What matters more: social or academic? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 8 Old 12-19-2002, 01:30 AM - Thread Starter
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My DD is only three, but I am wondering where I want to send her to school. The big question I have is, which is more important in a school: the social or the academic climate?

I went to a very good school academically, but felt lonely socially because it was very competitive and clique-ish. The rich kids were the popular kids, and I wasn't a part of that. And even though it was supposed to be such a great public school system, I think I learned most of what I know today from conversations around the dinner table with my parents and their friends, and from books that I read.

I am considering sending my DD to an "okay" public school or an "okay" parochial school, because I really think that most of what happens at school is social: learning how to make friends and get along with different people. I think that even in a-less than-great academic environment, she will learn what she needs to know from going to the library and taking out books and going places with us and all that. But then sometimes I feel like I should send her to a "fabulous" public school in a nearby town or apply for financial aid to one of the nearby, supposedly academically superior private schools, or else I will fail her educationally.

Any advice? I don't know if I'm wrong to see school as mostly a social outlet with some basic academic skills thrown in there. I am willing to take care of the rest of the enrichment stuff myself.
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#2 of 8 Old 12-19-2002, 01:38 AM
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Tough isn't it!

Kailey is only 22 months, yet I am already thinking about these things.

I think a school should be both. Of course learning is important, but so is enteracting with others.

I think it is great that you are wanting to fill in any gaps for her, that is really important.

I wish I had some really great advicee for you, but in the end of this discussion with DH, we decided to homeschool
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#3 of 8 Old 12-19-2002, 10:10 AM
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Both should be part of school but like DiaperDiva says you have to make tough choices. After reading "Emotional Intelligence" I have begun to feel that social skills are more important as they have to do with relationships with friends, spouses, and children - major factors in life. As the book hints that though you might know tons of stuff, if you cannot interact well with others then what you know may be of little benefit to yourself or others. Letting school socialize your children, however, is like teaching then to swim by throwing them in the river. Peers have some effect, lots say some.

I think our culture tends to reduce parenting to job preparation with academics, for most, having to do with college and then a job. On the other hand, the more you know, the more you have in common with others and the more you have to share and exchange with them so thus, I feel, academics also has to do with being social. People like it if you know something of their line of work or interest or country they're from. Just having read the same book as as others makes you a part of a community.

"Parents are usually more careful to bestow knowledge on their children rather than virtue, the art of speaking well rather than doing well; but their manners should be of the greatest concern."

~ Richard Buckminster Fuller
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#4 of 8 Old 12-19-2002, 02:39 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for the replies so far. I thought I should explain better what type of social interaction I'm looking for. The "okay" public and parochial schools I'm looking at are small and known for warm, caring teachers who really get to know all the kids, and for a lack of bullying and competitiveness between students. They do okay academically, but definitely they are not the best funded or the cutting edge of education.

The "better" schools I'm looking at place a big emphasis on academics and test scores, and the majority of the students are very well off financially. I do not know what the climate is like at these schools personally, but having gone to school in a very wealthy district (without being one of the wealthy ones), I worry about DD being around mean kids raised in a majorly materialistic way and teachers favoring the wealthy "stars" over the more ordinary children, like when I was in school.
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#5 of 8 Old 12-19-2002, 02:48 PM
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Hi ... we've got the exact question right now ...

We want to send DS#1 to a school known for its warmth, etc. It's not known particularly for secular academics, but its religious studies is great. But we have an opportunity to send him to a school known for its academic excellence, and also for the wealth of the families (we're ... ummmm ... not.) The "academic excellence" school is also not really where we're at religiously (though it is a religious school), but the education he'll get there will be the best available.

Don't know yet. At this point the answer may hinge on economics (ie., who's got the most generous scholarship thing going on).

Which is not the answer you're looking for, I know. But I just couldn't help myself in commisserating ... hope you don't mind

- Amy
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#6 of 8 Old 12-19-2002, 04:35 PM
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One thing that I think is really wonderful about the school my daughter attends is that it has a real sense of community. That means that the children aren't just thrown into the school and forced to look after themselves socially. The academic standards are high enough for us and the children leave grade eight well-prepared to go to good high schools. Some people absolutely love another school in our area, and I find nearly everything about the school to be abhorrent. Everyone has different standards...

The only way to get a sense of what suits you is to spend time within the school community. That means asking your neighbours which schools their children go to and going along to the school for events that are open to the public, like concerts, picnics, BBQs, meet the teacher nights, and so on. Call up the school and tell them you want to have a visit because you are planning to enroll your child and you want her to see what sort of a place the school is. Look at the quality of the books in the library and see what sorts of art projects the children have hanging on the wall. Listen to the way the teachers speak. Listen to the school band and look at the faces of the children in the choir. Are they having fun? Hang around the playground at recess and see how the children act and how the adults act as well. Find out if parents spend a lot of time volunteering in the school and if the staff are interested in extra-curricular activities, or if the school shuts down as soon as the bell rings. If test scores are important to you, find out what the school is doing to ensure that every student has a good academic performance. Shipping out the kids who are failing will bring up the average test score, but it doesn't actually improve anyone's academic performance. Find out what methods of discipline the school uses.
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#7 of 8 Old 12-21-2002, 03:16 AM
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Hi rosiesmama! I will preface my post by introducing myslef as a second grade public school teacher. I think your decision about preschool choice should be at least partially informed by what you plan to do with your child for elementary school. I don't know what state you live in, but in California, the state standards are such that public school students are expected to read by the end of kindergarten! They ahould know ow to write their names before kindergarten, and at least in my school, it is an expectation that by the middle of the year, they should be able to identify all lower case and capital letters. These used to be first grade skills, but they've been pushed down. Short of stating that I believe this to be unreasonable and not developmentally appropriate for many 5 year olds, I won't discuss my opinion on this any further right now. However, please consider the kind of elementary school you want her to attend, and try to choose a preschool that will best prepare her. I have often taught transfer students from Waldorf and other private schools with very different philosphies from ours, and these students have been retained, have needed special services, and have suffered low self esteem because they weren't ale to meet academic expectations at our school. (A disclaimer: I am by no means anti-Waldorf, but it seems unwise to transfer from a Waldorf-type school to an academically focused one when in 1st or 2nd grade.)
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#8 of 8 Old 12-22-2002, 04:27 PM
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The thing that pops into my mind with your question is that lots of adults often talk about how the social stuff at school (when it didn't go well) was so damaging to their self esteem. The social strata at school is fairly unbendable-- in other words, by 7th or 8th grade kids seem to develop their "pecking order" and it doesn't change much until everyone gets graduated, unless something extraordinary happens (like an underdog suddenly scores the winning point in the basketball game, etc.) So, it seems to me that an environment that is supportive and nurturing through the high school grades is pretty important.

On the same note, I have rarely heard grown ups complaining that their school wasn't hard enough or didn't teach them enough in the same way they complain about the social stuff of school. So it seems the social stuff makes the biggest impact on us all-- unless from the start we are set on going to an Ivy League school for a certain goal.

It seems like parents can always supplement their child's academics and try to keep learning alive and flourishing-- but they can't really replace or undo the damage done by cliquishness or not being the popular one.

I think another idea is to have a child go to a multi-age environment, usually a private school that is more wholistic. Many teachers have told me that cliques tend not to form as easily when children are working and learning in a multi-age environment.

These are hard decisions. We have opted for public school which also happens to have pretty solid academics, and like Bestjob's school, happens to be a pretty supportive community.


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