Sometimes our memories of school are blurred by nostalgia.
Mom smiles and waves as Junior climbs onto the bright yellow school bus, carrying his cheerfully cartooned lunchbox and matching backpack. He seems excited about the adventure of school - being with friends, playing on the playground at recess, learning to read. It's been a normal part of American Family Life for several decades.
We think back to our own school days, and some of us fondly remember our childhood friends, the games of chase, kickball, and jump rope at recess, the innocent crushes on classmates and even teachers, field trips to the zoo and other interesting places; maybe we even remember learning something that sparked our curiosity or inspired us in some way.
But are we dealing in reality, or in a cultural fantasy of what school is supposed to be like?
Being a child of the 80's, I grew up in the era of John Hughes, who brought us such gems as The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Amy Heckerling got noticed with Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and then in 1995 changed the way Americans speak with Clueless. Television has explored the school experience in every era with Happy Days, The Wonder Years, Welcome Back, Kotter, Square Pegs, Freaks and Geeks, and My So-Called Life, to name only a few. And let's not forget the obvious metaphor of Buffy Summers attending Sunnydale High School, which just so happened to be perched on the mouth of Hell.
- Do any of these depictions portray the nurturing and educational environment that parents envision for their children?
- Do the stereotypes of jocks, geeks, and bullies have roots in reality?
- Do the caricatures of teachers and principals encourage kids to respect authority and view them as role models and instructors from whom they can learn?
For many of us, the picture of school life that these movies and shows paint is more accurate than the sentimental commercials of the smiling mom and lunchbox-toting son.
Even so, most parents take for granted where their child will go to school - they will, by default, attend the public school in their district. It isn't even a conscious decision, and it should be.
Nothing about teaching and nurturing children should be taken for granted.
Here is a checklist of questions that every parent should answer before they choose school for their child:
- How will this school benefit my child?
- Does my fantasy of school life match the reality my child will face in today's world?
- What are my legal rights as a parent if there are problems at the school?
- Is my child allowed to contact me if they wish?
- What are the school's policies regarding child safety?
- Does the school have an emergency plan in place, and how often do they drill?
- How do I contact the teacher to discuss my child's progress?
- What is the student to teacher ratio in class, at recess, during lunch?
- Will parents be informed if there is teacher misconduct, or serious student misconduct?
- Is the school responsive and respectful to parent questions and concerns about subject matter and homework?
When considering your child's educational path, don't take school choice for granted. Ignore preconceived notions and societal expectations about school. Instead, thoroughly research to find the option that will offer your child the best nurturing, character building, and educational experience possible.
Any school with your child's best interests in mind will be happy to answer these questions.