Progressive Preschools and the Parents Who Pick Them

Continuing the discussion from Kentucky's Noah's Ark religious attraction to open next summer:

We’ve been relatively lucky, for the most part, but it’s been a weird experience. We chose our kids’ first preschool based upon decades of family experience and reputation, and for the first three years it was great. At some point the institution was purchased by some company based in Chicago and a new regime was installed that seemed to have a very, very different idea of how the place should be run. Beloved teachers were axed without satisfactory explanation, and parent inquiries and input were ignored or deftly sidestepped. It really did seem like a deliberate effort to drive the place into the ditch, scare away all the parents who were paying five figure sums annually for mudpies in a sandbox (there was much more than that, obviously, but it wasn’t like it was Caltech, just the preschool down the street from Caltech), and then sell off the school at some kind of writeoff loss that only makes sense as a remake of The Producers. Our daughter was mostly done with the place by then, but our son’s last year there was kinda fraught with tension and drama that should have been utterly absent in a place that cares about the emotional well-being of the kids, and several “town-hall” meetings between parents and administrators involved some seriously raised voices.

Yeah, there was an element of that too. I mean, I don’t consider my family even remotely underprivileged, but we were one of three or four families who were at this school on financial assistance. The other parents were perfectly nice to us, but we never really gelled with them, what with their nannies and tennis whites and yoga pants and German SUVs, but what was weird to me was the combination of passionate progressive parenting with the entitlement that comes from being used to getting one’s way. The noisiest people who rebelled the strongest about the change in the school’s direction were those who could most afford to send their kids anywhere else they wanted.

I like our kids’ current school a whole lot, but even it’s not without its drama and intrigues.

Yeah, I’ve found that there is a pretty broad spectrum of educational philosophies that call themselves “Montessori,” and not all of them fall comfortably (or even remotely, sometimes) within the umbrella of what Maria Montessori espoused.


Heh. Daneel Jr just started at a “Montessori” preschool.


I know a lady who worked for a while at a “Montessori Preschool”. It was deliberately cynical BS that turned out to mean “We don’t look after your kids (or staff) very well.”

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yeah, that’s a huge problem. There is no copyright associated with the term, so anyone can slap their name on it and claim the title, even if they aren’t practicing the methodology. There is a couple of Montessori boards (the American Montessori Society and the Association of Montessori Internationale) that do a sort of certification. There are a couple of different programs with the most well known one in the US being in Texas that trains teachers in the methodology. That’s probably what to look for. Plus, early education has taken elements of the method and put it to use more broadly - most Kindergartens take Montessori elements onboard.

It’s probably not for all kids, but I can say my own spawn has thrived. She has a strong sense of order and right and wrong, and therefore generally rises to the expectations that a Montessori classroom has. It’s also a very good way to individual classes for many students without having one teacher for each student. The student-teacher ratio tends to be rather low, but Montessori allows for more flexibility.


It would have been a good place for my younger daughter in highschool. But a private highschool was beyond my budget.


This is why I’m torn on the issues of vouchers. Yeah, they are kind of a means of getting public funds into private, religious schools, but at the same time, if someone can benefit from funds being diverted to a private school for their kid, that really serves their needs, is that so terrible? We do need to seriously overhaul our public education system, and not for the profit model. As we’ve seen from the article @Donald_Petersen posted, that can mean real trouble.


My wife and I were both products of public schools in California in the 70s and 80s. Our experiences differed, as did the ways we each used what we had available to us. My wife went to Wellesley and graduated summa cum laude (I like to joke that if she gets tired enough of her current job, she ought to just become Secretary of State like fellow Wellesley alumnae Madeleine Albright and Hillary Clinton), whereas I went to a community college and never got a degree. And I had a couple of years of reasonably well-funded public schooling before Proposition 13 went into effect and gutted the public education budget, whereas my somewhat younger wife never knew what the pre-Prop 13 schools were like.

And for the past 15 years or so, my wife has been a public school teacher in the L.A. Unified School District. We both strongly believe in the need for a well-funded and well-run public school system… but we’re also well aware of the limitations built into the current California public school model. Our kids attended public school in L.A. but only until we could work our way up the waiting list of the charter school we liked the best. This fall, they finally got in, after three years of trying. (The first year, my daughter ended up #113 on the waiting list for an incoming kindergarten class of eleven.)

But we’re glad we’re there. Our daughter has had some trouble adjusting, since she misses her old teachers and classmates from the public school. Her principal and 1st grade teacher and 3rd grade teacher were all longtime family friends who attended our wedding (my wife taught at that school when I met her), and it’s been tough for her to adapt to a new school where she knows practically no-one. But the new school itself is much, much better for them. There’s a much more personalized approach to the pedagogy, much more student-driven learning, a better handle on the standardized testing, and an extremely throttled approach to homework: for the first few years, there’s none at all, and it gradually increases but always stays at an age-appropriate workload that will never keep them up late into the night working when they should be sleeping.

Hear, hear! The charter school concept is far from perfect. Even though it’s funded like a public school (though some sources of funding can be kinda suspect) and thus nominally available to all, a charter school is only as good as the philosophy and administration behind it. And the teachers, lacking the protection of a union, get paid a shamefully low amount.

Sometimes my wife and I feel hypocritical, torn between what we want for our kids and what we believe in philosophically. We both believe in strong unions, but we’re also aware of what happens when unions get too strong, and you end up with burnt-out craptastic teachers who can never be fired and pension expenses that take up a lot of the education budget. And in every direction there’s crippling inertia and political bad faith, and you get school boards stuffed with social conservatives bent on molding the nation’s youth to their will.

This whole issue demands a great deal of our attention, but our eyes glaze over every time it gets brought up.


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