Why I Wish I Went to Alameda High
Recent graduate reflects on his private education
I can count the number of friends that I have in Alameda on one hand. This is especially astonishing given the fact that I was born in Alameda and have lived there for 18 years. I went home to Marina Village every day, but something was missing. I frequented Park Street, played soccer at Alameda Point, and attended the Fourth of July parade annually, yet I never felt like part of the community. I felt this way because of my education.
Having attended independent schools in Berkeley and Oakland my whole life, I had limited exposure to the Alameda community. None of my classmates lived in Alameda, so I spent a lot of my social time off the Island. I lacked a sort of continuity of community between school and home.
In the Bay Area, it is common for concerned parents to shy away from the increasingly underfunded public school system. My parents had me attend independent schools because, in this day and age education is more important than ever, and they feared I wouldn’t get one. I don’t resent their decision, nor am I unappreciative of the education that I’ve gotten from these schools. I am happy with where I am in my life and know that it is largely due to my academic background that I am here. But is getting to college the sole purpose?
College matriculation is certainly an important facet of high school, but so are the experiences. By going to a small independent high school in Oakland, what did I miss? How important is the concept of community in one’s education? Although these questions may seem of concern to few, they should in fact concern anyone who cares about education.
Being a part of one’s community is becoming progressively rare. In the novel Bowling Alone, Robert D. Putnam analyzes vast data and asserts that Americans are becoming increasingly disconnected from one another and that social structures are disintegrating. His research is compelling and I hate to think that I am a part of this social demise.
Maybe one way to save our deteriorating social structures is to keep our youth in public schools. Putnam writes about the decline in social organizations such as PTAs, bowling leagues, and other clubs across America. By attending public school, students are part of their hometown communities; they can learn about these clubs and even form some of their own.
Going to independent schools separated me from the Alameda community, and in doing so I feel that it has taken from my personal development as a community member. It is true that independent schools establish their own communities, but these are generally smaller and less diverse than those formed in public schools.
Requiring an application process for admission to an independent school inevitably creates communities that are false-representations of the real world, and in my case of Alameda. Some anxious parents who seek only academic success for their children might disagree with me by saying that I am missing the point
of school by emphasizing community, but they fail to realize that a large part of education is learning how to become part of a community and how to live responsibly within it.
John Dewey, one of the most significant educational thinkers of the 20th century, describes school, in his novel The School and Society as "an embryonic community life with types of occupations that reflect the life of the larger society. When the school introduces and trains each child of society into membership within such a little community, we shall have the deepest and best guarantee of a larger society which is worthy, lovely and harmonious."
Public schools have the potential to fulfill Dewey’s vision because they are rooted in students’ immediate communities. Independent schools, on the other hand, remain separated. I use my experiences to demonstrate how this view is true; however, some may argue that I didn’t try hard enough to connect with the Alameda community.
Not attending school in Alameda doesn’t preclude one from getting involved in his or her community. I remember, however, the difficulties of connecting with youth my age. I spent several years playing recreational soccer with Alameda Soccer Club.
Whenever I went to practice, I noticed how all the kids were buddies with one another because they went to school together. No one on the team understood how I lived in Alameda but attended school in Berkeley. I don’t keep in touch or even remember any of the kids I played soccer with, but maybe I would if I went to school with them.
Future students and parents of those students must ask themselves what they desire out of education; I for one would have liked to be a Hornet.
Will Lowery is a freshman at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service and an Alameda native.