How To Be Confident In Your School Choice

Schooling is one of the biggest issues I’ve struggled with as a parent. My eldest went to a Montessori preschool for two years, which we absolutely loved…but we couldn’t afford the tuition forever, so we switched him to a public school for kindergarten.

For a variety of reasons, that didn’t go so well, so we homeschooled for first grade. I felt good about that decision on the whole, but again, did a lot of fretting over the ins and outs (I envisioned myself a sort of hybrid between a classical/Well-Trained Mind and unschooling philosophy, which didn’t work out so great in practice, since it turned out my children had no intrinsic desire to learn Latin as I hoped they would.)

Though I loved a lot about the homeschooling lifestyle, by the end of the year I had another baby on the way (Owen) in addition to a toddler (Will) and Isaac, who’d be kindergarten-aged. My writing career was heating up, and we lived at least a 15-20 minute drive from all the homeschool activities and social groups in the area. I knew something had to give. So I enrolled the boys at a small Catholic school in town and immediately felt a huge sense of relief. Small, mixed-age classrooms, a feeling of tight-knit community and a strong curriculum…pretty much exactly what I was looking for.

After two years there, we moved to Chicago. There, I started the angst process all over again. I knew I couldn’t deal with the “lottery” enrollment system at the public schools, where it was entirely likely all of my kids could wind up in different schools across the city (hours of driving a day definitely would not make me a happy mom). Our neighborhood school was not good at all. The boys wound up at a small Lutheran school, which we liked, but not nearly as much as the Catholic school they’d attended before. And as you can imagine, coming up with tuition for three kids–even when kids #2 and #3 get steep sibling discounts–is no easy feat.

Finally we moved again. For a little while I considered extensively researching the school options in our new town, but finally I just couldn’t do it anymore. The angst, the wondering if I made the right choice, possibly filling out the hefty tuition check…just thinking about it was exhausting. The public schools here are good..very good, by many peoples’ standards. Maybe not a perfect match for what I’m personally looking for, but what is? So I went with the path of least resistance and enrolled the boys at the local elementary school. And, just like they did before, they’re doing fine.

I’m not suggesting I made the wrong choice before in choosing private schools. If we still lived in the town with our beloved Catholic school, or in a city without great public options, I’m pretty sure we’d still be there now. But in our current situation, we had to make some choices: a slight academic edge, the family-like feeling we all love…or financial stability? Like many in today’s economy, we felt much more secure choosing the second option–essentially placing the good of the family unit over the perfect for each child. And I chose–without guilt–sanity for myself over scrambling to research every single option and possibly having to come up with a big chunk of money every month.

Don’t get me wrong. If it hadn’t worked out for the boys, we’d have re-evaluated. But for now, I’m not second-guessing my choice. It may not be the sort of education I’d always dreamed of for my boys, but the older they get, the more I realize that life–in general–isn’t everything I’d always dreamed of for them. That would be true no matter what kind of education they were getting.

Did I give up? In a basic sense, yes. I can’t do it all, and while I so admire homeschooling moms who can make it work, or parents who manage to come up with steep private-school tuition because they believe it’s best for their kids, or those who are willing to drive all over town to get their kids into the best selective-enrollment schools, that doesn’t mean I have to do the same thing. Like I said in my other post, you can’t do it all, and sometimes you have to prioritize what your values are.

Have you struggled with the school choice issue? What did you ultimately decide?

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