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Christina Pesoli Headshot

My Decision to Send My Kids to Private School Has Never Been Easier to Defend

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As a pro-choice, pro-marriage-and gender-equality Catholic mom and a Texan for Obama, it goes without saying that I am generally comfortable with contradictions. For example, I'm a vegetarian, but I follow a "don't ask, don't tell" policy when it comes to miso soup. And I'm a friend of women's rights and a foe of mainstream movies, but I never get tired of watching Legally Blonde. Snaps for Reese Witherspoon! She's, like, SO adorable!

While I have seemingly inconsistent positions in almost every area of my life, there's one area where I'm called on to defend myself more than any other: my parenting. I've learned over the years to have explanations ready or be prepared to endure an interrogation with a lecture chaser so intense that Socrates himself would be proud.

But one inconsistency that I have long been called to defend just got a whole lot easier. I am a Democrat who sends my kids to private schools. From the time my now fully-grown son was little my politically like-minded friends would bust my chops for this decision. They viewed this decision as a refusal on my part to support public education.

"How can you just bail on public schools?" the question always goes.

"I'm not bailing on public schools," I respond calmly without getting the least bit defensive. (And my hair always looks perfect, too, in my recollection of all these conversations.)

"It's not like I support vouchers or anything, God forbid," I say, wanting to make it perfectly clear from the get-go that I am not some sort of selfish monster. "I pay my property taxes like everybody else. When you get right down to it, I actually support public schools more than you do. I pay taxes AND I send my kid to private school. So, it's like I'm funding a scholarship at my local public school because I'm not even using what I pay for."

As definitive as I think that explanation is, it never ends the debate. Invariably, these friends want me to explain why I don't send my kid to public school. As you might imagine, I have a great answer ready for that question, too.

"I have different beliefs when it comes to educational philosophy. And I'm lucky to live in a city where there are lots of great choices when it comes to schools," I explain diplomatically, as a breeze gently ripples through my hair.

But even this is not enough to get some of my most persistent friends to drop the matter.

"But if you sent your kid to your neighborhood public school you could help make that school better by volunteering and sharing your ideas with them."

God, I love my Democrat friends. They're both stubborn and outspoken. Sometimes it feels like I'm talking to the mirror.

When it comes to those friends who are argumentative enough to keep the debate going this long, no amount of explaining seems to satisfy them. They don't care that I send my kids to Montessori school up to and even through middle school, and that the Montessori philosophy couldn't be more different than the traditional philosophy of education.

Because they themselves are pushy, they don't recognize that it would be both presumptive and futile for me to attempt to impose my own views on education -- views that are clearly in the minority -- on everyone else. No. In their eyes I am selfishly refusing to do my part as a rabble-rousing Democrat who never met a fight too hopeless to take on.

I had expected to have this debate over and over again for the next seven years -- all the way up until my daughter graduates from high school. And frankly, that thought exhausted me.
But last month my sentence was commuted. Who was the crusader who came to my rescue? It was none other than the Texas Republican Party delegates.

Last month, these delegates met in Ft. Worth to hammer out the 2012 Texas Republican Party Platform. In a state where both the House and Senate are controlled by Republicans, the ideals set forth in this platform are not just the crazy rantings of a fringe party; they are the crazy rantings of the party in power.

But there is a silver lining to the dark cloud of being a Democrat in a state controlled by Republicans. By enumerating so many offensive ideas in the "Educating our Children" section of its platform, the Republican delegates have provided me with a blueprint to defend my decision to send my kids to private school. Now explaining my decision is as easy as A, B, C!

For starters, the platform states that they believe "a multicultural curriculum is divisive" and instead believe in strengthening "our common American identity and loyalty."

Additionally, the platform calls for teachers to have "more authority to deal with disciplinary problems" and states that "corporal punishment is effective and legal in Texas."

But here's where the reasoning gets a little sophisticated, so pay close attention: They oppose so-called "controversial theories" such as "life origins" and "environmental change," and believe these should be taught as "challengeable scientific theories." But they favor controversial unscientific theories in that they oppose any sex education other than the "abstinence until marriage" approach, which has been proven to be ineffective.

But the most jaw-dropping of all is the opposition to teaching "HOTS." Contrary to what you might think, HOTS isn't some tawdry acronym for facts- and science-based sex education. HOTS is a tawdry acronym for "Higher Order Thinking Skills" also known as critical thinking. According to their platform, Texas Republicans believe that these skills "have the purpose of challenging the student's fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority."

After being lambasted for this plank of the platform, Republican Party of Texas Communications Director Chris Elam said that the words "critical thinking skills" were included by mistake. The party stands by the rest of the plank, however, including the Higher Order Thinking Skills reference that is used as tomato/tomahto synonym for critical thinking skills. But whether it was a mistake or a flip flop, because the term was included in the platform that was approved at the party convention, the party is stuck with it until the next state convention in 2014.

Further complicating the matter is the fact that elsewhere in the platform it states that "every Republican is responsible for implementing this platform." Unfortunately for Texas public school children, there is no "common sense" exception excusing Republicans from implementing planks that they later realize are bone-headed -- probably because that would require some Higher Order Thinking Skills.

It's a good thing I don't believe in corporal punishment because if I did, a mistake of this magnitude -- one that stands to impair the education of students across the State of Texas -- would be exactly the type of thing that would make me want to send someone straight to the principal's office for a serious thrashing.

Meanwhile in world of higher education, a recent study tracked thousands of students through college and found that a significant percentage of them graduated without the necessary critical thinking skills to discern fact from opinion or to resist emotional appeals and political spin. Most people viewed this as evidence that our educational system is failing our students and as such cause for alarm. But to the Texas Republican delegates, it seems to represents the ideal.

The Texas Republican Party Platform issue with teaching critical thinking skills ostensible emanates from a desire not to undermine my kid's fixed beliefs and my authority as a parent. But I'm a parent who opposes spanking and values multiculturalism, hard science, and critical thinking skills. So doesn't an educational experience that ignores or neglects these things challenge my kid's fixed beliefs and undermine my parental authority?

It seems like Texas Republican delegates only have a problem with challenging Republican-sanctioned fixed beliefs, and it's only the Republican parents' authority that they're worried about undermining. I may not have been educated in Texas Republican-led public schools, but I can spot a contradiction when I see one. Come to think of it, since spotting contradictions requires critical thinking skills, that might be exactly why I can spot a contradiction when I see it.

I've been a parent with kids in school for over twenty-five years now. My kids have attended both religious and non-religious private schools. And over the years I've had disagreements and debates with my kids' schools over a whole host of issues including homework, testing, religion, politics, patriotism, nutrition, arts, physical education and many, many more.

But never have I had to debate whether critical thinking skills and hard science should be part of a school's curriculum. And when it comes to developing critical thinking skills, the question has always been whether the students are getting enough not whether they are getting too much. Now Texas Republicans want to set the bar even lower: any critical thinking at all is against the rules.

Although my grown son and I see eye-to-eye on many issues, there are plenty of issues on which we disagree. He's more conservative than I on some things, yet more liberal on others. I take great pride in both our opinions that sync up as well as the ones that diverge. If he were only able to parrot my positions, I would be just as disappointed as if he couldn't form any opinion at all. The fact that he has his own views indicates to me that his upbringing and education combined to equip him with the ability to weigh things out and think for himself. In other words, everybody did their job -- his parents, his teachers and him.

Unlike the 2012 Texas Republican Party Platform on the right and my die-hard fellow Democrats on the left, my duty as a parent transcends party politics. As a result, I could never sacrifice my kid's education for a cause. And after surveying the options, I have concluded that now more than ever before, private school is the best fit for my kids. Other parents may come to other conclusions and I respect that. But I expect similar deference in return. After all, anything less would be contradictory.