For the past six months, one topic of conversation has dominated over all others at gatherings of our friends with kids in pre-school: “So what are you doing about kindergarten?” Miles is only in his 2nd year of pre-school, and I confess that, until we reached this juncture, I had never given it much thought. I am a product of the California public school system, and had simply taken it as a given that private schools were financially out of reach. And I had assumed that private schools bred a culture of elitism, of which I wanted no part.
But it’s also true that many public schools aren’t what they were 2-3 decades ago. Did I want my child going to a school with no built-in music, arts, or sports? Would independent afternoon programs be adequate substitutes? Do test scores tell you all you need to know about a school, or do the socio-economics of a neighborhood skew scores to the point of being misleading? Are all private schools elitist, or was that just a media-fueled stereotype I had never questioned? Is kindergarten too early even to be asking these questions?
At this point, we’re looking at one public school (not the one we’re assigned to) and one private school (a relatively low-cost cooperative, structured similarly to the co-op pre-school Miles is in now). And I’m amazed to find that I’ve become not only open to, but enthusiastic about the prospect of private school. But much gnashing of teeth still surrounds the question, and we’re not there yet.
Close friends Roger and Paula have been going through similar contortions for months, but have held close to one conviction: The public school system should be great, but it can’t be great if caring parents abandon it. Their final decision to send their daughter to public school is profiled today in the Oakland Tribune.
“I was a complete mess,” Amelia’s mother, Paula Larsen-Moore, recalled. “I was anxious, I wasn’t sleeping, and I’m in a totally different place now.” This month, as she submitted her enrollment card to the district, Larsen-Moore reached the end of a draining ritual in which thousands of Oakland families take part each year.
I know that my parents never went through anything remotely like this. School was school, and you got out of it what you put in. Looking around at people I know and work with, I don’t see a correlation between public/private school attendance and success later in life (though there probably is one, statistically). But I do love the idea that we don’t have to accept the decline of the public school system lying down. It’s something you can fight for, and public school is still something parents can feel good about.