Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Worry du jour

We all have our own brands of craziness, right? At least that is what I like to think. It might just be since I’m slightly loca, I like to think that others must be. If that's not the case, don't tell me. It would really rock my world.

Here’s one of my preferred brands: I drive myself crazy. Yes, it’s true. I drive myself to insomnia and constant nervousness. I have a tendency to isolate one idea, usually based on a future decision, and I worry and worry and worry and well, you get the point.

Leo Buscaglia had it on the nose when he said, “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” Logically, I know that this is a silly problem that I would benefit from nipping in the bud. But since I come by it naturally (Thanks mom!) and have no idea how to get rid of it, I’ll just indulge it and tell you about the thing that's been keeping me up lately.

The topic du jour is Ely’s education. To be honest, this is not du jour. This has been around since before she was born. We've always known that our child(ren)'s education was THE major drawback to staying in Chile. When she was six weeks old, R started looking at apartments in my parents’ vicinity. He’d decided that we needed to make an international move so Ely could go to the elementary school I attended. I talked him down from that ledge, reminding him that even if the move would provide an excellent, multicultural elementary education, it would not provide health insurance or jobs for us, both of which were more immediate needs.

This whole education thing is a valid concern in a country that doesn’t have a decent public school system. The other two options are: Colegios Subvencionado and Colegios Particulares. Colegios Subvencionados are partially funded by the public education system, but each child pays tuition, too. These schools generally offer better academics than public schools at a price that is more accessible than a Colegio Particular. Colegios Particulares are private schools, some of which offer truly first rate educations. Since spots in those schools are highly sought after, they come with some serious competition and an even more serious price tag.

There is a private school within walking that our neighbors are happy with, but doesn't have very good standardized test results. It costs X per month. There is a school on the “other side of the world” that caters mostly to diplomats’ kids that costs 7X, not to mention the whole gamut of schools in between! Where does one even begin the selection process? Is it wiser to go with a school that costs a reasonable 2 or 3X and save the money for enriching experiences? Or is it worth the sacrifice to pay 4 or 5X for a school with a swimming pool and IB program?

We also have to figure transportation into the equation. We have the school within walking distance and schools that would take an hour to get to by car. I would have to pick her up and drop her off, which would take somewhere between 30 minutes to four hours each day. Again, there’s a whole city of schools in between. Am I being selfish not wanting to spend too much time in the car? Or overprotective not wanting to hire stranger with a minivan to pick her up and drop her off?

Let’s not even get into the religion piece, or let's do. We're Christian, but not Catholic. I hold tight to the idea that religion is a personal decision, a relationship if you will, and I don’t particularly want Ely in a school where she is expected to participate unquestioningly in rituals in which she may or may not believe. However, most of the schools with both strong academics and affordable tuitions are Catholic schools. Am I cutting off my nose to spite my face? If opting out of mass and religion classes is an option, am I keeping something from her? Would I be making her more likely to be ostracized?

If I remove myself from the issue a little bit, I can tell you all the logical things that you might tell me to soothe my nerves:

1. Primary and high school are more about socialization and learning how to learn than REAL learning (beyond reading, writing and arithmetic, of course).

2. Research shows that a child’s school environment has a much lesser effect than the home environment.

3. Children are adaptable. She will be fine no matter where you send her.

4. A school’s reputation matters a lot less than how your individual child feels and performs there.

And those things? They are all true. I know it. But, there is a constant internal conversation that goes a little something like this:

Okay, Number 1, but in a place where classism and nepotism are the M.O. and people form tight circles with their “colegio” friends, might it not be worth the sacrifice to socialize Ely with the people who are practically destined to powerful because of the social standing they were born into? Are those potential social and business contacts worth a sacrifice?

And number 2: totally behind you, but I don't know of any university admissions officers that make home visits.

Number 3: yes, but is fine good enough? I don't want to serve her the world on a silver platter. Even if I could, that doesn't do any good for anyone. But, shouldn’t I aspire to more “fine” for her?

And you, number 4, absolutely, hands down in agreement. But why do I feel like I have a choice between strong academics and a school where she will develop as a person? All of this just seems like a bunch of false choices.

I don’t expect her to be a rocket scientist (unless she wants to be!), but I also don’t want her stuck in a dead-end job she hates because we made the wrong choices for her. I want her to flourish into the person she wants to be and not be limited by where she went to kindergarten.

I want a school that is reasonably accessible at a price that doesn’t require a second mortgage. I want a balance of academics, sports, social development, and maybe field trips. Is that way too much to ask?

It’s a big task this parenting thing. Making life-impacting decisions for a whole separate human is huge. Did I really sign up for this? I can’t even make my own decisions without giving myself insomnia for weeks or, in this case, years beforehand!!

So, seriously, talk to me. I don't care if it's through a comment, facebook or email. Share your insight and soothe my soul...

  • What is important in a school for your child/your family?
  • If you have a school-aged child, what do you like/dislike about his/her school?
  • What are your best/worst memories of school?
  • How much do you think school affects the people we ultimately become?

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