How can two people visit the same school and have entirely different experiences?
That's what I wondered as my friend Summer talked about her tour of Alice Fong Yu. She recently visited the school based on my recommendation, and she found it oppressive, rigid, and systematic. She visited all three kindergarten classes, one after the other, and noticed that the teachers and students were doing the exact same thing in all three classrooms. "It was almost freakish," she said.
Summer talked about watching some kids run laps around the playground in a perfectly straight line. It sounded as if she was describing soldiers. She talked about the lack of diversity among the students. "I didn't see one child with blond hair," she said. Summer was especially shocked by the school's claim that in middle school, all classes at AFY are honors classes because all of its students are honors students. "What if your child isn't an honors student?" Summer wondered.
As Summer was describing her experience I was thinking, "What is wrong with me?" I loved AFY. Was I wearing rose-colored glasses on my tour?
While Summer saw a lack of diversity among the students, I saw focused, engaged students. While Summer felt the school lacked arts, I was impressed by the ceramics program. While Summer saw systematic teachers, I saw animated, nurturing ones. While Summer saw rigidity, I saw organization.
Vexed by the rather annoying personality trait that tends to question oneself rather than challenge others, I started to doubt my perception of the school. Am I too rigid myself? Is the school overly academic? Will Alice fail in a school like AFY?
And then Summer smartly pointed out that her daughter Sally and my daughter Alice are entirely different people. They're great friends. In fact, Alice is practically lost at preschool on the days when Sally isn't there. But their personalities, interests, and emotions are as different as vanilla and chocolate. And so wouldn't it make sense that Alice and Sally's moms would be interested in different schools?
As we refine our lists of favorite schools, we'll likely start to look for validation of our choices from our friends. Don't be surprised if your lists aren't similar. Great minds can think differently!