I'm not one of those parents who had her child on a waiting list for the best preschools in our neighborhood since he was a fetus. I'm not one of the parents who attended 15 preschool open houses and then sat at home whipping out spread sheets of pros & cons of each school (I was, however, the friend of a parent who did that & I totally sponged off of her research when starting to look for a preschool for Ethan in Los Angeles. Awesome). I'm not a parent whose, up to this point, put a super huge ton of thought into the "public" versus "private" debate about school. But now? I am kicking all that casual "whatever; it will all work out fiiiiiiine" attitude to the curb and fretting about kindergarten until it has me rocking back and forth in the corner, chewing on my own shoulder.
As a product of private schools and a teacher in both the public and private systems, I have often found myself sharing my perspective with other parents. My perspective as someone who's not really been there yet as a parent, but as a teacher. Countless times I have said, "really, your child will get out of a public education what he/she puts into it and in the long run, so long as you're involved and enthusiastic about your child's education, chances are, public or private? It's going to be fine." And as a teacher, I have always believed that. I taught in exclusive snooty private schools as well as public schools fraught with all kinds of budgetary issues and at-risk kids.
Of course there was a shinier polish on the private school--new building, new computers, etc. But the kids still seemed to fail or succeed based on the involvement and support of their parents. Of course, "succeed" was sort of a relative term, given that *some* parent involvement involved bullying either myself or the dean of students to change a grade to demonstrate a greater level of success than had been actually achieved, so you know, sometimes parental involvement isn't such a super thing. Like the time the dean of students told me I had to "adjust" a student's grade up from a zero after he simply printed out a page from sparknotes.com, advertisements, banners and all, and handed it in as his assignment, because I hadn't explicitly stated in my written instructions of the home work assignment that the work handed in had to be original student work. Those students whose parents weren't barging into offices and demanding A's for their kids had other issues; I had students with such anxiety problems due to the rigor of the curriculum that they had ulcers, missed school, were hospitalized. I had students stressing out that we were required to grade their work so unforgivingly that they were working harder than kids at other schools, but getting lower grades for it, thereby seeing their lower achieving counterparts in other schools getting acceptance letters from the Ivy Leagues when they weren't. I always seriously questioned whether I wanted to put my child in a learning environment like that, regardless of the prestige or the relative *quality* of the education.
I may or may not make friends with saying this, but the standardized testing that goes on in public schools now? Is bullshit. Not only does it speak to only one method of student assessment, it is the least authentic form of assessment available to educators and turns our students into robotic memorizers, not critical or creative thinkers. When I started teaching, I used rubrics, portfolios, project-based assessments that allowed each student to tap into their own strengths to demonstrate the knowledge they'd gleaned from a certain unit of study. By the time I left teaching, 11 years later, several years into NCLB, I was slapping last year's state assessment test up on an overhead projector and going over which answer was correct for each question. Because that's what I was told to do; that's what education in the school I taught for had become, district-wide, in one of the largest, most affluent districts in the country. There's not enough money in the state's education budget to compel me to go back to teaching kids to take a test. Watching them squirm uncomfortably in their seats, eye-lids drooping as they try to pick the right multiple choice letter to correspond with the question lit up on the overhead projector in front of the class, where once the room was full of kids working in groups, making posters, planning presentations, searching the room for examples of various literary devices, acting out Shakespeare? It's depressing beyond words. I no longer know if I believe my own shpiel about it all being good as long as you're an active and supportive parent.
I realize that my experiences as a teacher in the secondary level isn't really all that helpful when making decisions about where to send my child to kindergarten.
But as Ethan chugs along in his last year of preschool, Husband and I are beginning to discuss and consider our options. And by "discuss and consider" I mean Husband is listening patiently and nodding as his slightly insane wife rants and raves about how the street we live on is not in the same district with every other street in a 10 block radius and that means Ethan doesn't get to go to the super awesome elementary school, but the one that's considered somewhat less awesome by California standards (which I say because California is NOT exactly a shining star in terms of the national average) and that from what I've seen on their school web-page, our kid is going to kindergarten so he can copy over vocabulary words and bring worksheets home for homework and zOMG, is there going to be ANY art, music, physical education, recess?!!! Obviously I have to make a time to go in to the neighborhood public school and observe the sense of community and the academic style of some of the kindergarten teacher before I solidify an impression of the place, but the idea of my kid being turned into Rote-y McRote Memorizestein makes me want to immediately order a shit ton of homeschooling supplies and go live on a farm somewhere. Which? I know works beautifully for some people, and I admire them for it tremendously, and it might seem natural because I'm a teacher by profession.
But. For me?
Just no. For a bajillion reasons.
But what to do? Not only have I spent years p'shawing the idea of private education for my child, but we live in an area where a private school is going to run you about the same as a year of college. So it's kind of like sending your kid to college (albeit not an Ivy league) for 12 years BEFORE college. And while it may be do-able, if we never get new cars, or go on a vacation for the next 12 years or stop eating any and all organic, grass-fed, free-range foods and subsist entirely on canned tuna and ramen, it's just not something we really truly want for our family at that kind of expense. Half the joy of childhood is the experience that comes from travel and experiences outside of school, and most of the education our child will get about his own well-being and a healthy lifestyle will come from seeing how we eat, what we eat, our participation in shopping at local farmer's markets or CSAs. Giving all of that up to pay for private education just really isn't a viable option as far as I'm concerned. (plus, mama needs new shoes).
But how to keep Ethan from ending up in a desk, in a row, a work sheet in front of his face and his love of learning floating up and away into the ether, never to be seen again after preschool?
If you have any thoughts on the subject, or any advice for how you've manage to keep your child's love of learning alive in an educational environment that seems determined to grind it into the ground, I'd love to hear it. I'll be over in the corner, chewing on my shoulder.
*I really want to clarify that I KNOW there are a ton of teachers out there in the public system who are heroes striving to provide an education that encourages a child love of learning; there are teachers out there busting their asses every day to make sure their students pass those inane tests while at the same time ensuring that they are always inquisitive, always curious and critical thinkers and not just #2 pencil-little-oval-filling API scores. And I KNOW there are teachers in college prep private schools who concern themselves with the well-being of the whole child, not just the grades and fierce competition; there are teachers who risk their jobs to give kids a bit of a break when they see that they are being held to unrealistic standards and see that one more 10 page paper is going to push that sophomore over the edge. My intention in this post isn't to disparage the profession of teaching at ALL (it is, after all, my former profession and one that I--at least for the most part--adored--I know there are amazing heroes out there who give of themselves without the expectation of thanks and who love the children that come through their rooms each year). My complaint isn't with teachers, but with the systems. My intention in this post is just to express my own frustration at being on the other side of this equation for the first time--losing that sense of control over who is caring for & teaching my child, and how, and wondering how big of a role I can play in this process is a making me a bit twitchy. A bit.