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Friday, April 18, 2014

A tale of two schools, 3,000 miles apart

By my rough calculations, our children spend some 17,640 hours in school, kindergarten through high school.

They meet other kids, discover how to learn and begin the process of critical thinking and writing. For the first time, they interact with other adults who are in charge of them for the school day.

They also learn how to wait, how to control the fidgets, how to get what they need and how to make friends. Some actually learn how to engage intellectually and become leaders among their peers.

Therefore, it seems impossible to overstate the significance of formal schooling in a child’s life. Of course we overheat when we debate private vs. public, charter vs. conventional, home schooling vs. outsourcing. Naturally, we obsess over acceptance into just the right nursery school, to be followed by just the right elementary experience.

Except it ain’t necessarily so.

I offer my own recent experience by way of suggesting that we take a deep breath and a step back from the frothing concern over our kids’ schools. I’m beginning to believe that, with some exceptions, it doesn’t matter how kids get their basic education. Many different philosophies and programs can work. There isn’t any etched-in-stone blueprint for developing a mind and a heart, and civilizing the incivilities of little boys and girls.

I have the perfect proof in my own family. My grandkids’ schools offer wildly different learning experiences.

Let’s consider my own school years the “control.” I attended traditional public schools all the way through. I feel like saying, “Don’t know much about history,” because I really don’t. I did learn the multiplication table, cold, and all the bridges and tunnels connecting all the boroughs. High school began to get interesting, then, in college, the gears seemed to click into place.

My grandkids are having experiences very different from mine, and from one another. One set of kids goes to school on the East Coast. They attend a posh private school and enjoy small classes, exquisitely designed and maintained outdoor spaces and an intensive focus on academic achievement. The teachers seem supportive and talented; the atmosphere is competitive and potentially stressful for the average learner.

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