I got my first public school sneer today

It’s time to choose our path for another year of preschool. Wait. Perhaps I should warn you. I’m about to discuss preschool again, hippies, race and possibly money. Sharpen your daggers! Comb your troll hair! Unfurl your internet registries of those who offend you!


Little Bee has been at a private preschool this year and it’s fine. The time commitment is a bit of a drag and I can’t say I’m in love with how they handled my concerns about volunteer parents assisting my daughter (alone) in the restroom last fall. I’d sum up the school’s reaction as a mix of defensive + meh + jibber jabber. (If you’re new to my world, read about the brouhaha and minute policy change here.) There was also a significant tuition hike. But the teachers are good people and they do an A+ job of catering to each child’s personality type.

But do you want me tell you the honest to God truth why I’m switching schools? It’s elitist. It’s white. There’s some sort of fog of judgement over everything and if you’re not a crunchy, tofu vegetarian who only believes in self-directed learning then you don’t fit in. The real ass chapper is that I happen to be a crunchy, tofu vegetarian who thinks preschool is for finger painting and eating paste. I’m not that worried about what the preschoolers are learning per se. I’ve just never felt like I fit in after the potty debacle. There. I said it. I never recovered after that. I guess everyone besides me thinks we should all be using unisex restrooms and entrusting our kids to any person who happens to have the bucks for tuition? Rich white hippies never cause problems!

Well I must be one of the wrong kind of people because I went to public school and happen to have had sexual inappropriateness affect the lives of several people I care about. That’s right, my friends are rape and molestation victims. I didn’t always live in a bubble taped world where we just trust everybody who looks like us. I have a little grit on me, as you might be aware. And this whole “you’re the weird mom for even thinking about what every other goddamn preschool has already thought about” sits wrong with me.

I plotted and schemed to get into this school. It was The School. I was thrilled when we got in by lottery and imagined myself sipping cocktails at the fundraising gala throwing tons of money to a school I believed in. I wanted to press my face into the windows during class and I imagined they’d have to shoo me away for being such a gnat. But that just went poof! the first week of school when this drama went down.

Me, as I mentioned, I went to public school in a place where everyone went to public school. You got the teachers you got and you took your standardized tests and maybe you graduated. You ate the school lunch, you rode the bus, you had friends on welfare, kids driving BMWs, there were brown faces and asian faces, there were helicopter moms and absent moms, richies, po folk, Starter jackets, art farts, football stars, potheads, future Playboy models and a future Fox News correspondent. It was a mixed bag. It was beautiful.

So when we went looking for a new school, we started there. Public. The Chicago Public School system is a maze to navigate, but if you’re in a decent neighborhood and luck out with a great teacher, you’ve got access to the wonders of the city because CPS busses will take you there. It’s the big time, so to speak. At Bee’s old school they took field trips across the street to the play ground. At CPS preschool? They take field trips to the Museum of Science and Industry and the Lincoln Park Zoo.

I already know there are drawbacks to public school. Consider the dad who recorded his son’s special education teacher calling him a bastard as she lamented her hangover and was not fired. School shootings! Mary Kay Letourneau! But at this time, I’m leaning towards making my final decision in the direction of our awesome local Chicago Public School.

In the hallway of the private school, someone asked me about my plans for next year. I told her I’m leaning toward the neighborhood school. And then it happened: My first sneer of judgement about yet another parenting decision I’ve made.

“You’re thinking of leaving the school?

Yes. Yes I am.

“I guess the tuition hike is driving people off.”

Hold up. Did someone just say that to me? In the hallway, in front of other parents? That this might be about tuition, of all things? Geez, it’s not that expensive. I want the absolute best for my child and though it may be hard to believe, the public school in my neighborhood is gorgeous, the teacher is a doll and I happen to enjoy a healthy mix of Chicago people. And school busses! And museums! So yes, we’re considering The Neighborhood School.

“Oh. Oh my. That’s, um . . . public.”

Yes. Yes it is. Che Guevara, Chicago.



PS, On the topic of school and Cuba, I saw a neat film at a film festival at the Music Box a few weeks ago called Unfinished Spaces. It’s about a decaying, half-completed school for the arts in Havana. Very interesting. Apparently Fidel Casto has a major soft spot for the arts!



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  • Hola, lady. Do what is right for your family. And if you are lucky enough to live in a neighborhood where The Neighborhood School is an option, then jump on it. Our taxes pay for it, so exercise your American right to choose. Don't let the snoots get you down, but know that they aren't going anywhere.

    We looked at the school where you are currently at as a few of our friends had their kids there. We liked the low-key ambience, and parental involvement, but in the end it would not work for us. That school was not set up for parents who work traditional jobs. And when I expressed that I got some looks, too. It felt like because I have a career in a traditional field that I was committed to, we were not welcome.

    We are going a different route, private pre-school in a fancy pants suburb close enough to our Chicago neighborhood to make sense for us. And just so you know, people question that choice, too. WHATEVER. You know why? It works for us!

    Embrace the choice that works for you. Your kids are already ahead of the game by having parents that think and make choices consciously. MTM.

  • In reply to Mary Tyler Mom:

    I don't understand why people are questioning other peoples' choices to begin with. I guess we've graduated from baby-feeding judgement to school judgement. What next? Retirement home judgment? Do I have to use the cool-kid fiber supplement in my old age?

  • When we moved to Vernon Hills 22 years ago, we did so for the Stevenson High School District. Our subdivision was the only VH one that fed into Stevenson and the K-8 schools were all in Mundelein where schools get a bad rap.

    Those elementary years were the best ever for grounding our girls into learning diversity. The school was a large percentage of Hispanic children mixed with Asians, African Americans and other ethnic minorities. They knew no racism. Their birthday parties were like meetings of the United Nations and it was perfect.

    Once they reached Stevenson there were plenty of parental sneers that our girls went to "those Mundelein schools". But the way we saw it, our kids were that much less spoiled, snooty and much more appreciative of what they have. They weren't "ruined" by the public schools. They both are college graduates from big ten schools.

    As MTM says, embrace the choice that works for you. Having your children learn diversity in the public schools can be a great thing. I know it may be different in Chicago schools but I would bet it's very similar to the schools mine went to.

    You love your children and want the best for them - that's what counts.

  • In reply to Teppi Jacobsen:

    "Their birthday parties were like meetings of the United Nations."

    Haha, I love that. Our birthday parties are like that anyway come to think of it!

  • As a public school teacher, I'm always going to defend public schools. Are there problems? Absolutely! Are some better than others? You bet. However, you'll find the same is true of charter schools and private schools. I don't necessarily think one is better than another. I can definitely see the appeal of private schools. I've had several kids over the years come into my classroom from private elementary and middle schools. They were all smart and well-prepared. Here's the thing-they all had involved, caring parents who were active in their education. Parental involvement is key!

    I'm like you, Jenna. I want my kids to be exposed to diversity, whether it's racial, socioeconomic status, or nationality. My son goes to a school where whites are the minority and most of the kids are on free and reduced lunch. He gets along great with his classmates, and he's had really good and caring teachers. He is 10, and I don't think I've ever so much as heard him talk about race.

    As long as we are involved in our children's education and continue to be supportive and an advocate for them, they'll be fine.

  • In reply to HeatherS2008:

    Right. The world is diverse, the schools should be too!

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    I'm clearly not mommy, but I too would be freaked out by volunteer parents taking my kid to the bathroom. I think the diversity will be good for Bee, and the Lincoln Park Zoo is definitely cooler than going to the playground.
    And if it helps any, I'm a product of public schools :)

  • In reply to Mariana Recalde:

    And you're a doctor, which aint too shabby!

  • Sounds like it will be great! Perception is definitely not always reality when it comes to schools! I googled the nice preschool in the fancy neighborhood nearby and I was surprised that one of the first things that came up were the news articles about how a summer aide had abused almost *all* the little girls a couple years ago! Obviously that doesn't represent most schools by any means, but it showed me that there's a surprising amount of hype and you really can't be swayed by that.

  • In reply to ClaireB:

    Woah. Maybe I should be using the Googlemajig a bit more!

  • You can almost see the little involuntary shiver going down the spine of my private-schooling friends and my home-schooling friends when we talk public school.

    That's where my kids are. And yes, it's different than the womblike, child-centered paradise that was their private preschool. But I love being where we are. I love their schools, I love the parents, the teachers are the absolute bomb, and you can't find that mix of humanity in a private school!

    I could go on and on about this Jenna, but I won't. I'll just leave you with the remark that yes, throughout the rest of your girls' lives everyone around you will look at you funny over every decision you make. You'll stop noticing after a few more years.

  • In reply to Julie:

    Thanks, Julie! It really seems like the mom-judging never ends. I thought once we got past breast milk v. formula, life would be cherry. Ha!

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