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A Study in Contrasts

A few weeks ago my son’s private school had their big spring performance. The other night my daughter’s public homeschool program put on their yearly play.
It was a study in contrasts.
I know a lot of people who have moved from public school to private. In fact, I know of families at my son’s private school who have come both from a public program he was in and the public program my daughter is in. I’ve known a few families who have moved from private to public, usually under duress. But there are few of us who straddle this divide concurrently.
As someone who is interested in compare and contrast, I enjoy seeing two side-by-side examples like this. On the one hand, it’s all about similarities: the teachers worked REALLY hard. The students pushed themselves to the limit. The parents pitched in a lot. The families came out in droves to support their kids. Everyone was appreciative.
Then the contrasts, which were few but potent. It goes without saying that families at private schools generally have more money, but the picture is a lot more complicated than that simplification. First of all, private schools like my son’s try very hard to give as many scholarships as they can, so the student body is more economically diverse than you might expect. Second, those of us who choose a private school not because it’s “what one does” but because we feel that it’s truly the best place for our children often feel every dollar that goes into that school. Not long ago I had a conversation with a private school mom who had just lost her job. She and her family were trying to figure out any way to make ends meet, but taking their kids out of their school was not one of the options.
That’s the long digression to once again remind you, in case you’d forgotten, that private school families are not all wealthy and don’t all choose the school without deep thought about what they’re doing.
But let’s not pussyfoot around here: the private school has more money. My son’s performance was — it’s hard to describe it another way — lavish. Yes, the costumes were largely donated and made by families, but the families clearly have more means, and possibly more time, than public school families. (As I wrote before, having less means and definitely less time, I was thrilled to find out that my son’s costume would consist of a black shirt and black pants. Phew.) My son’s performance had high quality sound, the kids had the attention of dedicated music and dance teachers, and the teachers had the full support of the school and the parents for whatever they thought would be really excellent to do this year. It was thrilling and wonderful to attend this performance.
My daughter’s public homeschool program attempted something they’d never done before: the middle school kids wrote the play with one of the teachers, and then the teachers, kids, and parents put the whole thing together in very little time and with very little money. The sets were painted by kids on scrap cardboard. The costumes were pulled together by each family, with whatever they had or could find or make. The most professional part of it was a take on “Paint it Black” recorded by one of the dads who’s studying in the music program at UCSC. But even then, I luckily logged in three hours before the performance and found a frantic note from one of the teachers saying that the MP3 hadn’t been burned to CD, and did anyone know how to do that? Luckily, I did.
Contrast: lavish, quality, thrilling. Cardboard, seat-of-the-pants, last-minute.
Compare: wonderful!
In both cases, the kids had a full, thrilling, and educational experience. It was just very different. During one of the rehearsals for my daughter’s play, I was taking pictures of the kids rehearsing and I thought, wow, they pulled the set together from cast-off junk. During the performance? No one cared or even noticed! Although it wasn’t Shakespeare, and shouldn’t have been, the performance was real. It was written, created, and performed by kids who are really learning to do it all in their homeschools. Each of them in a different environment, learning different things, coming together to create a unified vision. Really Cool.
I didn’t get much involved with my son’s performance — I’ve been getting involved in different things at his school. But again, it was a thrilling, meaningful experience for them as well. Yes, everything in his performance was sleeker, more expensive, with more time to make sure everything went off smoothly. But for kids, experience is experience. I’m not sure that poverty or riches are the key here. I think the key is passion, and both schools have enough of that. Not to say that I wouldn’t like my daughter’s public program to have enough money to fix the plumbing, but to say that as they say, “It’s all good,” if you make it so.

Posted in Education, Homeschooling.

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