Care and Nutrition is Slate’s parenting advice column. In addition to our traditional advice, every Thursday we feature a variety of teachers from all over the country answering your educational questions. Do you have a question for our teachers? email firstname.lastname@example.org or post it in Slate Parenting Facebook Group.
My husband and I are public school teachers, and we strongly believe in public education. Our daughter is a black/white biracial. It will be half past five in the fall. There is an amazing and progressive private school just a block from the classrooms, takes anti-racist education seriously, has student-centered education and everything academic you could ask for. However, the lower school in particular is not very diverse. I know it gets a little better as the scores go up, but each score is still mostly white.
A few blocks in the other direction is a good public school. In Manhattan, where schools are generally segregated, they are diverse and predominantly Hispanic. Classes will be much larger than in the private school. Teaching will be more traditional.
We always thought we would send our daughter to a public school, and it is very important for us to put our daughter in situations to develop a healthy ethnic identity and feel confident. But a private school provides the exact kind of academic experience we want for her, and we can send her to extracurricular activities with the majority of people of color…but that probably won’t be enough. Now that the decision weighs heavily on us, it suddenly appears that we are putting diversity above educational opportunity when we make a decision against the private school. Can you guide us here?
— Concerned Parents
Dear Concerned Parents,
There are no good answers here. The problem I have with many private schools is that for all the good work they do, students often lack ethnic, social and economic diversity. While this is not always the case, of course, I teach and advise in a lot of private schools, many of which are populated by relatively wealthy white children. These schools often talk about words, but often fail on foot.
As a public school teacher, I’ve always leaned toward public education. You may feel the same way. While I do not wish to deprive my child of any academic opportunities and will try to remain open to private school, I would also like to keep in mind the following:
1. One of the greatest academic opportunities we can offer our children is the opportunity to work with a diverse group of peers. Nothing can replace those powerful, life-changing experiences for kids.
2. It is important for children to be able to see themselves in their peer group, and ideally in the adults with whom they work. A black student made this clear to me last year when she explained that although our class was very diverse – with students from diverse ethnic backgrounds – she was the only black girl in the class, which wasn’t easy for her.
Although I cannot decide which school is best for your child, I would not rule out educational opportunities for your child by placing them in a rich and diverse environment where they will be surrounded by people who are like themselves.
-the master. Dix (5th grade teacher, Connecticut)
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I have a strange question about my husband’s work as a teacher. We moved abroad for my job which happily covers most of our living expenses. However, we have two children under the age of two, and this step was very stressful. As a result of that and a few other factors, we are debating whether my husband should stay home to my dad for the next few years. He is licensed in the US and UK, and holds a math degree, a master’s degree in education, as well as 10 years of teaching experience. Will there be a teaching gap against him when he returns to teaching (he’s worried and I don’t know)? He’s excited to watch our kids but that makes him hesitate!
—stay home or stay home
Dear stay or stay at home,
Stay home! I think it will be fine.
Obviously, I can’t predict what the job market will be like a few years from now. In the past 17 years that I’ve been studying, there have been years when it was very easy to get a teaching job, and years when it was practically impossible. At the moment, there are a lot of vacancies, and mathematics teachers are always in high demand. Personally, I wouldn’t worry about an employment gap.
Multiple sclerosis. Holbrook (high school teacher, New York)
My son, Daniel, is a very talented 9 year old. This isn’t just a proud dad talking, he’s in every class his school gives and takes them out of the park. Despite his good grades, I have concerns about his poor study habits, and his attitude which could be worse. While he will perform all the tasks assigned to him, he almost does not take notes, preferring instead to rely on his memory, talking about the need to take notes as this is for people who cannot remember things. He often covers his homework or other assignments with a comment about how simple the questions are and how they can make things more difficult. He has hardly a hidden disdain towards almost all of his classmates, and even a very few of his teachers whom he considers to be too slow.
What can I do to help him discover more discipline and more empathy in the school environment? He’s now getting away with things on natural talent alone, but I worry it won’t be enough when things get more complicated.
Talent is not enough
Dear talent is not enough,
I think your concern is justified. The students I sometimes worry about are the students who don’t need to work hard in order to achieve excellence. Life will get difficult in the end. Learning will become a mill. Students who don’t learn to take notes, study for tests, and understand the importance of applying themselves for long periods of intense focus often stumble badly.
The best solution to this problem is to make your kid uncomfortable by raising the level and presenting him with challenges that strain his mental abilities and stamina. The school has to find ways to do this – and if it isn’t, you should bring it to their attention. You can do this on your own by engaging your child in activities outside his comfort zone and doing things like raising the level of reading materials at home.
Your child’s level of empathy is likely to improve when he understands what it means to work hard to achieve success.
“Hard work trumps talent when talent doesn’t work hard” isn’t just trivial. I’ve seen the truth of this adage many times. You will need to convince your son that this is true.
-the master. Dix (5th grade teacher, Connecticut)
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