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Luckily, someone gave me a heads-up that the testing process for admission to Selective Enrollment Elementary Schools (SEES) for Chicago Public Schools would take roughly one hour. I sat patiently in an auditorium filled with squirming kids and parents that ranged in energy levels from anxious to fast asleep. My oldest son was taking his potentially life-changing test for the second time in another room. Last year, he took the SEES Kindergarten test for both Classical Schools and Regional Gifted Schools that lasted about 15 minutes each and this year he took the much longer test for 1st graders applying to Regional Gifted Schools only. We decided not to apply to Classical Schools this year.

Last year, in preparation for our move from Philadelphia, we actually flew to Chicago specifically for the SEES test. With no idea what to expect, my oldest was actually accepted into one of the “top” Classical Schools in the City! However, after flying out a second time to tour the school itself, I left feeling underwhelmed by the facilities and the curriculum. The teachers felt awesome but limited by bureaucracy and lack of resources. We instead chose to pay for a local Catholic School that is nationally recognized and seemed willing to try new advances in curriculum. Overall, we were left with a much better impression. But yes, we chose to pay for a school instead of enrolling in a top-ranked free school. Still, asides from the financial burden, our current school is not perfect and it is always good to keep options open.

About halfway through my wait, I came across an intriguing article entitled “How to raise your kids to become billionaires“. Somehow Pocket knew I would like the article. As irony would have it, one of the tips in all red stated: “Do not send them to public school nor to the prep schools that are just our public schools on steroids.” Ouch. While the article has its flaws, it raises great points. I recommend reading it.

As a parent, former youth educator, and social entrepreneur, I am hyper-aware of the tension between my desire to see quality education for all and the very immediate need to educate my own children. I often think back to a meeting with a well-intentioned principal at a failing Philadelphia public school. He touted the fact that his own child attends the school as a kind of testament to both the effectiveness of, and the safety at, the school. This was before I was a parent but even in that moment, the unspoken question going through everyone’s mind was “why fail your child as you try to save others?” His kid looks as scared and miserable as every other child there.

I often mention that the purpose of education is to either instill a curiosity and life-long passion for learning OR to grant students required skills for future jobs. While clearly the intersection of the two is ideal, the reality is that we are failing at both. Instead our education system pumps out apathetic students that are ill-equipped to enter the workforce. If we send our children to schools and simply expect a more fulfilling outcome, we are misguided. That was my take-away as I finished the article and it suddenly reconnected me with my general anxiety around options for our children’s education.

My son reemerged from his test with a troubled look that mirrored my exact feeling. As he explained that his sticker for completing his test would not stay on his hand properly, I smiled at the innocence and obliviousness of his reality and the ultimate responsibility of my own.

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