A few weeks ago I met a neighbor while I was out and about on weekend errands, and during our conversation I learned that she'd made the "agonizing" decision to take her son out of public school.
Although in her soul of souls it pained her to know her son was attending what she saw as a "factory" for churning out children who will sit still, line up in single file and ask permission before they go to the bathroom, the straw that broke the camel's back was when her already literate kindergartener came home from school and reported he pretended he didn't know the alphabet, because that's what the teacher expected.
Like many parents, she said she and her husband had wanted to stick it out with public education. They believed in its importance. And, like many parents with a certain amount of disposable income, they ultimately decided that they couldn't let their child's education suffer because they didn't want to fight a losing battle with the establishment.
I don't want to slam her decision. I don't want to look down my nose as the uninitiated mother of a preschooler - who will undoubtedly face the same choice one day soon - and click my tongue in disappointment.
And yet, I can't help but wish she'd stuck it out. We are not talking about an inner city school district struggling to keep drugs and guns from seeping in through the security hurdles; we are talking about a suburban school in a moderately well-heeled community. "Wait for me," I thought. "We'll fight them together. Maybe we'll even find others."
I think that by moving our kids to the "better" schools, often outside of the community, we are choosing isolation, some might say segregation, based on individual values, ideals and the ability to pay for them. And why shouldn't we choose the best we can afford? We live in a society in which we are not only free to make such choices, we are encouraged to do so. Why shouldn't we take advantage of every opportunity life and budget allow? Why not advocate for our kids in the most expedient way? Don't our children deserve the best WE can offer?
But I still can't help feeling as if we are losing a sense of responsibility to one another and our communities, and this weighs on me, too.
I think about a different situation. One in which we were talking about a school in which education came second to security? What if we were talking about a school in a relatively wealthy district, where only the poorest of the poor attended because the affluent had other options?
It wouldn't even be a question for most parents. Their child's safety is just more important than any ideology. But what about the children left behind? Does that mean they're less important?
I don't know the answers, but I know that we need to think long and hard about the question.
I just hope I am strong enough, when the time comes, to stick it out for Annabel's sake. To make sure that the public school she attends will be a better place for everyone because we did our best to make it that. Or at least that our participation, for her, no matter how many stupid rules she's expected to follow, will have the most lasting effect.