The Big School Debate: Education Vs. Social Life

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August is almost upon us, which pretty much means it’s September, which means that school is starting in five minutes (have you planned out Christmas break yet?). At least that’s how it feels with all this back-to-school pressure from retailers and fellow moms and that nagging voice inside your head (oh, wait, maybe that’s just me).

The sole subject that has been keeping me up at night for months now is my choice in school. My five-year-old is entering first grade come September. He’ll be returning to the same place he went to for SK: a fabulous private school that boasts an integrated, arts-based learning program, which means that students learn about geometry, for example, by planting and then measuring trees in the school garden. Or they’ll discover the origin of a word by studying Greek civilization. Unlike some of the schools in my area, this one teaches students at a young age, via hands-on experience, that they have the power to be compassionate and responsible citizens of the world.

On the academic front, I just can’t say enough good things about this school. So what’s the problem, you may be wondering? The fact that my child has zero social life. You see, his SK class last year was made up of 20 kids (10 boys, 10 girls). Perfect, right? But then one boy moved to a different continent (my son’s closest friend) and another two aren’t returning in the fall (the only kids aside from the first one who my son actually talks about with enthusiasm). So this means there will be a total of seven boys in my child’s first grade class (at this stage, he has no interest in girls). Of those seven boys, not a single one lives in our neighborhood (the school is not close to home). That makes it tricky to arrange play dates – especially quick, after-school ones. Plus, I get the feeling that some of the other parents aren’t so into play dates to begin with.

When it comes to weekend plans, it seems most families are busy doing their own thing, and so we’ll rarely (read: never) arrange play dates with his classmates. Instead, we’ll call up friends from his old JK class – the ones who live within walking distance – and make a plan to meet in the park or to grab ice cream at the closest Baskin Robbins. Done. Easy.

Likewise, when it comes to extra-curricular activities, we’ll always sign him up for something in the neighborhood. In the spring, for instance, he joined a softball league that he absolutely loved. Ninety percent of the kids were people from our ‘hood, making it a no-brainer to nurture these friendships and set up play dates or post-game get-togethers. Even at the park, my child is starting to ask me why all his friends get to go to school together and he doesn’t. I explain to him that his school is special, that’s the perfect fit for him. But he’s not buying it.

My child is only five years old but I’m beginning to wonder if I’m doing him a disservice by limiting him so much on the social front. Don’t get me wrong: I believe that kids can and should have friends from various areas of their life (school, camp, extra-curricular, neighborhood, family friends and so on). But I also think how easy it would be to send him to a local school where he’d have dozens of friends to choose from (as opposed to just six at his current school), all of them close by. At age five, I believe that kids really only needs one or two close friends. But I’m constantly thinking forward to future and what it’ll be like with so few options. I worry about my child’s social development. And confidence levels. And if having so few boys in his class will be detrimental to him in the long run.

Then I think about the academics, and how this school’s philosophy is totally in line with my own. I think about the general feeling of warmth, and how my son is not only getting a stellar education but a sense of self-worth and empowerment that is so unique to this particular school. It’s in these moments that I know I’m making the right decision and I can actually sleep at night – until the weekend rolls around, that is, and my child once again has zero play dates.

So here’s the big dilemma: does education trump social life, or is it the other way around? I can argue either side depending on the day and my mood. All I know for certain is that as the new school year approaches, I am once again agonizing over my decision. It’s one of those major conflicts that just won’t go away.

(Photo: Comstock)


  1. Eileen

    July 29, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    At five? I say social life.

    It might be different if your son were a little older, but I think at that age, school is mostly for making friends (I’m still best friends with a girl I met on the second day of kindergarten). You can teach him your values at home, certainly, and everything you want about the ancient Greeks, but I’d value social interactions, as long as he learns the important things like how to read and how to do arithmetic.

    Plus, if he wants to go to the local school, he may come to resent the school you want him to go to and the values it wants to teach him. My parents sent me to an awesome preschool, but I hated it for unknown reasons (I was four/five and don’t remember what they were) and I still get claustrophobic when I think about it, despite the fact that it sounds like a place I’d want to send my hypothetical children. They paid a lot of money for something that really didn’t do anything for me in the long run except give me memories of crying as a little kid. Even now (I’m in my 20s), things will remind me of that school and I’ll avoid them. I’m not saying your son necessarily feels the same way, but if he really wants to go to a different school, I’d let him. What you get out of any education has more to do with who you are than what the school is.

  2. MK

    August 1, 2011 at 9:57 am

    I’ve thought about this a lot. It’s so difficult to make a choice and stand behind it because if you are a thoughtful person you will see the numerous sides of an issue and not be so confident that there is only one way to do it. The people that feel 100 percent about what they decide to do are rarely very interesting to talk to, I find. Where we live, its so tough to even get into private school that when you do, you feel like you’re strapped into that from K onward — you can’t say no to it even if you have a good public school in your zone. But if you don’t get in, you feel like you may have failed your kid by not putting education “first.” So your post hits home because its the opposite of what I’m about to experience in a neighborhood public kindergarden. I’m sure all the people at your neighborhood school are jealous of the attention your son is getting and worrying that their kids are “too social.” It just goes round and round.

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