going public

Akka goes to a public school. A big one. We did a bit of searching around as her junior kindergarten start date drew nearer and we had to pick an institution of lower learning. We live pretty close to two elementary schools. We chose hers because it has a French immersion program. Then we heard of a new public alternative school opening up nearby. I went to the information night and came away convinced that the big old impersonal public school was right for us. The alternative school did sound pretty cool at first. Its focus is on environmental issues and social justice. Who can argue with that? But I was wary of having our daughter’s first school year coincide with the first year of the school. And shouldn’t I be instilling in her a sense of environmental and social justice? I need school to teach her French and fractions and fighting (I mean, not fighting). How to interact with the earth and its fellow inhabitants; how to understand injustice and exploitation, class and race; her dad and I can help her make sense of that stuff around the dinner table.

I also grew a bit suspicious of the new school’s stated commitment to diversity. If you want diversity, why start your own school? This is downtown Toronto – aren’t the existing schools diverse already?

Indeed, they are. This point was driven home tonight when Akka and I attended her school’s winter concert. It was hot and crowded. Eager parents were standing up with cameras and waving madly to their better-behaved offspring on stage. There were several painful choral pieces but there was also a lot of cheering and a lot of smiling kids and a lot of ridiculously proud parents. There were Christmas songs and reindeer songs and some Hanukkah songs thrown in. About halfway through the show things turned pretty fantastic. Ghanaian drumming. Then, Ghanaian drumming accompanied by Ghanaian dancing. Then, more Christmas songs including the only tolerable rendition of Little Drummer Boy I’ve ever heard. More than tolerable, it had me dancing in my seat because it was preformed by the senior elementary steel band! Any school that has a potential future spot in its steel pan ensemble for our Akka – with her German-Jewish middle name and her Sinhalese-Sri-Lankan last name – has the diversity card well in hand.

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One response to “going public

  1. Yes, indeed. We faced something of the same dilemma and ultimately went with the new alternative school (that opened up in the same building as the local public school which my kids already attended).

    Four months in, I have super-mixed feelings. There are things I love about the new school. My older daughter made her own knitting needles and can knit! She is clearly blossoming in this school in a way that didn’t seem possible last year.

    But oh, I have my concerns; and diversity is a big one. And not just sociocultural diversity; there is a big socioeconomic disparity elephant in the classrooms and I can’t keep walking around it and pretending I don’t see it…

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