Monday, February 15, 2010

My Very Private Public Debate

There aren't many things that I'm passionate about.

I believe that adjective applies to me with regards to this lightly-read blog and my favorite baseball team, but in the grand scheme, I'm not passionate about a lot of things I'm "supposed" to be passionate about. For example, the national political discourse has gotten so toxically divisive, that I only come up for air in an election year on Election Day. I wasn't raised in a religious household, so I don't know the power one finds in their faith.

And, I assure you, there's no passion in pushing papers for ten hours a day.

Of course, I am passionate about my family.

I hit the marital lottery with Mrs. Bootleg and when it comes to our son, Jalen, we'll do anything for him. But, when is "anything" actually not enough?

Y'see, I used to be passionate about the public school versus private school debate.

I wanted my son to get the best education possible, but I also wanted to expose him to different backgrounds, cultures and life experiences through the classroom. For years – hell, decades – I've believed the public school system to be the place to achieve these goals. In truth, I still believe this…so, why is my son finishing up a three year run at a private preschool/kindergarten and about to start first grade in another private school this fall?

Why am I so conflicted about this?

Is it because my six-year-old son has developed a sense of self-awareness that I didn't realize until I was at least ten years older?

How should I have reacted the first time Jalen noticed he was the only African-American in his class? How do I tell him to get used to it, if we choose to continue his private education? I was "the only Black kid in class" pretty much from K-12 and while it makes for a tired punchline, it also gets into your head. I was years removed from high school before I resolved my own absence of identity.

Is it because many of my friends from high school and college went on to become public school teachers?

I know it sounds ridiculous and probably is ridiculous, but I always feel like I'm pissing on my friends' chosen profession whenever I answer the "Where does Jalen go to school?" question in mixed company. Many of these people know how strident I once was on my preference for public schools, so in addition to insulting them, I'm also a hypocrite. Awesome.

Is it because I think I'm better than you?

Please. But, I don't want you to think I think that. If I may share a maudlin moment: Mrs. Bootleg and I both grew up poor, put ourselves through college and busted our asses to have the little bit that a decent household income can procure in San Diego County. In many ways, it's the same unexceptional existence led by anyone else. But, private schools are stereotypically associated with prestige, pretension and
Jo Polniaczek. And, if back-to-back Writer of the Year awards didn't turn me into an elitist prick, nothing will.

We love Jalen's school. Last week, J was at the dinner table rattling off countries in South America. Last month, he "directed" a school play about the life of Martin Luther King (and, that's a whole other blog post, y'all…) This spring, he'll give a kindergarten graduation speech that is sure to topple the top two bawling moments of my life (#1:
October 15, 1988 and #2: the day Jalen was born…in that order). Just three moments from three years at his school.

Private, public moments.


SHough610 said...

The private/public school debate is one that, like many in politics, gets oversimplified. I'm only basing this on my experience so take it as such.

I was lucky enough to not grow up poor. I went to a high school in an affluent, conservative suburb of Richmond. My school was majority white tho there was the occasional black or hispanic or Asian kid. There were private schools, but they tended to be either religious or schools that celebrated the grand tradition of being born white and very, very rich (and don't get me started on Massive Resistance and private schools in Virginia). I also had friends who went to school in Philadelphia and the choice was... A more spotty experience at a public school or private school. I could understand private school a whole shitload more in Phila than Richmond.

Elena said...

I can't comment from a personal perspective on the ethnic-identity issue because I'm white, but I can identify with having stood out in private school: I was two years younger than everyone else in my class, and when your class is tiny (always less than 20 students), there's no hiding that or any other difference. And it was a problem sometimes, usually because my parents wouldn't let me do things other kids did (or because we couldn't afford to, but that's another story), but on the whole I think it was a good decision. I needed a bit of delicate treatment when I was young, and it gave me the opportunity to study ahead in areas where I was strong and get extra help when I needed it.

It was easier to blend in when I started public school in 7th grade (500+ in my grade). I am *very* glad I ended up in public school for high school because I needed to meet more people and have my world view expanded, but I wouldn't have been half as successful there (or enjoyed it half as much) had I not had the good, strong base I got in private school.

And I should note: my Dad taught in a public school for more than 30 years. My parents are BIG advocates of public education and always have been, but they thought - and rightly, as time has proved - that private school would suit me better early-on. There are benefits to both, and for now, you feel that private school is better for Jalen. That might change down the road, but for now, I reckon you have to follow your gut.

Just promise you'll post the graduation speech.

Joe Reid said...

Ah, see here's where the Catholics managed to split the difference, at least in my experience. Technically, I was a "private school" kid, but because my tiny little catholic elementary and later high schools were so modestly funded, I never had to deal with privileged sons of industry or get spoiled by a moneyed educational experience. (Of course, our teachers got paid slightly better than Gap sweater folders, so I suppose the nobility of modest Catholic education only goes so far. It did make the particularly dedicated teachers all the more admirable.)

Obviously, I can't speak to the issue of personal identity -- due to reasons of complacency/convenience/cowardice, I never established my other-ness while I was in school. Going to an all-boys Catholic school as a seriously closeted gay kid had its own internal turmoil (and none of the sexy misadventures the modern porn industry would suggest!).

CrazyCanuck said...

I'd love to be able to give you a semi-pithy, semi-wise, and above all, simple answer to your quandry, particularly since my wife is a teacher at a very multicultural private school. But I can't, because I don't think there is one.

But the fact that you give this issue, which is both private and public, so much time, thought and caring, puts you ahead of a lot of parents out there. That's good parenting.

As has been said before, you're good people, Cam. Which puts Mrs. B at the approximate level of angel;)

that mexican guy said...

Me and Mrs. That Mexican Guy have been having the same discussions, Cam. Not to minimize what you're going thru but me and the wife have the added bonus of not being born in this country and raised by guilt-inducing traditional Mexican families who seem to live in constant fear that their grandkids will be cleansed of all their culture.

I wish I had an answer too. Keep J in sports and as many extra-curricular activities as possible. Don't sleep on church either. Maybe accept our invitation to come over on Xmas Eve for tamales and shit.

Now that's some good diversity.

That Bootleg Guy said...

I really wanted to respond more at length, but for now I'd just like to offer my sincere thanks for the thoughtful comments and e-mails, y'all. You have no idea how much they meant.