Travails of school search

My son is turning 4 this March, time for him to move to a regular school.

Schooling here is very very rigorous, the emphasis is on academic performance and acing the various board and competititive exams offered when the child turns 12, 15 and 17. The schools generally tend to be authoritative with no patience for those who "walk to the beat of a different drummer" to use an oft repeated cliche.

IMHO this curtails creativity. I am one of those mom's who dont try to teach their kids anything. I just gently expose my son to a lot things - songs, books, astronomy, science, cooking, painting, origami etc... and then sit back and respond to his exploratory queries to the best of my abilities and patience. From age 2, my son is aware I look up google for questions I cannot answer. My method has been fail proof so far. Gautham has an amazing vocabulary, he asks a zillion questions, listens to the answers and uses them in the right context; sometimes to my detriment. He loves to "wallow" in new games/ideas.

I used to read up a lot more on education when he was a baby and had my heart set on a waldorf type education for him. Waldorf schools dont exist here in Chennai; I dont have the energy, patience or intelligence to homeschool. Besides, I sincerely believe learning to get along with peers is one of the central goals of education.

After a long and hard look at the various syllabi offered, school reputation, accessibility, school building, play ground size, class room size we have come down to just 5 schools and a first preferance for ICSE Syllabus. The School run by KFI topped our list. With a 15 acre campus, multi-age classroom, emphasis on self explration, arts and crafts The School seemed the best option.

I mulled over their complicated application form for days, argued with my husband over how to fill and finally submitted it. We were called for an interview. I was totally intimidated by the panel, as usually happens when people dont introduce themselves to me. I was barely aware there were 4 people in the room! The interview ended on a somewhat shocking note - we would be asked to pay NRI fees if selected (Rs88000) since my son was an American Citizen. I hadnt expected such a pecuniary note in the discussion. We left the room after 15-20 minutes of talking feeling rather apprehensive. On the way home, Sathish declared he wouldnt mind paying the amount, he felt our son would gain a lot from just the ambience of the school.

We were rejected.

The inevitable Post-Mortem at home ended with the feeling I caused most of the screw-up going on about how smart and intelligent Gau is. I should have also laid out his weaknesses - over attachment to parents, need for approval from adults be it teacher or parent, tendency towards emotional melt down. I just dont see these as problems! They are just a phase in a rapidly changing personality! Yes, I am obsessed with him. But I am his mom, I am supposed to believe in him and see him as what he can be not just what he is. I truly believe a lot of his negative qualities is just a passing phase. Short temper inherited from me is probably the only quality I dislike that he will carry well into adulthood (God Forbid!).

Besides the point of the interview was to see if we were convinced about The School which I am. Our values match quite a bit
  • he is sensitive to his environment. How many kids stop demanding a new toy once you tell them it is made of plastic and hence bad for the environment?
  • he cares for the plants and trees in our balconey. He is definitely loving towards nsects, birds and beasts and wants to be an eagle when he grows up.
  • he dresses and eats simply. We believe in buying locally; even cars and two wheelers despite repeated warnings from friends and families that the foreign brands are much better.
  • he shuns violence on TV and too much TV viewing. He has been convinced watching more than 30 - 60 minutes of TV + Video games would make him dumb. I believe in moderated exposure to most things. I dont want him overloaded and shocked when he visits a friend / relative and watches TV/Movie there. I also admit I use TV to distract him into eating more at lunch. We are both exhausted at lunch hour and he is barely 13 kg at 4 years. I NEED help then.
  • he is frequently generous with his time and his toys.
  • he can sit down and read with us for a full hour if the material / technique is suitably absorbing.
  • I believe not having to compete as a child keeps you from worrying about failure and equips you to meet both with equanimity later in life.

They emphasize their selection process is transparent and not to take their rejection as a judgement on us or our son. How can we not take this as a judgement on us? They didnt spend any time talking to gau so it is not a judgement of him. Besides, only someone certifiable would reject him personally. And if I am not told precisely why we have been rejected how can the selection process be transparent? They can only claim they do not entertain any sort of recommendation from some-people-more-equal-than-others or any sort of financial incentive.

Anyway, his preschool teachers offered to write to The School. This forced my hand and I wrote to them, pleading for a chance to appeal their decision. The first email was sent over a week ago (Feb 22nd to be precise, I am editing this post on the 2nd of March). I still havnt received even a sorry, we stand by our decision email. I am definitely disappointed their being different doesnt extend to the common courtesy of a response to our email.

Hey Abdul Kalam is an original thinker and a very great man (a sincere optimist! In Indian politics!) despite government schooling. Maybe even because of government schooling. I still have a lot of hope for my son. Besides I am conditioned to trust my father. He tells me all my child needs to preserve that spark of intelligence, creativity or whatever you want to call it is just 1 hour time. 1 hour with each parent every day of his school life.

We will definitely do that.

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