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Opting Out

Opting Out

This week the radio show This American Life aired the second half of their episode “The Problem We All Live With” which focuses on the education system, and particularly why integrated schools are so important. This two-part series is worth the time investment, even though you will have to get through some it’s-not-about-race racism.

Locally, this week also brought the news that local charter school advocates are hoping to secure a ballot initiative, lifting the cap on funding for charter schools. This is a nuanced issue, but the net result could very well be less funding for public schools.

Because of these two events, I have been really thinking about how we have chosen to educate our own child. I’m finding myself feeling like we made the right choice, yet open to the possibility that maybe we didn’t.

We are a homeschooling family. My daughter, Simi,  has never attended school, and until very recently has never expressed an interest in doing so.  There are probably at least 100 reasons we chose to go this route, but in some ways it feels like the decision was made for us.

We live in Boston, and if you are unfamiliar with the process of registering with Boston Public Schools (BPS), I can assure you that it is nothing short of maddening.  Unlike many school districts where children attend the schools closest to their homes, here they are randomly assigned a school based on a lottery system. This is a system that works great for some families- primarily those who get assigned to schools they had hoped for- and for others it does not work out so well. There are many among us who get assigned to a school that was last on our list, or schools we didn’t list at all because they just seemed so abysmal. Such was the case for us, and if any good came out of it, it’s that it answered the question of whether or not we should homeschool.

I realize that being able to homeschool is an incredible privilege, one that I am grateful for and try to be mindful of.  With that gratitude, though, comes a fair amount of guilt. I do consider myself to be a proponent of public schools, but I wonder, can I really say that while not even having my child be part of them? I realize that by choosing to homeschool  I have placed myself firmly in the company of many others who have chosen to “opt out.” I’ve allowed myself to be part of modern day white flight and it does little to help integrate our classrooms, effectively nullifying the busing act of the 1970’s. Of course, many would argue that that the desired effect of busing never took root anyway.

When we began homeschooling, my biggest concern was that my child would not be part of a diverse community. Thankfully, that has not proven to be the case along racial and ethnic lines, but our homeschooling community is definitely middle class and liberal. For us, this feels comfortable and safe, but I do worry that it unrealistically skews my daughter’s perception of the world.

Simi recently decided she would like to try going to school. I believe she is old enough to have a say in how she gets her education, but the idea of actually enrolling her gives me pause. I am not sure what it is about governing bodies that enable them to be presented with research detailing what is beneficial for children, and then they go on to completely ignore it. We know so much now about how children learn: less testing, more play; more outside time and physical movement; more arts and music; more free time for discovery; more time to work on social skills.  All of these things enrich a child’s learning experiences, but we seem to do the exact opposite of these things whenever a change is called for.

In the best of circumstances, my daughter would be assigned to a “good” school, one that exposed her to a variety of experiences and people. I know she would benefit, as we all do, from a more diverse peer group, but in spite of Boston’s best efforts, classroom diversity is not guaranteed. I often say we don’t know if the decisions we have made for our children are right until they are grown and out in the world. Figuring out what world I want my child to be a part of, though, is proving to be difficult.