What’s In A School, Anyway?

Before we started doing the rounds of the schools trying to get the twins in, I wasn’t very concerned about school. I didn’t believe it was necessary to get them into the “best” school. As far as I was concerned, any school that was middle of the range would do. What did “best” mean, anyway?

To me, when it comes to schools, “best” would probably mean a large school, with enormous grounds, good sports facilities, and generally excellent infrastructure. That means clean toilets, well-equipped science labs, plenty of extra-curricular activities which are given sufficient priority. And, very importantly, well-paid staff. I’d expect teachers to like their subjects, enjoy teaching, and to encourage curiosity and questioning in students. In my experience as a student, it is difficult, but not impossible, to find teachers like that.

I didn’t aspire, necessarily, to the “best” school for my children. I don’t quite know why. Perhaps because these schools tend to be expensive, and hence elitist. I would want my kids to know and mix with people from different economic and cultural backgrounds, to realize that every birthday doesn’t have to be celebrated at McDonald’s, or, worse, TGIF.

Perhaps because I don’t really believe that it is important to always get the “best” for your children; rather it’s important to get them what is good enough, so that they are not brought up in an altogether exalted environment. They should be able to deal with everyday realities like things breaking – literally or figuratively.

I also felt that, even if they weren’t in the “best” school, they’d learn enough at school to be going on with. Whatever they didn’t learn in school, in terms of values, communication skills, social graces and the like, I was willing to risk betting that we could teach them at home. And in terms of just academics, I wasn’t too concerned. As long as I can teach them to be regular, disciplined, conscientious, and, hopefully, interested, the rest would follow. Besides, I’m not worried about them coming first or second in class – as long as they genuinely learn and have fun. What I’d rather see them doing in school, is making friends, learning to interact, learning to play, learning to question and find answers, learning to win and lose and laugh and cry. In other words, learning to live.

For that, I figured, a good enough school would be good enough.

But then we got caught up in the usual rat race of admission and hearing from others about how great this, that, or the other school was. And suddenly “best” became whatever everyone else was talking about. In fact, from what I could make out, “best” came to mean “most difficult to get in to”.

By that definition, our kids have gotten into one of the “best” schools. This school is so “best” that people either swoon over it, or have never heard of it. You know the type – like the restaurants you can only go to by invitation: you’re either dying to get in there (because it is so damn difficult to actually get invited), or you’ve never heard of it. Only a privileged handful have ever actually been inside.

On the inside, though, I’m not sure that it’s really very different. It’s a school, it has classrooms, teachers, students. This school does not have the facilities that would make it rate as “best” by my definition. The main playground, for instance, is a public playground shared with another school and, in theory, open for strangers to walk in to.

All the same, I have no real complaints with their new school right now. I liked the interaction, as I mentioned earlier, and I vehemently disliked the interaction at another school which had the most impressive facilities. (For the record, no, the twins didn’t actually get in there. But, also for the record, I was railing against their admission process right at the time it happened, and we didn’t find out until much later that they hadn’t gotten in, so it wasn’t a matter of sour grapes.) I like the Montessori set up here, to whatever extent I’ve seen so far, and the kids’ teachers seem to be nice. I’ve watched the older kids at Assembly when I go to drop the kids in the morning, and I really like the way they do Assembly too. But, judging by the number of kids at Assembly, this really is a small school. So no – by my definition, this school would rate as decent, pretty good, but not in the “best” category. Probably not worth paying over-the-top fees for, nor commuting 40 minutes each way for. I’d want to keep those burdens for one of the more stereotypical convent schools in the heart of town, where acres of playground and a swimming pool are included in the school premises.

Not that I’d even dream of changing their school now that they’ve started. But what I’m really wondering about is, what differentiates ok, from good, from best? Is it one’s own priorities and expectations of a school, or is it just what everyone else says about a school? And is it worth the effort of huge fees and long distances just to get your kids into a school that is on other people’s “best” list?

4 Responses to What’s In A School, Anyway?

  1. doug H says:

    That’s a good question. I’d have to give it some thought. But I wouldn’t go by what others are telling you is the ‘best’ school for their children. Not unless their priorities match your own.
    And following that line of thought, I think what constitutes a ‘best’ school would be one which most closely falls in line with your OWN personal priorities.

    (If it’s any comfort, I’ve never heard a bad word spoken about a Montessori school. Although I hope they have some adults monitoring the children during recess, given the possibility of anyone being able to enter the schoolyard.)

  2. Sadia says:

    We were on the waitlist for the “best” daycare in Austin for two and half years. We weren’t unhappy at their old school, but we went ahead and moved them at age 2. They’d been at School #1 since age 11 weeks.

    I’m going through a period of great frustration with their current (“best”) school regarding both communication with parents and safety concerns. I called their old school, which has openings for them. In fact, when I called, they said, “Even if we didn’t have spaces, we would find some way to accommodate Melody and Jessie. We love them.”

    “Best for us” isn’t the same as “best”.

  3. AM says:

    if the children are happy then that’s the most important thing at this point. When they grow up, we could need to change based on their desires and individual proclivities. Constant evaluation is what is needed.


  4. andaleebwajid says:

    Ok, good and best are individual perceptions I feel. And no one can really pin point and say that THIS is the best school in Bangalore. I too was sure that I didn’t want to force my child to come first or second. And I wanted him to have fun too. The only thing is that I put him in the wrong school for that. St Pauls is a good school but in the past couple of years I realised that it is not good enough for Saboor. There is no playground to speak of and the infrastructure is terrible. I had my heart set on St Josephs because it fit that stereotype that you mentioned. I’m happy with that stereotype because I studied in such a school and although I faced a few difficulties because my parents didnt have formal education, I did turn out all right in the end!And strangely enough we managed to get him into Cathedral which fits all those stereotypes beautifully!

    I also have to agree with AM. Hope I didn’t prattle on too much because this subject is too close to my heart to let go yet!!!

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