It seems to me lately that nothing forces a person to go nose to nose with the woman in the mirror quite like the gut-wrenching process of … choosing a kindergarten. Maybe it’s because I have one too many degrees in education, but this noise is difficult.

It’s difficult for lots of reasons, but they all pretty much come down to the idea that the most powerful thing schools do is replicate culture, and by this I mean that far more enduringly than letters or numbers schools teach kids how to expect the world to treat them. Public education as the great social leveller, separate but equal: hogwash. Just like you, I was born into a gender, a class, a race, all of which shaped how each of us learned to expect the world to react to us and to our efforts. How I choose to educate my daughter will help create the narrative she will eventually accept, reject, or modify. It’s as complicated and as simple as it sounds.

We are leery of sending her to the public school down the street, which is on every academic watch list there is. I know enough to know this does not mean it’s a dreadful place full of lousy teachers (in fact, sometimes quite the opposite), but I also know that the atmosphere in such environments tends to be tense and watchful. This school is also high minority and low SES, which in theory is, if anything, what I want my white, middle-class daughter to experience, but in practical terms I have to face the difficult truth that perhaps it … isn’t.

Of course, in San Diego, there is also the neverending budget crisis. One school will lose its entire 6-person special education staff. Nurses and school counselors are already packing up their offices. Physical education will be taught once a week for 30 minutes. And these are just the schools I’ve toured. We’ve applied to magnets and charter schools, but they are impacted by the budget crash, too, of course. Charters in particular can be more creative with their budgets than the other options can be, but a dollar will only divide so many ways, no matter how imaginatively you dice and slice.

Then, of course, there is private school. We’re sticking with our conviction — so far — to limit Anna’s private school time to her preschool year. The soft, organic, developmental environment in which she is absolutely flourishing is intoxicating. I still mean it when I say this, however: Waldorf prepares kids for the world as they want it to be, not so much for the world as it is. It’s liberal and accepting and globally inclined, but make no mistake, it is a very privileged environment, preparing kids to be the privileged adults of their generation. They’ll just make better choices when they get there (I hope).

There’s this little Catholic school down the street. Walking distance. It’s friendly and small and completely undistinguished. On the private school continuum it’s cheap, but not something we would prefer to budget for anyway. We’re Christian, and as such we wouldn’t feel completely out of place,but we feel strongly that dogma and education should only travel together so far. So … how far are we willing to go down this path? How honest are we being with ourselves?

Homeschooling? HELL NO.

My mind keeps reeling with the numbers … she’ll spend a minimum of 35 hours a week in whatever place this is. That will, effectively, be much more influential than the time she spends with us. More than when she went to daycare, or had a nanny; now she is beginning to see the world for what it is, not just a series of warm/cold/scary/comforting responses to her immediate needs. School will help her learn what succeeds, what hurts, what matters.

It will help guide her as she moves into the world, as she makes her way — and this is the simple and excruciating truth of it — away from me.

Published in: on February 11, 2011 at 12:53 PM  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] cache. I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it here: the core of the public vs. private debate isn’t driven by […]

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