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Ducey

Dear Governor Ducey,

Erik and I took our kids, Max and Zoe, skiing on Sunday. We also took Max’s two friends with us and then called it his birthday party. There is nothing worse than a birthday in early January. Everyone is done having fun after the holidays. No one wants to buy anymore Legos. We also said his present would be a new bike, which he would get when the snow stopped. One day. Poor Max. But also, lucky Max because he has these two great friends who go a lot of places with us. I used to take Zoe’s friends everywhere too. The spring of 2015, we ice-skated every Friday from 12:30 to 2—the only public skate at Jay Lively that wasn’t swarmed with hand-holding teenagers. Now, Max has chess on Fridays and Zoe has school until 2:20 p.m., so there is very little ice-skating but there is now a chance to ski.

Taking four kids skiing seemed a little daunting. So many boot buckles to buckle and so many ways to end the afternoon at the hospital. But these three boys, at varying skills and ability, were able to form enough of a pack plan. At first I skied the easy route with them. Then the hard route. Then I sent Zoe to ski with them. Then, by afternoon, they were on their own. I only had to yell at them a couple of times to tell them they’d had enough sugary drinks and that we were going on one more run before lunch.

These boys mean so much to me. When they are together, I don’t really see them as separate entities. I don’t think of my son and his friends. Rather, I think of them as “the boys” and treat them accordingly. When I tell the boys to make sure their dishes have been placed in the dishwasher or that there’s no more TV, for real this time, I feel like the parents have my back. There’s a philosophy among some parents that says, “If you have my kid, your rules rule.”

Most parents, I’m not sure share this point of view. So I don’t take their kids everywhere. But the group I took ice-skating and the group I took skiing live in my heart and, at least while I have them, they are mine and my regular kids are not extra or special.

One reason I have a hard time with charter schools or even with programs that separate the “high achievers” from the rest of the kids is the “my kid, me first” philosophy behind it. It’s great to advocate for kids, but why do people advocate only for their own kid? We all have to live with the kids. We all have to live with these kids’ life choices when they grow up, either luxuriating in their we-saved-the-planet hammocks or you-let-the-planet-go-brown-why-should-we-have-to-fix-it bunkers. In the future, we all have to live under their authority when we are old and decrepit. As a group, as a generation, they’ll make decisions. Why should we pull our individual kids out of the group and make sure they get better chances than the people around them?

I heard recently from someone whose kid was told “they weren’t a good fit” for the charter school to which they’d applied, even though the charters are supposed to be open for everyone, equally. On the flip side, I’ve heard some public school elementariness are starting “high achievement” programs for the high achieving students. The pressure to make these programs comes from the pressure of these charter schools. The charters want the high achievers. The public schools need them. But the public school needs them to be in all the classes with all the students. A rising tide to raise all boats.

If you think raising your own precious baby boat while leaving all other boats behind, through whatever crane-persuasion you have with charters and high performing programs, is a strategy for a good future, then the future you envision will be a lot of sunk boats. But if you look around to see all the boats in a big ocean and can add a little water so they all rise up, your little personal precious boat gets raised up too. Like when one of us was left behind on the chairlift, we didn’t all jump off and race down the mountain without him. Instead, we waited for him to ski off the lift. Then we pointed our skis downhill and skied as best we knew how, together.

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Nicole Walker is a professor at Northern Arizona University, and is the author of Quench Your Thirst with Salt and a collection of poems, This Noisy Egg. She edited, with Margot Singer, Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction, and is the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment from the Arts. The thoughts expressed here are hers alone and not necessarily those of her employer. For more letters, visit www.nikwalk.blogspot.com

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