A peek inside my brain (alternate title: Did we choose the right school for E?)

So I’ve been awol again…

I’ll spare you the excuses, and just say that I’ve written a few posts over the course of the last few weeks, but have been too tired to actually look at them with a clear eye and hit publish.  Over the next few days, I’m going to pull the trigger and publish them and hope they’re ok!  Here it goes…

Post 1: written a few weeks back…

So I warned you recently that I was in a kid-centric thinking & writing space.  I mentioned that was partly because our kids are all changing so rapidly right now.  The additional reality is that along with those changes come decisions that my husband and I have to make about rules, environments, activities, etc.  We are doing our best, but it’s nerve-wracking.  And it is particularly nerve-wracking the first time we go through each process, because there is so much information to gather and new types of thinking to do.  And the first time we go through most things is with our eldest child, E.

I know I just wrote a post about S and schooling, but lest you think it was easier with E…here’s a peek inside my brain…

Oh, E.  How we love you.

For those who haven’t caught a glimpse of her recently, E went through a “bride” phase (may be moving out of it now?), and for several weeks only wanted to wear this.

And not just around the house, but to school, church and around town too.  We did insist she take the veil off for school : ).  And wear a pair of shorts under the white “slip”.  And after the “train” got stuck in a scooter, we had to limit that element also.

(Can’t you just picture her, like a miniature Julia Roberts in Runaway Bride, wheeling around on a scooter in this outfit?!)

Even when not in the midst of her brief bridal-wear everywhere weeks, E is my consummate girly girl.  She has always loved dresses and sparkly shoes, but this has been taken to a fever pitch recently because she has chosen her wonderful Kindergarten teacher as a role model.  While most of her classmates wear shorts and T-shirts, E chooses the dresses, flat shoes and cardigans that make her look like a little teacher.  She even insists on carrying her fancy little white purse with her in her backpack.  Nana fed her fancy fever recently by purchasing the shoes pictured below, which E wears every single moment I will let her (and I let her all the time, only insisting that she take them off on gym days at school, when all the kids are required to wear tennis shoes, or when we are going to be running and climbing at a park).

Don’t know how clearly the shoes will come across, but they are pink sparkly Hello Kitty slip-ons, positioned here under a heart shaped jump rope.

I am sure there are some adults at school who wonder why I would “make” my young daughter dress all fancy, but anyone who knows me or E knows that this is all her, and I am simply encouraging her to be who she is (as I wear my shorts, T-shirts and flip flops!)

But that’s all just context.  The heart of this post is that watching E be who she is this year, and watching her seek out role models among her teachers at school, has given me an opportunity to reflect on the big decision we made last year about where she would receive her formal education.

We considered every option, and honestly although we love her school, I still think about it a lot.  Part of this is simply because I’m a parent.  For those of us fortunate on multiple levels (i.e. live in a country where there are schools open to everyone, have the resources to actually have any degree of choice in where our kids go to school, etc.) there’s just a lot to think about.  My issues are exacerbated because I am a former teacher, who did additional schooling to become credentialed in the area of teaching teachers and supervising them in their classrooms.  Add to this my passion for public schools, my professional focus on under-resourced schools and intense concern about equity in education, my belief that – despite all this investment in public schools – the reality is that my most important job as a parent is to tend souls (i.e. love the religious schools that reinforce what we’re trying to do at home!), my appreciation of the Montessori system, and my willingness to homeschool if we decided to got that route…and honestly, what you have is a big mentally muddled mess.

In the midst of “school shopping”, I was greatly comforted by one school’s guidance counselor who listened patiently to all my thoughts, then smiled and said, “You should just relax.  Because I can tell by listening to you that you really care about your children and are willing to work to make sure they’re ok.  Wherever you put them, if they keep coming home to that kind of mama, they’re going to be fine.”

I really appreciated that (you have no idea how much!), but the reality was, we still had to make a decision about school.  Ultimately, we moved into a neighborhood whose public school was known for its nurturing staff and fantastic learning environment.  We have loved the neighborhood, and E has loved the school.  I do have concerns about the high schools here (they have a fantastic reputation, but in my opinion are so “good” that it leads to a competitive environment that can suck a kid right out of a balanced life and into a nasty vortex of stress), but we made the best decision we could for the next 8 years of schooling for E, and will deal with high school when we get there.

Still, my most important job is to tend souls.  So I wonder sometimes why we don’t have her in a religious school that lists that as their primary mission as well?  This concern has been exacerbated this year because I have seen first hand how E has chosen role models, friends and advisors in the community we placed her in.  We LOVE her choices.  Her school, and the world at large, is full of wonderful people.  But should we have placed her in a community where essentially everyone subscribed to our value system in order to hedge our bets that her choice of role model or friend would share our values on a fundamental level?  On the flip side, in doing that would we risk exposing her to individuals that might take it all too far – into the realm of homogeny, disrespect of others, lack of appreciation for diversity, or presenting what I would consider to be a warped version of our religious values?  Probably not, if we chose the community carefully and were diligent.  I guess the reality is that wherever she’s in school, we will have to keep the lines of communication open and talk to her about what we believe, how to maintain personal integrity while showing respect for those who believe differently, and listen to and respectfully guide her as she comes into her own way of thinking.

At this point, E is in a diverse school filled with wonderful people with all different types of beliefs, and she comes home to a celebration of that as well as a family devotional (we’re working on becoming more consistent with this…) and then out again to a church community that shares our values with her under our supervision.  Still, I struggle.  To make things more complicated, it is important to us that E embrace the Catholic Church as well as her global community and the protestant community in which we are very active.  Catholic School would certainly help with this.  In lieu of enrolling her, I am considering going to speak to the local priest.  (Update: have already made this phone call and am waiting to hear back)  I have heard there are classes for young children on Monday nights that might be a good fit for E?  Maybe we could find some community there?  It is thought-provoking for me, as I grew up exposed to two different Christian denominations: one at school, another at church.  I found it to be a fantastic experience, provoking a lot of independent critical thinking.  I wouldn’t trade that history for the world.  But I know others with similar histories that struggled, and would have appreciated our current position:  a fantastic school, with the directly-addressed-spiritual elements experienced in home and church settings with parents who are supervising more moments in the process than the 7 hour daily school-window allows.  (Honestly, I had one teacher tell me I was going to he#@ because of where my family attended services…that’s another story that worked out ok for me in the end (after a trip to the principal’s office because of my reaction), but could have easily devastated a more sensitive child?  I also had a third grade classmate tell me her father worried about my family’s salvation because of where we attended Sunday services, and revealed they prayed for our souls every night at their family dinner table…again, no problem for me – hey, I hope they’re still praying!  I’ll take all the prayers for salvation I can get! – but potentially problematic for a different child…still, the value of years of daily Biblical exposure and the focus on salvation amid daily distractions of school and life…) Anyway, regardless of the community we place her in, there is certainly more we could be doing at home and in other spiritual communities to enhance the spiritual lives of our children…

Anyway, with all these thoughts in my head, just this week, E drew this picture…

From left to right, it is E, her Kindergarten teacher, and her 3rd grade “reading buddy”.  She drew it because (her words, with pride), “everyone says I am a miniature version of my reading buddy, and she is a miniature version of my teacher.  So I drew a picture of all of us together!  I’m so much like them!

Clearly, at this stage of life, she is actively looking around for older role models: dressing like them, drawing pictures of herself as miniature versions of them, and even adopting their lingo (the expressions she has picked up from her teacher this year at school are adorable, I really must say!)  But when I see E emulating her teacher, it strikes me that we got really lucky.  We never spoke to E about how to choose role models.  There is no dress code at the school, and some of the elementary school teachers wear clothes so short that I wouldn’t let E wear them as a teenager.  This – along with the fact that she will never hear her 7-hour-a-day public school teachers explain things in a way that lends import to a spiritual perspective – makes me want to enroll her in a religious school.  But I know that there will also be individuals, and tones, in religious schools that I would have to steer E away from.  In either place, I will end up having to say, “choose who you emulate wisely…not everyone is going to have a perspective that represents what our family believes”.

The whole process reminds me of what my mom used to say,

“I can’t pick your friends, but I can choose which environment you get to pick them in.”

What a responsibility when it comes to choosing spiritual institutions, communities and schools!  Selecting those environments, and actively talking to E about how she is choosing who to spend time within them, are among our biggest challenges as parents.  Honestly, E is such a sweet kid that she gives everyone so many chances…which I appreciate, but honestly, I want to build a wall around the kid who has already had a chance and used it to be really mean.

Did anyone make it through this long ramble?  My apologies.  But the thoughts in my head just sort of became a brain blurt out onto the page.  And, honestly, it gets more complicated, because (1) if we were to “try” a private religious or Montessori school, we’d have to move out of our current neighborhood in order to afford it, so there’d be no real going back (unbelievable schools come from astronomical property taxes…the equity educator in my struggles with this, but that is another post), as well as accept the task of  teaching our children to be ok with the fact that their vacations, lunches, spring break trips, etc. just aren’t going to look like their classmates (we’ve seen the brochures for the optional trips, and while great, just aren’t realistic…), and (2) I’m just talking about E.  The school system in general just works for her.  But what about my child who is equally brilliant, knows the answer, but will LOVE surprising teachers with an alternate process/way of doing things.  Would an alternate setting be better for that type of child?  And could we logistically manage having siblings in different elementary schools?  I need to think about this next year…

In the meantime, could someone research all this and just tell us if we made the right choice for E’s elementary school?  We’re a year in…everything seems great…still I will always wonder…and my brain hurts already…

Did we put E in the right school?

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One response to “A peek inside my brain (alternate title: Did we choose the right school for E?)

  1. I hope you reminded Nana that we were only allowed to buy white, lace-up sneakers. I remember longing for those pull-on style Keds. As I’m oft reminded by Mom when I see a fingerpainting taped to the fridge at home and ask why MY paintings were never taped to the fridge, “You, my dear, were not a grandchild.”

    LOVE Nana!

    Also, I totally read the rest of your post and I actually know the perfect school for E, S, & T. It’s two blocks from our house. We’ll be happy to “board” them with us until y’all can make plans to move for real. 😉

    You’re a wonderful mama!

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