Agonizing over the ‘best’ community?

New Order Voice

June 28, 2016 | Viewpoints | Volume 20 Issue 14
Katie Doke Sawatzky,

My son will be starting Kindergarten in the fall. Along with feelings of excitement and uncertainty over seeing him go to school, and the adjustment it’ll mean for our family, actually choosing a school has been the hardest part.

Here’s the situation: There’s a public school that’s a five-minute walk away. It has a very diverse pool of students, from new Canadians and refugees, to middle-class white folks like us. The other school we’re considering is in a neighbourhood next to ours. It’s a French immersion school. It draws students from university family housing and the new suburb to the south—all in all, a whiter-but-somewhat-diverse, higher socio-economic demographic.

My dilemma is this: I really like the idea of Leo learning French. I loved learning French in high school and university. But if I believe that living locally and experiencing diversity is best, why wouldn’t I send him to the school just down the street?

If I choose a school that’s farther away, it feels like a betrayal of my values. It also feels like such a middle-class thing to do. Arguments that people give me about how language-learning develops the mind, how it’ll open up “opportunities”—by which they mean better employment—for Leo down the road, all make French immersion sound like one more tool in the toolbox for upward mobility.

There’s something larger at work here, too. The impulse to figure out the best thing for my kid is every parent’s plight, right? Every decision is weighty. What I do now will affect him for the rest of his life.

But what is the “best” thing? A shorter walk to school, a more diverse set of friends, intellectual challenges, a smaller class size, a more experienced teacher? I don’t know. All of them? What bothers me the most about agonizing over all these things is, well, that I’m agonizing over these things. Wanting the best for your kid seems natural, but it’s also a mark of privilege. Some kids don’t go to school, and many parents don’t have the luxury of choosing from different schools.

We’ve decided to start Leo in French immersion because Glenn and I both value language-learning. And as much as I still go back and forth, second-guessing, wondering if closer is better, I can stand by this decision.

Maybe what’s so different about school is that it’s a forced community. You don’t have any say in regards to who attends and who teaches. The students are just expected to make friends and grow up with each other. As a parent who is conscious about building community where I am, it’s frustrating to encounter a system where I have little control over who makes up that community, where it is or what it offers. Especially when my kid is going to be part of it.

Although it’s a little different, it reminds me of how I felt when my family and I were looking for a church after we moved back to Regina last summer. We chose the closest Mennonite church despite some uncertainty about it being an older congregation. In fact, there’s a lot of uncertainty when you join a new church community. But you just slowly plug in where you can, and try to be open-hearted and willing to meet new faces and form new relationships.

And so I will prepare to plug into Leo’s new school community in the ways I can, even though it won’t be the school just down the street.

Katie Doke Sawatzky writes and edits from Regina, on Treaty 4 Territory. She can be reached at katiesawatzky@gmail.com.

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Comments

Good for you - you selected what will surely turn out to be in your son's best interest for his future, if you don't already know that. You chose to do that rather than take the 'easy' walk to the closest solution. I'm excited for your son!

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