When Back-to-School Gets Political

Wed, August 12, 2009


School house small .AIMBS03I walk a fine line in my neighborhood when back-to-school time rolls around.

See, Mr. PunditMom and I made a decision several years ago that proved to be pretty controversial for our area — we chose not to send PunditGirl to the public elementary school and decided that she should, at least for a while, attend a small independent school.

It was a hard decision for us – both of us attended public schools and got great educations.  One of the main reasons we bought a house in the neighborhood where we live is because this county is known for its quality public schools.  The bad news is that between the time we bought our house and the time PunditGirl was ready for kindergarten, things changed.  The school had gotten MUCH bigger (nine classes of each grade), many excellent teachers had left and the principal, shall we say, left a lot to be desired.

That, in combination with the kind of kid PunditGirl was and is, made it clear that she would get lost in a lot of different ways in that setting.  And we knew that if her first real school experiences were bad ones — where she felt unnoticed and wasn’t given the chance to be herself as she learned — that she would probably end up hating school.

I don’t need for her to be a Rhodes scholar, but we wanted her to at least get started on the right foot and learn to love learning.

So while the vast majority of her preschool pals headed to the public school, she wasn’t.  All the friends we had made — parents of her classamtes — had to be told of our decision.   Things got a little chilly with some.  You could see the looks on their faces that said, “You think the school we’re sending our kid to isn’t good enough for you?”

It was almost impossible to find the words to explain that it didn’t have anything to do with being “good enough” and that it had to do with trying to find the right fit for our then-five-year-old.

We knew that the combination of mandatory testing, little in the way of physical activity during the school day and several other factors would would create the perfect storm of creating a child who would not want to go to school and would tune things out and turn them off.

We’re lucky — we only have one child to deal with and while it’s been no fun writing that tuition check, we can manage.  But we learned the hard way that making the decision between public and private is a very political one, especially when it comes to keeping and maintaining relationships among neighbors.

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10 Responses to “When Back-to-School Gets Political”

  1. Daisy Says:

    Ultimately, you need to do what’s best for your child. It doesn’t mean you think less of your neighbors, and I hope they don’t think less of you for your decision.
    -a public school teacher

  2. Kristina Brooke Says:

    It always amazes me that people find validation in their own choices by finding fault in others. It probably shouldn’t surprise me that you received the cold shoulder for doing what is/was best for your child. I received the same coldness when I decided to exclusively pump breast milk rather than breastfeed traditionally when my daughter was born. And it is the same coldness I get when I tell people that I am homeschooling my daughter. Like Daisy said, do what is best for your family and only worry about the friendships that you have with people who are not so insecure about their own choices that they berate yours.

  3. Sharon Says:

    For years I advocated for public schools, first as a parent and then as a teacher. Within my roles, I advocated for children, mine and others. I was teaching middle school when my youngest son started attending the same school, and the powers that be decided to change the math program – good for lower level and average students, but not so good for students who excel in math. The spring before my son was to start eighth grade our family made the important, and difficult, decision for me to homeschool my son for eighth grade. He needed Honors Algebra I so he could start high school ready to take the classes he would need to take Calculus his senior year, which students from private schools and other districts were prepared to do. It was the right decision and we found ways for him to stay connected with his friends through sports and activities. These are tough decisions. In the end, we need to do what’s best for our kids.

  4. PunditMom Says:

    Thanks for sharing all these stories. It’s so important to me that we all try to find ways to accept people’s different decisions and philosophies — whether the are political, educational or about something else. If we can show our kids that we can all come to different decisions about things respectfully, that would be the greatest thing we can do for them!

  5. dawn Says:

    There has definitely been some fall out in some of my relationships for homeschooling. While homeschooling is right for my kids and our family at this time in our lives (because things certainly can change), I don’t advocate homeschooling for everyone. The fact that we chose something most people DON’T choose is sometimes interpreted as a critique of personal choice instead of us simply exercising our values (not like those universal values like liberty and justice — my values are about no homework and no standardized tests, which certainly are more about opinion than about undeniable truths). We all have to do what we think is right for our kids and lord knows, I don’t think that all kids need the same things to grow up to live fabulous lives.

  6. mayberry Says:

    Nine classes PER GRADE? Holy cow. My daughter does go to public school, but we chose the only charter school in our district (and many of our friends and neighbors send their kids to parochial school, to boot). I absolutely know what you mean.

  7. JennK Says:

    My husband and I had always thought our kids would go through public school the way we had. Instead, we wound up pulling them out to homeschool in the middle of 2nd grade because they were being stifled academically and creatively. Not only were we castigated by former friends for our decision, but because we’re not religious, we also weren’t a great fit in the homeschooling world. Cut to almost 7 years later, and my son is entering the public high school this September. Bottom line is that we all have to make the best decisions for our own children — and what’s best for them can change over time. Anyone who tries to validate their own choices by negating yours isn’t raising YOUR child.

  8. Chris Wysocki Says:

    You’ll make new friends. We did. The first year of Catholic school was “interesting” when all the neighborhood kids went to one school and Sophie to another. But she thrived, met some great kids, and now we only get the cold shoulder from one particularly zealous advocate of public schools (he teaches there) who never misses an opportunity to remind me I’m paying for what I could get “for free” from “his school”. Plus we’ve met some great people from other neighborhoods because Sophie’s school pulls kids from a much larger geographical area then the local public school.

    Like the other commenters said, you do what’s best for your kid and your neighbors will do what’s best for their kids and everybody should just try to live in peace. I don’t get why some folks think we all have to join the herd all the time.

  9. April Says:

    Especially if they don’t agree with your political views, it’s harder: “Oh, another liberal not sending their kid to public school!” This is why charters are so much easier to swallow. They’re still a version of public schools. But I think we can still fight for better quality in public schools while at the same time doing what’s right for our kids. I could be breaking my back right now trying to find another charter school for Sylvia, but the stability of staying in the same school for more than one year is more important to her overall well-being right now.

  10. Donna Says:

    One of my gripes with the public school system (at least here in LA) is that it’s one-size-fits-all… and if your child doesn’t fit the mold, that’s tough. I understand the economic and legal reasons for a lot of that, but it would be nice if we had the ability to negotiate accommodations for our kids when they need them. While I support public schools and believe that our teachers and administrators do a lot with very little, I hate the layers of bureaucracy between the school district, state and Feds, and there have been many times when I’ve wished for the means to just take her out of the system and put her in a school that might offer a little more flexibility. You just go ahead and keep doing what’s best for your daughter — that’s your job.

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