Do The Right Thing

Friday, September 12, 2008

Sandra Tsing Loh, author of Mother on Fire: A True Motherf%#$@ Story About Parenting!, talks about her experiences in the Los Angeles public school system - and why it's turned her into an advocate for public schools.

Event: At noon on Sunday, September 14th, Sandra Tsing Loh will be speaking at the Brooklyn Book Festival.


Sandra Tsing Loh

Comments [40]

Douglas Walker from Brooklyn, NY

boomer/consumer? not I ! But
re-tracing the spirit of that "gone"
era pains me as much as noting
what "my generation" has become.
(Al and Tipper Gore are Deadheads?
Bill and Hillary really want me to
never stop thinking about to-
morrow? Ouch!) I really didn't
care for Fleetwood Mac at all,
i flirted briefly with late 60's
Deadheaded-ness, but would in-
stead proudly tell fellow boomers
of having attended early concerts
by Philip Glass ('74) and Steve
Reich, et al, here in New York.
Standard responses were "Who?"
or "What?" Pop culture was the inevitable result of self-indulgent
boomer-ism, many of us were
bright enough and well-connected
enough to affect the blending of
these strains with mainstream U.S.
culture. And, hey, a lot of them
made a lot of money along the way,
as did many of their early heroes
and role models, from Paul McCart-
ney to Bob Dylan; the list is endless.
I would like to blame my fellow
boomers for the vapid, outsized
consumerism boosted throughout
the '90s by such pop-cultural touchstones as "Sex in the City",
etc. May I?

Sep. 12 2008 10:32 PM
M. Thomas from NJ

I agree that public education needs an overhaul. But should parents sacrifice their children to a cause? I watched my magnet school fall apart in Maryland, and my elementary school fall apart, as well, as flight happened. I was lucky to have received a decent public school education before that happened, but that is changing.

Now, I've moved to make sure my kids are in a fabulous public school. I was lucky and I could afford the high housing costs and the high property taxes. As a black woman, I think it is essential to make sure all children are not cheated out of the best education they can get. At the same time, I do stay involved in the public school system, and it is critical to work for change and for candidates who want to work on these issues. There is educational apartheid, and it is not just impacting poor black students. It also impacts poor Whites, etc. There has to be a federal mandate on educational quality and requirements and not just a push to test. There also needs to be accountability. That might even mean we need to think smaller schools, less tenure, etc. If teachers want to be treated as professionals, then they need to be a part of the revolution and not be afraid of breaking with the union.

Sep. 12 2008 12:27 PM
Nadia from Manhattan

If I'm not mistaken, Sebastian Rotella, the guest on your next segment, is a graduate of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. Just an interesting coincidence.

Sep. 12 2008 12:08 PM
John Q. from New Jersey

I worked in New Jersey public School system for 7 years and this is what I saw.

The Boomers raised their children with such a sense of narcissistic self-entitlement. Even though most students would do no better than "C" work, they all felt they were entitled to an "A".

If the child received a "C" the teacher was held accountable not the child. "D's" and "F's" are almost non-existent.

The level of dis-respect towards most teachers is disgraceful. Reprimanding a child is seldom worth the aggravation of dealing with an angry parent or a complicit administration.

In the end, there is no accountablility for any of these students of this generation.

Sep. 12 2008 12:07 PM
Jeffrey Slott from East Elmhurst

But I'm a boomer who never had any kids...
What do you think, Ms. Loh, that our generation was given a clean slate to start with, that the established interests that were around at the time we were coming into our own couldn't have had any influence on anybody's plans, positive or negative?
Of course, not every boomer was a hippie or dreamer; how absurd to even suggest such a thing. For the few of us that were, how much change could we have realistically pursued.
At least, some of us tried.
As Billy Joel sang, "We didn't start the fire".

Sep. 12 2008 12:03 PM

Speaking with people who admit students into colleges and universitiess that private school kids are not viewed with much cred.
a. students admitted from private schools do not do as well in college as public school conterparts
b.Many private school teachers can not pass the teacher certification tests required by many states (testeing = good?)
c. many teachers who teach in the private school take a much lower rate of pay ($$$ = good?)
d. parents/teachers believe their children to be behind the other children when they come from a private school to a public school

Sep. 12 2008 11:59 AM
Evin Watson

There are valid reasons to send your child to private school, but protecting the class size of public school is not one. The absence of productive involvement in the school system has a price that far out weighs the value of smaller class size

Sep. 12 2008 11:54 AM
dan from New York

I apologize if this sounds like a personal attack against the guest, but why can't Ms. Tsing Loh speak like an everyday person, instead of a judgmental, my-ideas-are-superior person. I'm especially put off when it seems like she's got something stuck in her throat, and is swallowing while she speaks. It's very distracting, and difficult to focus on what she is saying. I feel like I need to prepare to give her the heimlich manoeuvre.
I generally support her ideas and views, but cringe at listening to her speak.

Sep. 12 2008 11:52 AM
Evin Watson

This relates to a caller Brian had last week or the week before who admitted to the fear soccer moms claim about voting for Obama. Progressive baby boomers are willing to donate to public institutions, but when it comes to making a personal commitment, they choose to hedge their bets and follow in line with the more conservative, fear driven mentality.

Sep. 12 2008 11:49 AM
Michael from NYC

The dilemma is wether to how much does the voters need to get to know the candidates personal sides. As voters whom wants to get to know them, parenting is a part of who they are. So either the media/people should be going all out on how much their kids join the military, go to private school, doesn't have a "choice" on abortion, or if their kids gets around.

All out or nothing people!

Personally I choose nothing as we should focus on policy and not gossip, where it will end up, as always.

More issues, less gossip.

Sep. 12 2008 11:48 AM
Paul from Queens

What is the point of pitting one generation against another? Boomers - and I'm in the first "wave," having been born in 1946, aren't a monolithic generation. Each of us is an individual. Not all boomers have become mass consumers. Anyway, what about the 20 and 30 somthings - I guess that they don't consume at all. Blaming the school problems on boomers - the oldest of whom just turn 25 in 1971 - is a bit far fetched. The administrators at the time, and social movements at the time, and a lot of other issues played into bussing and other school-related decisions, such as decentralizatino in NYC. Sarah is just another hip-sounding know it all.

Sep. 12 2008 11:47 AM
Carol from Garrison NY

I thought discussion of candidates' children was off limits according to McCain - or is it just the children of Republicans about whom we cannot talk?
I wish that private schools did not exist so that the powerful parent lobby were all concentrated on public schools. But while there's a choice - I think that's personal.
And just look how S. Palin's children turned out - one straight into the army and the other with child and about to be married at 17. What happened to college prospects. Are these good role models for our children?

Sep. 12 2008 11:46 AM
John from Washington, DC

I went to the same private school in Washington that Chelsea Clinton attended. Sen. Clinton and others say that she couldn't have had a normal education and been left alone in a public school. What's the difference? Plenty of people come in and out of public and private schools. Security at public schools is probably tighter. If they need true privacy and seclusion public figures would have their children tutored alone.

Sep. 12 2008 11:46 AM
chris_52 from nyc

I hate to say this, but don't you think the rush to support school choice in some ways exacertbate's this situation? It siphons off the best students, be it to private or public schools, leaving the lesser students behind. My girls are in private school (scholarship) because I am wary of the quality of my local public schools (nyc). That said, my mother and her 3 sisters received superb educations in the NYC public system. I'd like to see a general effort to improve the public school system as a whole. Choice, charters and the rest are just a distraction fostered because it easier that tackling education for everyone.

Sep. 12 2008 11:44 AM
DaveA from NYC

Our age group has it's own nomenclature, it's not late boomers, it's not Gen PreX
We are known as the SoftBaked Cookie Generation.
Our motto is, you can put us back in the oven (and burn us to a crisp,) but we'll never be really done.

Sep. 12 2008 11:44 AM
Leo Queens from Queens

It's great for your guest to clearly state that there are TWO DISTINCT public school systems in the City. It is a disgrace that people pay the same taxes (based on their income) and that certain schools are setup for certain people so their kids get a better education and the rest get sub-standard 'education' where they are trained to take tests that have nothing with preparation for college or the working world

Sep. 12 2008 11:44 AM
anon from Long Island

Did she describe how poor the families at her school are by saying that her daughter is the only blonde kid in the class? That's what I think I heard and I hope I'm wrong.

Sep. 12 2008 11:44 AM
Amanda Gulla from Chelsea

Okay, I understand bashing the self-absorbed boomers, but why are you now bashing public school teachers? Are you kidding me about the Cancun vacation pictures? You're talking about people who have had to earn at least a Masters degree with continuing professional development who earn working class wages. And do you know what it means that the kids don't have a notebook? It means that most teachers I know buy books and materials out of their meager paychecks, maxing out their credit cards at Staples and Barnes and Nobles to make up for the shortfall. It is really sickening the way teachers are demonized and treated like servants.

Sep. 12 2008 11:43 AM

The public schools in this country are garbage. They need to be under a federal umbrella that raises the bar of education to not only compete with the rest of the world (which at the present moment they do not!) but to succeed in graduating children that will forge a path of excellence in intelligence.

Sep. 12 2008 11:41 AM
SuzanneNYC from Upper West Side

Is this a joke? This conversation is totally divorced from reality. What about vouchers!?! Republicans have been pushing this for years. What does that do to public education? And this whole riff on Boomers causing all this?? Most of the boomers are products of public education in the 50s. Many of my friends did not go into lucrative careers. The people you seem to be describing are products of the Reagan years -- when selfishness came back in vogue. I used to enjoy Sarah Tsing Loh's commentaries -- she's lost all credibility with this.

Sep. 12 2008 11:41 AM
ted from nyc

now now, sarah.

yikes you always vote democratic?

shame on you.

as a boomer I vote for the better candidate.

how closed minded of you.


Sep. 12 2008 11:40 AM
a woman from manhattan

Shouldn't you be happy when people send their kids to private school and leave more seats open for public school people ,not to mention less students for the teachers to be overwhelmed with?

If you can afford private school, it's your duty to free up the places in public school!
It's not as if these parents don't still pay taxes, is it?

Sep. 12 2008 11:40 AM
Debbie from NYC

McCain is the other PRESIDENTIAL candidate, and his kids all go to private school!!! WHY do you not mention this??

I went to private school in jr. high and high school, hated it, and am a BIG public school proponent. But I have learned that we can't criticize people's choice for their children.

Also, Brian, you should know that "notoriety" is not the same as 'fame," which I'm sure you meant about Obama and Michael Jordan!

Sep. 12 2008 11:40 AM
JJ from nyc

love it - all these PC folks bashing all the 'boomers' - they are all the same right?!

Sep. 12 2008 11:40 AM
C. Fernandez from Westfield, NJ

I agree with the Prisoner's Dilemma. The boomers HAD to succumb putting their kids in private school.

The problem is that there wasn't enough liberal Boomers to make sure property taxes were not directly linked to school funding.

It should be against the law for one public high school to have a water polo swimming pool while another public high school can't even afford books.

Sep. 12 2008 11:40 AM
Lindsay from Manhattan

Gerge W. sent his twins to Austin High School in Austin, TX, one of his only redeeming qualities is that he and Laura value the power of public schooling.

Sep. 12 2008 11:40 AM
Snoop from Brooklyn

More seriously:

Actually, one of the biggest crimes of the boomer generation and their greatest generation enablers in the school administrations, was the destruction of standards as racist, classist, and sexist.

For instance:

Open enrollment absolutely destroyed the CUNY system, turning it from the "Harvard of the Poor" to just poor. It still hasn't recovered, destroying a huge, affordable, quality option for NYC students.

Sep. 12 2008 11:37 AM
Richard from Brooklyn

Do I not help the public system keep class sizes lower by choosing private school?

If Obama sent his kids to a public school, would it not be disruptive for all involved? (Assuming the private school is a smaller enterprise and can manage 'special' students.)

Sep. 12 2008 11:37 AM
JG from NYC

I am a boomer and went to the U of C lab schools - got a great education, as I discovered later. Much of what the first commenter says is more or less true, although the school has always, even with all its diversity, been well isolated from the poor. But it is too simplistic too just draw a bright line between public school and private school and condemn, say, Obama, for sending his kids to the Lab School because it is private. We need to get serious about improving public education, no matter where our own kids go. It is interesting that the current head of public education in Chicago, Arne Duncan, is himself a Lab School grad.

Sep. 12 2008 11:36 AM

Yes! I agree with Ms. Loh (of whom I've been a fan for many years) regarding her comments about the Boomers. They were incredibly transformative, for better and sometimes for worse, for our cultural and social progress in this country. However I feel something got lost in the 80s and it became all about money and status for many of them. Had this passion continued, I don't think we would be in the social and political messes we are now. I'm also an (aging) gen-xer, younger than Ms. Loh, but I feel in some ways, that many Boomers (not all) betrayed the rest of us, selling out ideals for Bobo consumerism when they had the power to do much more.

Sep. 12 2008 11:36 AM
KC from NYC

It is nice to hear some boomer bashing. The hypocrisy makes your head spin. Have you seen those Ameritrade ads? Dear lord. "You're still cool! You surf at age 65! Invest with us, and keep your kids in debt until the end of time! 'Groovy', dude."

Sep. 12 2008 11:34 AM
Jon from West Village

Go, Sandra go!

I just had this ahem, conversation, with my father where I basically accused the entire boomer generation for every contemporary problem our country faces. And most importantly for the desperate state of morality in our country. I used the same words. "All of this happened on YOUR WATCH".

Boomers are a bunch of babies who have a terminal disease called, 'entitlement'.

I ended breathless adding the dig that his granddaughters, my children, will be nothing but janitors cleaning up his and his friends' disasters.

I didn't get a birthday card.

But I bet I'll get a call asking for money this holiday season ;-).

Boomers should be exterminated.

Sep. 12 2008 11:34 AM
Robert from NYC

Goodness just these few minutes listening to her I need a shrink! Phew!

Sep. 12 2008 11:31 AM
Owen from Rochester

The public schools situation is kind of a classic prisoner's dilemma: you can't blame any individual family for choosing to send their kids to best school possible which is usually private; but at the same time, these millions of individual decisions add up to a terrible situation for society as a whole.

Jonathan Kozol's essential argument is right: we need a wholesale shift in public perception until the majority of parents see sending their kids to public school as as a responsibility we all need to share if our country's education system isn't going to disintegrate completely.

Sep. 12 2008 11:31 AM
A.R. from Manhattan

really really annoying

Sep. 12 2008 11:30 AM
He Liang from Woodside

If, as Loh states in her blog post for the NYT, "the brave little public schools in [Obama's] ZIP code seem to be flailing," then why should two parents with the means to do otherwise send their children to an objectively inferior school and risk "under-educating" them?

Would the children's contribution to that public school offset the cost to the child's own educational development?

Would the political/ideological points justify the choice?

If the answer is "yes" to either question, then why not send the children of Loh and Obama to the worst performing schools in their respective metropolitan areas?

Sep. 12 2008 11:29 AM
Robert from NYC

Do you really think Starbucks looks like a normal place? YIKES!!! You do need a shrink.

Sep. 12 2008 11:28 AM
Snoop from Brooklyn

YES! YES! Bash insufferably self indulgent boomers! Go go go go!!!


Sep. 12 2008 11:28 AM
KC from NYC

I haven't read her NYT piece, but she's got a point about Obama: unlike him, Bush sent his daughters to public school, and Bush has been great for education...


Sep. 12 2008 11:26 AM

Sent the following to NYT in response to Loh's recent column. I hope you will challenge her on these claims if she repeats them!

The University of Chicago Laboratory Schools are among the finest private schools in the country. While tuition is high, children of a University employee (like Mr & Mrs Obama) are eligible to attend at a half tuition rate; children of parents who both work for the University attend essentially for free. I imagine most parents would think it crazy to turn down an opportunity to send their children to such a school at so large a discount.

Compared to other private schools of its caliber (and charging similar tuition) the Lab Schools are very diverse, racially, socially and economically. Many students attend on scholarships, and a very large number are children of University employees: from professors to nurses, administrators to maintenance staff. The Lab Schools are hardly a exclusive bastion of the rich and privileged.

Finally, the Lab Schools were *founded* by John Dewey and continue to be guided by his philosophy of education. This fact is prominently mentioned on the Schools' website. It is simply false to claim that the Schools spout "ridiculous John Dewey nonsense about developing character while, of course, isolating your children from the poor".

Sep. 12 2008 10:53 AM

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