And So Become Yourself
Okay, they were nicer and more circumspect in their questions. Perhaps the question was from the voice in my head. Either way, I felt this question needed answering and then I started gnawing my cuticles. I gnawed because I’m a well-meaning idiot who tries her best and usually screws up (See: most blog entries). And, yes, we can all agree I’m a bit of a goober but the instant I start writing about what I’m doing with my kid, I know that a percentage of the population reading this post is going to hear it as “You, reader, aren’t doing what I’m doing and that makes you bad. BAD. I take great pleasure in judging you. I also eat more cruciferous vegetables than you. And I floss.”
The minute anyone starts talking about parenting stuff, the odds go steeply upwards that someone’s feelings are going to be hurt. Remember, my goal here is to have a party at which everyone feels welcome so, if at any point during this explanation you feel as if I’m talking meanly about your family’s choice, remember this: last night, I let my child have Jamba Juice and a scoop of ice-cream for dinner.
The Los Angeles Unified School District has just over 694,000 students which gives it about the same population as Austin, Texas. After the 4th grade, a classroom can have up to forty students. A percentage of these students aren’t speaking English at home and need help to get ready for the standardized test which directly impacts both the teacher and the school, making this the educational elephant in the room. By Thanksgiving, even the teacher who left college eager to enlighten and support his students has settled into trying to get the best possible test results from the thirty-plus kids in his class. A good student is likely to be conscripted as a “teacher’s helper." You can deny this occurs if you'd like, but it has happened to no fewer than three kids I know. If you’re reading this and you’re thinking “But I live in Los Angeles and my local public school has been an incredible experience for my family!” then I’m thrilled for you and I hope you know how blessed you are. It doesn’t happen that often and it’s going to get rarer as the worst of the state's budget cuts trickle into effect. Did I say "trickle"? I mean "come crashing."
So why not private school? Daughter’s been in two private schools. One was good and one wasn’t. And let's just say it’s a lonely sensation to write a midyear tuition check to a school you suspect is essentially babysitting with silent auctions. But the good school was actually pretty good and we’d be back there if it weren’t for my being greedy. Not greedy with my money — although private elementary schools in Los Angeles can cost over $20,000 a year (not including silent auctions) — but with my daughter’s time. I want her to struggle a little bit in school, to work beyond her abilities, to take pride in mastering something hard and then I want her to play in the afternoon. I never found a school where you got both. Schools in LA, and I suspect most other places, tend to define themselves as “Progressive” or “Academic.”
Children who attend progressive schools have ample time to play in the afternoon and can often sing a solid Teach Your Children Well ; but their spelling will be a little lighthearted and, given the opportunity to study Spanish at their own speed, they might spend an entire year on the first chapter.
[That was me. My mother still pinches the bridge of her nose when she thinks of my year in the progressive school.]
At the academic school, children will make lovely cross-cut sections of the earth’s crust and read Canterbury Tales before they are completely toilet-trained but, to keep up with the workload, you and your child will work from the minute he comes home until eleven at night. See the mother over there dropping a shot of Diet Coke into a pint of Red Bull, weeping into her sleeve and mumbling something about PSAT vocabulary quizzes for her second-grader? That’s the mother of a child at an academic school. The kids learn a lot, but quite a few seem pretty burnt out before they leave middle school. Their mothers are burnt out well before then.
There are also religious schools but I didn’t look too deeply into those because I assumed the bolt of lightning smiting me as I crossed the threshold would be off-putting.
So it comes down to this: I want it all. I want my kid to work hard and play hard and stare off into space and work hard some more and dress the cats and decide to read more about Rasputin not because she has to, but because it’s a pleasingly disgusting story. She’s got all sorts of afterschool activities with people her own age and, knock wood, I don’t think anyone pegs her as the weird homeschooled kid.
They do, however, wonder about her mom.