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March 14, 2005 - 3:52 pm


I've been paying tuition to send my kids to public school for almost two years now.

Wha? you say.

We live in Atlanta, and the public school our kids should go to is across the street from a burned out strip of old brick store front shops. The year before the Girl was supposed to start kindergarten there, someone found a dead body behind the school. Coincidentally, thereís a nice, big cemetery right next to the school where you might think a playground ought to be. But, hey! Headstones and tall weeds make great hiding places!

Although the schoolís test scores are extremely low and they have one of the highest percentages of free and reduced lunches in the city, weíre not qualified to transfer out of the district because, according to President Bushís brilliant ďNo Child Left BehindĒ policy, itís not considered a ďFailing SchoolĒ since theyíve ďmade progressĒ from one year to the next. In real numbers, this means they went from an average grade of 63 to an average grade of 65. Sure, the grade ITSELF is low, but itís GONE UP. See? Thatís some real progress.

Anyway, Iíve had a plan to move inside the Decatur city limits (where taxes are high and schools and public works are great!) for a few years now, but the plan has not been progressing as quickly as Iíd hoped. In the meantime, we had to find alternate school plans ASAP. Headstones just arenít enough of a draw.

So, facing the possibility of temporary tuition for City of Decatur schools, I looked at other private school options, just to see whatís out there for the money. Here are some of my findings:

1. The Friends School Ė Too liberal. No grades are given because competition is frowned upon. Thatís really going to prepare our children for the real world, isnít it? How do they think the parents earned the money for the near $1,000 per kid per month tuition? COMPETITION, you Quaker hippies!

2. The Catholic School Ė (Besides the fact that weíre not Catholic) Too conservative. No democrats, gays, or colored people, please! Unless you have a whole lot of money! Plus, I just donít trust priests. Or clowns, for that matter.

3. Paideia Ė Too expensive for the quality of the education. I found the upper grades got pretty good marks, but lower grades were no higher quality than other less expensive choices. Itís where rich people send their bad kids.

4. The Waldorf School Ė Totally belongs in Stepford, Connecticut. You have to sign a pledge saying youíll sit down at the table together as a family every single night for dinner, or Lucifer will come and take you back home where you came from. Right. Iíll get right on that, just as soon as I get Johnís slippers and light his pipe.

5. Decatur City Schools Ė Letís see, test scores are high, population is diverse, the high school is a Georgia School of Excellence, they are beginning to implement an international baccalaureate program in all the elementary schools, and all their friends go there. The food sucks, but I guess you canít have everything.

So, for the money, we went with option 5, and for the most part, we love it. The kidsí teachers are fantastic and really seem to know what motivates them. The schools are small and the superintendent is very accessible.

I have one general complaint, though, and Iíve talked to enough parents at other schools that Iím sure this is not just the case with our school. Itís true everywhere, and only getting worse.

Before I start, I should say that this post is probably going to put me in the running for some sort of Politically Incorrect Parent Award, and if the Democrats could form even a rudimentary coalition, I'm sure they'd kick me out of the party for what I'm about to say, but here it is anyway.

Iím not in elementary school anymore.

Iím sorry, but I just had to say that out loud to remind myself, because itís easy to forget since IíM THERE SO FREAKINí MUCH! What is with these schools that they canít get along without ALL the parents participating in EVERY SINGLE EVENT, EVERY SINGLE WEEK? Canít anyone just work independently anymore?

If you don't have kids who are at least kindergarten age, you have no idea how things are run now. It's nothing like when we were in school. Remember when we were expected to sit ALONE at a DESK and LISTEN? Well, no more, my friends. It's all group work now at ďcentersĒ and ďareas.Ē PRIZES are awarded for good behavior rather than the SPANKINGS and EXPULSION we received for being bad. We were expected to sit still and pay attention and no one even said thank you to us or gave us a sticker or a piece of candy at the end of the day or anything. How did we get along?

The teachers do a remarkably good job navigating the miles of red tape generated by all the different groups that have a say in exactly whatís taught and exactly how itís taught. I find it amazing they ever actually get to the part where they instruct the kids on how to do stuff like, oh I don't know, READ, WRITE, AND SOLVE PROBLEMS ON THEIR OWN, what with all the hoopla that goes on all the time and all the reams of paper fliers theyíre charged with stuffing in the kidís folders every day, reminding us parents of yet another crucial upcoming event desperately needing our participation. Regular hoopla would be bad enough, as it hijacks my kid's attention from the normal school day (as if there is one any more), but more often than not it's of the uber-hoopla variety, which demands MY time and/or money as well. If it's not a teacher appreciation luncheon or a spaghetti dinner at the school, it's Hat Day or Pajama Day or some other such non-school related baloney. Dressing up like a Dr. Seuss character is for Halloween, not a Tuesday in February for christís sake.

The way I see it, everyone has a job to do: my kid's job is to go to school and pay attention, the teacher's job is to relay the fascist, state-sanctioned information in as thought-provoking a way as the bleeding heart, tree huggers will allow, and my job is to go to work and make money to buy hats and pajamas.

Telling a kid she has to wear her pajamas to school is like giving her a job she has no real power of her own to complete yet would be an embarrassingly obvious failure if she is not able to do, if that makes any sense to those of you who are still too young to remember what it was like to be a kid.

And if you can tell me what I meant by that last remark, you win the sticker today.

What if she sleeps in a short t-shirt rather than something appropriate to wear in public? I don't believe in giving kids assignments that require so much parent involvement that they are no longer the kids' assignments. I didn't sign up to make costumes. Why is it my responsibility to make sure my kid has a silly hat for a regular school day? I have no strong belief in the role of silly hats in inspiring learning, and if I go out of my way to find/buy/help her make one, Iím essentially saying, ďThe silly hat is indeed an important part of your elementary education.Ē On the other hand, I'd be happy to drive my kid to the library or look up a website for her for a research project, because I want her to see that I think thatís worth spending time on, and Iíll support that. Show your kid by example what deserves time and attention, and give them real work they can do pretty much on their own, and can therefore be proud of themselves for completing.

School is for doing the work of learning stuff. Home is for homework and some longer-term projects, but mostly it's a place for me to instill in my kids the values I want them to have, like how to ask questions and discuss stuff and why you should always tell the truth. And even more than that, my job is to set the example of those values. The last thing I want to do when I come home from work after making sure homework is done, cooking dinner, bathing the kids, talking to them about their day, and cuddling up on the couch to read to them is to pack up the car and head over to the elementary school to watch ďDaddy DaycareĒ for Movie and Popcorn Night.

Family Reading Night happens every day at my house, and that's working just fine for us. Screw the PTA. I don't have time for their bullshit.


reading -Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
viewing - Stepford Wives
listening -"Weíre Going to be Friends" by The White Stripes

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