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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Last-Minute Preschool

You probably already knew about this -- so, you know, feel free to scoff at my misfortune -- but if you (a) have kids and (b) they’re old enough to go to school, you sort of have to apply to schools before they’re allowed to go there. I don’t know what I was thinking (maybe that we just drive up and drop the kid on the doorstep, like the proverbial stork, but with a 3-year-old?), but apparently I wasn’t thinking very much at all.
So right now, we’re going through the radical first step in sending our toddler to preschool. Which is to decide which preschool to send them to.
I was raised going to public school, but since then, a few things changed. I became Orthodox. Then I married into a pretty hardcore Hasidic family–and by “hardcore,” I mean that I now have relatives I’ve never directly spoken to, because they are women and I am not. For someone like me, who’s always been committed to public education and whose parents and sister work in public schools, it’s a big leap to send my kids, not just to a private nursery school, but to 12 years of a rigorous religious education, followed (probably) by seminary and yeshiva and some sort of religious-indoctrination camp.
But: We are, indeed, Hasidic Jews. And public schools don’t exactly have classes with titles like Intermediate Yiddish and Medieval Commentators to Jewish Scripture. If you’re committed to a lifestyle, you gotta go all the way.
My wife -- who, it should be noted, is both more comfortable with these things, and smarter than me -- told me to chill out. (She says that a lot.) In the time from my first IM (from work, of course, which went roughly: Matthue: School deadliens R like 3 wks ago!?! what do we do???) until I got home, she’d called up a dozen relatives and half a dozen schools, established that we were in hot water, but not entirely washed up, and that many schools were understanding of first-time parents and had flexible acceptance schedules.
In the meantime, since learning that we still had a choice, we’ve been trying to prepare ourselves for that eventual choice. We’re scheduled for a bunch of interviews, and we’re still  scheduling a few more. We’ve both made lists of the top three things we want in a school. (Well, my wife has. I’m still working on it.)
Here are hers:
  1. The school shouldn’t care about surface Orthodox stuff (like asking “Do you wear stockings all the time?” or “Do you own a TV?,” even though we don’t) above basic things, like teaching the rudiments of kashrut, or having caring and involved teachers.
  2. It doesn’t have to be a Lubavitch school, but it should have some sort of Lubavitch influence (She and her family are Lubavitch Hasidim).
  3. It should be a place where people are warm and friendly (which seems like a given, but it never is).
I haven’t figured out mine yet, except that I’m really determined to find a school with a good secular studies program. Not like those scary Jewish day schools that start from first grade in grooming and prepping their kids to get into an Ivy (not like I even necessarily want my kids to attend an Ivy–we’ve seen what happens when Orthodox Jews show up in those schools), but one where English classes read real books and science is more than just “rain makes the flowers grow.”

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