You don’t always get what you pay for

Warning: this is probably going to be a screed. I may misstate some facts. I may not tell the whole story. I may forget some things I should mention. But I a stuck in Vegas and its either blog or punch someone. The last thing I want to do is spend a night in a Vegas jail so I’m going to blog – although a night in a Vegas jail would give me stories to tell for years I am sure.

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Almost 15 years ago, my wife and I had our first child. 2 years later (to the day) we had our second. We went through all the normal new parent things. We had wins. We made mistakes. We did our best. One of the big choices we made along the way was which school to send our kids too. The first decision we made was to send our daughter and later our son to a Montessori preschool and kindergarten. It ended up being a win. They both did really well there – each in their own way.

Alas it was only a 2 year programs. They didn’t offer an elementary school, so we had to find a second place. We looked at a few different options, but ended up enrolling my daughter and later my son in my elementary school alma mater. It’s a private, catholic school that is unique in that it’s not affiliated with a parish (so it’s a little easier to get in if you aren’t in the parish – important for us…since we’re not Catholic). I’ll be honest that public school was never really considered. My mom was a public school teacher and my parents chose to send my sister and I to private school. Right or wrong – that really told me all I really need to know about public schools.

Our second educational decision has not been the win that the first one was. My daughter “graduated” (I hate the phony ceremonies we have created – it’s akin to the everyone gets a trophy syndrome) from 8th grade last May. Although they offer high school, she had no interest in going there (and had pretty much made up her mind around 3 years earlier). As an important side note the third decisions we made on the high school she is attending seems to be in the win column. It’s still early, but so far so good (great in fact). She did OK when she was there and got a reasonable education. I think that was mainly due to the fact that she is a she, has a strong “people pleaser” mentality and is self motivated.

My son’s experience has been different. He’s not a she. While he has a tremendous amount of empathy, he really could care less about pleasing anyone but himself and (as a result of point 2 I think) is not all that motivated, except when he is personally really interested in something. Too many schools, including the one he’s going to, treat boys too much like “broken little girls”. There are whole books written on this topic, so I won’t go into it all, but it has definitely been part of his experience. Besides starting as a “broken little girl” he has the added burden of having dyslexia and disgraphia. This cranks the academic difficulty level to 11.

It did take us a while to get a diagnosis (and he had an early misdiagnosis as ADHD…don’t get me started on that BS) but once we did, I felt we had turned a corner. We knew what we were dealing with and we as parents and the teachers and staff at his school could work together to build a plan to help him learn how to learn. Other than a few happy exceptions, this could not have been more mistaken. It turns out that a vast majority of the teachers (or at least enough of them to make any teaming effective) just won’t do the work. What I expected to find at an expensive private school with really low student to teacher ratios were teachers that took an interest in each student. Teachers that would work with parents to help their children get the best education, and more importantly instill a love of learning. Teachers that would recognize that each and every student that comes through their doorway is unique and has their own needs and possibilities. Those teachers have been few and far between. Instead I have found teachers that expected to have students filled with “smart” kids that they could recite information to and the students would just “get it”. Teachers that seem bothered by parents that want to meet with them, even when the parents are clear they aren’t there to browbeat them. Teachers that just don’t seem vested in their students as people.

Happiness is all about expectations, so it should be pretty clear why I’m not happy. To be clear I don’t think my son is a “special snowflake” that deserves to do well in school just because I’m paying for it. I also am not interested in calling out the school in an online screed that will dwell in search engines for potential future parents of the school to find and run away screaming (you’ll note the lack of links and specific names in the post – that’s deliberate). What I am looking for is a good idea of what to do next. If I had a time machine, I’d likely give a real hard think about home schooling. Absent a chance encounter with a generous time traveler, I suppose I’ll go in for one more meeting with his teachers. But that old definition of insanity is starting to come into play – doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. In the end I know that my son figuring out what he wants and making the connection between that goal and what he’s being asked to do in school will make the biggest difference of all. But until that happens I’d at least like to find some teachers that care enough to help him while he’s figuring that out. The one thing I’ve learned (hopefully not too late) is that simply paying for private education is no longer the guarantee it once was. I’ll take responsibility for making a lazy decision a little more than 8 years ago – but I won’t let it happen again.

I know a few things for certain. I know that education is a means to an end. I know that both of our kids are great people and will lead fulfilling and fascinating lives. I just need to find a few teachers that know that too.

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