In life, we make choices individually and collectively. Our son chose to attend a big state university starting this fall.

I choose to acknowledge and thank all the caring parents, volunteers, assistants, counselors, coaches, teachers, principals and administrators at the Manoa Elementary, Kaimuki Middle and Roosevelt High Schools. Our son learned and became a confident young man attending these public schools.

As we raised our son, we encouraged him to persevere in all endeavors whether doing school work or participating in sports, to stay humble and to seek serenity and collective well being instead of individualistic gains. To instill these qualities in our son, we chose to send him to the public schools in Honolulu.

Students lineup before Roosevelt High School graduation ceremony. 30 may 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Graduates-to-be line up before the commencement ceremony begins at Roosevelt High School. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Of course, we are intimately aware that that there are many wonderful private schools in Honolulu. We have friends and colleagues who are extremely proud of sending their children to private schools. But for us, we wanted our son to have more of a “real world” experiences while growing up and studying.

By attending public schools, our son became friends with special education students by interacting with them in school while at the same time being friends with students in gifted and talented programs. When we gave a birthday party at home, our son shared laughter and talked stories with kids from the houseless (not homeless) families while he was just as comfortable mingling with the doctors’, engineers’, and lawyers’ kids and the kids from a broad spectrum of diverse socio-economic backgrounds.

We believe our son benefited by getting to know friends who are more representative of the type of people he will come across in life.

Too often, public schools, their administrators and their teachers are unfairly blamed for the shortcomings of our public school students in Hawaii. But those shortcomings aren’t limited to Hawaii. The same unfair blame game is routinely played throughout the United States (rightfully or wrongfully, and never mind the critical role the unions and the boards/departments of education play.)

I believe the public school critics are being too simplistic and fail to grasp the fundamental fact that public schools educate all students, whereas private schools can pick and choose, whether by test scores, financial means or both, who they want to accept and educate. By definition and by their deeds, private schools are exclusive, while their public counterparts are inclusive, both by mission and legal requirement.

We wanted our son to mature and learn in an inclusive environment even if it meant he needed to take more initiative to learn on his own and persevere, to embrace humility and to find serenity in genuine friendships with diverse students.

To challenge public school students at the highest level, states such as California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Texas have for decades educated their motivated students in “magnet” high schools.

Our son is a product of the public schools. But so are his father, his uncles and aunt, who are contributing to society as medical doctors, as an entrepreneur, a high school principal and a lawyer in communities across the nation.

I know that our son benefited by being in gifted and talented programs in elementary and middle schools and by taking honors and Advanced Placement courses at high school. But I wish our son also had the opportunities to challenge himself at the highest level as his father, uncles and aunt had done at a public high school in Chicago.

To challenge the public school students at the highest level, cities such as New York, San Francisco and Chicago and populous states such as California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Texas have for decades educated their motivated students in “magnet” high schools.

Hawaii should have joined the magnet school movement long ago — perhaps decades ago. Magnet high schools emphasize curricula such as science, technology, pre-engineering and math; performing arts and music; and/or college preparation. These public schools have challenged, nurtured and more than adequately served the needs of the inquisitive, academically inclined and artistically gifted students for generations.

But, better late than never: There would still be great benefit for the Board of Education, the Hawaii State Teachers Association, concerned teachers, administrators, principals, parents and politicians to act in concert and choose to have magnet high schools for the best interests of our students.

This is a no-brainer. We as a caring community want our committed and inclined students to maximize their potential by having the option of attending the more rigorous schools or schools that better cater to their academic, artistic or cultural needs.

Our son was able to realize his potential without that: He will begin studies this fall on a full ride scholarship as a National Merit Scholar at Texas A&M University in the Honors Engineering Program. Many other Hawaii students may be able to achieve similar success in the special academic environments that magnet schools provide. It’s time we allowed them to try.

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