I grew up in a small town with one high school. Everyone went to public school. Well, everyone went to public school except the Catholics during elementary school. They joined us in the sixth grade. There was no worry about school choice. When I was five years old, my mother took me to kindergarten screening, and a few months later, I went to Oakland Heights Elementary to get my learning on. (When she didn’t think they were teaching me to read soon enough, she decided to do it herself. For some sadistic reason she chose McGuffey Readers as the instrument of her torture. I’m not convinced they weren’t the 1836 edition. We were both scarred from the experience. After that, she left the education to the professionals.)
Overall, it was a pretty straightforward process. In Russellville, your kid went to the elementary school based on the zone you lived in and then everyone piled in together after the 5th grade. I understand even Russellville isn’t that simple any more. Nothing is.
According to Monkey Boy’s birthday, he should start pre-K4 in the fall. Now we have pre-K3 and pre-K4 to get kids ready for Kindergarten, which is supposed to get kids ready for school. I’m not knocking the formal education; I think it’s wonderful. I think kids in a nurturing structured, learning environment as early as possible is the only way my poor state will ever get out of the cycle of poverty. We also have many more choices for Monkey Boy’s education: public school, private school, charter school, magnet school, home school (ok, really that’s just an option for other people. Home schooling Monkey Boy would be a disastrous decision for us) Unfortunately, the downside of giving people choices, is now we have to choose.
This is why I tell people, as the mother of the 3-year-old, 4 years ago, I was a really good mother. I had this all figured out. I could have told you exactly what was gonna happen in August (and probably did, if you stood still long enough to hear it): we were going to enroll him in public pre-K and he would go to our neighborhood school, followed by 13 years of Little Rock Public School education, when he would go off to an Ivy League college and marry a rocket scientist who happened to look like a super model to give me beautifully smart grandchildren one day.
I fully related to Garrison Keillor when he wrote about being a Democrat in an old school way:
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, … the basis of the simple social compact by which we live and also You are not so different from other people so don’t give yourself airs, which was drummed into us children back in the old days when everyone went to public schools. …. The democracy of the gospel. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. All we like sheep have gone astray. These articles of faith… bind us together in a union of souls, each one free, each one devoted to the union … I grew up among Bible-believing people in Minnesota, a cold weather state… Everyone else is just as cold as you are so don’t complain about it, this is not a personal experience.
Then I met my kid. He’s bright and quirky and not simple at all. Even though the calendar says he should start public school in the fall, his teachers, Baby Daddy and I agree, he’s not ready. He would be the youngest in his class, and there are a myriad of social reasons not to do that to him. But public pre-K funding is set up so that he must go with his class as dictated by the calendar. (There are very good, not at all interesting public policy reasons for this. I’m not the slightest bit angry about it. It’s just the fact of the matter.) So now we have to investigate the private school world.
This is challenging for a lot of reasons. It pushes against all of my small town raising. Except for a couple of years in high school after we moved away, I’m a public school kid. I wanted to be a public school mom. Public schools take everyone. Private schools have interviews and evaluations and forms and applications. I get it. They do all of it to be sure they are putting him in the right class on the right track and he will benefit from all that, but somewhere down deep it feels like judgment. That’s a hard thing to feel for yourself, and excruciating to feel for your kid. He’s 3, for crying out loud!
I don’t know where he’s going to end up next year. Likely, he will get in to some schools and not others. He’s honestly not a good candidate for every school, so that makes sense. Whatever we decide, we will do what we believe is best for Monkey Boy. That’s our job. But I can’t help but feel like a little bit of a hypocrite.