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.