Choosing a school

Port Aransas

We took Eleanor to the Texas Coast last week. This was her first trip to the beach (aside from that one trip four years ago that I’m still trying to erase from my memory). Her preschool teacher had just done a unit on the ocean, so this was also a fun way to build on what she had learned.

It made me think back to a family that Greg and I met many years ago when we were on vacation in Costa Rica. The parents and their two children had been traveling for a month or two. The kids were home-schooled, and the parents built some of their lessons around the trips that they took. Greg and I were young and idealistic, and it was clear to us that this family was the family to emulate. We would home-school. We would travel the world. We would eschew the educational system that only taught kids to color in the lines and take multiple choice tests.

Now that we have a child and do not have the money to quit our jobs and travel the world, we have to decide how we will actually educate her. I do not have the patience to home-school, and I think it’s good for Eleanor to learn to be around other children. We live in a good school district and are across the street from the school Eleanor would attend.

Of course, our good school district is in Texas, which isn’t a state known for outstanding academics. Texas also requires students to take more standardized tests than any other state. Public high school students must pass 15 tests to graduate. I don’t have a problem with students needing to pass a test to finish school, but I do question the need for so many, especially when they are written by someone working for a testing company rather than the teacher of the students.

I dislike the way public schools have slashed art, music, foreign language, and history so that students have more time to be drilled on math and reading. Because a love of music might inspire a child to learn math. And history might spark an interest in reading. And as much as I know that we need more engineers, some children are meant to be artists and dancers and museum curators.

For every argument I have against sending Eleanor to our local school, I have a counter-argument. I grew up in a mediocre school district, though I was lucky to attend some of the best schools in that district. I know that parents and individual teachers have far more influence on education than the school as a whole. I like that I would already know many of the other parents and kids at the school when Eleanor begins. And she could walk there! And we wouldn’t have to pay anything more than our property taxes!

When I consider the successful people I know — and I’m defining success as having a career that you like and excel at — their success is generally not a result of the schools they attended. Or at least, it doesn’t appear to be. Their success comes from a passion for their jobs and a constant desire to learn and grow. Were they taught those qualities? At home or at school?

I’m aware that this isn’t a true problem — choosing between a good public school and a private school. I know that many parents have no choice but to send their children to struggling schools. I want Eleanor to have a great education, but school is only part of an education. Will attending an Ivy League school someday make her a happier person? Or a more generous person? I doubt it. That doesn’t mean I’m going to quit trying to save for Harvard though, you know, just in case.