More Than Money
Issue #39

Money and Children

Table of Contents

“Public, Private, or Home School?”

Viewpoint

Respectful dialogue among people of diverse viewpoints is a hallmark of More Than Money. More Than Money Journal readers vary widely in age, family history, politics, religion, net worth, source of income, geography, and other factors. We publish thoughtful commentary on topics of interest to our readers in order to stimulate lively discussion and creative reflection. The opinions expressed by the writers of Viewpoint are not necessarily those of More Than Money.

Where do you send your child to school? Public school? Private? Homeschool? What are some of the dilemmas involved and how do you make your choice? The parents on these pages reflect on their decisions.

People with the financial means to choose the schools their children will attend might automatically assume that private schools are better for them, or that they should send their children to schools historically attended by family members. I believe that consciously choosing a school for our children, based on our values as parents and on our children's children's individual abilities, is critical to their educational success. When selecting the school that our daughters attended, my husband and I faced a very difficult dilemma. On the one hand, we are committed to citizenship and public education, and we strongly believe in the importance of enabling our daughters to interact with children from diverse backgrounds. On the other hand, we wanted to find a school that would provide our daughters not only with an excellent academic education, but also with strong citizenship and social skills. The dilemma was particularly poignant for me personally because I have spent much of my career working in and consulting to public education.

Ultimately, we chose to send our daughters to a private school committed to cultural and economic diversity. The school shared both our personal values and our educational philosophy of fostering a child's individual development, rather than attempting to mold a child into a given curriculum. With its low student-teacher ratio, teachers were able to know our children intimately-academically, socially, and emotionally.

Now that our daughters are grown, I am grateful for the lifelong love of learning and civic participation skills that they acquired in their school. Because of my strong belief in public education, however, I almost wish that we had originally moved into a community with a public school system that matched our educational philosophies. I think highly of families who deliberately live in a particular neighborhood so that their children can attend its public schools. In the long run, I think that supporting our public school system is essential to the greater public good. When we do send our children to private schools, I believe that we are obligated to be involved in supporting and improving the public schools of our community.
-Diana Paolitto

Our elementary-aged children are both in public schools. We're lucky to live in a college town where a good tax base provides ample funding for schools and where parental involvement in the schools is very high (volunteering in the classroom, coaching, PTO, school committee, grants for special projects). We've been delighted with the teachers and curriculum; we feel very fortunate to have found a community with a commitment to strong public schools.

My wife and I are both concerned about the "in-the-bubble" effect that an all-private education may have. Our plan is to stay with public education through high school unless we feel that one of the children develops an out-of-the- ordinary need that only a private setting could address. We believe that our first responsibility is to our children's best interests, and that there are many effective ways to extend our concern for our own children's interests to other children as well.
- anonymous author

I believe that five elements contribute to the process of moving from childhood to adulthood: morals (defining what things are right and what things are wrong), values (identifying what's important to our family), ethics (behavior and how we conduct ourselves based on our morals and values), problemsolving (the ability to identify issues and outline steps to solve them), and decision-making (the highest level of maturity showing readiness for adulthood -choosing directions for action based on morals, values, ethics, and problem-solving ability).

Now consider this: In America, where the average child is in a traditional school setting by the age of five or six, they begin spending more waking hours of the day with their peers than with their parents. Yes, more awake time with their peers than with their parents. Consider also that children move from childhood to adulthood -and they will do it with you or without you. They will do it by spending time modeling their parents or modeling their peers. They will either bond with their parents or band with their peers. So, when it comes to learning values and ethics (not to mention such crucial skills as problem-solving and decision-making), the advantage of homeschooling is clear-which is why I homeschool, rather than send my child to any other school, public or private.
-Steve Moitozo
Executive Director
Homeschool Associates
Lewiston, Maine

When my husband and I were deciding where to send our children to school, a dilemma arose: Do I do what is best for my child (which is my responsibility as a parent) or do I do what's better for a large number of people? I'm a true believer in public education, because it's a basic tenet of democracy. If people like me-with the financial means and the interest to devote time and attention to schools-opt out of the public education system, then good education becomes less available to all.

I attended good public schools and I wanted my daughters to do the same. But the decision became complicated when the state we lived in enacted large budget cuts for education. We began to consider private schooling, but instead ended up moving to another state. We deliberately chose an affluent town that was reputed to have great public schools.

We sent all three of our daughters to the local schools there, but we were disappointed in their quality, which seemed to result from a lack of money. Tax-cutting fever had struck; teachers were laid off and programs were cut. Although there was incredible teacher talent in our community, it wasn't being enhanced in our public schools. As a solution, my husband and I helped start a local education foundation, which provided money raised by parents for teacher support-professional development, field trips, and creative teaching. (Many public school systems have established local education funds with various thrusts.) We set it up as a grantmaking institution, run by parents, with a lot of accountability to the school board and the town. Our daughters remained in the public schools through fourth grade (the elementary school).

When our last child left public school, we gave $10,000 to the principal of the elementary school to use in any manner that would show our appreciation for what the school and its teachers had given to our children, our family, and the community. That kind of philanthropy is not done in public schools, but it is done annually in private schools. From a philosophical point of view, I believe it's important to think about how we can support teachers and public schools, whether our children are attending them or not.
- anonymous author

I went to private school. My children go to public school. While I believe in our decision to send them to public school, I am never completely comfortable with it.

We live in a racially and economically diverse town that borders a major city. My wife and I believe that raising our children in a diverse environment such as this is about the best preparation we can give them to lead fulfilling lives in the global era in which they have been born. On a daily basis, they are navigating differences with their classmates in culture, learning styles, ability, financial means, family structures, and a variety of other areas. Through this experience, they are becoming ever more caring, compassionate, and aware of the needs of others and of the world. And by being part of the public school community, we are contributing to the ability of the schools and the community to thrive.

At the same time, all three of our boys are students who, so far, can easily handle the required work. They seem rarely to be challenged or motivated to do better work. I am concerned that the demands on schools to meet the needs of students who need more attention take precedence. This often leaves my sons bored and uninspired, despite the schools' efforts at "differentiated learning" and our efforts to supplement their education at home.

Confronted with this on almost a daily basis, I continually wonder whether the challenge of a private school, with a disciplined learning environment and higher expectations, wouldn't be serving my kids better. I can (and do) go back and forth around issues of whether private school environments are too demanding, too competitive, too homogeneous, and too connected to a culture of wealth and consumerism. Perhaps it is those issues that keep me from pursuing that course, but the uncomfortable feeling still persists that my children's innate abilities and passions should be better nurtured than they are in even these very good public schools.
-Name withheld by request

My 16-year-old daughter is "unschooled," in the way pioneered by John Holt [leader of the homeschooling movement]. She is totally in charge of her education, just as I am totally in charge of mine. Both of us experience getting excited or inspired by something and diving head first into it, immersing ourselves until we are satiated, then moving on to the next subject. Isn't this how we all learn best, rather than being told to be interested in this subject for 45 minutes, then that subject for 45 minutes, etc.? In any topic she's interested in there are numbers, history and culture, science, writing, and reading involved. And she's totally eager to make use of all of these skills because it's in pursuit of a topic that moves her.
- anonymous author

I believe that public education is our nation's last remaining democratic institution. Public schooling should provide more or less equal and adequate educational opportunities to all American youth. Public schools should be places where these emerging citizens meet each other, regardless of family situation, and relate to each other as peers. If this is what public education were like in the large urban city where I live, I would have left my son in public school. But public school here is unofficially segregated by race and class.

From an ethical standpoint of despising unfair privilege, I have chosen a very affordable Catholic school (even though I am Jewish) in our workingclass neighborhood, where the children of immigrant taxi drivers learn alongside those of nurses and parents of more comfortable means. My son is still the only white child in his class, but the rest of the students represent a more diverse cross-section of our city's residents, in terms of race and class, than the students found in his former school (or most any public elementary school in the city). In short, I put my son in a Catholic school because it was the schooling option most emblematic of what democratic public education opportunities would be like in our city if our schools were adequately funded and popularly attended. While I could have sent him to a more elite, expensive, secular institution, I wanted him to grow up with friends and peers from all walks of life, not just kids from families capable of paying weighty tuitions.

The selection of a parochial institution represents a small ethical compromise, I suppose, made to remove him from a school environment where only the poorest of families find their children unfairly trapped, while not taking the more separatist route of leaving the neighborhood altogether for a more privileged independent school education.

Ethical principles are challenging to apply in an unfair world. Compromise turns out to be the best I can do.
- anonymous author

I was arrested for civil disobedience at an Alliance for Quality Education protest. A year ago I would never have envisioned doing such a thing. However, last year my daughter's school suffered enormously due to budget cuts. This year we faced even more, but this time parents said, "No-arrest us if you will, but you cannot do that again to our children." Many people ask me why I bother, instead of sending my daughter to a private school. The answer is-I don't want to. I see in my daughter's classmates the same fierce intelligence and eagerness to learn that I remember from when I went to a public school. I want her to be with children with different backgrounds and perspectives. I want to be there fighting for them and for her. What I know for sure is that we have to start investing in the education of all children to prepare them and our country to succeed.
- anonymous author

Resources

Donors Choose
Teachers post project ideas online. Donors can fund them directly through Donors Choose.
212-255-8570
www.donorschoose.org

Public Agenda Foundation
Offers nonpartisan information (pro and con) on current debates and policies in education, including programs to enable choice for all.
212-686-6610


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