The OmegaFamily is--in a slacker kind of way--investigating schools for kindergarten next year. (OMG. How on earth did my child become old enough for me to be writing these words??)
There's the issue of what the school atmosphere is like. Do they make learning fun, or is it going to be a case where school extinguishes the desire to learn? This is one of OmegaDad's bugbears; one of his favorite phrases is "children are born knowing everything; we teach it out of them." He doesn't mean it in a sardonic way (as in, "those darned kids think they know everything!"), but means that children are born with that innate desire to learn.
He tells tales of his childhood that indicate that, except for a very few teachers, the majority of his time spent in public school was mainly...marking time. He was...different. In high school he spent a year wearing a serape and sombrero to school every day, to make a statement. He remembers his high school English teacher to this day, because she nourished his love of poetry and writing and literature, so much so that he entered college determined to get a major in American literature.
(Then he discovered that college lit majors are litarary snobs. He dropped out. When he returned to college many years later, he got himself an ag degree, then a master's in soil science.)
I was sent to private schools. I don't know whether that made much of a difference, but we did have some outstanding teachers who didn't fit the "teacher mold". Even so, I found myself marching to a different drummer; in history classes, I wrote mini-romance novels, and in English I experimented a lot.
I was "different"--different parents (Bohemians, quasi-hippies), not stylish, interested in learning and playing with words, and intelligent. The years of seventh grade through junior in high school weren't really fun; I didn't fit in, I didn't have many friends, I wasn't popular.
I learned, looking back, somewhat "in spite of" being taught.
So that's one consideration.
The other consideration, of course, is the diversity factor.
The problem is that the two don't necessarily mesh. The school that sounds most interesting is one of the less diverse schools; the public school that we'd be assigned to is one of the most diverse, but has the worst academic reputation.
What to do, what to do...
(There's also the newly added factor that OmegaDotter's very most favorite teacher in the whole wide world, who is leaving next Friday to start student teaching, will be student teaching kindergarten at--the public school she'd be assigned to.)
In an interesting convergence, schools and teaching have been subjects on one of the boards where I hang out; they have also come up in some other areas (notably, Clicked, a kind of round-up of what's popping up in the blogosphere, which I read religiously).
There's the story of the mother who found out, from one of her older sons (who discovered it by accident), that her youngest, in kindergarten, was being forced to sit at a desk all alone, right next to the teacher, for a month. She hadn't been informed. Her youngest thought it was because he was "bad". His schoolmates thought so, too, and were ostracizing him at recess and lunch. An urgent conference with the vice principal and the teacher in question revealed that the teacher had done it because it "helped him focus".
There's Paul Graham's essay, "Why nerds are unpopular", which rings a big bell with me. One of the points he makes is that kids make choices about what's important to them, though they may do it unconsciously. Nerds aren't interested enough in being popular to put in the work that being popular requires. They're more interested in reading, playing with computers, doing experiments, taking apart machines, that kind of stuff. Another of his theses is that school is mostly about keeping kids away from the real world, in comparison to earlier years, when apprenticeships made kids part of the real world.
There's Steve Olsen's "How the public school system crushes souls". His wife spent a year during high school sitting in a bathroom stall during every lunch hour, because she couldn't handle the way she was mocked and made fun of for not having friends to sit with at lunch hour.
There's Josh Shaine talking about "Underachievement from the inside out", where he describes a constant litany of "if you only applied yourself/if you only did your homework/if you only..." to the point where he assumed something was very wrong with him.
There's a blogger who is close to graduating from college (she's waiting on her very most final grades), who cried upon her father's shoulder when returning to college, because she was so afraid she wasn't "intelligent enough" to do it.
OmegaGranny was a nerd. Uncle Grump (her husband) was an uber-nerd, if ever there was one. OmegaBro was a nerd. All of OmegaDotter's teachers tell me how strikingly smart she is...and I worry: is she destined for "nerdship"? Or will she become the girl who hides how smart she is, so that she can be popular?