Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Children by the Numbers (A Rant)

The co-op preschool that had me eager to take a tour and chide Hubba-hubba on the way up for not remembering to bring the checkbook so that we could enroll Mr. Personality right then and there turned out to be something very different from the picture I had built up in my head. The teacher, although very nice and sweet, was to put it mildly, a bit of a scatterbrain. And while I am sure that she relates wonderfully to the children, organization and structure didn't look to be her key strengths. Another drawback was that the parent meetings are held on Thursday nights, which would mean I would have to arrange for babysitting for Mr. P and that didn't sound too appealing.

And well, let me just put it out there that the place was old and run-down and the toys were ancient and dirty and there were weeds all over the play area. There had been a huge water leak on one wall during last year's rains and it had yet to be repaired. The wall was cracked and the paint puffed up and peeling, and my immediate paranoid reaction was that there was mold in them thar walls.

Add to all that the fact that it was a good half hour drive in traffic. Since the class time begins at nine in the morning, we were fighting with everyone trying to get their butts to their jobs, and it just didn't seem worth it to commute for that long. It is only preschool after all! Perspective is needed!

The tuition for the co-op? One thirty five a month, which was for three days a week, four hours a day.

Cursing myself for my lack of planning, I made appointments to tour some other preschools, and the next one we saw was run by a Lutheran Church, which I had heard positive things about from both my former Mother's Club and just random parents on the playground. At one point I thought, what the hell am I "touring" preschools for? It sounds a bit ridiculous, and it is not like we are sending him to college! There's that perspective thing again! God, I am going to be a wreck by the time he hits middle school, aren't I?

The two campuses could not have been more opposite. Bright, clean, beautiful playground with a huge sand play area as well as grass and tricycle paths. Desert tortoises and a little bird in the classroom. The curriculum was well-presented, with "learning by doing" being emphasized as opposed to a purely academic approach, which aligned well with what I want for Mr. P. They have contracted out for gymnastics and music programs, as well as having all sorts of extracurricular activities from Back To School Night to an End of the Year Bash. Although of course, along with the enrollment paperwork was the fundraiser packet.

Tuition for this school? Two hundred thirty a month, for three days a week, two and a half hours a day.

Then I thought, these discrepancies are part of what is wrong with schools in this country. The poorer children get, if they even get any preschool at all, run-down facilities and inexperienced teachers. More money gets you better access to different types of programs and more experienced teachers. There are definitely tiers of education, and I am supremely lucky that my parents are willing to help foot the bill to help Mr. Personality get into a higher one than we would be able to afford on our own. But by no means is he in the highest, which costs parents (who willingly shell out) upwards of eight hundred a month. For preschool. Are we insane as a society? Is the thinking that if something costs that much money, it must be worth it? Where did that perspective go?

With the No Child Left Behind Act, public schools are now forced to function on what I like to label the Wall Street model of growth, with gains expected every year, not ever seeming to ever take into account the exasperating little fact that a school is filled with human beings, not products. Or perhaps even worse, children will be seen as mere products, with their only value being the test scores they can deliver. With these types of unrealistic expectations, why were we ever surprised to learn of "cooking the books" and all sorts of ways in which companies tried to inflate their earnings? Soon enough, I am afraid that to the detriment of children, schools will feel forced to do similar things in order to fend off federal takeovers. Don't think it won't happen, you've got to remember the pesky human factor.

And make no mistake about it, schools are turning into businesses, marketing and playing on parents fears and vanities as they would if they were selling them a car. Not to mention the desire for their children to have all the advantages possible, even if it means having to take a second job to send them to freakin' preschool. I'm all for quality education, but I think we are going about it entirely the wrong way.

Homeschooling has never sounded more attractive.

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