In My Dreams: When it Comes to Schools, Is "The Best" Really Best?

I am currently reading a great book on parenting called Nurture Shock. http://www.nurtureshock.com/. The book is being passed (both literally and verbally) around many of the moms (and dads) I know and was recommended to me by the mom of one of my daughter's best friends. I am not going to talk about the book, although I cannot promise there will not be a whole slew of Nurture Shock posts in the future, (It is that thought provoking) but its Sunday. Best to not climb too far up on my soapbox on this day of rest and family and football.

So instead I am going to tell you about the dream I had last night.

It took place at my daughter's school. Her dad and I and a bunch of other parents were in her kindergarten classroom in a meeting with her teacher. I am not sure where all the kids were. (Probably running, unsupervised, in a gym somewhere. Lord of the Flies is great.) The teacher was lecturing us on school choice, testing, sleep patterns, and other topics that were clearly in my subconscious based on the book I was reading prior to bed. I don't remember much else from the dream, however, right as I was waking up she said something like this, "If you do not get your child into the right school; the most challenging, most prestigious, most innovative, right in the beginning of their education, then you have missed your chance."

Yes I occasionally have dreams like this. I also have a reoccurring dream that I am late to teach karate class and all the kids are milling around waiting. Then there is the dream where I have already graduated college and realize that there is one class I never took and now I have to go back. And the one where I am running to catch a train. And the one where things (bombs, planes, UFOs) are falling from the sky.

Hello Freud.

Ir does not take an expert to analyze this one. Maya goes to a very good public school. But it is not the "best in the city". She is not in a "gifted class". She does not go to Poly Prep or Berkeley Carroll or any of the other places where rich Brooklynites fight to get their kids into. Clearly a part of my subconscious is worried about the choice we made.

But was the dream version of Mrs. Rodriguez correct? If my child is not in the best school in all of NYC now, in Kindergarten, have we somehow ruined her chances forever?

Hundreds of NYC parents believe this. Just ask anyone who is trying to get into The Mandell School, or Dalton, or any of the G&T programs on the Upper West or Lower East Side, or even the ever growing charter school network. Hundreds, probably thousands,  of parents believe that where their child goes for Pre-K will determine where they go to college. That having the right Kindergarten teacher means the difference between mediocrity and brilliance.

But what if it doesn't.

If you read Nurture Shock you know that there have been many significant studies done about the detrimental effect of too much praise, specifically the wrong kind of praise. That telling a child over and over how smart and gifted they are can actually make them do worse in school. (You're right, I broke my promise. Just read it.)

Some things definitely matter. Class size matters.  http://www.classsizematters.org/. Poverty matters. Safety matters. Parent involvement matters. Only 48% of young children in the US are read to at home. http://www.reachoutandread.org/parents/readingaloud/readingaloud.aspx. This matters.

I am no expert but I would guess that when you add up all the other factors,  the difference between a good school and the "best" school is negligible. Or at the very least, nowhere near worth the stress, the maneuvering and the bribery that often goes into becoming one of the elite.

In other words, there are better things to dream about.

Are YOU an expert? Prove me wrong. Send me studies. I am too lazy to do the research myself. It is Sunday after all.

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