Saturday, March 10, 2007

oh, crap, here we go

Remember when I said that we don't do things the easy way? Did I ever say that?

Well, I should have.

The verdict is in: the Eldest is invited to join the wait list at the pluralist school. Which means our luck is holding steady, which means that the chances of his getting a spot are, well, about as good as (How good is it, Johnny?) a sesame seed and my kid's immune system. So, we now have to argue about the local Ortho school vs public school for a year. This is going to suck. Nobody is going to like this discussion, and offering to put all of the tuition money to the kids' college fund (a tactic I've considered) is not going to make it any simpler. And that's a lot of nickels, folks.

Sigh. Even offering wild monkey sex isn't going to help this conversation. Although it would make for an entertaining time-out, assuming the participants were still on speaking terms by then.

Which means it is now time to do a post I've been putting off: the quality of education post. Shifra, a J-blogger whom I alternately like and find irritating, noted here this post by Rabbi Horowitz (nobody I've heard of, but he has a blog that is clearly aimed at the right-wing Orthodox Jewish community. Erm, very right-wing. Shifra, in turn, posted this about the question of Jewish education.

Horowitz's point is a good one: schools should serve all. The hallmark of a good school should be that it serves each and every student, irrespective of their level of intellect and capability. Not that every kid goes to the Ivies, but that each child comes out a committed and interested learner of the subjects offered. That is excellence.

Here's where it gets interesting: public schools, which have to accept each child who registers (barring charter schools and others with application exams), know this. They have evolved to suit each child's needs as best as resources permit. Admittedly, around here the resources are ample, which skews my view. Disclaimer finished, let me say that the Cambridge public schools that I've visited offered ample evidence of this mandate. I suggest this post, by Nancy Walser on the subject - her comment in response to David Kravitz is especially interesting, particularly the second comment in response to him. By contrast, the private schools I saw were either aware of the implications of their population and its needs - or not.

Private schools have the luxury of refusing to admit a child for any number of reasons, including that s/he wouldn't fit into the 'classroom environment.' This is a splendidly slippery phrase, meaning, essentially, that your kid might not be bright enough, your family might not be rich enough, your kid might be too medically complex - but all of that fades in comparison to what it really means: we're not interested in adapting our classroom to suit you. Given resources, given a desire to adapt and nurture, a classroom can accommodate any child and see them flourish.

No, really.

What I see in the schools around me is either a sense of exhilaration, of enthusiasm and commitment to the child's needs - or apathy and self-satisfaction. Which leaves me with this question: why should I, as a religious Jew, accept second-rate education simply because it happens to be Jewish education? And why is the community putting up with education that segregates people by the child's intellect and/or the family's income?

Let me be clear: it's not that the local Jewish schools aren't accepting kids because, as in Rabbi Horowitz' and Shifra's posts, the kids aren't smart. To the contrary. They are either succeeding or failing to keep the smart children engaged and flourishing. So, the smart kids leave and head to greener pastures. Elsewhere, yes, children are failing to make the cut. Failing? What a concept to apply to a child. Shouldn't their success or failure be taken on their own terms? Certainly, for lower and middle school, at the very least.

This is lazy pedagogy - worse, it's a cop-out. And one that fails the children. No fools, the kids will pick up on this intellectual/economic snobbery (even if it is snobbery by default) - certainly, at one of my private high schools, my classmates were quick to make it clear to me that I was there despite my family's lower income level. Not every bright child is uniformly stellar, not every average kid is, as Rabbi Horowitz points out, uniformly ordinary.

Teach the children successfully in a mixed environment of individual skills and values, and you create a community that embraces differences. Differences in abilities, differences in income - and yes, because I am my boys' mother, differences in needs. But it only works if you do it deliberately and well.

Oh, crap, here we go.

1 comment:

dykewife said...

there's always the option of home schooling, especially if the public schools don't offer your son the non-allergenic environment he requires. he has so many allergies, that they might not be able to accomodate him. if that is the case then they have to send a teacher to him. check out your state's laws about disability and education. then again, they may be able to accomodate him simply by banning certain food products in his classroom.

i know that you would really like to get your son into a religious school, if one isn't going to accomodate you, perhaps home schooling might be the way to go. that way you know what your son is learning and you can ensure that his religious education isn't left behind.

best of luck whatever happens.