Monday, March 14, 2011

We're not in Kansas anymore (or Alabama for that matter)

As I said in my last post, those "bad days" of mine are really just an accumulation of annoyances. Nothing serious (luckily). I try (and try again) to keep it all in perspective. But I can't always get it through my thick skull that my current problems are just little flies to be buzzed away. Last week I found myself swatting one of those problems around and getting myself into a fluster. I'm feeling calmer about it now so I'll share the pros and cons with you.

We're soon going to be leaving the cozy world of the babysitter and enter the puppy-eat-puppy world of pre-school. It's not an obligation in France but since the sitter we have is part of an association that only takes children until the age of 3, we have to find an option come September. So I called the town hall to find out what pre-school we're zoned for. Then I asked the pharmacists at my local pharmacy about it as they both have young children. They had some less than glowing things to say about this particular school in terms of its education level. One pharmacist switched her child to private school and found he was learning more there. The other option is to ask the town hall that an exception be made and Juliette could go to the other school not far from us which apparently has a better reputation. But also a huge number of students per class 'cause everyone wants their child to go to it!

So I did as I always do in these types of situations. I asked everyone around me for advice. The sitter said, well, you know those first years are very important. Remi said the same. But I went to public schools for part of my education and have always had faith in them. I know there are some with problems but I don't like the idea of mixing them all in the same label. My mom and aunt teach in what are considered at risk schools and I know they are both excellent teachers. It's not that the teachers are "bad" in "low" schools. It's that they've got maybe more difficulties to work with than teachers in upper-class neighborhoods where the parents are super-involved. And that no matter how hard the teachers try, some kids have got hardships that are going to affect their schooling.

Ok, I'll step off my soapbox, but my democratic ideals make me feel strongly about this. I basically gave Remi the same speech, to which he replied, but this isn't America. Oh, and don't I know it. He is French and has lived here all his life, so maybe he does know a bit of what he's talking about. Maybe some public schools in France are less than stellar. Maybe the public schools go on strike more (that one is true, I know). But I know plenty of my students who send their kids to public schools and are satisfied. Public doesn't equal low quality.

And though private may be in Juliette's future if we found that her middle or high school was really in poor shape or had problems with violence, I don't necessarily like the idea of putting her in a crowd we can't compete with so early in life. Call it the anti-snob in me but I worry (already) that she'd be mixing with les enfants des riches, kids whose parents can offer them fabulous vacations in the summer, autumn and winter. Things we just can't do. But then again, that's the way life is. If she doesn't learn it at school, she'll learn it later in life.

And then I rail against the idea that private is inherently better. Maybe the schools do have more money and fewer kids per class, but that doesn't mean the education is in fact higher quality. And I don't like the idea that a good education is only reserved for those who can pay for it. Doesn't this destroy our idea of public education and education for one and all? Oops, I guess I put that soapbox up too quickly.

And so at not even three years old, our child is already facing reality. That life is not always fair. That the differences of inequality have already started. But for now at least, she'll be a public school girl with parents who invest their time in her education. And that's the best start in life we can give her.


Crystal said...

tough decision and I wouldn't want to be in your shoes. I really don't think you can compare education systems between countries because there are so many factors to take into consideration. In France itself, I doubt the quality of education is the same in the different regions as well. You have to take into account the factors of your precise situation - where you are living, the culture you are in, your budget and expectations.

Personally, having taught in a public school in Pas de Calais, there is no way in hell I would put my kid in a public school there, but that's me. I was also teaching in a secondary school though, so of course I cannot speak for kindergarten.

Max has said that if we ever have kids, he'll put them in private school from the get go. It'll be his decision considering he's the French one and has more experience and insight into the education system than me.

Those are my 2 cents! Hopefully you feel confident in your decision. I wouldn't worry though -I'm sure Juliette will be just fine :)

Amber said...

That is a really tough call, Mil. I know that i'm already considering signing Victor up for private school but that's because we live in Tourcoing, and let's face it.. that's just not la creme de la creme of le Nord. I've seen the state of the school that's just around the corner and the type of parents who stand outside waiting for their kids.. perhaps that makes me a little snobby, but I really think that if we can afford it, I do want better for him. I dream of getting him into the EABJM in Marcq en Baroeul, but i'm 99% sure there aren't enough zeros at the end of either of our salaries to even be considered.

My experience in primary school in France was pretty bad. I saw tons of negligence and a teacher even hit a kid for getting the wrong answers. There were books thrown, voices raised.. and that was in 3 separate schools! Basse Normandie though, so perhaps it's different in the Pas de Calais. I hate to think that all schools are bad just because I had a bad experience, but it's hard for me to block those memories from my head. I've got friends who have kids in public school in Lille though who do just fine, so who knows.

If I were you, i'd make an appointment to visit the school and have a chat with the teachers. Then i'd go with your gut. If you get a good feeling, give it a try. If not, then you know what your other options are. My hubby told me that going to public or private maternelle doesn't matter that much, but that if you're going to go to private college and lycee, then you need to go to private primaire.

Good luck! I'll be interested to hear what you decide as i'm sure i'll be crossing the same bridge before too long!

Anonymous said...

i'll be following too! J went to private school all his life and I, public school. I had a great experience but obviously not in France! I agree, you should go check them out and go with your gut instinct.

Mil said...

Thanks for your input, gals. I'd forgotten you'd had some first-hand experience in French public schools with the teaching aid jobs. I don't mean to be militantly public school. And principles aside, there's also the money issue, as Amber mentioned, so right now private's not really feasible. I am planning to check out the school and talk to the principal and we'll see from there.

Anonymous said...

Dear Milam,
You are right to worry about this but I do want to say this, you and Remi will definitely be involved wherever you send Juliette. That is the key to making her a success. If you're on top of things, which I know you will then I think she will be fine. I know ya'll will check her backpack every night and attend each and every function. I know also that you know what a teacher needs to be and do because of your Mom and me so you can gauge whether JuJu is getting what she needs.
Hopefully her school won't be full of what we call our PI kids (parentaly impaired) or our POE kids (product of environment).We're overflowing with those 2 categories!!!
Love you all and can't believe she's going to school!!!

Anonymous said...

I was assisting in a private lycée in Clermont-Fd and I was astonished by the bad behaviour of the students in the class. I was also shocked at the old, worn out buildings that was covered in graffiti inside and out! I went through the public school system in NZ and still managed to get A grades going into University.

Good luck, I can imagine it'd be a hard choice.

The Many Colours of Happiness said...

I am 100% for public schools. When I did my degree in sociology I wrote so many papers about this very issue. I believe that private schooling promotes a division between rich and poor; supporting the idea that people can buy a good education.
*stepping of soap-box now.

Nicole said...

My daugher is in her final year of maternelle and she has been in both public and private. I did English classes at her public school and found it to be really lovely. Yes, the buildings are not great and there are less extras but at that age, I don't think it makes much of an impact. The big problem is, of course, missing teachers. If a teacher is out sick (and public school teachers in my experience are a very sickly bunch...) then your kid can go weeks at a time without a real substitute teacher. Its so hard for little kids! Plus, the strikes, which are so inconvenient. We switched to private but didn't know that classes can be BIGGER in private, since public is limited by law to 30. Of course, there are several assistants but still only one teacher for my daughters current class of 34!! You do wonder why they don't simply raise tuition a bit since the yearly fee of 800 euro is so reasonable (this is in the center of Paris to give you an idea of how reasonable fees are. EABJM in Paris is not that much either at around 4000 per year.)
Next year we are switching to another private school because it is closer, the classes are under 30, tuition is still very reasonable at 1600, and most importantly, there is an anglophone section. This is a serious advantage over the public school even though the local public school seems lovely and has very small classes (CP this year is 23).
There are no generalizations that apply across the board. Each school has its problems and teachers, even in private, can't necessarily be fired so you can still have a very bad year with a very bad teacher in an otherwise awesome school. I would also

Mil said...

Thanks for that info, Nicole. I didn't know private could have bigger class sizes. I do agree that private school is relatively cheap in France but it can still be heavy on the pocketbook.

Kiwi, thanks for proving my point that private isn't necessarily free of behavioral problems either!

"Happy Girl", glad I'm not alone on my little crusade but I think it's a heated debate and it might just come down to the individual school after all...

Sunny, thanks for your confidence in my parenting skills. Can't you and mom team-teach my baby? That would be the best of both worlds!

Lindle said...

We are absolutely available for team teaching. Sunny could have Juliette for half the school year, and I the other half. Or, we could split the day. Send that little one right over!
I totally agree with Sunny--the difference is the parents. I have some incredible students who have all the economic disadvantages---a parent in prison, always moving---but the one parent who is caring for them is extremely involved and attentive. True, I have the others too, whose parents barely get them to school on time and never check to see if they are doing their work and who accuse me of letting their kids get in trouble. But we are there for all of them.
Class size definitely makes a difference in the amount of attention your child will get from the teacher. And if they let you volunteer, you can come and help and keep an eye on them sometimes.
Again, it's important to go visit the facility and talk with the educators--get a handle on their philosophy and mission and style of teaching. You're entrusting them with your baby girl!

Deidre said...

Definitely a tough call. But in the end you have to do what's right for you and juliette. REGARDLESS of all the other stuff and find a school that's a good fit for you both!