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After visiting more than forty private schools in Los Angeles County over the last three years, I found the perfect school for my kids last spring.  In this Eden of all private education has to offer, Kindergarteners were broken into groups of 5 kids to 1 teacher and sat under fruit trees to learn reading at their own pace, without judgment.  This may not sound cataclysmic but seeing it happen actually made the annual tuition – which is more than all four years of my college education put together – seem worth it.  A sixth grader then showed me around the country club-esque grounds, pointing out the replicas of renaissance painter’s finest works and finishing with a better gardening lesson than any cable TV show ever has.  She finished her portion of my personal tour in the computer lab where she retrieved her personal laptop and showed me her “portfolio” of writing projects from first grade until today, organized by year and subject.  Which left me feeling a little intimidated by an eleven year old.

So much so that I began to wonder if I, and thereby my children, really deserved this much attention for elementary school. Which was an odd thought to have just inside my own head, so my anxiety quickly morphed into a desire to want to mock everything around me. Which was easy, because who really lives like this at eleven?

I was gripping the ionic water bottle personalized with the schools name on it that I was handed upon entering – kind of like the way I used to hold onto cigarettes in my elementary school when I feared a beating from a classmate – while my car was brought around… by the valet.  Yet, as I drove away taking big sips and deep breaths, a thought occurred to me.  Maybe the joy of having kids at age thirty-seven is that I can afford utopia, even if I work solely to pay for it?  Even if I feel kind of pretentious while being there.  Because this is about my kids.  Why wouldn’t I give them the softest, safest experience possible?

And this is America! I don’t have to apologize for the opportunity it presents me.

Or so I began to tell myself until I stopped my mini-van for gas one block away and witnessed another American family getting off a city bus. Both a mom and a dad were helping their three kids onto the street before Dad ran back on that bus, presumably to get to work and mom lead her brood towards a public school – that looked draconian as hundreds of children filed into it en masse.

This other family’s history in this country may be shorter than mine but as I watched them from the other side of the gas pumps of the America that I live in, I felt sure that our futures were intertwined no matter what some presidential candidates are saying.  Because in big cities like mine there is no opportunity for a decent public education without one parent who has 10 hours a week – during the work day – to seek it out, move their family to housing near it and then still sometimes, campaign relentlessly to get into it.

But as the far right continues to deem the poor “their own problem” and forbids the left from helping the middle class from freefalling into foreclosure and forfeiture of all they are willing to work towards – I wonder if it matters at all what school I send my children to. Because if this other child’s only option is a classroom filled with 35 students to 1 teacher and he can’t learn to read in that environment or do math, make art, build cars or spaceships or dreams of any kind, he will never be able to work.  And when he has no money for food he may break into the utopia I can fabricate for my kid, and take everything from him just because he is hungry.

And as much as I want to blame this on out of touch lawmakers I see debating theoretical ideas on TV, what’s my roll as a parent in this country? Am I somewhat pitting these two four year olds against each other if I take all my time and energy and only share it with rich families in private school? Am I polarizing my son – the one in the brand new mini-van – and this other family’s child on the city bus – in a private vs. public education just as much as a republican nominee and a democratic incumbent are when we’re all supposed to be members of the same society?

Public schools in Los Angeles have suffered so many budget cuts that they are running on the same funds that they were in 1957.  How could that not effect the standards for education and my children’s safety if I were to try this route?  But then how could the soft, warm, and free of judgment private option really prepare my son for the city we live in or the real world anywhere else that he will one day have to exist in?

I didn’t decide the answer for my family before I filled up my mommy-car up with $100 worth of gas.   So I raced back onto the freeway with no clear answer of where to get off.

  1. Sam on Wednesday 17, 2013

    Yep, pretty much sums up my philosophical opposition to private school. Although putting my kid into a public school riddled with systemic problems was kind of a painful thing to do, I really REALLY don’t want my kids growing up in a utopian bubble. Of course, I managed to get my child into one of the “best’ public schools in the city, and the experience at that school is really not comparable to the typical urban public school, so we’re still somewhat in that bubble. But at least my kids are going to grow up having friends from all different backgrounds, both ethnic and socioeconomic, and everything is not going to be made perfect and precious and painless for them, and with any luck they’ll learn how to get along in a world not tailored specifically to their needs. Isn’t that at least half the education right there?

  2. amanda P on Wednesday 17, 2013

    this is a very important subject not being talked about enough. If all the families with affluence and influence flee the public school system we will further divide the classes in America. Amanda

  3. Diane Farr on Wednesday 17, 2013

    thank you! df

  4. Rachel C. on Wednesday 17, 2013

    I am so delighted to hear of how you thoughtfully made this decision for your kids. Our schools here in rural Pennsylvania are not near the state of LA schools. Sending my kids back put a substantial dent in our finances because the needed supplies the school cannot afford are passed on in a list to the parents. The trend here is to home school when the public schools step on your toes. I feel strongly that our kids need to experience the reality. We have witnessed many home schooled children that grow into unprepared adults unable to cope with the choices and responsibilities of the real world. Exposure to the joys and pitfalls of the world is important preparation. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.