Where Should We Send our Kids To School

What feels like now an eternity ago, when our oldest was just about to turn old enough for school, we kept her out and decided to do it ourselves. If you want to know why we chose this path the reasons are right here. But that was before. Before we actually had the experience of suffering through it. How we think our lives will go and how they actually do go are entirely two different things. I wanted (and still want to) shepherd our kids toward a sort of rebellion, and by rebellion I mean a desire, no matter what others may say, to stay true to themselves. But this takes so much maturity,so much confidence, an inner sense of purpose. And a long the way, we’re discovering, our kids often rebel hardest against our own best efforts to parent and school them.

Last year, we sent our son to public school, the one literally across the street from where we lived. Just the neighborhood school, attended mostly by poor and ethnically minority kids from surrounding neighborhoods, he’s one of the few white kids attending. And he loves it. He loves the school, he loves the teachers. He’s doing well. It’s hard to argue with these results. At home, he resisted and fought. At school, he’s thriving. This will be his last year at this school and we need to figure out what we’re going to do with him next. Similarly, our oldest is on the cusp of high school. She’s been homeschooled her entire life but we’re not sure we really want to homeschool high school after all.

To this end, last week, we went to the Tempe Prep open house. It’s a great school. It emphasizes the classical education style, something we’ve modeled our homeschooling curriculum on. They teach Latin, every child studies and performs in a theater production. Class sizes are small, typically less than 20 students. Most every child ends up at a four year university. The top students go on to elite universities, the best in the world. They all have the same basic curriculum, six subjects through the day, and each class has daily homework. It’s pretty intense.

It’s open enrollment, simply put your child on the waiting list and eventually a slot opens up. I don’t think they worry too much about children dropping out, in fact, I suspect that’s the result they want. I think the rigor and the waiting lists, the intensity and the level of homework, all act as a natural selection filters, keeping the more marginal children out of the school system. I’d love to know the exact economic makeup of the student body. I’m guessing it’s a majority middle class demographic.

I thought we were rebelling as homeschoolers, but homeschooling has gone mainstream. It feels much more subversive these days to just send our kids to the neighborhood public school.

You see, I love the curriculum of Tempe Prep. I want my kids to be studying history from the original sources and to take drama and music classes from teachers who love their subject, to rub shoulders with other kids who are engaged and are trying. I also believe our kids need to get access to other points of view, to be inspired by teachers who do it professionally, full time.

I’m not sure yet where my kids will end up. My oldest has just turned 13. She’s painfully shy. She’s been homeschooled all of her life. I’m not sure, really, just how academically strong they really are. Every parent naturally believes and hopes for the best out of their children. I’m no different. But schooling at home doesn’t give one a good sense of perspective. I’m not sure this will come completely into focus until high school anyway.

But I think there’s something wrong in our culture. There’s this cult of over-achievement and perfectionism and for some their career is everything and all-consuming. I think the work-place is getting more competitive, at least in some sectors of it, as economic inequality gets more pronounced as our global wealth clusters in the hands of the too few.

I want to raise curious, ambitious, caring life-long learners, but I’m not sure sending them to an over-achieving school is the way to get there. It feels insular, not really connected to the world at large. But homeschooling sure isn’t connecting our kids to the world either. Again, I’m not sure if this is a risk for our kids. I’m not sure if they will be the type of people to stress over every grade. They seem pretty content with themselves at the moment. But homeschooling we don’t grade and my son is cruising in his public school without too much of an effort – I actually like this about his school. Feeling stressed about academics is not something a ten year old should be feeling.

Perhaps the truly rebellious path these days, as a white, middle class, upwardly striving, educated two-parent family, is to purposely send our kids to the nearest available public school, a school where perhaps they are in the ethnic minority, with plenty of other kids who are poor from families who struggle.

I’m wondering, as well, if this is perhaps the best way to send our kids out into the world, by, you know, sending them off into the world, the real world, with real kids, with real problems, where they may encounter drugs and sex and poverty and broken families.

But what angers me more than anything is how unfair things can be. At Tempe Prep, the school offers Latin and drama, small class sizes, engaged and passionate educators. And it also only serves 250 kids. I’m not sure why every kid can’t get this exactly this is they want it at the school they already attend.

One final point. My kids aren’t the most athletic, but still they do sports because I think every kid should do sports. In the fall, they are all playing soccer in the rec league. Our son is probably the least talented kid on his team this year. But he plays. The coach gives him time. The other kids are nice to him. They work together and they play each and every week. I think being forced to work with other kids who are less (or more) talented than you is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to mentor and be mentored. To learn both patience and humility. To realize life is and should be more about relationships than it is about achievement.

It’s not about clustering oneself off with just those who have the exact same interest and background. Sometimes life requires you to get a long with others with differing skills, interests and background. Sometimes we need to slow down and bring another along. To spend a little extra time teaching or mentoring. So many of our big problems are caused by the elites playing games with the economy to benefit them at the expense of others.

But I’m not sure what we’re going to do about school. I’m not sure how rebellious I really, truly am.