Friday, August 6, 2010

Why We Chose Public School

This could be a one-sentence post.

It's free.

Beginning, middle, and end. Complet, as the French say. But while it would be technically true, it wouldn't begin to cover the complexity of the choice, and it certainly wouldn't explain how we've been from private school to home school to private school to public school, all in eight years.

So here we go. I'll try to explain and you'll try to understand what passes for reasoning in my tortured brain. You will then (a) wonder how on earth I got through law school, and (b) have great pity on my husband, who lives with this kind of "logic" every day.

Ahem. Where was I? Oh, yes, now I remember. Public school: reasons for. I've found them; here they are:

After sampling the great offering of schooling out there - two very different private ones, a public one, and a year of home school - it has become painfully obvious that we are blessed with a ridiculously good public elementary school just a mile from our house. Teachers in one of the largest urban districts in the country wait years to get an interview at this school, never mind a job. Parents make home-buying choices based on our school zone. Other parents battle the magnet school lottery, hoping for the award of one of the few spots. Seriously, when I look at this public school in comparison to the private schools I've encountered, the only difference is the uniforms: they wear them and we don't. Oh, and in the price: did I mention that our school is free?

That's the basic reasoning, and it holds true most of all for our particular elementary school. A sheltered place, a good curriculum, a fine arts and music magnet, children from over 40 birth-countries, mothers with more post-graduate degrees than me - all in all, a rare and precious find.

But public school overall? Public school for middle and high school? That choice is another ball of wax altogether. We think we're committed to public school all the way through graduation. We've learned through experience that God isn't very interested in our "commitments", though, so we're open to being turned in a different direction, should He decide that's what's going on. But assuming we've got it right, and the boys are in public school for the long haul: why?

First of all, the options for middle and high school look good. There are two options for middle school other than the one to which we're zoned. We'll be checking both of them out this fall, although if I had to choose today I already have a heavy favorite. We'll also look at where we're zoned; it has a patchy reputation, but it's getting better every year. By the time Two is ready, it may be the easiest choice. For high school, the situation is similar. Our zoned high school has an IB program to apply to, and there is a magnet high school with very high marks that we're very interested in investigating. It may be a better choice than the IB program, especially if the boys aren't interested in playing high school team sports. Basically it guarantees they will be surrounded by more than the average number of what most people would call "dorks", but what I call "good friend material".

All of our public middle and high school options have a varied mix of kids from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, and that is one of the points in their favor. The private schools here tend to be very, very uniform in their composition - and since that's not the environment in which the boys will live when they're grown, I see no reason for them to spend their "formative years" there. To me, one of the big reasons to stick with public school for middle and high school - especially in our large, city district - is that it looks like the city itself. To be perfectly blunt: if my upper-middle class Anglo kids stay in private school for the entire childhoods, they'll be surrounded by other children just. like. them. And they will therefore learn to work with and be friends only with children just. like. them. They will see people of other races and backgrounds - especially people with less than them economically - as different, puzzling, and (perhaps) uncomfortable to be around.

It's entirely my opinion, I know, but I don't think that is much of an education to give them. And as long as the pen-and-paper education at public school meets our expectations, it's not going to be the education they get.


Elizabeth Channel said...

See, you have such a better option than we do because you have diversity within a great academic public situation. We have the great academics here, but, alas, zero diversity.

I have a feeling I'll be homeschooling again at some point. And I'm OK with that. Like you said, my commitments and God's are rarely the same. That's why I'm eschewing all commitments at this point school-wise.

I haven't researched IB in a while but I'm sure you have...

Anonymous said...

Our city is so diverse, looking for diversity is not on the radar for reasons to choose schools. Well, at least that reason never occurred to me.

I think your first reason is real and most of the truth, but would not be on the radar if the school down the road was not academically adequate.

That we (three) even think about where to send our children to school puts us in the minority. Most of the population do not even question the public school system - it is the norm and an expected entitlement in our society.

Tari said...

The diversity alone would not make me send my kids to a lousy public school, that's completely true. But it is a great benefit of being in this district and not in one of the suburban ones, for instance. And at one of our 2 private schools there was no diversity - except that as a 2 attorney household my husband and I were one of the "poorest" couples, since we didn't have a second home or take 6 week summer vacations to Europe. The more that I think about it, I'm pretty glad we can no longer afford that school. It would have been very unhealthy for the boys (as they got older) to think for one second that they were "deprived" in any way because we, as blessed as we are, had less than most of their friends. I'm pretty sure I spoil them as it is; I certainly don't need anyone convincing them they need to be spoiled more.

Anonymous said...

I'll admit to not having data in hand, but I think that the social and ethnic mix of a school is overplayed in importance in the upbringing of children. And I have a PhD in child development.

That a child must have a certain 'mix' of people around them to properly form would be so impossible to statistically validate. Amounts to an urban myth in my book.

Who is to say that a child from a less wealthy home will not sustain their values among 'the rich' (disparaged in urban myth also)? Perhaps the less wealthy child will bring something to the social development of the more wealthy children.

The 'true' and statistically validated greatest influence on children is their parents. There is no (government) substitute for capable parents. Barbara