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Graduates do the traditional graduation-cap toss. (via Wikimedia Commons)

Where a child is schooled: Does it really matter?

Alegria A. ImperialNot a parent myself, I’ve had a few vicarious experiences of this phase in parenting only recently, like hearing about three top graduating students at Point Grey, a public school here in Vancouver, already accepted in Ivy League universities, one of them, a girl at Harvard. Two weeks ago in the bus to the train station, Jeanine, daughter of a Filipina caregiver, who also went to Point Grey, when I asked, gushed about having received two acceptances, one from the University of British Columbia for an arts program, another for Langara College for the sciences, both private schools. 

That in North America, public schools because of state regulations tend to prepare high school students in as good if not better than private schools for university life, appear as a given. On the other hand, because of their independence to design their own curriculum, hence, more leeway to enhance basic courses, private schools seem to better equip students with focused training.

Ahh, such great divide that dogs parents, a conversation amplified in internet sites and websites addressed to them like ourkids.net as early as midway toward the end of the North American school year, or when reservations must be made in both private or public schools from prep or kindergarten or any grade between family moves, but especially for university. Meeting, Maria though, I learned that it’s the child, now an adult, who thinks and drives her way through; like Jeanine, she searched and applied for scholarships, and decided in the end, still ever on the watch where lies the least burden for her parents.

Apparently, decades-old considerations, as in my day, on location and costs still top most parents’ lists; for those who can afford stiff costs, curriculum, classroom size, teachers’ qualification, peer group, and even beliefs top up the basics. A perception, as far back as in my time, that sending a child to a private school, makes him or her better educated, seems to have persisted, indeed. Proof of it being otherwise, has been reinforced as universal acceptance to major, or even Ivy League universities, if not massive, has been constant— their graduates later rising as giants, a phenomenon taken for granted.

Baffling but amazingly true, how schools “mold” their students quite uniquely as it would later manifest in their career or social standing. In my first job as public relations officer of The Philippine Women’s University, I realized, how its being some kind of “finishing school” for women then, would personify in women leaders I’d meet in my trips for a government media job; even only as a wife, a Philwomenian would be as formidable in her community involvements as her husband, often in high office.

But would parents’ dreams and choices mirror that of their child? Rationalizing with great quotes, too deep for my young mind then, on why the quality of education and not the school matters more, my father had written that my pick of a private school would be unaffordable—a line that had felt rueful fifty decades later, finding it among old letters I had packed to immigrate.

Did it matter that my parents could not but choose the public high school in our town for me? It did, to me and I had sulked when I learned I wouldn’t join two nieces older than me at the then Holy Ghost Academy in Laoag, where my mother also schooled but instead, found myself trudging on dusty slippers to the then Bacarra Provincial High School.

What does a child know? On graduating, I had stepped into a stream with many others, pushing toward the University of the Philippines, but gaping blank at a future. I did take the entrance exams but by some quirk after checking out campus residence halls, my father, apparently with better means by then, had pulled me out and asked an uncle’s help to bring me where he schooled at the University of Santo Tomas’ former Faculty of Philosophy and Letters.

A small college of 200 self-absorbed self-proclaimed literati, studying a curriculum later scrapped for being a costly combination of two courses, journalism and literature, who among us were aware that our training harked back to medieval schooling on belle lettres or writing with a literary bent?

But what literature from the ancient to modern times, spanning continents from Asia to Europe, and this: the one and the same class opener, from Journalism I to Editorial Writing, the late Manila Times editor, Jose P. Bautista—“What’s wrong in the front pages today?” and most essentially, on a sentence he scrawled on the blackboard, “Give me five different leads”, could have turned me into the unexpected.

I suppose most parents know, that no matter how finely combed, a chosen school may or may not turn a child into their dream—like until his death, my father couldn’t seem to figure me out the way he would have wanted. Were that parents could present their hopes for us as a boxed and beribboned gift, indeed. But then again, in the end, do any of our choices matter?

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