Is it Worth it to Follow the Elementary School Holy Grail?

Parents, please weigh in.

Is it worth a long drive to give your kid the elementary school education that you dream of for him?

Right now, my son attends our neighborhood school. We live in the best school district in the state, so I figured I would not have to worry too much about where to send him to school. What is better than biking to and from a safe school every day? But now I am having misgivings about this district.

For one thing, “the best school district in the state” really just means the best test scores. Our district has a very strict curriculum, to which all schools closely adhere. But does that really mean that the schools are good schools? This is where I am having my questions.

I really like his teacher and the kids in the class. However, the kids have little time for discovery based learning. To me, it seems like for the teachers to keep up with the curriculum, they must teach by rote (kids at desks to learn a concept outlined by the teacher, then work with the concept in groups doing activities). It also seems to me that the teachers are out of practice when it comes to discovery based learning period, for the few times the kids were assigned large projects.

For example, there was a large research project about specific Arizona bats in which my son had to do a poster presentation. As background, my son is in first grade and learning to read and write. He does not know how to research yet. Well, OK! What a great opportunity to introduce the kids to the world of research! Teach them how to use the library. Teach them how to search on the internet (with parental supervision). Start them just starting to think about judging what a good resource is – a good book, a good website, etc.

So, I was expecting they would do some sort of teaching on the subject. Nope. I talked to several Arizona teachers, out of curiosity, about this and everyone said, “Mom, go look it up on the internet for your kid. Print stuff out. Have him read it and do the presentation.” My out of state teacher friends said “Whaaaat?? That is crazy!!”

To make matters less clear, the teachers did not explain to the children should make their poster. No discussion of “Have a Title” or “Have some pictures with captions.” There was no rubric for grading explained to kids or parents. Yes, it was graded. Parents and kids received a rubric after grading was complete.

What do you think happened with most of those projects? The parents did much of the work for their kids. Did I? I tried not to but yes, I did help, more than I was comfortable helping. I did show him the library and how to search a bit. But due to time constraints, I’m not sure how much he understood.

As you can see by my rant, I was bent out of shape about this. But then I thought, “Chill out, mommy.” Maybe the next project will be better. Well, it seems that is the way it is out here. No further research projects but several home based creative projects. All of these projects were assigned upon short notice, with little time for parents to purchase supplies. Anything that is not taught in a rote sort of way seems like it is an afterthought.

I’m disturbed by the lack of discovery based learning because when one discovers something, it really sticks with them. How many times has your mother told you something important and you didn’t listen? When you screw up that same thing enough times and discover she was right, it sticks with you. Would it have been easier to listen? Perhaps! But it didn’t make sense until you discovered the truth!

So I’ve put my son’s name on the waiting list for a number of charter schools out here. There is one very close by, one about 25 minutes away, and one 40 minutes away.

Guess which one I like the most? And which one he is most likely going to get into soon? Sigh. Yes, the one that is 40 minutes away.

Part of me thinks, stick to your neighborhood school. Your kid is happy. The people are nice, but they don’t understand active learning. This could build character for your son and for you, as long is you stay involved. A friend of mine, who is a veteran teacher, to which I hold the highest respect, said it probably doesn’t really matter until high school as long as he learns to read and write.

The other part of me is thinking, what is this teaching him about the world? I want him to have some good problem solving skills when he grows up. I don’t want him to get the idea that it is OK to be passive about his learning in this world, not one little bit! I don’t want him around passivity period.

With 7 billion people on the planet all getting more and more connected together, with all of their arguments and differences and an environment that will need our best minds to think of how to get everyone to care for it, we need all of the active, critical thinking young minds that we can get!

Early education means so much in the life of a child when it comes to developing a good attitude towards learning, so intuitively, does it really not matter?

But is it worth a 40 minute commute, which will mean I will have to seriously figure out how to spend my day (I cannot make a 40 minute commute 4 times a day)? Is it worth possibly moving?

Or possibly it is all an overreaction.

In the end, I think I need a month or two to just marinate in my thoughts. Maybe I will soften and it won’t seem like such a big deal. It’s my first parent trip through school with my kid and I just want him to have the best preparation for life that I can give him.

I hear that character is the highest predictor for success in life, not test scores. The schools I am looking at are all very discovery based learning in their approach. But which will give him the best character? Being surrounded by people who all want to discover what they learn, or by being surrounded by people who are taught to learn passively while having a mom and a dad whispering in his ear to discover, discover, discover?


About LornaGovier

Lorna Govier lives in Tucson, AZ.
This entry was posted in Coyote Bliss, Parenting, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Is it Worth it to Follow the Elementary School Holy Grail?

  1. Darcy says:

    Lorna, we need to have lunch! You raise great points and I very much resonate with your conundrum. Where to send our children to school is an on-going question for so many parents, especially in a state that lacks decent support our public schools. I’m curious which charter schools you are considering. I’m only four years further down the education road than you are, but it hasn’t gotten any easier. Let’s talk!

  2. LornaGovier says:

    Lunch sounds great!!

  3. Maureen says:

    Lorna, this is definitely a tough one. In my humble opinion and experience, in the long run, with parents like you, it will all be fine (in that basic academic way) for your kids whatever you decide. But,,, the long run is, what, 15 years of family life? That is a LOT of days, and weeks, and years of family life that will be impacted by your decision. And I do think “family life” and some global family happiness quotient is really important in developing the way our kids look outward into the world (is the world a generally good place, a stressful place, an exhausting place?). I would add those sorts of variables to your thinking i.e. all the schlepping on you and Violet and Max (maybe it is worth a move near to THE school that is the most important to you) ; to be near or not near friends after school ( this is almost old fashioned thinking, cause kids aren’t always around anyway for all the modern reasons); if there are after school/evening activities at the charter, does your day become impossible; the fit with other parents and the culture of the school choices for you, will you all fit better or worse than now (and who do YOU get to make friends with?). We once considered moving to another town for the schools, until we realized we were ALL a really bad fit for the town itself. As you clearly know,it’s a complicated matrix. You’ll find your way. Interesting for me to reflect back and articulate my thoughts…….haven’t been at church in a few weeks,,,,see you around soon hopefully! Maureen

  4. LornaGovier says:

    Thanks for writing, Maureen!! I agree, the schlepping is certainly a big variable and we’d like to minimize that. I like your observation about “global family happiness”. Great food for thought!

  5. Pingback: Up In the Air | Coyote Bliss

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