Back to School

When I first moved to Chicago, I heard murmurs of how it was so important for some people to get their child into “The Right” day care program and elementary school that they started when the child was not yet born. I couldn’t understand it as I didn’t have a child at that time. Then Bean was born and I was vaguely aware that I would need to search for an elementary school for her, but I wasn’t too worried. When I wanted her to stay home and when I was ready for her to go to a small  home day care center, they both came to me easily enough. I didn’t really think finding an elementary school would be much different.

Bean turned three before I decided it was about time to start looking for a school. On my job, we have various school groups coming through in order to gain service hours. One of the chaperones recommended that I check out their school. It wasn’t even on my radar of things to do, but when she mentioned financial aid, I considered it. From there began a period I can term CRAZY TIME.

I am a very low-key, low-maintenance person…maybe it is minimalism in my life, maybe it is my personality. Regardless, I was truly shocked at how many options there were outside of strictly public school, private school and home school to choose from.  In the public school system, there were different tier schools, your neighborhood school, charter schools, selection schools, schools specializing in languages or arts or classical education and more. In the private school system, there are Catholic schools, Christian schools, independent catholic schools, Montessori, Waldorf , classical education schools, German, French, and more. In the home school realm, there is unschooling, Christian homeschooling, science based, and various methods.  Once I began looking at all of the education options available, my head began to spin.

Decision paralysis set in for a short while. I had recommendations to a few schools. I came across homeschooling families and groups. I had an idea of what I wanted Bean to learn and where I wanted her to go to school. I visited a few schools and quickly decided where I did not want her to go and the type of people with whom I did not want to be stuck in parent activities. After a few months of intense searching and questioning myself about the level of involvement I wanted to contribute and who I want Bean to ultimately be, I made my decision.

Looking around at the people with whom I work, go to church, have as friends and neighbors, I realized that much of the intensity surrounding choosing the right or best school for my child was unnecessary. Every person that I know, all of the people we enjoy spending time with in our circle have all been educated differently and yet, we all meet on a common plane. There is something that we all share that allows us to enjoy each others company. We can all read well, we can all write, we can often make good decisions, what more is necessary? As long as I do the best that I can to make sure Bean is in a safe environment, learning the basics of education, I am doing my job. If she does the best that she can with the information given to her, is there really anything else that I can ask of her?

Most of us have ideas of who we want our children to be and what we would like for them to do. The best that we can do is give them the tools they need in order that they may be a successful member of society, whatever success means to them. Many of the schools and educational options offer so much more than what we really need to give our children. I am advocating for a minimal approach to educating children. We tend to get carried away and go overboard, choosing schools for prestige and status instead of focusing on providing a simply good education.

As a parent, I have the opportunity give so much more to my child than a formal education system can ever give her. When I take that attitude, I lose the need to blame the school districts for testing poorly, for teachers not catering to the needs of my child, not giving her the education she needs. It is still my responsibility as a parent to educate my child, even if she goes to school outside of my home. I encourage other parents to take that view as well. It is empowering. There is no need to feel like a victim lost in a vast system.

I could have chosen to put Bean in schools that are more competitive, more prestigious or more academically challenging. However, Bean currently goes to a very small private Christian school very much like the one that I went to as a small child. She is on the waiting list for a dual language school that I really want her to go to and we supplement everything else with activities on the weekend, reading at home, interaction with people of other cultures and travel. For us, for now, it is good enough.

If you are a parent, as the children go back to school in the next few weeks, be interested in what they are doing but don’t add additional stress to your life. I recommend taking a minimalistic view of the whole process: Keep what works, get rid of the rest. If there are unnecessary classes, after school activities, parental expectations or more required of you and your children, choose not to do it. Focus instead on the lessons you really want your child to learn about life and education. Everyone will be better for it in the end.

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