Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A pretty good lesson

Some new fancy arts-focused private school is opening up near us next year. My immediate reaction when I read the news was, hmm wouldn't it be cool if Katie got to go to an arts-focused school. For shits and grins I checked to see how much the tuition at this new school is. $10,000 per year. Katie will be in sixth grade next year, so if we enrolled her in this private school through high school we would have spent $70,000 BEFORE she'd head off to college, where, more and more, I hear you can barely get a degree without going about that much into debt.

It pisses me off that kids with wealthy parents get to attend whatever school best suits them, while those of us who live paycheck to paycheck pretty much have two options: our neighborhood public school or homeschooling. I don't have the personality to homeschool well. I'm not good with routines and plans and anything higher than fifth-grade math. I like variety. I like new ideas. I like librarianship. I like kids. I like singing storytime songs with preschoolers. I try to sing with my fifth-grader. I'm lucky if she rolls her eyes at me. It means she's looked up from the screen long enough to acknowledge my presence.

Plus, I like the idea of public school. You're guessing I'm a fan of public school because I myself went to public school? People tend to gravitate toward the known even when the unknown might be better. But I had a shitty public school education. I'm not blaming it entirely on the school. I was at the worst point in my life, emotionally-speaking, and my teachers and parents just did not understand me. I could have benefited from twice-weekly therapy sessions with a wise, trusted Judd Hirsch-type shrink. Instead, I sat on the sofa under covers, sick day from school, watching "Ordinary People" for the hundredth time. I've seen a handful or two of therapists a dozen or so times from the time I was diagnosed with anorexia at age eleven until the last one I saw after my brother died five years ago. I stuck with none of them longer than a month or two, tops. Again, I'm bad at math. What it adds up to is this: my high school experience could have been better had I not tried to deal with my PTSD by drinking bottles of Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill with my equally self-destructive misfit friends and, instead, had I gotten professional help for my mental illness.

Anyhoo, I try not to let my past ruin Katie's future. Just because I had a miserable experience in public school doesn't mean she has to. So we're giving it a try, public school. I like the idea of staying where you are and making your surroundings better just by being there, doing your little bit. Instead of paying a private school ten thousand dollars for my one kid, I'd rather send that money to public schools so the entire community of kids has the opportunity to flourish.

And I get it. I want what's best for my kid. I want my kid to grow up healthy and strong and empathetic. A critical thinker. I want her to be a good citizen. A good spouse. A good parent. Someone who makes this world better just by her being in it, doing her little bit. I want her to be curious about the world and question the hard questions and focus on the details that matter and find herself by losing herself in creative expression. I want an education for my child that best suits her. I wish I'd had that kind of education. But I didn't. So I want it for my child.

Instead of a great education, I had the library. One good thing my parents did was take me to the public library at least once a month, often more. My mom and dad both read. Mostly mysteries and entertaining reads. I like the heavier stuff. More emotional. More philosophical. More suited to me. I read self-help books by wise women such as Harriet Lerner and Linda Bacon. I read fiction about dysfunctional families by amazing healers and creative thinkers such as Alice Walker, Anne Tyler, and Alison Bechdel. I've muddled through. I take medication. I treat my body well. I do what I'm passionate about. I worry less about what others think of me and more about how I can leave this place in better shape than I found it.

But I can't afford to send my kid to the best schools, tailored to suit her best. So we make do with what we have.

I bring her home library books. Will teaches her sciencey and life skills lessons just in their day-to-day interactions. We give her lots of time to explore her own interests. We listen to her. We laugh with her. We send her off to public school where she has her good days and her not so good days and we hope for the best.

Last night Katie and I went to the public school board meeting to show our support for the speakers addressing the superintendent and board members about the safety pin issue. It was a great education. As we left, Katie said, "It's nice to see so many adults sticking up for us kids, trying to make our schools the best they can be."

Several times during the board meeting the speakers said, "our children are watching" and when they would say this Katie would raise her hand and shake her head yes.

"I'm glad you got to witness it. We can do that anytime you like. If you ever want to talk to the leaders about ideas you have for ways to improve the schools, we can always go to the board meetings and you can talk to them, or I can talk to them for you if you'd like," I said.

"Thanks, Mom," Katie said. "Mom, you know what I like about my school? I know that the Blue Valley schools have more money and stuff. So they can have gifted teachers in every school. Instead of having to bus their gifted kids to one school that has the gifted teachers like they do with me. But you know what? Us gifted kids have to come up with ideas for ways to improve things with what we've got. And that's a pretty good lesson," my wise fifth-grader said.

I think her public education is working out just fine.