Friday, September 08, 2006

Guilt with a capital G and that rhymes with T and that stands for trouble

Last night, DT and I went to our very first PTA meeting at WonderGirl's new school. After the meeting (hilarious because it's a Quaker school, and people kept forgetting they were supposed to sense consensus instead of calling for votes, leading to cries of, "Aye. I mean, WAIT! We don't do that!"), every classroom had a back-to-school night, during which the teachers revealed the mysteries of our children's school day. It was Wonderful, Glorious, Inspiring. WonderGirl's teachers are apparently angelic geniuses, or genuis angels, I don't know which. There are good ideas oozing out of the walls in that classroom, and I truly wish I could have hired the teachers as parenting consultants around the time WonderGirl started, oh, interacting with other humans. In stark contrast to WonderGirl's previous preschool, the faculty and staff frame all of their requests in such a positive way that you just can't wait to comply: "The kids are doing a great job recognizing which snacks are healthy, so thank you for continuing to send healthy snacks so they can practice," or "We're having a wonderful time combining gross motor skills with math lessons, so we're looking for exciting, large maninpulatives for the children. We've had several parents graciously donate body parts and we're so grateful." To which I say, "Here! Do you need more? Please take my arm - it would be an honor to spend my life one-armed so that the children (oh! the children!) will enjoy math!"

The school is clearly the right environment for WonderGirl. We enrolled her because of its diversity (it's a mini-UN), its focus on social justice and on values which we cherish (conflict resolution, respect for all beings, smoothies), and its combination of academic flexibility and challenge. There have turned out to be more advantages than we had even considered, and WonderGirl is flourishing there, to put it mildly. But, here's the rub. We had planned for this to be a stopgap solution. When I graduate (WHEN, not if, dammit!), we planned either to move to a different city (and presumably to a decent school district) or move within our current location to a decent public school district. We never considered that this might be a permanent school, but now both DT and I are having a difficult time imagining moving her out. It just feels that right. The problem with the scene is that we have chosen to send our child to a private school, and for that, I feel capital-g guilty. Before we had kids, I earnestly argued that I would join a local coalition of folks working to make our local schools acceptable and would send our kids there; I didn't want to take advantage of our standing to opt out of the local schools, when so many other kids just don't have that option. Now? Apparently not. I am well aware of the fact that she won't shrivel up and die at our subpar local elementary school (which is, ironically, further from our house than her current school - so much for "local"). But. I guess my voracious appetite for depending public schools is sated when it comes time to send my daughter to one that is, frankly, not inspiring. My liberalism apparently has bounds that have surprised me.

In a coincidence that you might call spooky (or might pragmatically note is inspired by the start of school), Bitch PhD has a post today on the same subject, different side of the equation. To be fair, the situation Bitch describes is a bit different. Our local school is much less diverse, allocates its resources in dramatically different ways, and doesn't focus on building community and pursuing a life of simplicity, integrity and equality. WonderGirl's school has an aggressive financial aid policy and uses tuition from well-off families to subsidize other students with the goal, and result, of economic diversity. We chose her school for philosophical reasons, not just as a refuge from our public school. We didn't apply to other private schools, and I assume would have sent WonderGirl to the public school if she hadn't been admitted to this one.

I do think Bitch is right that parents today place too much importance on every decision they make, assuming it will determine the course of their child's life. (The care and feeding of that neurosis is another post...) In that vein, maybe we could have given our local school a year or two, then reassessed the situation and made a change if necessary. Maybe WonderGirl would have decided she hated school in those two years, maybe she would have made life-changing friends, maybe she wouldn't have felt physically safe, maybe she would have loved her teachers, maybe she would have been bored, maybe she would have been challenged. I have no idea, because now we've started down a path that is going to be harder to leave than I'd originally thought. I don't really know where it goes, and I suppose none of us, on any of our paths, do. For now, though, it's winding through some beautiful scenery and I'm going to enjoy it. I might as well, we've already paid tuition.


Allison said...

"parents today place too much importance on every decision they make, assuming it will determine the course of their child's life."

I agree -- but only mostly. I think some decisions will have far-reaching consequences, and the school she goes to is probably one of them since she will spend the bulk of her day there. My attitudes about kids' schools changed a lot when I realized that, shockingly, my kids spend more waking time at school than at home during the week. If it's a good fit and she thrives at the school she's attending now, you're very likely doing the right thing.

And the school sounds awesome. Congratulations on finding it.

Ruth said...

That makes sense. I was definitely raised that you should sacrifice in many areas, but never in education, with the implication that it truly does matter what happens in school. I'm definitely having to learn how to balance these things as a mom. It's harder than I thought to learn how to appropriately sort issues into "big" and "little" so that I can then attempt to relax about the "little" pile. I guess I'll get there eventually.

Now we'll just have to figure out which parts of our soul to sell in order to be able to afford private school indefintely... ugh.