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August 29, 2007

Private School Angst

I'm a product of public schools.

Now, depending on how you view my writing you're either thinking, "Well, that certainly explains a lot," or, "Go, Steph!" But my point is, I've always been a firm supporter of public education. If kids with advantages at home are all sent to private schools, where does that leave the public schools? I think it can leave the public schools with dummed-down academic programs, uninvolved parents, and funding problems.

Of course it was much easier for me to stand on my soapbox and preach The Gospel Of Public School before I actually became a parent.

Before we moved to the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, we lived in the City of Falls Church, just outside of D.C. For those of you who have no friggin' clue what this means, we were a short walk from some of the finest public schools in the country. The population of the City of Falls Church is extremely well educated, diverse, and involved. The CoFC also has its own small public school system, separate and apart from the ginormous Fairfax County Public Schools. (Even though the CoFC is technically in Fairfax County.) This means smaller class sizes, a more flexible and varied curriculum, less bureaucracy, and much more parental involvement. In other words, Falls Church is pretty much a parent's public school wet dream.

Of course after we had our first child, T and I, in our infinite wisdom, decided to move several hours away from D.C. in a search for more balanced family lives. We were also looking for a less, um..., cloying neighborhood. We found the perfect house on a 4 acre lot and lots of privacy. We love it.

But we don't live in a very good school district. Our elementary school is not great. While the high school has a relatively good reputation, it is huge and crowded. While this may mean more access to AP and IB classes and interesting extracurricular activities, it can mean less individual contact with the faculty, and less opportunity for my involvement in choosing their educational paths.

A large public school would also mean there will be less opportunity for my kids to be deeply involved in school sports, something that I think is important for every child regardless of ability level. Judging by the athletic talent of T and I, neither of our kids is destined to become the next Peyton Manning, but I'd still like them to be involved in their school sports teams if they're so inclined.

So now T and I find ourselves facing a decision we swore we'd never have to make. Are we going to send our kids to private schools?

I can't say that we have the answer to this question yet. I still strongly support public schools. I still also believe that troubled schools need the involvement of more parents who actually give a damn. And frankly, the private schools in our area are not very diverse and diversity, in race, income, and culture, is important to me. I do not want my children to grow up with a sense of entitlement. I want them to grow up with a sense of responsibility to the community and their fellow man.

That is not to say that all of these things can't be found in private schools, but am I a hypocrite if I teach these things at home and then pack my kids off to an expensive school to play with other kids who have money?

I want my children to have the best opportunities, but that doesn't just mean the best opportunities that money can buy. I'm just not sure yet which route will offer the "best" for my children.

How did you decide between public and private schools or how will you decide? Is cost the only issue?

I can also be found naval gazing on a semi-daily basis at Lawyer Mama.

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