|Showing off our home countries at AUS Global Day|
Fortunately, one year later, we are extremely happy with our decision. This has been a great year for Miriam and we are so pleased with the school's efforts to make her educational experience rich, diverse, meaningful, and caring. It was with a great sense of relief, gratitude, and validation that I ticked the "I will send my child to your school again next year" box on the form they sent home a few weeks ago. Our main aims for sending her to School A rather than School S have not been disappointed.
Every once in a while, though, I am troubled by the school situation here, as it is perceived by the parents. There are such strong opinions on all sides that it's impossible to discuss schools without stepping on someone's toes. The minute a new acquaintance finds out what school your kids go to - even if they know nothing else about you - a whole list of assumptions about your economic status, nationality, passport, religion, dedication to your child's education, and attitudes toward other cultures is automatically generated. It's an ugly thing, and it goes both ways. Your child's school can create an unfortunate divide between you and The Other.
And I often find myself caught in the middle. Jeremy and I are sometimes the odd ones out because while we are from the US, we are very comfortable in the Arab world and have spent a lot of time in the Middle East. (That's almost as incomprehensible to Arabs as it is to other Americans, by the way.) Still, my Western friends (ugh, that term again, but you know what I mean, right?) can't understand why I don't send my kid to School S like everyone else. It's like I broke a rule I didn't even know existed. I get the funniest looks when I explain that we chose School A because we wanted Miriam to learn and value Arabic, and attend a school where all nationalities were welcome, even if those kids did not attain a certain level of English proficiency before entering Grade 1. There are other reasons, too, but they have more to do with personal opinion. I'm not willing to address them here because they will stir up those strong feelings I mentioned before.
You see, the minute you disagree with someone on an issue related to your kids' school, it's like you're attacking that person's dedication to their child's education. In the last year, I've realized that the "best" school is going to be different for everyone. Just because one school is the most expensive, or the Sheikh's kids go to another, or the Arabic program is stellar at another, doesn't make that the absolute best school for everyone, one size fits all. The sooner we understand that, and respect it, the better. I shouldn't have to rationalize my choice to you; you shouldn't have to explain yourself to me...even though I know we will probably still both secretly judge each other.
Then again, the Great School Divide can also create moments of sweet connection, like when you're talking with a new acquaintance and find out that they send their kids to your school, too! I treasure those experiences because it's like you've found a kindred spirit, someone who saw the same weaknesses in the other choices, the same strengths in the selection they made - the same selection you made. Then you can gush about what you love, and the kind of growth you hope to see in your child, and know that for now, at least, you don't have to defend yourself to anyone. You can just talk about school with its ups and downs and hiccups and triumphs like a normal person without extrapolating all kinds of horrible, prejudiced conclusions about a person from a single, school-based conversation.
It's true that the UAE is an amazing tossed salad (is that still the PC term?) of diversity and it takes a certain kind of highly tolerant person to live here. However, I am sometimes shocked at the discriminatory attitudes I see hiding underneath the surface, and they're not always very deep down. I have had conversations with casual acquaintances and at the end of it, wished I had the courage to ask, "why do you bother living here when you feel that way about a vast swath of the other people who make up this society?" Instead, I try to smile and nod and make non-committal, commiserating comments like, "Yeah, sometimes it can feel like that," or "I'm sure that was frustrating for you!" And it's unfortunately in the school situation that these kinds of ugly opinions rear their heads.
My point is, people should choose a school that best fits their values, not yours. It's school shopping season again and a lot of my friends with KG2-age kids are on the hunt for a good fit for their family. We're happy with our choice for now, and if you ask me about it, I'll give you my opinion in the kindest way I can manage and encourage you to visit the school and see if it feels like home for you, like it does for us. And if it doesn't, no big deal. I, uh, promise.