For the last four years, my children have attended a public charter school. They went back to school this week to a different school. A private one. According to Allison Benedikt from Slate, this makes me a bad person -- "Not bad like murderer bad -- but bad like ruining-one-of-our-nation's-most-essential-institutions-in-order-to-get-what's-best-for-your-kid bad. So, pretty bad."
Ms. Benedikt could be the 999th person, since I've had children, who has bludgeoned me over the head with yet another reason to feel guilty with the parenting choices and decisions that I've made. Making sweeping generalizations and lumping everyone together into one bad parenting pot if they don't do it your way or the highway doesn't lead to a thoughtful discussion on the state of our nation's public schools. It leads to divisiveness and rancor.
Don't get me wrong, I love making huge, sweeping generalizations, and they do garner shares, likes and your opinion pieces going viral... wink, wink, Ms. Benedikt. However, I am sick to death of people telling me not only how to raise my children, but judging me if I don't do it "their way." Never mind that Ms. Benedikt's idea of taking all children out of private school and putting them in public school doesn't make any logical sense and will never happen. This is America. We have choices.
Whether you are a parent of a child in private school or public school does not determine if you are a bad or a good person, or if you care or do not care about your community or its schools. If our public schools are failing it impacts all of us. As communities across America, as parents whose children attend public or private schools, we can advocate for improving and helping public schools because helping and advocating for public schools improves all of our communities and will impact future generations of Americans. And... choosing private school over public school does not make you a smug, arrogant pig of a parent. You can find smug, arrogant pigs of parents most anywhere.
My husband and I made the decision to switch to a local private school this year for a few reasons. Our son has ADHD and we wanted him to have a more traditionally-structured environment in a smaller school with more accountability for his school work, a lower student-to-teacher ratio and a stronger emphasis on discipline. Our daughter thrives on being intellectually challenged, and we wanted to enable her to be in a school where she can stretch herself beyond her comfort zone. We also chose the school for its socioeconomic and ethnic diversity -- reflecting the community and world in which we live. Yes, the private school is more diverse than the public one.
One of the most challenging things about being a parent is making the tough decisions, and following through with them. Like deciding to move your children from a beloved public charter school in which your family has been emotionally and financially invested. When my husband and I told our children that we were moving them to a new school, my 9-year-old son went into volcanic meltdown mode. His anguish was deep and it was incredibly painful for all of us to experience. But, we are his parents and we make the decisions as to where he will go to school... despite the obvious pain that we were imposing on him and a tearful face that could sway most anyone.
A week later, when he saw that we were not wavering from our decision, he went ballistic -- slamming doors, screaming and saying he would NEVER, EVER! COME OUT OF HIS ROOM AGAIN... EVER, EVER!!! I let him stew in his room for a while. When he had had enough of being alone, he came out and wanted me to see what he had done to his room. I took a deep breath before I entered, expecting it to be ransacked. He triumphantly pointed to the wall, where he had taped his public school shirt, flaunting his opinion of our decision. It remained up there for a couple of weeks, until falling quietly, unseen, to the floor. I admired his tenacity and creativity, but our son has to know who is in charge, and it isn't him.
Part of learning to be a good parent is making bad decisions. Yes, bad ones. We all do it, often every day. And, that is OK, because we keep trying to do better. I raise my voice too much, my husband and I argue and sometimes, I'm so exhausted from trying so hard to be a good parent that I sit out front in the evening and drink a whiskey with my husband while we ignore our children. Some would say ignoring your children makes you a bad parent. I say it makes you a sane parent.
We won't know whether the choice to move our children to a private school was the right one until more time has passed. The best thing we can hope for is that someday, our children will say that we tried our best, that we loved them and that we advocated for them to have a great education. Ms. Benedikt states: "I am not an education policy wonk: I'm just judgmental." Being a good person has nothing to do with what school you choose for your children. Being a good person means letting go of judging others who make different choices than you do, and encouraging each other to hang in there. Because being a parent is a bloody tough business, and the last thing we need is someone else to be "just judgmental."