We went to an openhouse for a local Friends school Saturday. It was a nice little school, with small class sizes and a good philosophy. It looked like the sort of place we could all be very happy with.
I've been thinking a lot about our educational options for K lately, as we need to start working out now what we want to do for kindergarten for next year. One of the reasons I wanted K to get into the public school preschool program (besides being FREE) was that it seemed like a good way to experience the local public schools at a point when it won't have too many negative effects on her education. So far, I've been kind of iffy on the experience. The preschool itself is okay. They have a decent classroom and only 20 kids, which is excellent compared to class sizes at higher grades. They do a bit of academic work, but at one letter a week, it's hardly academic hothousing. K's class is very diverse, which I like quite a lot. I don't think we would ever have to worry about diversity sending her to city schools.
But I don't think they could possibly be more unfriendly to working parents, given that they don't offer any before or after school care. Between the legal holidays, inservice days and the weekly half day, it feels like she's been out of school more than she's been in. We're already having headaches dealing with her care on the one weekday I could work, and I'm having palpitations at the thought of trying to work around her schedule if I get another job. More concerning is the fact that whenever I do actual research on the Philadelphia public schools, I find that their reputation of being crowded and violent is entirely deserved.
I'm a big proponent of public schools in theory. But there's a definite tension between my ideals and my obligation to the real child standing in front of me to provide her with what she needs to be successful in life, which at minimum involves a good, safe place to learn. I'm not sure the public schools here can even live up to that standard.
And after that, there's the question of how far we go to find the situation that's the best match for K. This dovetails with two things I've been thinking about a lot lately:
1. Every day since last March, K has woken up and said "Today's not a preschool day." I'm pretty sure it was a new baby anxiety issue, especially since it reached its absolute worst right before Alec came. For the most part, she gets dressed and goes to school pretty readily, and even if we have trouble getting her out the door, she's usually fine by the time we go to school, and fine when I pick her up. But a couple weeks ago, I got the first attempt of her coming up to me and piteously announcing that she can't go to school because she's sick, followed by the world's most fake cough.
And oh, my heart. She had managed to step directly into the deep pit of my school issues. I spent years pretending to be sick to get out of going to school. Part of it was the social hell (more on that in a minute), but I think part of it was just that I wasn't physically suited to that environment. I'm a very strong introvert and I suspect I have some significant sensory issues as well, and I think being surrounded by that many people all day long was just too exhausting for me, so I needed periodic breaks. It almost certainly would have been easier on me to attend a smaller school.
I'm wary of projecting my issues onto K, since I don't necessarily think her not wanting to go to preschool is more than an extension of her continuing attempt to meld herself directly to my skin and possibly burrow into my torso. Right now, this is a wait and see issue. But I'm pretty sure she's an introvert too, which wouldn't be much of a shocker given that she has two introverted parents. She seems to have gotten a large dose of my personality, although thankfully with less shyness. But the introversion is definitely there and I have to wonder what going to a huge, crowded public school will do to her.
2. Reading this post, where the author talks about discovering her son is being teased and how it brought back her own bad experiences with bullying. I had started to leave a comment, but it was turning into this post so I decided to save it for my own blog.
To put it mildly, her post hit a nerve. The author posted a picture of herself from the teasing period, and if you had added glasses and a retainer, it would have been me in second grade. For me, the teasing lasted from second to tenth grade. I'm dreading the day it happens to my children, because there's not much I'm going to be able to do about it. The plain truth is that you can't teach a child to combat a bully. If they're not the type of person to be able to come up with a snappy comeback on the spot, they're probably not going to be good at delivering any lines you supply them, and those lines may or may not be relevant to the situation. I can say from experience that piously informing bullies that they're revealing their deep insecurity is, um, ineffective. You can tell someone to ignore the tormenting all you want, but let's face it, we're social animals. We care about what other people think of us. When someone truly doesn't care about other people's opinions, it's considered a personality disorder. The only real defense from bullying comes from the school taking an active anti-bullying approach.
So what are the other choices?
1. Homeschooling - we have the option of online charter schools here, so it would be possible to homeschool while not having to take charge of the actual teaching and planning if I don't feel up to it. My worries about homeschooling are more in the social areas. I know it's perfectly possible to homeschool and still adequately socialize your child. But so far, I've done an absolutely lousy job of getting K regular access to other children without sending her to daycare or preschool. We've had a handful of playdates with one other child we met through her daycare last year and that's about it. The other factor is that I freely admit that I have discovered that I'm not well suited to be with my children all day, every day. If I could somehow homeschool while having someplace to send K for a couple hours a day, or even three days a week, I would seriously consider it. There's actually a place in the Philadelphia suburbs where I could send her part of the day, but it's on the other side of the city. Homeschooling would kill any hope of my working any more than the paltry hours I am now, unless again, I was able to find someplace to send her part of the day.
2. Private school - we would love to send K to a Friends School. It would expose her to her Quaker heritage, and I really like the idea of her going to a school where kindness and respect for others is an explicit part of the curriculum. The drawback? Most of the Friends schools around here average $20000 a year. I am not prepared to go into debt to send my child to kindergarten. The Friends school we saw this weekend is much much cheaper, to the point that it's actually conceivably within the realm of affordable if we're thrifty enough. One thing I keep reminding myself is that next year, the car will either be paid off, or we'll be paying a hopefully much lower car payment that will be further diminished by getting car payments from my brother. But on the flip side of homeschooling, I would almost certainly have to get more work if we want to be able to save any money while paying for private school, however cheap it is.
3. Decide that K is unlikely to get knifed in first grade and send her to public school while doing our level best to get the hell out of Philadelphia. This idea has quite a bit of merit, but revolves around being able to find a job someplace else. So, you know, not something entirely in our control.
So that's what's filling my brain lately. Well, that and occasional feeling guilty for rampant class privilege, but good education shouldn't be a privilege.