It's Who You Know

I’m supposed to not worry that my son’s new school may not be teaching him anything. “Connections,” my friend says. “He’s making connections.” I’ve neglected to tell my son that middle school is about networking, that the power play of private school is setting up your future via who you know. Funny, I’d had other thoughts about middle school, but I’m naïve in that way. My friend makes her comment with humor, trying to ease my concern that I must solve this problem.

My son left a rigorous, academic middle school program to join a private school in September that equally favors the arts with the academics. At least that was the pitch. At least that’s what we hoped. As a dedicated artist, he was feeling underserved at the public school, hemmed in creatively. Each day felt repetitive and lacking in imagination. He grumbled constantly.

At his new school, his arts are thriving. But when your teen repeatedly comes home from eighth grade asking for his academics to be more challenging, you pay attention. After all, this is the phase where he’s supposed to be all about play and distraction.

So this past week I’ve felt anger boiling in me that I face this school dilemma again. I long for the era of no choice, when you shoved your kid in the neighborhood public school and met up with him again at graduation pleased he’d done enough to get into a good college. At least that’s how my parents did it. I don’t think they knew what I was up to for an entire decade.

Recently I heard a lecture on Ted.com by psychologist Barry Schwartz about the fact that we strive for choice because we think it improves happiness but in fact the opposite is true. Too much choice creates dissatisfaction. And as I heard the words, I felt my head nodding. There is comfort in making the best of what you have over analyzing if you should go for another option all together.

But I can’t unring the bell of school choice at this point. I know it’s out there. My son knows it’s out there. I can tell him to make the best of where he is, to point out that opportunity exists if you seek it. And trust me, we’ve had this conversation in exhaustive detail, but choice denied does not erase its existence. The question of whether he is in the right place will whine in the back of our minds.

I think back to my practical friend, the one who recommends the art of teenage networking. Maybe she’s right. Maybe I have to look at this humorously. Maybe my academic artist son will do just fine in the long run of life if he cozies up to future art buyers and the well-connected. After all, it certainly can’t hurt.


Anonymous said...

Interesting comment by psychologist Barry Schwartz. I have come to that conclusion with my own kids and their food, clothes, activities, etc.

I try to make sure to offer only two choices because more than that opens us up to discussion/argument and really I just want to make lunch. Peanut butter and jelly or ham and cheese. You decide.

QT said...

I guess another way of looking at it is he will probably be ok learning algebra or grammar from anyone working in a private school. But to have someone foster creativity - well, you have to dig a little deeper, and I think that is what you have accomplished.

Of course, I have no kids, so take that as my two cents!