Musings from a World Grown Large, then Small. Her writing has been published in Harvard Review; Brain, Child; Seattle magazine and a variety of news and trade publications and literary journals and anthologies. You can find more of her education reporting on Crosscut.com and enjoy sweet and savory moments and recipes on her blog Slice of Mid-Life. Have an education question or suggestion? Let her know!