The school for citizens has created one more

June 25th, 2008

This is where our short saga of school choice ends but of course it hasn’t ended. This is where the bus stops, but it hasn’t really stopped. This is America, where we are each equally endowed with the audacity to keep going – to build a country and then rebuild it again. This is the conclusion to my essay from “The Maternal is Political”, which is available for personal inscription and indelible gratitude (for coming out on a lonely Saturday night) right here.

The night my husband and I made our school choice, it wasn’t even a choice. We looked at the letters from the fine private schools inviting our daughter inside. We knew their curriculum was excellent, but it no longer seemed good enough. We knew what they offered was valuable, but it no longer seemed worth it. Still smarting from our disillusionment with our own government, we resolved to live, really live, the values that were no longer so self-evident. We would save our money and invest our daughter in democracy. The bus, after all, was hers.

We would need to be attentive and involved, but we would be doing that no matter where she went to school. We would need to enrich her education with extras, but this way, we still had enough in every paycheck to afford them. We would need to trust people of all stripes and believe in the ability of each person to reach the stars.

We would need to be brave, but we could: We were born in the home of the brave.

On the first day of kindergarten, my daughter’s teacher stood before an array of beautiful faces. She spoke loudly to reach the pack of teary parents spectating at the back of the room.

“Our job is to create citizens,” she declared, and turned to face the flag.

That morning, I placed my hand over my heart and spoke the old pledge with newfound allegiance. The school for citizens had created one more.

* * *

Saturday, June 28, 5 p.m.
Vroman’s Bookstore
695 E. Colorado Blvd.
Reading and signing with Mona Gable, Gayle Brandeis, Shari MacDonald Strong and me.

Drive far, come early, sit close and laugh often.
And if not, at least listen to me tell you again why motherhood is your writing practice.


  1. Once again, well said.

    Comment by Kristin H. — June 25, 2008 @ 12:25 pm

  2. Ahhhhh. But which “citizen”, I suppose.

    Comment by denise — June 25, 2008 @ 2:34 pm

  3. Thank you so much for publishing the excerpts! I haven’t picked up the book yet (and mothertalk blew me off), but I will!

    Comment by Mama Zen — June 25, 2008 @ 2:42 pm

  4. Interesting.. While my child is not yet old enough to begin school, we too have been looking. Both public and private schools worry And excite me. In the end it just may be more about listening to your childs uniqueness. As you said, we are the products of public schools but that was so long ago and what I remember may no longer exist save for the slight grubbiness and heartfelt desires of most teachers.
    For myself their remains a fierceness to provide an environment that is motivating, imaginative, and compassionate in the space my child will be for most of every day…I admit to my protectiveness of my childs spirit, that it remain intact and unbruised, nurtured and uplifted in some rare warmth for as long as possible. In the end I feel my own losses, try hard to see and hold my childs spirit, and walk with him in love and understanding And joy.

    Comment by the Uprising Crew — June 25, 2008 @ 3:38 pm

  5. Denise, the only citizen I can be.

    Comment by Karen — June 25, 2008 @ 3:46 pm

  6. Karen,
    Thanks for sharing this here.
    It was very timely for me, as we have just begun this rather insane process with Leo, for kindergarten next year.
    Your words have been grounding and comforting and the most sanity I’ve heard in a long time.

    Comment by bella — June 26, 2008 @ 1:12 pm

  7. We went public in the city of Chicago there are many school available that are public that offer education on the level of a private school, plus the bonus of diversity teaches them early they are in the mixing pot of America!

    Comment by Catherine — June 26, 2008 @ 7:19 pm

  8. I’ve been reading this series of excerpts so closely because you have been mirroring the thoughts starting to rise with us, and our son just turned 2! We feel the push right now just for the private preschools, the upscale specialized make-sure-he-gets-enough-for-college preschools. And as a product of public school, good ones despite grubbiness, it is so hard to imagine sending my child to the private schools, esp. when I reflect on the private school kids I knew, and did not identify with, in college.

    But you catch my breath and steal my heart with your words about bravery and involvement and diversity of citizens, of a place for all citizens. You have voiced what I cannot express, but what are my deepest hopes for my son. I hope I still feel that same bravery in 3 years! Thank you. Anonymous in Mpls.

    Comment by Anonymous — June 26, 2008 @ 8:19 pm

  9. Oh Anon, how kind you are! You don’t have to be that brave. You only have to brave enough to trust your son! Let him drive the bus and trust wherever it leads. The road, you see, keeps going. You are going to have a wonderful ride.

    Comment by Karen — June 26, 2008 @ 8:33 pm

  10. yes yes yes! so beautifully put.
    I wish more parents knew that this “We would need to be attentive and involved, but we would be doing that no matter where she went to school.” is the ultimate truth of sending a child off to school. It is not an end, it is a beginning, the beginning of a journey that both parent and child are on. Teachers are not meant to do it all, teachers, children, and parents are a team.

    My mom retired this week, after many years of teaching public school in NYC. I’m feeling especially passionate about teachers and public schools right now ; )

    Comment by nyjlm — June 27, 2008 @ 6:09 pm

  11. Wish I could go.

    Comment by Shelli — June 27, 2008 @ 7:37 pm

  12. Yes, yes! Every time I have those thoughts about “maybe private school would be better,” I come back to this: my son’s life is in public school right now. His time with his friends, and his comfort with a familiar school, no matter how “imperfect,” count for plenty. Private school would be a different set of “imperfections.” I’ll take the slighty grubby, democratic set, thank you.

    Comment by Judy Merrill-Smith — June 28, 2008 @ 6:03 pm

  13. this actually brought tears to my eyes. yes! this is what i’m doing. creating a child of the world, one moment at a time. i believe that we are incredibly lucky – our neighborhood school is very diverse, and has a “dual-language” option, which really beautifully blends the spanish-speaking and english-speaking communities. so often i get comments from other parents in nearby schools “how is that going?” and you know what they mean….but i absolutely love it!

    Comment by Phyllis Sommer — June 30, 2008 @ 3:41 am

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