Making a choice for an education in life

In the next few weeks, my wife and will determine the elementary schools we want as our top three choices for our son to enroll at for kindergarten next fall. It’s one of those decisions that parents fret over all the time. Which school will foster our son’s love for art and music? Will the teachers allow him to progress past the standard curriculum if he shows advanced aptitude? What’s the neighborhood like around the school? Is it safe? And what happens if we don’t get one of our top three choices — then what?

The system in our school district is “controlled choice” — a system where preferences are expressed, then children are entered into a lottery for the available spots at each school. Geographic proximity and enrollment of siblings can influence the lottery — but there is still a lot of chance involved. Complicating matters is a court-monitored consent decree aimed at bringing the achievement of the district’s African-American students up to acceptable levels.

Some friends who also have children approaching elementary school age are struggling with the same choices. Some have opted to send their child to one of the private schools in town — in part because of the perception of a better academic quality. I’ve often found myself on the receiving end of an accusatory conversation focused on the drawbacks of a public school education. After such conversations, I’ll often second guess myself and wonder, “Are we selling the kid short by sending him to public school?”

But I always come back around to my firm belief that public schools give an education in life — something invaluable and more important than academics alone. Successful people (in the broadest sense of “successful”) are people that can relate to and respect others – all creeds, all colors, all social and economic backgrounds. And that is where the diversity of public school (especially in a system where your neighborhood doesn’t determine your school) proves life’s greatest teacher.

It is one of my great hopes that the choice we make in the next few weeks is one that helps our son become a person who respects others — and is respected in return — because we have surrounded him with children from every walk of life.