When ‘doing what’s best for your kids’ isn’t what you think

Have a conversation about schools with anyone for more than three minutes and you’re likely to hear one line above others: “You have to do what’s best for your children.” That line gets dragged out by well-meaning, very kind people who affirm that school choice exists for times like these: times of low test scores, of anemic graduation rates, or whatever algebraic formula they use to label a school “failing.”

This is me, too, by the way. I’ve said that line. 

For three years I’ve been a School of Choice parent, shuttling my kids to and fro from the city to the ‘burbs. We chose that suburban public school because we thought it was best for our own kids: it had art, music, and gym, three specials that our city, Lansing, doesn’t offer its younger grades anymore. We felt good about it. It’s a lovely public school.

But if (when) we switch to our city’s public schools, are we still doing what’s best for our kids? Some have told us no, as if there were an irresponsibility in selecting a public school were hundreds of other families already send their kids to school. (My kids don’t deserve better than anyone else’s kids.) I can’t engage in the conversation from that angle — I’ll just tilt my head here toward one of my shoulders and give you the “ostrich pose.” Reeeeally …

Ohp — and before you hit “pause” to race for your bible, thumbing through the Proverbs or way back to Deuteronomy, hear me: I realize that we have an authority and an imperative to raise healthy, responsible, educated, God-loving children.

If I weren’t committed to that, I would’ve listed all the kids on eBay this last, surprise four-day weekend. But I didn’t. (Because Dave wouldn’t let me.)

I realize we have a responsibility for the kids in our home. Got it. But nothing in the bible says that we have to do what’s best for our nuclear families over others’ families.

Jesus never said “You have to do what’s best for your kids.”

Without toppling the biggest question of 2018 — what about the rest of the kids in our cities? — can we simply ask this time What is best?

Is it the shiny new computer lab, the big field trips? The highly ranked teachers, the building that smells less like damp carpet and more like fresh paint? What’s best? What is it? High test scores? Great college placement rates? A salad bar in the cafeteria? Engaging, “effective” teachers? I like those things, too.

But —

But what about putting our resources (time and energy, for one) into our local schools instead of the other school outside the city? What if the best thing we could do for our kids is teach them how important it is to live in place? What if the common good were better than our individual dreams?

What if we were part of our city’s good news?

This is perhaps the hardest thing to talk about, isn’t it? Our own kids and all our feelings. And theirs, too. Negative narratives about Lansing’s public schools has trickled down to our kids in elementary school: “I don’t want to go to those schools. They’re bad schools,” they’ve said, unsolicited.  

We’ll ask, “Why do you say that?” And they’re not sure why, or how to say what they’ve assumed or heard.

Finally one said simply, I’m scared because I don’t know anyone.

Yeah. Yeah, I know. Some adults are, too. So. What if we fixed that …


Passing Notesa series about school choice and public schools, begins next week with Beth Bruno, author of A Voice Becoming. Subscribe to my newsletter HERE for a chance to win her book!



Read also: The Atlantic’s article: Can Parents Really Choose the Best Schools for Their Kids?


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