Special to WorldTribune.com
The moment finally came. My husband and I looked at one another with pride and began that gleeful conversation: Is he ready for preschool?
We concluded our first-born and four-year-old son, having enjoyed years of nurturing in the home, is indeed at last ready to begin his formal education in the fall semester. Little did we know we would be embarking on a torturous journey to find what was once so commonplace: a decent education for our child.
Then, they located the nearest public school and registered their children — no phone calls, no parent-teacher meetings, no extra expense to ponder, no long analysis.
“These are the kids, this is the closest school: when do they begin?” That was about the length of the conversation our parents had. The most intense discussions in the house were: “What will we wear on the first day?” and “Did Mom and Dad buy all the supplies we need?”
But that was a long time ago in a far away place, in a world where common sense once reigned.
Today, the conversation begins with that warm and fuzzy child-sensitive calculus: taxes. “We are paying high property taxes to be in an area with good schools, right?” say the parents. “Wrong,” say the teachers, if you listen carefully.
In our area, the public school is in fact highly rated, very well reviewed. The student teacher-ratio is low, the school is flush with funds and everyone in town says: “It’s a very good school.” It was, in fact, one of the factors in determining the purchase of our house. Thus, the find-the-right-school conversation had begun long before we were even ready for it.
We drove by the highly prized public school. We noticed the impressive, vast exterior complex, the beautiful playground and ideal location. Even the front-office staff was friendly and accommodating. All of this put us in a good mood. This would be smooth and easy.
They told us, however, to come to an informational session before enrolling our son. Oh, really? I thought we were already informed. Apparently, all our research on the Internet and conversations with town members was insufficient.
The evening came and I attended the session — with both kids in tow, especially to see how my son would react to the facility and the staff. What good is a meeting of parents to discern if a school is a good fit for the child if the child is not present? My son’s reaction is usually the best gauge to see what suits him. Evidently, I was the only parent who reasoned this way that evening, based on the crowd in attendance.
My boisterous little boy was not quite himself that night: he was instead behaving very well. He sat upright and silent on a hard wood bench at the back of a hall full of adults, attentive throughout an excruciating 40-minute presentation. The teachers spoke at a podium, with a power-point montage highlighting the key words.
The lights beamed and the camera rolled as though we were discussing a step-by-step strategy to take over mankind — which in fact, we were.
“This is very important,” thought my little one. “If I am good, I will go to school,” said his discerning little eyes and proud shoulders — a high honor to be here, indeed, in his toddler mind. He did not even notice he was the only child there, with the exception of his one-year old sister bobbing happily in my arms.
With earnestness the teachers spoke of core values such as “empathy,” and “kindness to others” and children “blossoming.” I strained my ears to the utmost, and never heard “academic excellence” or “reaching full potential” or “moral and ethical formation.” I didn’t even hear “vigorous exercise” and certainly not “spirit of competition.”
The latter would have been akin to saying Attila the Hun is coming to eat the children, according to those milquetoast egalitarians disguised as the innovative conduits of childhood fruition.
They did, however, inform us with pride that in every preschool classroom, there are usually seven special-needs children who have a wide variety of either physical or mental disabilities and eight children who do not have special needs. This helps all children learn “compassion” toward the daily challenges of other less-advantaged children, they said with clarity and conviction.
“And, guess what?” they beamed in unison. “After a few months, the children even learn to help the teachers deal with the kids who have special needs!”
Oh my, the light of child-rearing progressivism beamed upon us in its full glory. “Amen and hallelujah,” we would surely chant at this moment — were this not a secular school where we dare not utter such archaic words.
At this point, I turned white. So did most parents in the room. The presentation did not garner the applause and high praise theses sophisticated and enlightened educators expected.
In fact, there was stone silence. Many in the audience simply grimaced.
“This doesn’t seem right,” said their body language, having to digest all of this after a long day at work.
“But here are the experts, and this must be the new way…and we pay high taxes, after all, to be here, so what choice do we have at this point? Do we now have to pay both high taxes and high fees for private education? We are simply stuck.”
No one looked convinced. But no one uttered a word of protest.
With shoulders dropped, stunned and defeated, they walked out of the auditorium to visit the classrooms.
In one classroom, as delicately as I could, I asked one teacher: “Do you think this high ratio of special-needs children in each class holds back the others who do not have such special needs?” A few other mothers gathered around, waiting anxiously for the answer.
“Oh no, no,” said the good goose-stepper of the new social order.
She, for example, can juggle the highly advanced kids and the others masterfully, all in one day, every day, even though it is very tiring, no back-handed compliment intended, of course. And there are other skilled professionals there to help, too.
The faces of the parents all remained as scrunched as sand bags against a dam.
I walked out into the crisp, night air into the parking lot. Just a few steps outside and we already smelled freedom.
Once again, my usually active and defiant little boy was uncharacteristically obedient, having dropped the toys in the classroom when I told him to do so and holding my hand without fussing as we walked toward the car. He grasped that mommy was doing something very important for him.
“This school is not for you.” I said. “Mommy will find a better one.”
“A better one,” he said and climbed into the car.
Did he understand what had just happened?
Perhaps he discerned the contrast between the bountiful, exuberant, unlimited air of home — and the sterile, suffocating, lifeless embrace of the conformist socialist.
Or, maybe, he discerned quite simply, that home is a lot more fun than school — if this is “school” and these are the teachers.
Since then, the agonizing quest continues. The property taxes must be paid, but a new massive and relentless expense will be present every year, for a service we thought we already paid for. We must review the family budget to determine which item gets axed. Or does the breadwinner now have the added pressure of earning more?
The phone calls, the visits, the conversations with educators continue.
What is mommy doing on the phone nowadays, my little one? Why is she sighing, dropping her head in disappointment, disgust, anger or exasperation so often?
“She is finding a school for me,” says the boy with great eagerness.
Grace Vuoto is the Editor of Politics and Culture at World Tribune, host of American Heartland with Dr. Grace on WTSB Radio and is the founder of the Edmund Burke Institute for American Renewal.