Monday, April 04, 2011

Decisions, decisions

Kids here go to high school (or collège) early — Z will only be ten when he leaves the safe, comfortable environment of the primary school he's been at since he was just out of nappies.

Almost all of his bosom buddies will be going to the collège in our quartier, a short walk from our street. It's a nice school with just 440 pupils, and a friendly atmosphere. Another advantage is that they have a "section européenne" that specialises in German. So Z could just do German for the first two years and start English later; not a bad idea for a boy who's already pretty good at English.

Basically, we'd be quite happy for him to continue his education at the school for our catchment area and of course he's very keen to stay with his pals, to perfect his mucking-about-in-the-playground skills. However, there is another possibility.

A ten-minute walk in the opposite direction from our house takes you to another, much bigger collège with 900 pupils. This one has a very special international programme just for bilingual children and families come from hundreds of kilometres away to get into it. There's a written and spoken English test to get into the class and the children that do get in are worked hard with extra classes in English language and literature. History is taught in English too. It's a small, tight-knit class and a very enthusiastic American teacher gives them lots of personal attention and encourages high achievement.

Is this the right environment for Z ? Could he take the extra pressure? Is he "academic" enough? Is his English good enough to pass the test (mea culpa, mea maxima culpa)? I think that if we can get him on our side on this, he might thrive. But then I think he'll also thrive in the regular collège.

This is a first-world, middle-class dilemma, I'm keenly aware of that. We're wonderfully lucky to live in a country that still believes in a public education system in which we have the luxury of choosing between two perfectly good options. But God, I hate making decisions, and I hate contemplating pushing our wee boy out of his (and our) comfort zone and into what might turn out to be a bit of a hot-house.

(PS. If you read French, Caroline had a really funny post the other day about the social politics of choosing a collège, even for those who don't have to deal with the language question)

8 comments:

materfamilias said...

I'm so glad those days with their tough decisions are behind me, and the pudding's proof has been tasted with a sigh of relief -- I remember the weight of each one! And I, too, like Caroline, have compromised one or two principles along the way so that my children didn't suffer for them. . .

Lesley said...

Which school would teach Latin? Back in the dark ages my secondary school gave us all one year of Latin. In itself it was not useful but it helped in sorting sentences out in grammar terms and made English and later French marginally easier.

Lesley said...

Materfamilias: but principles aren't principles if you are willing to compromise!

Lesley: I did Latin too but I don't think it had such a helpful effect the way it was tught in my school. All I can remamber now is the title of a poem by Catullus (?): My Lady's Pet Sparrow is Dead.

Lesley said...

Nomnative, vocative, accusative, genative, dative, ablative plus I can do Three Blind Mice in Latin. Mind you I still can't spell in any language!

Lucy said...

I can do 'I'm Popeye the Sailor Man' in Latin, but not from school. It even scans.

I'm often struck how little the bilingual kids I know seem to value it, and wonder maybe if they were a bit more creatively pushed it might help. On the other hand college is early days, I suppose. Must be a difficult choice, I'll be interested to hear what happens.

materfamilias said...

Weeks and weeks later -- that's a problem with blog conversations -- I finally read your response to my comment. And it's quite true. Except that might there not be a dialectic regarding principles? Or must they, by definition as you suggest, be unyielding. The problem, it seems to me, is that the general and the particular, the theoretical and the practical, never confront each other with so much emotional impact as they do in child-rearing. Of course, therein lies the big danger of ignoring the general and the theoretical -- the particular and the practical can be so very self-serving when it comes to the instance of one's own. Again, I heave a big sigh of relief that those days are behind me.

Eva said...

Interesting! My kids are bi- or trilingual so I am interested in subjects that touch language by close or by far... one question I would ask myself is how much time will he be able to spend with his old friends if he changes to the other school? And also try to imagine where he is heading, impossible I know, but still try to measure to what extent pushing him will help him go where he most probably will want to go... I do believe that being bilingual could be a distinctive advantage in our highly competitive world... but if he wants to run a bakery he might do without really... Please tell us what you decide to do! xxx Eva PS Go to IKEA if you want a Swedish meal, you Stockholm hostage fan!

Lesley said...

Eva, he got into the International Section for bilingual children so that's where he's heading this September. We have more or less won hi round to the idea, but it's still hard for him to see all of his friends go off together to a different school. Only time will tell whether he turns out to be of a literary or a scientific bent, but I'm sure the extra English will come in handy whatever he does.