We live in a liberal oasis. Our Pacific Northwest city is famous for its light rail, bicycling, beer, swooshy shoes and amiable eccentricity. I can go weeks without having another human being say –to my face anyway- something conservative/stupid.
But the human capacity for finding new veins of throbbing insecurity is infinite, and parents-of-eighth graders (a mob prone to hysteria) become foaming rodent idiots when forced to the abyss: choosing a high school.
Our move from Chicago to here was prompted by a mesh of motivators, the greatest of these being greed. During thirteen years (91-04) of living on Chicago’s North side, we had amassed a really big (for us) pile of equity. And being the Americans we are, we took the whole wad and shot it into a giant property out here. When I look at our house and yard I think of Bono’s line: I don’t believe in riches, but you should see where I live.
I will be the first to admit that because of our irrational exhuberance, we can’t afford the vacations I hear about at my kid’s soccer games. But people won’t catch me complaining about much (besides my goddamn hay fever).
Our child and her friends are going into 8th grade and discussing the impending choice of high school dominates the parents around Pinots and pints. And I am having an increasingly difficult time to keep from calling some really good people some really awful names. Coward. Chickenshit. Gutless. Hypocrite. Blahbitty blah blah. Progressive, liberal citizens who vote Yes on every funding initiative, or rush to the phone banks to save the: Libraries, Bridges, Rivers, Schools, Bicycle Lanes, etc., are abandoning the Public School System at the moment in history when the need for their participation has never been greater.
Why are my fellow progressives doing this lemming-to-the-private school migration? Why else? Fear. They have sipped the sauce of hysteria and are quite convinced that their child will end up as another public school mouth-breather destined for the overnight assistant manager’s shift at a call-center for baby-naming software. We went to a college graduation party last summer and my kid was subjected to a well meaning but never-the-less obnoxious sales pitch about the local religious, prestigious girls school. I was really proud of her polite responses and enthusiasm for her destined public high school, but the woman giving the spiel was not seeing what I was. My daughter was having a hard time responding to the statistics being offered as irrefutable proof of our misguidedness. Forty vs. twenty students to a class; college bound rates; friends-for-life; blahbitty blah blah. So, I accidentally spilled something and moved the PowerPointless along.
(When was she going to tell my kid that it’s only $14,000 a year? But don’t worry, they offer a lot of financial assistance. Lady, my kid is thirteen years old. Shut the fuck up. And you really don’t want my opinion about giving money to this particular, legally embattled branch of Christianity. Trust me.)
I’ve heard this pitch before. It usually comes from people who have just been through the Forum, or some other type of “awareness/enlightenment” seminar. They’ve been convinced of the true path, and they naturally want to share their bliss with people that they care about. No one is as evangelical as a recent convert.
My question to my concerned, well meaning friends is this: What about the children who would benefit from your child’s presence at the local public school? Excellence rubs off too.
We have an only child. It took us ten years of infertility treatments to finally have our miracle. We QUALIFY as helicopter parents. We struggle constantly with the urge to hover. But we recognize that our child will be forced to interact and negotiate with a spectrum of people that will grow more diverse as she moves forward in life. It is a component of our family’s education plan that my daughter, in the words of my mother, “Get some bark on her.” And it’s not like we’re sending her to some pit of violence and addiction. Does this school have weed and alcohol and truancy? Of course it does. But this school also has an Advanced Placement enrollment of 52% of the student population (2010 stats). 53% take the SATs. The graduation rate is a realistic 80%. In 7th grade my kid knew who cared about school and who did not. And she learned something invaluable from that.
These are not the lessons one learns in a parent-perpetuated bubble. We don’t even call it hovering anymore. It is literally a force field that scared and panicked parents are attempting to keep in place at all times in an effort to “provide the best possible education/future for my child.” I do not deny the excellence of education provided by the private schools in this city. But I do deny the scare tactics they employ to woo people away from a public system that is not broken and would be all the better with their child’s involvement.
Here’s my obligatory line about recognizing exceptions. Bullying, special needs, etc. Now, let’s move on.
This will be dissected as envy, or some type of ‘warfare,’ or anger issues, and my dissectors will be correct. My wife can attest to my many issues. And the truth is I can’t afford to send my child to a private school. That’s why she needs your intelligent, lively, lovely child to go to public school with her. Many, many children need your child to go to school with them. Don’t give in to the fear.