As the school choice season is winding down and parents are getting ready to make a decision, don't do what I did: get suckered in by a bowl of crackers.
Big life decision, choosing your child's elementary school. For months, I treated that decision with serious rigor. I visited about 15 public and private schools. I talked with other parents with kids in my favorite schools. I attended "How to choose the right school" seminars. I read, ahem, helpful educational websites.
Going, going, gone with the gut?
But after visiting so many schools, they began to form a big, chaotic blur in my mind — so many schools, so many unruly, gargantuan children (when you have a four-year-old, any child over seven looks like a scary giant); so many pastel-hued, fluorescent-lit hallways that sucked me right back to the worst days of my life.
So after listing the "pros" and "cons" of my top choices, I made the worst error any parent can make when selecting a school: I went with my gut. I know, I know, with many big life decisions your gut is your North Star, but mine must have had indigestion that day, because it steered me wildly off course.
We visited a private school that, for a number of smart and rational reasons, didn't seem like a fit for our family. But I persevered, taking our son to an observational "playdate" so they could decide if he was a fit. Following the playdate, I walked into the classroom and picked up my son, who cupped his chubby hands on my face, looked me straight in the eye and said, "I want to go to this school, Mama. They have Goldfish crackers."
He never got Goldfish at home and was beyond happy that an actual school would feed them to him. I took this as a sign that this school would be the right place for him.
Feelings, nothing more than . . .
It wasn't. After a year, we transferred him to one without crackers but with a stellar education. Now eight years later, as I tour schools for my five-year-old daughter who will be entering kindergarten in the fall, I have learned to question my gut and do what we ask of our kids: homework.
When on the tour circuit, if I find myself getting seduced by enticing bells and whistles like clean carpeting and goats in the organic garden, I go home, wait for the starry-eyed euphoria to lift, then brace myself for a facts-over-feelings smackdown by asking: What kind of education will my child be getting? Will this school truly meet my individual child's needs? Will there be goats and A.P. geometry?
This time around, Goldfish help me, I'll make a more rational decision.
Have you ever chosen the wrong school for the wrong reason?