What does a parent do when she knows that public school is probably not the most ideal place for learning, when private schools are exorbitantly expensive, when homeschooling seems like a valid choice, but the thought of every hour of every day with her one child alone sounds challenging, and when the decision has to be made, like, yesterday?
I am an idealist. I think that things can be as good as you’re willing to make them. I believe that, despite how many “American Schools are Ruining Our Children” articles I read, that my child’s school will be different. That my child will not suffer the slings and arrows of a “public school education.” But while I carry my idealist angel on one shoulder, there’s a realist devil on the other. Your child is not that special, says the devil. Your child will be one of at least 25 in his class, the devil says. Your child, no matter how smart and engaged and excited about learning he is, will indeed be herded like an animal into a row of desks, a line in the hallway, a cafeteria crowded with sleepy teenagers on an early Saturday morning to take a long and horrible test. The devil tells me that it’s irresponsible for me to sign my kid up for that fate when there are other options.
(I think it’s important to note the other options here. I acknowledge my privilege here. The privilege of being able, financially, to choose among public, private, or home — of staying home to school or going to work — of even having the time and the education and the space to contemplate this.)
I am public school educated and I am a Big-Government liberal lefty. I am pro-communities, pro-taxes, and pro-education in general. I live in a “good” school district, if by “good” you mean “well-performing” and I will admit that, to an extent, I do. I want my kid to go to public school and have a wonderful experience there and I want to be of help both in the classroom and out in order to make his years there excellent for him and for all the kids who will follow him there. I believe that part of a whole education includes diversity and comfort-zone-testing. I believe that kids who are given all the free rein in the world will have a rude awakening someday when they are big people, out in the world of rules.
After extensive conversation, my wife and I have decided on public school. We have decided that when he is finished with Pre-K at his private pre-school, where he is one of 8 children in his class, he will go on to our local public school, which we have only heard tell about. (I plan to visit, but I haven’t. Maybe when I do, I will feel less conflicted. Or, God forbid, more.) But even though the decision is made, as each day ticks us closer to Fall, 2014, I worry about our decision. I shame myself into believing that I should be homeschooling. That it’s only selfishness keeping me from doing what is best for my child (I’m not convinced homeschooling is best, either. It’s all a little abstract and kind of irrational.)
Is this what it’s just going to be? A lifetime of making decisions and then second-guessing them? Is there a time, as a parent, when you’re actually able to find comfort in the decisions you’ve thoughtfully made? Because right now, it doesn’t seem like it.