School is the focus of a lot of the bazillion choices that parents make. Where, when, and how will your kids be educated? Every decision is huge and emotional.
And if you’ve ever had someone ask you a question and felt like there was no right answer, you’ve had a taste of the experience of school choice. It’s like a game show, only each round you answer the same questions, for constantly increasing stakes, and you fear that if you screw up, you might sacrifice your kid’s future.
School was not an issue that I’d worried about much B.C. (That’s “Before Child,” for my new readers.) My husband and I had talked, and we were very much in agreement. We believe strongly in public schools, and we assumed we’d live somewhere with good schools. Our child would go to those schools when the time came, and that would be that.
Well, in parenting, that is rarely that.
Instead of a straightforward path, our daughter’s education has been a winding road. First, there were seven preschools in two years, as my search for perfection couldn’t allow for the perfectly good. Then, there was the testing into kindergarten early, when I learned that her birthday was 13 days too late for entrance the year I wanted her to start.
This left her by far the youngest first grader in her class the following year, and she struggled to keep up physically and emotionally. She was also constantly measuring herself against kids as much as two years older than her, and, in her mind, failing.
Now a constant threat of change looms over her again, as I wait, fingers crossed, to find out if she gets into a choice school.
Obviously, my decision making process wasn’t great. So what are the lessons that my daughter’s eventual therapy bills can spare other parents?
First of all, consistency is more important than perfection. Actually, I think that’s an overall parenting truth, but it’s especially true for school choice. Studies show that kids who change schools frequently have far more behavioral issues than those who stay put, and those issues can cause far more trouble than a slightly less than ideal learning environment.
I recommend letting them be — unless, of course, they’re in a really intolerable situation. If your kid is being bullied, get them out immediately. But if you’re just not fond of a teacher, they change every year anyway.
Second, perfection doesn’t exist. No school will meet every one of your and your child’s desires. There may not even be one that will meet all of your family’s needs.
The best choice is the one that supports your family’s values. If you have a fundamental philosophical disagreement with your school district, no teacher or principal will ever be right. It’s time to look at private education or homeschooling.
Third, every choice is valid, given what you knew at the time. Second-guessing does no one any good. Even when it seems the game show “wrong answer” buzzer is going off, you still made the best choice you could with the information you had. When you get new information, the question is not “Where is my time machine?” but, “Is changing this decision now worth the cost of the disruption to my child?”
Fourth, number three goes for other parents, too. When my 5-year-old first grader was comparing her work with that of the 7-year-old boys in her class, my first response was to complain about redshirting. That’s the name for the practice of holding kids, especially boys, back from starting school for an extra year to give them an advantage.
Well, the research shows that it is almost always the right choice for boys, as it is never bad to be the biggest and strongest boy. My own daughter's experience shows it's often the best choice for girls as well. And who am I, of all people, to deny another parent the right to try to give their kid an advantage? My empathy now is for the first-grade teacher who has a two-year age range in her class.
Finally, just relax. There is no right answer, so you can’t get it right. The freeing thing about that is, you can’t really get it wrong, either. Your kid is resilient and flexible, and will survive; heck, he or she may even thrive. Pearls don’t happen without some irritation, and neither do strong students.
Remember the old joke: What do they call the person who has the lowest passing grade in medical school? They call her Doctor. Well, what do they call the person who makes imperfect parenting choices? They call her Mom.