What do we believe?

Completing private school applications has brought up a philosophical question that I was hoping to defer until my children were much older – What do we believe? 

My husband “P” and I were both raised Catholic, and both of us have experienced different levels of religious education (him:  high school, me:  college).  Speaking for my own experience at Holy Cross, religion was always present, but it did not feel forced on me.  Furthermore, Holy Cross is remarkably progressive – I am proud to say that our Alumni magazine started to feature same-sex wedding announcements despite protests from some.  But when we had children, we specifically decided not to introduce religion for many different reasons.   I won’t speak for P, but as a teenager I was confused by the concept of Confirmation – I was affirming that I was choosing the Catholic faith, yet I had no choice but to go through the process??

Despite the lack of religion in our family, P is totally open to Catholic school. We have two in our area that seem like reasonably good schools, and at least one states that it is open to children of all faiths (does that include children of no faith?).  Let’s face it – we may not have good options come September.  But do I want my child indoctrinated into the Catholic faith?  My dear Memere, if you are reading this  post for some reason, please stop here.  I’d like you to spend the rest of your life believing I’m a model granddaughter.

P  thinks that the  exposure will be limited although both have religious education as part of the curriculum.  I did some research, and one school’s Kindergarten religious curriculum is called “We Believe.”  The program description says:

The main idea we will focus upon this year is that God created the world and everything in it.  This year, we will look for God in ourselves, others, and all that surrounds us.  We will also celebrate Catholic holidays.

So that will cover creationism, the birth of Christ, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection?  I pointed that out to P, who said something like well maybe our kids will question the Catholic church’s teachings.  That should go over well in  Catholic Kindergarten.  Do they still embrace corporal punishment?

But even the non-religious private schools have their own philosophies about what children should learn and when.  My top choice private school, for example, teaches sexuality education starting in elementary school.  Whaaaaaaaaaaat?  The school believes that it’s best to educate children proactively on factual information in an open and respectful environment before they start hearing rumors on the playground. P, who seems to not have an issue with our child hearing about a man dying on a cross or that homosexuality is morally wrong, may have a problem with her hearing where babies come from.

Honestly, I was initially shocked by this too and it has given me pause as to whether we should apply there.  However, the more I thought about it, the more I questioned why I was having that reaction (Catholic guilt?).  Sure, elementary school is a little young, but our daughter is bound to ask about it on her own anyway.  I asked P how he would respond to our daughter if she were to ask, and predictably, he said “I’ll tell her when she’s 25.”  I think they will keep the conversations fairly simple and high level at that age – I can’t imagine they’ll be pulling out the bananas – and, there is something to be said about giving information to children before they hit puberty and start feeling uncomfortable in their own bodies.  Bringing it up at 12?  Hello, awkwardness!  On the flip side, do I really want her to know certain things before she wants to or needs to?  Will this impact her ability to enjoy an innocent childhood?

Going to any private school will force questions of what we believe and how we want to address those beliefs.  Should we send our child to a school that will raise topics we’d like to avoid (sorry:  I meant defer)?  Can we navigate these issues by sharing with her what we believe and that different people have different beliefs?  Can we even articulate what believe?

Moving would be soooooo much easier than this!

It’s only Kindergarten, right?

When I was in college, I took an entire class focused on Maria Montessori.  I fell passionately in love with her educational philosophy on child-driven education and discovery, and on one late night in the computer lab with my best friend finishing our terms papers, I think we both swore our children would attend Montessori school.  And what could be more important than securing the very best education for our children?

That was over 15 years, 3 busy careers and 3 children ago.  Suddenly, I am faced with the reality that this fall, my oldest must leave our day care that provides a safe learning environment between the hours of 7:30 a.m. -6:30 p.m. and head off to Kindergarten.  So, like many parents before me, I have thrown myself into the whirlwind known as the Boston Public School lottery process. Of course that means I’m also feverishly researching any and all private schools in the area. For those of you who don’t know how the Boston lottery system works, each neighborhood in Boston is assigned to a “Zone” which is a roughly drawn area that may or may not be anywhere near your actual home. We live in the North Zone, which includes Allston/Brighton, Downtown Boston, and East Boston.  For those of you not familiar with Boston, believe me when I tell you that these neighborhoods are not at all close to each other.  The bottom line is that your child is not guaranteed placement at any school of your choice, and also could potentially go to a school fairly far away.  Thus, I would prefer that the city of Boston not call this “School Choice Time” but instead call it “try your luck with your child’s fortune time.”

My first mistake with the private school search was not realizing that all private school applications (and the related teacher evaluations) are due mid to late January. One excellent private school in the Back Bay actually closed applications for this fall’s incoming Kindergarten class 18 months ago. Oops.  In addition to researching all of my “Zone” public schools, I now need to research all of my private options.  Like this weekend.

My second mistake?  Forgetting about the teacher recommendation.  I had a meeting with E’s teacher about the recommendation form and she said, “you need to give me some notice to get these completed.”  Well, how does a week sound to you?  Not to mention that E is still on “Observation,” which is two steps away from expulsion.  I asked her teacher what I should expect from the evaluation.  Meaning, is all hope of getting into private school lost?

“E is very smart,” her teacher replied.  “She knows how to write and recognize every letter, she knows all the sounds, her numbers…”  “But what about her behavior?”  I asked, dreading the answer.  She gave me a weird look and said, “Well, I would have to say all the areas that she needs to work on.  Like sharing.   And transitions.  And managing her emotions…”   Ohhhhhkay, thanks.

E would thrive in a Montessori environment.  Part of the reason she’s on Observation in the first place is that she is fiercely (stubbornly?) independent and likes to move at her own pace. If she’s really engrossed in an activity, it’s hard for her to stop.  Even as a young toddler she always just had a sense of how things fit together.  When she tries to learn something, she’ll do it over and over until she gets it right.

I have no idea what her chances of getting in are, given the mixed recommendation I am expecting.  Even if she does get in, our local Montessori school costs the same as I paid for a year of college.  For Kindergarten.  And classes end at 3:30.  After school care, summer care will all be extra $$$.  So I will continue to look at all of our options, including some of the very good public schools in our zone.  I’m just not sure if we will have good options come March.  But it’s only Kindergarten, right?