Winding paths

This past fall, the child that was in my big belly when I defended my dissertation started kindergarten. It wasn’t a hard transition for him. He had been in full day daycare from the age of 5 months when I started my postdoc. It was a big deal for me, though. My baby was growing up! It was also made a bigger deal by the fact that all the parents around me could talk about was school open houses they had been to, how they were going to choose a school, and how good these various schools were. People spend a lot of time thinking about where their children should go to school.

Many people go to great lengths to get their kids into the “right” schools. Sometimes moving, sometimes selling and buying houses, sometimes paying an arm and a leg or driving across town every day to allow their child access to a private or charter school. Of course everyone wants the best for their kids, but what makes a school the right school? What is it all for?

The goal of getting one’s child into the “best school” I imagine is to give the kid the best life they can live. Presumably, that is by helping them succeed in life. Everyone wants to provide their kids the education that will give them the best opportunity for success. They want to place them in the environment will set them up for success. But what does success mean?

Is success educational attainment? A prestigious job? Making the most money? Or Is success something less tangible, like happiness or “making a difference”?

Thinking about all of this brings up for me my own path and the paths of those around me. There are so many variations on educational and career paths. I didn’t go to any fancy school growing up. I lived in a small town and went to the one high school in the city limits. The big decision in my area was whether to live inside the city limits and send your kids to the city school or live outside and have your children attend the county school. Neither was ranked nationally.

For college, I went to a good school, but I chose not to attend a better ranked school because I didn’t think it was worth the extra money. It seemed like such a big decision at the time, but here I am, 15 years later, and I can’t tell you how that affected my life. While I’m sure my college experience affected my path and who I am, I don’t know what experience I would have had at a different school. What about elementary and middle school? How much of an impact do they have?

There are so many directions one can go even after a straightforward grade school experience. I had a very straightforward path up until my most recent transition. After high school, a small liberal arts college, summer science fellowship, graduate school for a PhD, postdoc. Then I had a career crisis when I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Now have a job one would not have predicted from my education. I have a coworker who had some elements of my journey, college and grad school were involved, but yet it was very different. She started at community college, she had a job in a medical field before deciding to go to grad school, and she did a policy fellowship after a postdoc. Yet now she has the same job that I have.

People find their paths. Yes, good education is important. Quality education is important for all and we should invest in education for our nation’s students. However, for a child that has a family that cares enough to debate what school they should go to, perhaps each educational decision is not going to make or break their future. They have the support to deal with the situations they will face, and a variety of experiences will help them face what life has in store.

 

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One Response to Winding paths

  1. I love this, and the considerations that you have brought up. I think about it a lot from the perspectives of a pedagogical postdoctoral fellow and parent (even though my kid wont be entering school for another five years).

    In a recent book club with my Fellows, we discussed this very inviting topic after reading “Why Race and Culture Matter in Schools”. A diverse social environment is important to me in choosing a school (if we have a choice), as I grew up in a predominantly white and Mormon school system and felt that I had a lot of catching up to do later on in terms of social education. On the other hand, my husband experienced multiple different cultural dynamics but had an academically harrowing transition from a terrible elementary school to a strong middle school, He is invested in our child(ren) not suffering that particular challenge. These opportunities are obviously not mutually exclusive, I just find it interesting how our experiences in education shaped our unique concerns.

    In terms of early education influencing success, despite my seeming to have an academic advantage (i.e., a highly ranked undergraduate institution and a PhD), I feel that my husband is happier and more successful in his career than I am and often wish that I had been more considerate and less tunnel-visioned with my own academic goals.

    Like

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