Sunday, April 22, 2007


Because I am freakishly neurotic and am in constant need of something to worry about, I am already allowing myself to become consumed with Joshua's education. The next few years don't worry me so much. I'll stay at home with him until I think he's ready for preschool (maybe when he's three, maybe when he's four) and then most likely send him to one of the Montessori schools in the area.

It's what happens after that that makes me nervous.

Jay and I are both products of public schools. I attended my neighborhood elementary school, magnet school for 5th and 6th grades (the only one in Nashville at the time!), and neighborhood junior high and high schools. At the time, the high school I attended was one of the best in the city. I've heard recently, however, that it's not so much anymore. Jay attended a public high school unlike any public high school I've ever seen. It puts most private schools to shame, but he swears to me that it's a public school. To top it off, both of my grandmothers and my mother are/were public school teachers.

So here are our options as I see them:
  1. Public School. The public schools in our city have a pretty bad reputation within the community, but I'm not sure whether that reputation is legitimate or not. Our Kindermusik teacher, a self-avowed advocate for public schooling and former public school teacher herself, told me last week that she refuses to send her children to public school in our town. A recent op-ed piece in the local paper shamed city residents for their lack of support for the public schools given that some of them have made some pretty impressive achievements. Again, I think this is going to take some research. To make matters worse, I'm eventually going to read this book.

  2. Magnet School. There are lots of magnet schools in town. It seems the options are endless. My concern with this option is that, even at the elementary level, I sense an element of of tracking. Out of six elementary magnet schools, two are math/science-focused, one is Montessori, and one is a microsociety (which seemed harmless at first, but do I really want my kid learning that western society is the only legitimate way to do things?) On the other hand, the magnet school closest to our house is a multiple intelligence school, which is promising. However, Jay's been keeping up with the magnet school system and from what he's read the magnet schools in our town will most likely run out of federal funding by the time Joshua's old enough to darken the door.

    One of the drawbacks pointed out by our Kindermusik teacher is that some of the magnet schools are in "bad neighborhoods." This is not a concern of ours. The magnet school I attended was in one of the most "dangerous" neighborhoods in Nashville. I never felt unsafe or threatened in any way, and my parents obviously weren't terribly concerned or I wouldn't have gone there.

  3. Private School. I've started to assume that any kid not wearing a school uniform is either home-schooled or a dropout. That's how many private schools there are in town. And to make things more interesting, most of them are church-affiliated. Very little scares me more than a church-affiliated private school in the Bible Belt. There's only one independent private school in town, and Jay and I have long since talked about sending Joshua there. I'm having second and third thoughts, though. First of all, the racial/ethnic diversity is basically nonexistant. Second, how are we going to help Joshua grasp the concept of "privilege" if he's surrounded only by people that look like him? Third, I can't afford a Lexus SUV and country-club membership. (To my readers who attended private school, please do not take offense. I realize that not all private schools are this way. This one is).

  4. Homeschool. Oh, yes. I have considered it, to the chagrin of my mother and best friend (who is a public school teacher, as well). It's helped that I've met some folks (online and otherwise) who homeschool, not out of fear that the Godless public schools are going to turn their children into drug-using/alcohol-drinking/sex-having atheists, but because they really feel that's the way their children learn best. Of course the drawbacks to this are endless. I am not a pedagogue and I think it is insulting to those amazing teachers out there to claim that I could educate my child as well as they could. I am not a terribly patient person and I'm not sure I could provide the nurturing learning environment I want my child to have. The list goes on, but I have to come clean. I have considered homeschooling.
Anyone want to share your thoughts?


Kat E said...

Luckily, the public schools in our new town (at least at the elementary level) are supposed to be quite good, so I won't have to worry about this for a long while. As for homeschooling, I think it could work well for some people (not for me, because I will have to be working full time...and I'm also not the most patient person, I think my kids would hate me!). I'm guessing you may have a hard time finding other homeschooling parents in your area who aren't creepy right wingers (but maybe I'm just naive here). One of the bloggers I read--the Pioneer Woman--homeschools her kids, but it's a unique situation--they are ranchers out in the middle of nowhere and their kids help out on the ranch. It seems to work well for them.

How bad are the public schools, really? Bad enough that you couldn't make up for their deficits with a little supplementation at home? (Like, taking the kids to museums on weekends, things like that?) Is it that they're academically bad or socially bad? Both?

At least you have a few years to research and figure this all out!

Jennifer said...

I am extremely lucky. The public school system in our town, which my daughter attends, is top notch. True, it took me forever to get her the recognition and help she needed with her Asperger’s, and they almost lost us because of it. But once they got it, it has been smooth sailing.

I love the Montessori system and would have loved for Noelle to go that route. But I didn’t get ejookeyted about Montessori until she was in 5th grade, and few schools will admit children at that age.

Our town is also full of private schools, and all are religious. I want nothing to do with that. Ours are ethnically diverse, but not philosophically diverse (obviously). And if it’s a matter of the academics being better, then we need to get on the ball and demand the public school get with the program. Again, I am very fortunate in that our public school’s academic focus is on par with the private schools, from what I’ve seen and heard.

TLS said...

I have to agree with Jennifer....if we want good public school systems we have to engage them and demand they improve.

Of course, that's all well and good said from the mother of two canines.

I went to public schools my entire life. My elementary was not a top notch school, but there were programs that helped me get what I needed. I was part of GATE...anyone of you remember that? It was for kids who needed more academic stimulation.

My high school was a magnet school and like a mini-university. But it was not anything like the other Cincy public schools.

As a pastor I often advise parents against home schooling because I think kids socialization and exposure to diversity.

As for the religious schools option, just talk to masondixon or read his blog.

It is a hard decision, but you do, after all have several years to weigh the options. If you want other things to worry about I can give you a list....worry is a favorite pastime of mine!

TLS said...

I can't need socialization, etc.

martha said...

Not knowing anything about your Kindermusik teacher or the public schools, I nevertheless must point out that if she worries about Bad Neighborhoods maybe her opinion on the State Of Public Schools could be a little wonky.

I'm sure that she has legit opinions on lots of educational matters, but Fear of the Unwashed Masses can taint the most objective view of an educational system.

Any book by Jonathan Kozol is excellent reading about public school issues.

Homeschooling sometimes seems like the only way to protect little people against a childhood full of standard test result oriented mind control, doesn't it? I don't blame you a bit for considering it, even with all the caveats.

Not to throw more wood on the worry fire, but the private school option becomes twice as expensive with the impending BGB, right?

Jenny said...

I will weigh in, too, on the school issue...brilliantly, of course, since my kids are not yet school aged! ;)
Of course we all want the best schools for our kids, but what are we telling our kids when only the ones who can afford private schools are the ones who can get a decent education? It's a hard call, because no one wants to subject their kids to substandard education (on that note, the kindergarten teachers at my mom's school in KY are now required not only to teach reading, but PARTS OF SPEECH! egads, if the kids can't even read, how does this help?)...
And a diversity of kids makes better opportunities, and that means rich kids, poor kids, not just black and white (though that is beneficial, too).
And if I had to homeschool my little darlings, someone would be in the loony bin before the end of the first week -- though I guess some homeschool cooperatives can be good. (I know horror and success stories.)
But at some point, we have to be members of society as a whole...
I echo the others when I sigh and say that fortunately the schools in my area are very good.
I also echo others when I encourage at-home enrichment no matter what the decision; parents have to always be teachers, too.

anna said...

I only have a few minutes to type....

Sydney's been in them all...
Private Christian Preschool
Public Elementar
Department of Defense School (DOD)
Korean School
Public School

I have a mixed opinion of them all.

The private christian school is the one that told us she was ADHD, which in itself made us be better researchers and thus we quickly became more involved. We
experienced the dumbing down to some degree here.

Her Kindergarten year was clearly a dumbing down for her....they were teaching letters she was reading at a 1st grade level. The teacher was adamant she was a problem child yet she failed the TAG test by one point (which is a really long story so I won't bore you). We were constantly amazed by the dumbing down.

I then homeschooled our first year in Korea. We nearly killed each other. We do not mix well in the classroom environment. But she learned alot more then any other kid in 1st grade we knew.

The DOD school was reasonable. She loved her teacher her teacher was strict she did well. Her teacher knew her stuff too. There wasn't awhole lot of dumbing down going on here.

Then we homeschooled/Korean School.
That was an eye opening experience but once again Sydney did well. This was a little less brutal as she went to Korean school during the day and worked on her assignments in Englsh when ever they did something in Korean that she really couldn't understand and then we went over it all in the evening. She had social interaction, she had a classroom in which she did her work. All went well until she got a new teacher who hid her books for about 3 weeks. No joke.

Then back to America and the public school system. Her first school back here was the top notch of the area. We held her back a year as she needed some social/teacher readjustment time. She really excelled. She got straight A's, took violin, won science fair...ect. ect. ect. It really was the top notch school.

Then we moved and though we were told this new school was top notch it clearly is not. Football and cheerleaders are the priority. The teacher that teaches Sydney's best loved subjects is a nut case and so Sydney went from loving those subjects to just getting by. There's no academic clubs that she can be in until she's in 6th grade and no musical instruments until then either (and then she had to choose band or PE). Iv'e watched my daughter who was excelling just barely hanging on to B's in math, science and history.

I know you all probably didn't want to read all that's just an example of how you have to hand select the school. Maybe the Montessori school is the way to go( we have relatives who have gone this route with great success) or the private or the won't really know until your kids gets in there and you see the dirt, The good the bad and the ugly.

Korean school really opened our eyes to that as we were told how awesome their schooling is, how hard they work, how highly intellegent they all are.
Our experience was that they spend alot of hours in the classroom...watching movies, playing computer games until test time and then they just take study for the test. It was interesting to say the least.

Mary Beth said...

My, you are wise women.

Kat e--That's a good question. I think that the public school naysayers in town would claim that they are bad both academically and socially, but Martha's comment has made me wonder whether people are just assuming that the schools are bad because The People Who Go There Don't Look Like Me, or whether I should legitimately be concerned. This is the South, and the notion that racially/ethnically diverse school is automatically a "bad" school could be alive and well.

I'd like to think that it's possible to demand that the public schools improve what they offer to students, but they can't do that on their own. I do believe, of course, that one way to empower public educators is to give them the opportunity to teach instead of expecting them to be surrogate parents. My mom has awful stories of parents who simply don't discipline their children at home and expect the teachers to do that hard work for them. (Anna, you may want to weight in on that with your Korea experience). But it's well nigh impossible to keep good teachers at schools that don't even have enough money to give a textbook to every kid. We can demand all we want but until there's funding, the best we can do is just partner with teachers and do the best we can.

Martha--I went to a lecture by Jonathan Kozol at the L.A. Times Festival of Books and cried the whole time. His passion for children and education was too much. Most of the attendees were Teach for America teachers and they thought they were sitting there listening to God. I didn't doubt it. I couldn't put down Ordinary Resurrections. Yes, although most private schools give a multi-child discount, it's still well out of our price range.

Jenny--Indeed, another wise point regarding diversity and priorities and what's worth teaching our children about the way the world works. Oh, Joshua will be enriched at home. (And probably at school with dad, too).

There are some interesting points about dumbing down and substandard education. I was a reader by the time I got to kindergarten even though we were learning phonics in kindergarten. I'm not sure how that worked for me...maybe my mom will ring in on that one because the only thing I remember about kindergarten is constantly getting checks beside "Refrain from talking excessively" on my report card. Those of us who excelled in reading always got to go to the next grade for reading time (and I suppose it was the same for math, but I wasn't invited to go to the next grade). And we had good gifted and talented programs, too.

So my schools were really intentional about providing skill-appropriate education. We had piles of AP opportunities in high school (something I want to check in to, too. I'm aghast at how many of Jay's students come into the engineering program without having taken AP Physics or AP Calculus) and the one guy in my class who took AP Calculus his junior year just took another math class at a nearby college his senior year.

This could, of course, all be moot. Our kids might be the averagest of the average and we wouldn't even need to worry about excelled academics.

Then there are social issues, which are much harder to get a read on.

I appreciate everyone's comments. Keep 'em coming!

Kat E said...

You know what, no matter where your kids go to school they will have the distinct advantage of having parents who are truly involved in their lives and dedicated to finding the best for them. So you're already a step ahead!

Jenny said...

kat e -- you are totally right about that; parents who are involved make for a much-better educated youngster!!!! Hear hear! Amen! (and so on)
Of course there is always frustration on the part of the kid who's ahead of the grade level (I also got checks and "Ns" (for needs improvement) in the excessive talking category (go figure), and got scolded in Kindergarten for calling it "easy math" (I learned THAT name from my brothers, the Thief and the Dunce). And yes, I was an utter nerd and hated school, kids, life, etc, from 4th grade through 9th grade pretty much. But. All that said, I got a good public school education despite the loo-loos I had as teachers from time to time (file under Miss Kring, Mrs. Fewell, and almost all the "female" gym teachers...)

Laura said...

MB, it's so hard to comment not being familiar with the schools, but after reading all of the other comments (which all make excellent points) and thinking about it overnight, my comment is more in the lines of giving the public schools a chance. Why assume that you'll have to put Joshua in a private school until there is an actual problem? You and Jay will be involved parents and will know early on if there is a problem serious enough to take him out of the public schools.

Now you should know that I am surrounded by public school teachers in my life, so I am biased. That and the fact that I can't imagine paying the equivalent of a college tuition before my child attends college, much less high school.

anna said...

I think Laura makes a good point here. With Sydney as an example as well as you and Jay public schools can be good. They can be horrendous too but if you're proactive and involved it can be a good experience.

I think this year has been exceptionally tough on Sydney because I was pregnant/mother to a newborn the whole year. I failed as a parent to go down there and talk to the guidance counselor, principal, and problem teacher. Sure we went to conferences where we were told that Sydney really is a good kid she just needs to stop talking (why is it always the talking?!) and be more careful on her work. Nevermind that each time we brought with us pages of homework where the teacher marked something wrong that wasn't wrong, or the problem was written poorly, ect. After a few instances of that the teacher just got worse. And get this....after sending out an email to get volunteers to makes copies for her becasue she's used up her copying allotment for the year and we volunteer and make some 300+ copies Sydney is made the substitute teacher helper, called the best kid, ect. It made me want to gag! This after being told that she had lied about being in the Math Club at her old school because she failed a simple math homework sheet. So maybe it's not the school but this particular teacher.
Sorry for the longwinded vent but it just goes to show that you're just going to have to jump in there and test the water at some point.

Oh and on social/racial demographics her current school is full of lexus drivers and not very racially diverse. At her old public school they had kids bused in all over because Tulsa allows you to pick your school not based on where you are located but by application and first come first serve baisis. So there were lots of lower income families even though it was in one of the priciest neighborhoods and a very racially diverse student body and I think that was one of the reasons why it was so good.

Oh and yes in Korea it is the Teachers job to discipline and not the parents. It was a scary situation at times to say the least. Luckily Sydney wasn't ever hit with the stick but she had her share of watching other kids get hit and insulted by the teacher.
On the other hand I think many teachers' hands are tied here in America to do any real diciplining.

On another side note/vent~ Sydney has 9 kids in her class that have some form of ADHD or ADD. These kids get to act out all the time with little to no reprecussions on the other hand if Sydney or her peers step out of line in the least bit of a way they are in trouble. Which granted I've had to teach my child so I know there are grounds for punishment in many cases but to let these other kids get away with drinking cokes in class, talking back to the teacher, not doing their homework, ect. is just setting the classroom up for failure. At one conference Jesse was told that Sydney talked to much so he asked what the rule was for talking and the teacher replied that she didn't have one. That the kids could talk quitely unless she said to stop. What kind of rules are those?!

Okay I have to stop...maybe I need to do a good vent post over all this stuff. Maybe I need therapy? :)

Mercedes said...

Brooke and I worry about the same issues here in South Carolina. We moved to the part of the Charlotte area that has the best public schools, but then we learned that means the best public schools in CHARLOTTE. And, South Carolina just passed this weird law that wrests the funding for schools out of local hands and the pot all sits in Columbia and is meted out from there. So, while our schools are good so far, by the time Drew gets there, it could be a very different story.

There are a number of good private schools in Charlotte (one in particular that I LOVE), but, at a cost of $12,000/year, that is a lot of cash to sink in from Kindergarten on.

So, we have decided to take a wait and see approach. We will let him start in public school and see how it goes. If we feel that he really is not stimulated the way we want him to be or the way he needs to be, then we will consider sending him to private school. Our other failsafe is to consider a move to the DC area and move to northern Virginia and send him to public school there, where they have some of the best public schools in the nation. Sure, DC is a lot more expensive, etc., but, if we are going to need to spend $12,000 and eventually $24,000 every year to educate our children the way we want, then, maybe the move would be worth it.

These are big issues and so difficult to navigate. Drew is already in preschool part-time because we felt he needed more stimulation and more structure even at this age. He has responded very well and comes home with words we have not taught him -- which is very exciting. They have a whole curriculum for the kids, but, also have an emphasis on getting the kids outside and doing physical activities. We feel this important for Drew, who is just so active and needs lots of physical activity to keep him on an even keel. His preschool even manages to be extremely diverse (quite a feat in Charlotte) and he is exposed to music, Spanish, and soccer every week. So, we are very pleased with his preschool and feel that it will help us to determine what kind of learner he is and whether he really might benefit from going straight to private school. We'll see. I think that's the best you can do.

And, I concur with the folks above who pointed out that Joshua, even in the dullest of public schools, will thrive and learn anyway just because of who his parents are and how interested they will be in his education.

cv said...

I have seen kids in bad schools with involved parents do great.

I have seen kids in private schools with 'checked out' parents just bomb.

I just watched a piece on Andre Aggasi's school in Las Vegas, an inspiration on what can be done on no more money than the national average in the worst environment WHEN PARENTS ARE ENGAGED.

That's all that matters. Be in on everything, from start to finish.

Ruth said...

I'm a product of life-long public education - both rural and urban, and generally in what would be considered the worst parts of town (the 'hood' as my neighbors called it). I have to agree with most of the comments regarding the involvement of parents (or in my case parent) in the value of public education for kids. And I can't discount the value of the public school teachers as well, for without most of them, I would have floundered unchallenged and uninterested. So I believe the best combination to be a cooperative effort of parents, teachers, and the student. My mother, my grandparents, and many of my teachers all saw to it that I got the extra stimulation I needed to stay engaged. I think public schools are what each parent/child makes of them.

Joanne Tansey said...

Just quick- could you send me a note to
That way I could e-mail you :-)
I looked but couldn't find your last e-mail.

Angela said...

Umm this has nothing to do with your post, but how sad is it that I'm just now finding out you are 26 weeks pregnant with a baby girl! Where in the world have I been! I'm so excited for you! CONGRATS!