Saturday, March 27, 2010

Choosing a school

I read a great quote this week that I will paraphrase: We should send our kids to good schools so that they have good childhoods, not so that IBM can be more competitive with Sony.

We're not exactly sure what to do.

Our oldest girl is in kindergarten right now. We weren't certain that it was a great idea to put her in school in the first place. I can go on and on about the toxic nature of our public school system. I'm fully loaded for that. But we sent her anyway, partially because of her own enthusiasm for the idea.

She's really thrived there, too. I won't go on and on like a parent living vicariously through their own kindergartener's academic glory, but she's doing really well. And, for the most part, she's still really excited about school.

But here's the bite of it: this just isn't a very good school.

With all due respect to her teacher, who we like a lot, the school in general is not anything like the school we'd hoped it would be. Their art teacher quit last year and they have no plans to replace the position. Their music program is severely lacking; many days they watch shows in music class. Their school Holiday program took place in the food court of a local mall.

The straw that broke the camel's back for us was the read-in they held the other night. We didn't expect much from it, the announcement suggested that we bring some books to read with our child and that there would be snacks and the like. When I was little, we had a read-in or two, and they were always a lot of fun. We were supposed to bring sleeping bags and pillows to lounge around and read, drinking hot chocolate and that kind of stuff. Basically, it was an activity meant to promote a culture of reading.

But my daughter's read-in was the poorest excuse for an extra-curricular activity known to man. First off, it was sponsored by some company or another; they got door prizes from the corporate sponsors. Second, the whole thing was built around these six different activities, none of which were executed with any degree of thoughtfulness. At all.

You were supposed to go around and do each activity and get stamps for doing them. In many instances, there was no one around to stamp your activity, much less explain what the hell it was. There was a bookmaking activity, for example, that consisted of a huge pile of papers, some of which were stapled together, and markers and stuff. The piles were a mess and just what you were supposed to do was not at all self-evident.

Everywhere we went, there were parents rushing their kids through so that they could get stamps as quickly as possible. But, in all honesty, there weren't that many parents there. In a school that has K-6th grades, I would guess that there were less than 35 students and their parents in attendance.

Snacks? Lame. I want you to take a moment and imagine what kind of snacks you might pick up for a group of kids. Okay, no make it junkier. Okay, no read what they provided: cups of Mountain Dew and four different kinds of potato chips.

Awesome job, right?

So we've started shopping around. We're looking at schools with gifted and talented programs. My issue with those is that they focus on accelerated learning, as if there's a huge rush for her to learn stuff. But the good thing is that she would be with a group of students whose parents, at least, care.

What we really want is a school that stresses the arts and humanities. I'd like it if she could learn an instrument and if she gets some hands-on art time. Is that asking too much?

The skewed priorities of public education make this a dangerous time to trust it.


Anonymous said...

My kid isn't even in kindy yet and I am having palpitations about sending her there. We are homeschooling because all of the schools around here are crap. utter crap.

PearlsOfSomething said...

You said it yourself:
"You dont' need to go to school to learn how to read. You don't need to have a teacher teach you. you can teach yourself, so long as you have someone there--a parent, a grandparent, a big sister, a babysitter--who is willing to share what they know about it."

I pulled my eldest out of school after the 4th grade (BTW, he taught himself how to read when he was 3). His transformation back to the creative kid I had handed them was a sign to keep each of his siblings from ever being enrolled. :-)