mardi, janvier 17, 2006

But I'm Lost. I'm Quite Lost.

The real difficulty is that people have no idea of what education truly is. We assess the value of education in the same manner as we assess the value of land or of shares in the stock-exchange market. We want to provide only such education as would enable the student to earn more. We hardly give any thought to the improvement of the character of the educated. The girls, we say, do not have to earn; so why should they be educated? As long as such ideas persist there is no hope of our ever knowing the true value of education.

M.K. Gandhi

Early morning after a dusting of snow...I’m typing my ideas out, and you have to suffer. Sorry…

Four recent things which shape our school conversations:

First, I was talking to a man at church who just happens to be from India and also just happens to have a four year old daughter (TinyE is four). He spoke with certainty and clarity and recommended this charter school. For him, the question is simple. Send your child to the school which will most prepare them for admission to our nation’s elite colleges. He said that if he could afford private school, he would send his daughter here (it's a feeder and it's prohibitively expensive). He told me that he researched every school; he spoke aggressively against “art and music magnets.” He said – “kids can learn art on their own time.” I have a feeling his kids will succeed whether he wants them to or not. Success defined narrowly.

Second, I watched 7 Up and Plus Seven with The Gardener* and in it the 7 year old British kids from affluent backgrounds know exactly where they will go to school all the way through college (“first I’ll go to this (exclusive/prestigious/snooty) prep school, then I’ll go to Trinity Hall, Cambridge”). And sure enough, when we see them again at 14, guess which prep school they attend (whichever one they said they would attend – you’re not left to doubt that they will eventually matriculate to Cambridge or Oxford). The children from middle class backgrounds and lower middle-class backgrounds do not know where they will go to school. One did not know what “university” meant. That seems the nature of the 7 year old.

Third, TinyE had a play date on Saturday at the home of a class mate who will enter kindergarten in the fall of 2007. The friend has a single mother (a widow) who is in her early 20’s and has a very limited income. She will send her daughter to parochial school (done and…done).

Fourth, the Saint Paul Public School Expo is take place on Saturday, so we will know all our public options then.

And it’s not easy. Sometimes we have to take a break and resolve to talk about it later.

Because, unlike the man from church, or the British children who are “of the manor born,” we most certainly do not have certainty or clarity around what we want to do or what our goals are.
I know I don’t want a feeder school, but if TinyE was to struggle to decide if she wanted to go to Harvard or Yale, having won admission at both, I guess I wouldn’t consider that the worst thing ever.

And, verily, mine own days on the bucolic Mount Oread are as dear to me as ever and long shall they remain such. Oh, for those halcyon days on that prime castle on the hill!

In fact, I know for sure that my goal is not for her to go to an “elite college.” My goal is for her be able to do that if that is what she wants to do. (I have two friends (married to each other) who are both triple legacies at Princeton – any questions about where their sons will go to college?).

Most notably, I want her to love learning and see it as a life-long endeavor. I don’t regard that as the mission of schools. Nor do I regard it as something parents can instill. I do believe that parents and schools can undermine it – but I don’t see that as likely to happen in our case (our schools are pretty darn good, her parents love learning) – nor is it likely to happen if the child has that natural predisposition anyway (and I don’t know if she does).

I’m also a proponent of small schools and small class room sizes. This as much anything drives my decisions. I cannot see my daughter thriving in a classroom with 25 other kids.

But more than anything, I’m completely lost. I freely admit that I’ve made it more difficult than it needs to be. I’m wrapped up in the whole “the personal is the political” thing. I realize that I’m bringing guilt and shame into the conversation and that both take me further away from the certainty that others seem to have with neither guilt nor shame. Should I cast everything aside, take full advantage of my resources and groom the girl for Penn - everything else be damned?

My wife disfavors private schools, but primarily for financial reasons (why pay for tuition if you don’t have to).

I think about Friedman and my own observations working in the Fortune 500 setting – seeing talent from all over the world employed in our leading institutions and thinking the days when high-school to college to sustaining/meaningful job (with a pension) as a guaranteed thing are now less guaranteed (and likely to get less guaranteed still). There’s a lot more competition than there was even when I was a youngster. The more technical the meeting, the more likely that the majority of attendees were not born in the United States. I find myself not wanting my child not to be on the outside looking in. Whatever they are, I want her to fulfill her ambitions.

There are practical considerations: we sometimes need before school care. We always need after school care. Not every school provides it.

And…I tend to shrug off the counsel of well-meaning friends who do not have to make the decision for this child, in this setting, in this day and age, with these practical considerations.

But I’m lost. I’m quite lost. And I admire (or perhaps better to say envy) those with certainty: “Our goal is X. Therefore our school choice is Y.” Even though (secretly) their certainty is fueled by things which bug me.

*A co-worker of Mrs. Duf happened upon my site quite by accident. Mrs. Duf does not read my blog – she gets quite enough of my ramblings and rants at home (thank you very much). The co-worker told Mrs. Duf her moniker on the site, and she has asked me to change it. Henceforth, Mrs. Duf shall be known at “The Gardener.” Subject to change if someone tells her the new moniker and she hates it – but I see it as the perfect label for my wife who is a horticulturist by trade and a caring nurturer by DNA.