I grew up in affluent suburb of Chicago during the 70's and 80's. Our public schools were solid. Our programs and services were anything but lacking. Our facilities were excellent. Our class sizes were small. I also had no doubt that my teachers did not like me. My smart mouth may have contributed to that but I remember wondering why my principal hated me so much. I wondered if she hated everybody that much.
After my fairly small albeit unsheltered experience in grade school and junior high, I went to what was in my opinion, a pretty tough high school the next town over. There were almost 4,000 students at our school and they were kids from all walks of life. We had your typical football players, homecoming queens, cheerleaders, jocks, jerks, burn-outs, preppies, bimbos, drama geeks, do-gooders, geniuses, and just some all around nice people. There was every type of club, sport, and council you could imagine. We had a daycare for the babies of teenage mothers and we had bodyguards who were rumored to have been in some sort of hardcore fraternity because they all had the same "branding" on their upper arms.
There were hallways you didn't go into and there were staircases you didn't go down or up. I learned that the hard way when I was a freshman and went up the "wrong" staircase. A girl came at me from behind and pulled me down backwards by my ponytail. There were fights and gangs and drugs and suicides and some of my best friends went to rehab. I remember thinking that there were just too many kids there—way too many kids there and way too much trouble to get into. It was the first time that I ever felt that my suburb, that Chicago maybe, that the world even, was a pretty tough place to be.
That said, as distinctly as I remember the details of what scared me about my public high school, I remember what I loved about it equally well. Not all of my teachers hated me in high school and I was actually pretty inspired by some of them. I was given a tremendous amount of freedom to express myself and I learned to love art. I took jewelry classes and photography classes and courses in graphic design. I learned how to get along with and actually like people who were very different from me. I learned that there was a place for all of us. I am the product of the suburban public school system and I do not regret nor have I ever wished that that wasn't the case. I not only assumed that my own kids would one day go to public school, I had a hard time understanding how for some people, there was no assumption at all.
When I'd finally had my own kids, I was a long, long way from the suburbs of Chicago. I was raising my kids in a part of the country I'd never imagined myself before, and there was a new and different type of freedom in that. I wasn't living in the same town I grew up in and no one anticipated or expected that I'd do anything. There were no rules to adhere to—no footsteps in which to follow. I realized that there were many different ways to raise a familiy and how fortunate we all were to have the choice. I thought deeply about what raising a family looked like to me and I wondered how that was tied to the way I wanted to education my children. Did I want them to have what I had? Did I want something else for them? What did "something else" look like? What did I want?
I came to the conclusion that I wanted something different for my kids—different in all kinds of ways—though I wasn't sure how at the time. The truth was that I had become a much different parent than I thought I'd become, and maybe never would have become if I still lived in my home town. I believed that I shouldn't limit myself to just one idea and that even if I ended up turning to that one idea in the end, at least I would have truly thought about it. I started looking into the different ways children learn, and for the first time, I considered alternatives to public education. And I liked what I saw. I, once again, became something I never thought I'd become…
A private school parent.
(To be continued)