2: something that attracts
For hours, I have been trying to do something other than sit down and write this post. I've cooked. I've done laundry. I've watched a TV show. But the words keep circling in my mind and I feel the pull to put the words down, even while I don't want to. (This, by the way, is the thing that stinks about Lent this year: when I feel that pull to write and ignore it, I feel like I'm ignoring God.) So I will write, despite my misgivings, despite my fear, despite my shame. I will write with the caveat that if you are one of my readers who judge me for homeschooling, please just click away right now and don't read this post. Or if you are a fellow homeschooler who judges me for thinking a return to school might factor into our future, now might also be a good time for you to depart. Because I'm feeling enough shame without having others heap it on.
The last few weeks have been an emotional roller coaster. On January 12, our public school system held their annual lottery for admission to a variety of magnet schools. We only entered one child for one school this year. A is entering 8th grade next year, which means her chances for getting into a magnet were slim. Plus, who wants to join a school in 8th grade after everyone else has already been there for three years together? But B is entering 7th grade and is therefore eligible to apply to a math and science school. On lottery day, she came in 77th on the waiting list. Then the roller coaster began.
I initially thought 77th on a waiting list sounded like it would never happen. Then I noticed that not a single seventh grader was admitted via the lottery. Were they all going to a waiting list, only to to pulled off later? After checking with some friends, I heard encouraging news: each class has roughly 200 students and 100 of those spots are filled by students from a feeder school. That made 77th sound pretty good. But why would everyone go to a waiting list? I thought I had uncovered the answer to that mystery when I heard from someone whose son attends the feeder school that current sixth graders are given one more opportunity to get into the magnet school if their grades on this year's standardized tests allow them in. That meant a long wait (until late spring or early summer), but I still felt good about B's chances. I had been mentally preparing to have her back in school next year. Until yesterday when I ran into a friend who is now a guidance counselor at the school. We haven't seen each other in years, so I didn't even know she was working there until I noticed her t-shirt. I mentioned that B might be there next year and when I told her our lottery number, she broke the news to me: no students will come off the waiting list this year. They are only accepting students from the feeder school, none from the population at large. So if you didn't win the lottery two years ago and end up at a magnet school back then, you are out of luck.
I am so thankful that I ran into this friend. I can't imagine how devastated and befuddled we would have been to have received this news just weeks before school starts. And my friend couldn't have been kinder in the way she broke the news to me. She even commiserated with me that the school system has not and will not be informing parents of this. From their perspective, we are on a waiting list. We should have no expectation of getting in.
Yesterday I was shell-shocked. Today I'm more angry than shocked. I'm angry at a school system with nearly universally weak middle schools that forces me into feeling like our only option is to try for a magnet. I'm angry that they don't respect parents enough to explain the situation - thinking that it is perfectly acceptable for a family to wait months with no clear information. And I'm angry with God for leading me down this path and then yanking the rug out from under my feet.
Last year, we didn't lottery for spots for any of our daughters, but this year I felt oddly compelled about putting B in the lottery for this particular school. And when I thought our chances were good, I started reconciling myself to the idea and was able to see that in many ways I am not the ideal teacher for B. She pushes back so hard in everything and I don't want to be the one who pushes her. I want to be her safe place, not her taskmaster. She and I discussed this shortly after the lottery. B wasn't excited about the idea of going back to public school, so she offered a solution that she would try not to push so hard so that I would keep homeschooling her. A sweet offer, but not something she would be able to sustain for very long.
So now that I've reconciled myself to the idea that she should go to school, I find out she can't go back to school. I feel like saying, yet again, to God, "What the hell?" And when I look at the families who do win the lottery, for not just one child, but multiple children, I feel like God is looking at us and saying, "Nope. Not you. I don't love you enough to let your children go to a good public school. You are not enough. Go sit over there." Because it seems outside the realm of possibility that God's best for my children is me as their teacher.
I actually love homeschooling them. I love teaching them things like how to create ordered pairs from a two variable equation and graph a line. I love showing K that her cursive is better than my own. I love the way she wants a bonus spelling word every day: "Give me a really hard one," she says. I love getting to spend time with my children. Because in less than five years, A could be off in another city, pursuing a career. (Am I the only one that finds that scary? Five years?!) So it's not that I don't want them around. Or that I don't enjoy the teaching. It's just that I don't want doors closed to them because of my own failings.
Maybe that in itself is naive. There are already doors closed to them because of who they are and who I am. Doors start closing for most of us the minute we're born, even though we'd like to believe anyone can do anything in our country. That simply isn't true. We are limited by our socioeconomic status, our race, our gender, our abilities, our work ethic. But it's one thing to see my own life options narrow as I make choices. It's entirely another to see that happen to my children.
Alongside my anger with God for not deeming us worthy of good schools is an anger at our school system for using magnet schools as an excuse to not make every school in our system one that parents want to have their children attend. If magnets attract, shouldn't all schools be attractive? But they aren't. They are gloomy, sterile and sometimes downright scary. I know their job is a huge one - to educate such a disparate population while making sure no child is "left behind." But perhaps instead of concentrating middle class educationally talented children at two high schools by attracting them like metal pilings to a magnet, they should work at attracting families to the system and keeping them there, in all of the schools throughout the system.
I know this is a pipe dream. I know it won't happen in time to change anything for my children. But the other thing magnets do? They polarize? That attract like to like and push differences away. Is this really the approach we want our schools to take?
As I shared my frustration with J earlier today, he was able to be much more positive about the possible reasons for B not getting to attend a magnet school. (Admittedly it's not difficult to be more positive than, "God doesn't love us. That's why this happened.") He offered a range of options from God protecting B from potential dangers to God asking J and I to confront our own biases about education and how that should play out for our daughters. I'm not able to see this glass-half-full yet, especially when I feel like God has turned his back on me in the last six months and left me standing in the desert gasping for air.
I don't know how to end this post other than to acknowledge that even as I try to work through my anger with a God who seems to not care a whit for me or my family, one of my daughters ran downstairs to tell me that a song we know was playing on the radio. We came to know this song after a friend read a post of mine and brought me the CD. At that time, the CD hadn't been released yet, but she thought one song in particular would encourage me - a song called Not for a Moment about how God doesn't forsake us, not for a moment. So while I'm reluctantly fulfilled a lenten discipline by writing about my wounded heart, God is reminding me that even in the dark, he will never leave.