Sunday, August 17, 2014

Schooling the Children

There is no denying the importance of a good, solid education, all parents can attest to that.  We all want our children to succeed, academically and in life, to love learning and prosper intellectually. How we prioritize that differs from family to family.

I first became aware of the “school wars” early on in my first pregnancy. Unsolicited advice came from all directions, urges to get on a specific preschool wait list because there was a minimum 3 year wait, suggestions to not bother with another preschool because their pedagogy was not aligned with best outcomes, and then frequently frowned upon because I wasn’t following the hype. I took it all in, passively at first, but like any caring parent, it quickly turned into angst ridden confusion. Pedagogy at 2? I had no idea that even existed. Even among my most well intentioned friends there was an air of self-righteous competitiveness because our children attended different preschools.

I didn’t really comprehend the gravity, or participate in alarmist conversations too extensively until my daughter entered elementary school. We lived in a city that had a public school lottery system. Otherwise known as one of the most stressful parenting processes ever, it’s based on a purportedly random algorithm that is supposed to take into account residence, socioeconomic family status, and the race, ethnicity, and language of the child.

According to the San Francisco Unified School District website:
“Students are assigned to schools through a choice process designed to provide equitable access to the range of opportunities available in San Francisco’s public schools.”

The fact of the matter is the best public schools, or places with true equitable access, have a fraction of viable seats, and parents that have the finances end up going private instead. It’s easier to pay and get a guaranteed spot in a good, quality school. There is also the added benefit of meeting families with like minded interests and what you hope will be the best behaved kids. It’s a very alienating system that inevitably leads to segregation on many levels.

We got our first choice, but since we didn’t pick the most popular public school it wasn’t surprising. Basing my entire research on “feeling” rather than test scores and statistics, we had listed a neighborhood school that was up and coming, with a Spanish immersion program. Though we were relatively happy to get in, we quickly found ourselves defending our choice. Some feared it would be full of gang banger kids, others thought drug dealers. While the matriculated families were very diverse, some indeed coming from rough backgrounds, the majority were warm and highly educated. The judgment that elementary aged kids could be that dangerous was an insult, particularly because the school was mostly comprised of black and Latino families.

The school worked on paper for my daughter, but not so much in reality. I didn’t analyze the education too much because I still thought a 4 year old could take her time with that, but in retrospect it was a bit compromising. For unrelated reasons, we ended up moving across the country, and surprisingly found ourselves in another controlled choice boundary. The only difference was that the state standard seemed so much higher and my daughter subsequently made leaps and bounds. But we were still not happy. After yet another change for my daughter, we finally found a nurturing school with a rigorous academic program that challenges her. But this digression just leads me to the point that no school is perfect.

Like any relationship, we all have our likes, dislikes; we all have certain tolerances and of course absolute limits. Perhaps I think about it too much as a parent. I know my parents didn’t give it this much time. We were all sent to the nearest Catholic school and not given an opinion on it. Nowadays there is so much existential questioning on the child’s happiness and pedagogical growth.

Overall, I believe in public education. Even if I did not have children I would gladly pay more taxes to improve this country’s education system. I’m all for school reform and raising the bar. What's more, I do not oppose the new common core. Critics say public schools teach to tests and create robots. From what I see there is much creative and critical thought process going on in the classroom, and if a kid is nurtured at home and at school, they can really soar. Would I like to see more art, music, and a science lab installed in every classroom? Of course. Would I also like to see more hands on projects, and a tailored approach to each child? Ditto. But, is that realistic? Not in the least. All I can do is simply be an active parent, support my child’s teacher endlessly, and continue to foster my child’s intellectual growth.

But I am left questioning still. Despite our satisfaction, despite the fact that my child is flourishing, I wonder is there a possibility for more? How much would she soar if I perhaps home schooled?

Per the Florida Department of Education there are over 75,000 students that participate in a home school program, a somewhat staggering number until you see in percentage it only represents 3% of the PK-12 enrollment population. This 3% figure is also indicative of the United States generally, as deemed by the U.S. Department of Education; with states each averaging roughly 2.5%.  

There are many reasons families choose to home school of which I won’t delve into here but I have to admit it’s something I’ve been considering for quite some time. I love the idea of designing my own curriculum tailored to my daughter’s strengths, weaknesses, and interests. I love the idea that she could really delve into poetry, music and literature while exploring all her great engineering ideas and crazy scientific experiments. I don’t worry in the least about the social factor because there are so many fantastic enrichment programs that she is missing out on because of her busy school schedule. I could enroll her in ceramics, tap, and permit her to take on that second instrument she’s been vying for. Florida even makes it rather simple, requiring just a form, an email and Et voilĂ ! Les jeux sont faits! Do all states make it that easy, and should I consider this a sign from a higher being? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

There are several factors holding me back. The biggest one is my concern of how much it will consume us a family and ME as the mother.

Just so you know, I’m not the PTA President, sign me up for every committee, all up in the office, everybody knows my name type of Mom. I am the mom that quietly assists the teacher, silently participates in the school events, and buys – not bakes – my contribution to the PTA bake sale. No fanfare needed here. Aren’t home school Moms a different breed entirely? Either they are incredibly chill and able to adjust their schedules to life, or they are one of these Super Wonder Bring It On Higher Being Moms. I care about my daughters’ education, but don’t think I want that cape or that crown.

I got as far as ordering several home school books from the libraries, filled with fantastic ideas on how to do it. I researched, sat down and wrote out what a typical day would like. It filled up our entire day. But that’s insane, I told myself. I know several home school Moms and they all tell me they are done by noon, give or take. I am obviously not an expert here. I am obviously not quite ready either.

The beauty of children is that they are pretty flexible and resilient. My daughter seems to be fine either way. We will continue to talk and ponder, check in and assess. Does this assume that I will take no part in her education? Of course not. I am well aware that the child is educated first and foremost in the home. She is an avid reader because she sees her Mom devour books all day and night. She is a natural engineer because she makes, takes apart, and builds contraptions with her Dad all the time. Even if your school is perfect, your job as a parent is never done, in essence you are already a home school Mom.

My little one, the natural scientist.


  1. Oh boy... education. Summer really is coming to an end, huh? ^_~
    Joke aside, there is a fascinating debate to be had here. I'm actually switching from the French educational system to the American one. I have found the French system ridiculously static, flawed, and overall unable to adapt to individual needs. The American way is all but perfect, but at least caters more to individual needs, which is (to me) a step in the right direction. I was going to post an article on the blog, one that I'd been gathering notes for ever since I first started to write. Mentioning Home School, it's advantages, and flaws, you've introduced yet another factor in the equation. If anything, thanks for that.
    Congrats on the piece!

    1. Wow, and wow! I have always been curious to hear the opinion of someone who studied in a European country so they could provide a comparison. I had always assumed the French would do it better, though now I think it's Finland that is lauded for their education. I would love to read the article you mentioned. Education is one my favorite topics. Thank you for reading!

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  3. Thank YOU, Patricia, for writing this piece this week. I am in the throes of research and gearing up for school tours in preparation for Kloe to enter kindergarten next year. Yes, next year. I know, most folks out there would think my plans are a bit premature. However, you know very well my family and I reside in San Francisco and yes, we are subjected to the lottery system of school assignment. Am I thrilled about this? Like most, if not all, San Francisco parents, I am not pleased at all but we chose to buy a home in San Francisco and put our children through the public school system. We are in it for the long haul and can only hope the school district will assign our daughter to a school on “our list.” My husband and I are very mindful of Kloe’s needs, her learning style, and the location of schools, its neighborhoods, the student body makeup, culture, all the stats… well, you know.

    I applaud you for doing your homework, for sharing your experience in navigating the different school sytems in California and Florida for Luna. It is imperative that us parent(s) have an ongoing active interest (concern) and involvement in their child(ren)’s education and experience. Yes, at times obsess! After all, your child may get admitted to the most sought after school but if she/he is not excelling and is unhappy, then we are not doing your job. Food for thought for my hubs and I. Thank YOU!

    1. Ah! That is not early at all, but that is coming from someone who is planning on touring middle schools which Luna won't attend for another 3 years. Ha. Maybe this is what happens to Type A parents who have too many choices?

      One thing I admire you for doing, which we never did, is consider her temperament and what would be best for her. At the time all I was focused on was language immersion and nothing else which is obviously not the best strategy since there is so much about a school to analyze.

      Good luck with the lottery! I hear they are factoring in where you live how and possibly giving higher priority to the child's nearest school? Not sure if this is true or if it is even in your benefit? I sort of pine for a nice quiet rural town where the local school is superb and within walking distance. One can dream...

    2. and thank you for commenting Elizabeth!!

  4. When I have kids, I'll introduce my own "Wikipedia-driven Educational Advancement Initiative," which is just a fancy word for having them read Wiki articles on select topics and then quizzing them later using multiple choice questions with two possible answers each.

    Wikipedia is never ever wrong, so this can't possibly backfire. Right?

    1. Ha! For sure, that is an excellent idea and one we should propose to the school districts. Actually I find more nowadays on Wikipedia than I do in books (sadly!) It must be hard for dictionaries to keep up with the constant changes in language. Sigh.