Reactions to editor’s column on local schools

“It’s too bad, really. A neighborhood school would be great in Chestnut Hill and in every Philadelphia neighborhood. It would be good not only for anxious parents, but for their children, too.” (April 19, Pete Mazzaccaro, Editor, Chestnut Hill Local.)

I believe John Story Jenks is a great neighborhood school, and so I disagree with Mr. Mazzaccaro’s statement. However, I do agree with the sentiment in the quote in that there is anxiety among all parents with school-aged children about how and where we educate our kids.

For those that select to live in the city of Philadelphia (and in 2010 we saw our first population increase in 50 years), there are an array of excellent public, private and parochial choices, of which each family decides for themselves what is best for their kids and their learning needs.

In speaking with my peer group, the anxiety breaks down in two ways:

1. Many families choose a private or parochial school because it is a family tradition or cultural belief, but worry that it may lack real world diversity, and some are concerned about financing what could be $150,000 in tuition over 12 years because they have lost faith in the quality of the public schools.

2. Many public school parents express anxiety around safety, challenging curriculum, music, art, and athletics resources, computer training and functional libraries.

After four years of watching our daughters (and their classmates) mature and blossom in an atmosphere that is nurturing and intellectually alive, my wife and I can only conclude that we are blessed in Chestnut Hill to have a great neighborhood school in John Story Jenks.

It may not have the resources of some private schools I have seen, but Jenks has diverse  and dedicated students, creative and caring teachers, strong leadership and committed parents. Our children have classmates that are curious, engaged and respectful. For many Jenks families, it is their first choice, not last resort. We have observed with pride as classmates move on to Masterman, Central, CAPA, and Science Learning Academy on their road to some of the most elite colleges and universities in the nation.

When I count the many reasons, I am thankful for living in Chestnut Hill, walking my children to a great neighborhood school, and watching them grow up with classmates as neighbors, is at the top of the list.

Tony Sorrentino
Vice President
Friends of J.S. Jenks

I worry that the concept of the “Neighborhood School,” is in danger of acquiring the rhetorical looseness of the phrases “Family Values” and “Main Street,” bandied about in election years. The first, just like the second two, can mean so many different things to so many people and can be shorthand for inchoate concerns about race and class, in addition to expressing nostalgia for our childhood.

The longing for a time or a place in which every kid on the block goes to the same school is akin to longing to live in the TV neighborhoods of Dennis the Menace or Leave it to Beaver.

This is disingenuous thinking considering where we live: a wealthy district in a major U.S. city. We have so many appealing schools in the immediate surrounding area of Chestnut Hill, and, even more to the point, there are many parents who are able to pay for private or parochial school and choose to do so.

If I wanted to be in a place where every kid in our neighborhood went to the same school, I would have stayed in the small Southern town where we lived before Philadelphia, where there really was only one school. I feel lucky to suffer from all the choices a large city offers.

The unachievable nature of the neighborhood school ideal bemoaned by the editor, belies the reality in this neighborhood. You can use our neighborhood public school, Jenks, as we and many other Chestnut Hill parents have and do. We personally enjoyed our three-minute walking commute, caring teachers, rigorous academics, wonderful art and music, and after-school time on the beautiful, community-built playground with other kids and parents, many of whom remain friends and colleagues to this day.

I also enjoyed expanding my notion of neighborhood to one of school community, as my child made many friends that lived in other neighborhoods, as did many of the active parents I worked with on the Home and School Association.

It is a terrible thing that not every neighborhood is blessed with the educational choices that we have, the total system is deeply flawed, yet if you like you can pursue a tangible version of the dream right here.

Eden Kainer
Former Jenks parent
and co-president of
J.S. Jenks Home and School Association.

My husband and I chose buy a home in Chestnut Hill so we could enjoy the very reality Mr. Mazzaccaro seems to think is an impossible dream. (“Regrettably, it seems foolish to even wish for a reality in which kids could go to their own neighborhood schools, to walk to school and play with their neighbors. It’s an amenity that few in all of Philadelphia – Chestnut Hill included – can enjoy.” April 19)

While we love Chestnut Hill’s shopping and restaurants, its proximity to Fairmount Park and the Wissahickon trails, its convenience to Center City via public transportation, and its relative quiet and safety, our family is here because of the J.S. Jenks School.

This is our reality: My 2nd grade son loves his teachers and his school and his friends. He is learning and happy, and he crosses one residential street on our one-block walk to school. We fully expect our reality to be the same when our daughter starts kindergarten at Jenks next year.  We had the luxury of choice, and we chose public school education.

Do we ever question our choice?  Do we ever worry about the endless budget cuts?  Of course.  Every family weighs the pros and cons of each option (and there are many wonderful options) and makes their school decision with a leap of faith, not knowing exactly how it will unfold for their particular child.  While it is an unfortunate truth that many neighborhoods in Philadelphia do not have viable neighborhood schools, J.S.Jenks is one of the most overlooked amenities Chestnut Hill offers its residents.

Renee S. Warnick
Chestnut Hill

Shocked by cartoon version of Adam Smith

It was with a profound feeling of astonishment that I read Lou Mancinelli’s article “Wyndmoor Illustrator Updates ‘Bible of Capitalism,'” which appeared in the Local of April 26.

The illustrator, we are told, not only will “simplify the motifs presented in Adam Smith’s ‘The Wealth of Nations'”, but will also “reintroduce them in a playful manner” with  “drawings set across the page much like a comic strip.” Moreover, the illustrator is quoted as saying “you get those concepts while you’re having fun.” And the work we learn is targeted for young people. This is absolutely incredible.

Every year, throughout this country in today’s world of globalized capitalism, high school and college students learn in Economics 101 Smith’s unquestionable orthodoxy “it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, or the baker, that we expect our dinner … but from  their regard to their own self-interest.”

Humans, according to Smith, are trans-historically, trans-culturally, by nature, selfish beings, rational choice calculators, self-interest maximizers.

It follows, therefore, that  altruism, benevolence, solidarity are empty terms – mere illusions. The real concern for the human is not “you,” “us” or “them” but me, across time, across culture.

Who will tell the young, cognitive immature reader of the Bible of Capitalism, soon presented  in a comic strip form, that Adam Smith’s words, taken as self-evident universals, are nothing more than notions conceptualized by an organic intellectual to justify, to naturalize, the interests of an emerging economic class?

Who will tell the young reader of the Bible of Capitalism to read also Polanyi’s work on the genesis and development of the disembeded system of material conditions of existence we in the West have given the name of capitalism?

If no one does it, then education is actually manipulation.

Diamantino P. Machado
Chestnut Hill