Sometimes dinner is about something else

I thought I’d be writing today about heritage breeds, humane animal husbandry, and a wee bit of brining. I went to a press event last night on just those topics. It was well organized, informative, and delicious. And yet, my attention was split.

You see, I sat with people who know a lot about food and, in particular, a lot about the food world in San Francisco. They are plugged in and knowledgeable and interesting and reminded me that I don’t care about restaurant openings, which spaces are available, and who is thinking about going where. Believe me, I’ve tried to care. I just don’t.  I do, however, care about urban gardens. We all had a lot to say on the subject. It made for lively dinner conversation; things were going well.

And then the subject morphed to kids. And schools.

Some of them also send their children to private schools. One does so because the public school their child was assigned to was “in the ghetto.” I’m not even kidding. That is a quote. Where, may I ask, dear internets, is the “ghetto” in San Francisco? There are schools that aren’t great, to be sure. And there are projects. But where is the “ghetto”? Don’t tell me. I think it might be my neighborhood.

The public school assignment system in SF is insane. One person last night recounted his inability to see his child through the process, and instead just opted for the private school that accepted his child. The lottery system as it currently exists is daunting, bizarre, inscrutable, and opaque. It needs to be fixed. However, after some discussion, he recounted how, like me, he knows many people who saw it through and ended up with the schools they wanted.

I’ve done it on several school sites, I did it in a now long-shelved radio interview for “Philosophy Talk,” and now I’ll do it here. I’ll come out as pro-public schools. Rabidly so, one might say. I am a product of public schools. I believe strongly in their importance as the foundation of democracy. That’s right: the god damn foundation of democracy. I was pushed over the edge, however, by a friend years ago who said: “if a school isn’t good enough for your kid, why is is good enough for anyone else’s kid?”

Touché. Words to live by. Someone at dinner last night, someone I like and respect very much, someone I’ve always looked up to, to be honest, said “well, San Francisco schools are a lost cause.” She said it as one would say the sun rises in the east. As undebatable fact. As fixed and determined as the place of dry-farmed heirloom tomatoes in the average foodie’s wet dream. Internets, this person fights the fight against all kinds of food problems, all kinds of sustainability issues, all kinds of labor issues. But her local schools? She was willing to write them off.

It made me want to cry.

When asked,  I mentioned where my son goes to school. The table agreed, “that’s a great school!”

People, it’s a San Francisco public school. If they are a lost cause, how is one of them great? And it’s not one that’s great. It’s dozens. Dozens of them are amazing schools. But, it ends up, in some eyes they are a lost cause.

There are public schools in this country where I would not send my child, don’t get me wrong. Without a real depth of knowledge, I’m guessing those in Wasilla, Alaska might not be my cup of tea. And who knows what will happen as my son gets older? But I digress….

I’ve said it at dinner parties, I’ve said it on the radio, and I’ll say it here: If people were willing to put half the time, money, and energy into public schools that they do into private schools there would be no discussion of “lost causes” and “not good enough”. Public schools would be good enough for everyone. And then instead of elitist, classist, racist crap we’d have a real meritocracy and some shit would get done.

Yes, I realize this had very little to do with dinner. My apologies.