Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Away to K We Go

We've been at a couple of get-togethers lately with parents who have kids around our kids' ages.  Which is the only way I learned that I needed to go and get Addie signed up for kindergarten.  And which also baptized me in the time-honored, middle- to upper-class ritual of debating the pros and cons of particular schools, enrolling your kid in multiple schools at once, taking school tours, and essentially projecting out your kid's entire academic life through graduate school.

To say that I feel daunted is a bit of an understatement.

See, we have Addie in this great Montessori that does, in fact, offer kindergarten.  And, from everything we can tell, it's a pretty good kindergarten.  But it's expensive, twice as expensive as the public school across the street.  And, as far as we can tell, the public school across the street is quite good.

But then you have to weigh the merits of putting Addie into a new place when she might not quite be ready for that, given that she's a bit sensitive and spirited.  She's in a preschool class now where she's among the oldest, and seems to be doing well, emotionally, with kids younger than she.

But then you have to weigh the fact that she's pretty resilient, and will probably be just fine at the public school across the street.  Did I mention that it's half the cost?

And then you start thinking about how lucky you are that this is your only dilemma, to choose between two good schools, both of which you really can afford, if you need to.  And you think that Addie's a really smart kid, and pretty flexible, all things considered, and that she'll probably thrive in either environment. 

[There's a whole dialogue to be had about privilege, and justice, and injustice, here.  You get it.  Subtext, subtext.]

And also, you think that you're really not the kind of person to sweat this stuff overly much, that what's most important is that your kid is happy and is interested in learning and all that. 

But then, these other parents, all excellent parents, parents you look up to, are moving their kids around from school to school like pieces on a chessboard, and lobbying for entrance into this and that program, and coming in to teach in their areas of expertise now and then, and crafting detailed individualized learning plans with their kids' teachers.  And these parents know already all about which schools are best, and which programs ensure your five-year-old a good scholarship to a liberal arts college, if not entrance to the ivy league, the big stuff.  And they know about which programs mean a life of average-ness.  They lobby.  They fret.  They intervene.

I'm just not there yet, and neither Eric nor I is sure we want to be.  But are we shortchanging our kids somehow?  Will we look back and think we abdicated our responsibilities, while these other parents are attending their kids' honors' awards ceremonies and ivy league graduations?  Do we need to intervene?

Eric and I are from families where none of this stuff really went on.  We both went to public schools, and though I tested into gifted and talented in elementary school, I don't remember there every being this sort of hand-wringing in the household over programs.  I was basically told, hey, if you want to go to college, start getting ready for scholarships now.  Eric would say, I think, that he was not a good student for a long time, but then he kicked ass in college and nobody would say he isn't successful now.  As my grandpa would say, you both done alright.

Which, I know, is not to say that our kids will.  But it's not to say the won't, either. 

So what to make of all this?  Is it just a different world and I had better get used to it?  Or is it okay to take the less fraught path, and to just believe that everything's going to be okay?  Why do I feel it's all a little distasteful?  Why don't I intervene?


  1. My opinion? Let's let our kids be kids. They have to grow up fast enough as it is in this present world. I'm terrified to send Ember to school, but we have another 2 years (though she keeps asking when she gets to go.) Although I've struggled with not having her in some Montessori program (which are not available in our small rural community) I know that her time at home with her cousins and sister, and daddy is going to work out just fine. --Cassandra

  2. My opinion? I don't have any kids, but please, as a favor to me and for the love of God, reject this modern notion of creating a 15-year economic plan for your kids. It just sucks and it isn't necessary. Mom and dad never did much along these lines for us and, low and behold, we turned out being as successful academically as we wanted to be. The real favor you can do those wonderful little girls is just letting them be a little more secure with themselves than we were taught to be with ourselves. Teach them to be more emotionally mature then we were when we were 'released into the wild' in Caldwell to go to C of I and I bet that will end out mattering a lot more than whatever stupid program you can apply to get them in to. Sorry for the long post and my opinion probably has a low probative value since I have no children, but for whatever reason, this particularly subject struck a chord with me and a need to tell you to put them in that public school, love them to death, and worry more about teaching them the other things that you and I never learned: like how to be kind of normal :)

  3. ooops - I meant 15 year educational plan - not economic plan. Just can't get the topic off of my mind I guess - LOVE JB

  4. ...subtext, subtext, yeah, notice how the specter of supposed failure, described as "a life of averageness," weighs down upon parents these days—gotta put the kids on a path to social status and privilege or they'll be condemned to a life deserving of indignity and disrespect from all? Achieving success and status is all fine and well, but there are higher, equality, tolerance, acceptance, happiness...if you know what I mean. Let them know they'll be respected, no matter what.

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