Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Other Shoe

"Ah, you are just a crepe hanger," my mother once said to me. " "You always dwell on the negative side of things. There is also a positive side in all circumstances. You need to see the glass half-full instead of half-empty..." Easy for her to say. My Mom was a perennial optimist. Always joyful..effervescent..the "lampshade on the head" person at the party. In fact she would be invited to parties just for the entertainment value she'd provide. This ever joylful part of her nature drove me absolutely crazy!!

It is hard to believe that I was not the result of an accidental switch in the OB-GYN nursery at DePaul Hospital when I arrived on Feb. 5, 1942. How could I have come from such an amazing personality only to wind up a composite of Norman Vincent Peale and Ebenezer Scrooge? Nontheless, that is what happened.

I had a close friend and spiritual advisor who was concerned about my prayer life. I like to pray alone...the more alone the better. Except for Holy Mass, I do not like being in a large crowd. And I like to pray the Liturgy of the Hours (the Office.) Although I do have a spontaneous side, I prefer a written and formalized prayer regimen. So this guy was concerned about me. He gave me a Myers-Briggs personality test. I came out an ISFJ. I'll not go into each of them, but the " I" stands for "introvert." In fact, he told me that in his 30 years of adminstering the test, he had never had a candidate score 27 out of the 28 questions that indicate introversion. So now I know why I like to pray alone! and so what, says I.

So when am I going to get to the title of this missive: The Other Shoe..
Perhaps you can guess based on what I told you about my somewhat pessimistic nature. You've all heard the adage about waiting for the "other shoe to drop.." well, that is how I live my life. I was an Economics teacher. They don't call that the "Dismal Science" for nothing. I loved Economics and is it any wonder? It fit my personality perfectly. How many jolly and optimistic economists do you know? Especially today.

And with the dire economic future that now awaits us, I close this post. We are hearing talk of stimulus packages, sub-prime mortgage crises, the plumeting value of the dollar. Everyone is looking to the poor Ben he can fix the mess. He wants to pump more money and more credit into the mix. That's like giving a child who has a stomach ache from too much ice-cream a bit of chocolate cake to cure his ill. No, Mr. Ben cannot stem the tide of adjustment that Mr. Market needs to make. "More Money...more credit," they shout...Ah, the sound of the other shoe.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Choosing THE Private School for Your Child

This is an article that I wrote for Bink's newspaper, North Texas Kids. It appeared in the November 2007 edition.

Having spent more than thirty years in private school education, both as a teacher and administrator, I know all too well the dilemma that parents face when they begin the process of selecting THE school for their child. I had one parent call me from the hospital delivery room to inquire about the process for placing his newborn on our school's waiting list! Now, that is an extreme case, but it is illustrative of the pressures parents are under.

On the other hand, I could never understand why some parents would not flinch at the prospect of spending $40,000 to $50,000 annually at an Ivy League university but go through excruciating agony while contemplating a $5,000 tuition investment in their local parochial school. It would seem to be self-evident that the child's early formation is the most critical.

Since my whole career was at the primary and secondary level, I know there is great wisdom in Robert Fulghum's premise that everything he ever needed to know, he learned in kindergarten. And so before a parent wonders if little Johnny can make it at MIT, he needs to evaluate little Johnny's possible prospects at the local Montesorri.

Selecting the correct school for your child is not an easy matter, but can be most successful if two things are evaluated and developed beforehand:
1. What are the values of the parent?
2. What are the abilities of the student?
Now these seem to be too obvious to be profound, but the honest answers to these two questions will go a long way in assuring a good choice for the student. As to values, do I want a religious or secular environment? Is community status or the schooling of the parent coloring the choice? What about the financial component and possible budgetary sacrifices? For what period of time can I commit? PreK through 12th grade? Perhaps just early formation?

Measuring and assessing the ability and capacity of the child is the toughest of all and demands the most candid appraisal. Psychological evaluation is helpful and most every private school does some preliminary evaluation to measure the social and intellectual potential of a candidate. But frequently a parent does not want to hear the truth. As my daughter once told me, 'de-nile ain't only a river in Egypt.' To be completely fair to the child, the best scholastic environment is at the confluence of the two rivers of Parent Values and Student Abilities.

In the Dallas metropolitan area there are private schools to meet the needs of most every child. Parents need to perform 'due diligence' in their search for the ones that meet the criteria they have developed. This involves site visits, review of curricula, interviews with faculty who would be teaching the student, or perhaps even contact with existing parents.

While not an infallible guide, I always could tell a great deal about a school by walking across the campus and strolling the halls. (With approval, of course) Each one has its own uniqueness, ambience and ethos. Such variety is among the 'charms' of private schools compared to the oft-times unfortunate uniformity of government institutions. I realize that a school is much more than bricks and mortar but one can learn a great deal by paying close attention to the use, management and condition of its physical plant and grounds.

However, after selecting what one has hoped to be THE best choice, the ongoing evaluation should not cease. Nothing is more unfortunate for the child than to have an unsuccessful school experience, and yet be forced to remain due to parental pressure. Even the best professional football team has to 'drop-back and punt.' Keep searching until the right fit is found. Your child will be happier and so will you.

But in the final analysis, it must be realized that the school is meant only to reinforce the healthy social, intellectual and ethical formation that begins in the home. The Latin root for the word 'education' means to bring forth what is within. The school only polishes the marble that has been carefully chiseled by the parent artisans. It is unreasonable to expect otherwise. Parents are and must always remain the first teachers...the best teachers.

By-line: Gordon is a retired school administrator. After choosing THE right school for each of his eight children, he is quite the 'expert.' He often writes about these and other experiences in his blog,