Reading contest

Mon, July 31, 2006


There’s an odd competition going on in my life and I think some moms see me as the cause of it.

Last year, after much soul-searching, my husband and I made the decision not to send our daughter Rachel to our neighborhood public school to start kindergarten. While it has a good reputation, its population is huge and we were concerned that, given her personality, she would retreat into herself and not give school a chance. And in an era where even public kindergarten teachers are discouraged from giving small children hugs or letting them sit on their laps for reassurance, we knew we needed a setting where she could get those things until she was comfortable in her new school and see it as a place where learning was part of building relationships, as well as “academics.”

As a result, on the eve of first grade, Rachel is still just starting to read. Whereas most parents today expect their children to be reading fluidly when they “graduate” from kindergarten, we knew that might not be the case for her, but we know that she’ll be reading well soon enough. But this has created a small competition in my circle about whose children are doing better in which schools.

I’ve been told that one six-year-old friend of Rachel’s who attends public school is reading at a second-grade level and another is doing third-grade level math in his head. “And how is Rachel’s reading?” asked one of the moms who knows that Rachel goes to a private school. As the question hung in the air, I knew it wasn’t just a request for information — it was a search for confirmation that our private school was no better than her public school.

I’m starting to feel that many mothers whose children are in public school feel they have to put their kids’ achievements out there as a way of saying, “See , I didn’t send my child to private school and he/she is doing better than your daughter.” It’s hard for me not to be defensive about our choice of school for her. The “how is Rachel doing” isn’t really about her — the underlying, unstated question is “do you really think she’s getting a better education than my child at public school?” For Rachel, we know the answer is yes, but not because we hope she’ll be ahead scholastically at any point, but because she is happy and comfortable in the setting and now is really ready to get on with the business of learning.

The school she attends is full of warm greetings and hugs every morning, from the principal on down to the non-teaching staff. Now, she wants to be the first one in the door in the morning to get that first handshake from the principal, the first smile from her teachers and run to see which friends have made it into the room for free time before her day begins.

I know my daughter — she’s a stubborn little thing. And I know that no matter how good our public school is, the mandated lack of human contact there would have changed her whole first year of “big girl” school. I didn’t mean to start a competition about which school is better. I just wanted Rachel to (hopefully) love school the way I did when I was six. And for now, I think we’ve achieved that goal. As for reading, I’m not worried. There’s plenty of time to graduate from Cat in the Hat to chapter books.

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