Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Help in the Wrestling Pit

Here's an email from my friend Kelly, posted here with her permission as a "guest blogger", in response to my public vs. private school post below. Isn't it great to have such wonderful friends? When she gives in and starts a blog of her own, and becomes famous and all that, remember you read about her here first.

"I think we expect an awful lot of ourselves. Fact is, I KNOW I overthink the hell out of every decision I make. The kids are going to remember the play doh and the coloring you do with them. They will remember frisbees thrown and fish caught. They will not remember how many hours you spent beating yourself with wet noodles over the relative value of private vs. public education. You feel like you are quitting because you are making a decision about money. Perhaps if you changed your point of view to the other side of the river and looked back over it would help.

On the public side of the river there is a check for 20K, arguably more interesting kids, probably more diversity, your kids suddenly have the best study skills and attention in the class, they will have the benefits of the top 10% rule (or 7 or whatever), you will feel good about actually getting some value out of the property taxes you pay. (tuition plus property tax is a more accurate description of the cost of private school). And, your kids are well travelled and get to enjoy a new enrichment activity like tuba, or whatever.

Now look back over the river. It is safe. It is very costly and it is stressing your sweet self out completely. It has you wondering if you are a good mom. It has you giving up every extra bit of what you earn.

All of a sudden I want to go tour my local public school. You wouldn't even be considering this if it wasn't a perfectly good choice. You'll probably end up being one of those public school champions who reinvigorate the whole school. Go for it!!!"

Thanks Kelly.


Anwyn said...

Well, "you wouldn't be considering this if it weren't a perfectly good choice." Maybe that's true, but if it were me, the stress would come from not being able to equally evaluate the public choice. When I looked at schools for my little bean, I called the neighborhood public school and asked if I could observe in class. The answer was no. How can I send my son somewhere all day every day where they won't even let me see the workings of his day and the behavior of the adult who would have immediate charge of him? Ans: I can't. The Montessoris all let me sit in the classroom for 20 minutes and see everything I wanted. (I didn't ultimately choose one of them, however, though his preschool was a Montessori model.) "You wouldn't consider it unless it was a good choice," if it is true, is a good point, but for me it's emphatically not true. The public schools have no incentive to let me see what they do and can't be bothered, in case I want to bring up a concern that they don't want to deal with.

Golden Tee Widow said...

My public school is quite the opposite. Encourages tours, parent participation in the daily activities of the classroom. All of the parents that we know send their children there voluntarily. They could afford private, there are no shortage of good private, and they are nearby. Yet they choose the public.

Tari said...

But a Montessori school here is the only kind that would ever let any parent in the classroom to observe - all the other private schools would look at an applicant like they had 3 heads if you even suggested such a thing. We just have to go with our gut on this one, and on test scores, reputation, recommendations from friends - but that would be true of just about any other school in the city except the one we're at currently.

Actually, I didn't like my Lower Elementary visit at our current school at all! It wasn't until I decided to give it a chance anyway, and we met with the teacher one on one, that I knew the school would work. The classroom I did my observation in wasn't the one we wound up with, and in retrospect wouldn't have made me 1/2 as happy as I've turned out to be. So it's always hit or miss; I had to trust God on the last decision just as much as I do on this one.

I think Kelly comments that we wouldn't be considering this public school if it wasn't already acceptable because she knows that that is actually true - we wouldn't even look at 95% of the public schools in this district, period. But this particular primary is rated exemplary, has a very involved PTO, is the primary for both the Texas Medical Center and Rice University areas, and was one of the first primaries in TX to be admitted to the IB primary program. It's the only fine arts magnet elementary in the district, has such a large GT population that GT curriculum is integrated into all classrooms, and is on several acres of land, with large playgrounds, lots of open space, and a garden. The difference between it and our current school is 90% curricular (it's not Montessori) and 10% bureaucratic (it's run by a huge city school district, and nothing will change that).

All that being said, I am still fighting with myself about this decision because it's about putting the boys through change and unheaval in order to make life easier for myself. Yes, it will probably in the long run make life easier for the boys as well: more money for fun things like vacations and music lessons, school is 5 minutes from home so no more 20+ freeway miles each day, less stressed parents, etc. But the original impetus for the desicion is my own stress level, and that is what bothers me. I'm supposed to kill myself for my kids - that's been drilled into me for my entire life. How can I dare make my own life easier, when my mom worked 70+ hours a week to put me through private HS and college?

That's probably a very unhealthy bit of pride on my part (I sacrifice more than others do because I'm a better person), but it's the elephant in the room on this decision, for sure.

Alison Fairfield said...

Well, Tari, is this the ultimate "can of worms" topic, or what?

So here are just a few random thoughts. First, second guessing a decision un-simplifies your life.

Second, no school choice is going to be the perfect combo-platter. We LOVE our kids' school; my husband's even on the board, BUT that didn't prevent some issues-to-deal-with last school year and an over-long-afternoon-drive-home most days. Yet, see point one.

However, third, the cost of education is really part of a total "stewardship package" as we see it. We can afford modest private school tuition ($7000 a year each) AND to take great trips with the three kids who all take music Not because my husband makes a bundle or because we have two incomes.

We own a very modest house w/ low taxes by Houston standards (and live modestly in other ways as well, as it sounds like you do.) But the core issue is that housing and education are inseparable.

Lastly, about the drive to imitate your mother's example, forget about it!

CC said...

Wonderfully written. I agree 150%! Although our neighborhood school is not great (and I know b/c it is just like the school I teach at!), we live in a big enough city that there are more choices than just our neighborhood school, and we found a great FREE match for our son.

I went to private school from K-12 and private university.

I am now a proud public school employee and happy that my kids are in public school as well.

Tari said...

Thanks CC!

An update for y'all: we've been emailing back and forth with one of the coordinators at the public school and getting very positive answers. Not only did this woman respond to my 11pm email by 7am the next day, the answers she's giving to our questions about how the school educates and what they make a priority are very encouraging.

It's really coming down to this: if this is our choice we will have to sit next to One and tell him he's leaving the two best friends he's ever had. Never mind one of those boys will be in another country this time next year when his father's HB-1 visa expires; One loves these two boys and has bonded with them. If we make this decision it will hurt him, and that's the worst part of this whole process.

Alison Fairfield said...

A caveat: I have three girls. That said, daughter two has a "first best friend" that moved to Portland a few years back. By God's grace, the girls have seen each other for three years running. And of course, she has acquired and many other relationships (and said goodbye to others) since then and all is well.