An All-Boys School: One Gay Dad's Short-Lived Experience in the Traditional Environment
"The most dangerous phrase in the language is 'we have always done it this way.'" —Rear Admiral Grace Hopper
The process of entrance to Manhattan's elite private schools can be similar or even more rigorous than college admissions. And you can take that and multiply it tenfold when you're dealing with an all-boys environment. I know this from experience, as my partner Andy and I have spent the last year and a half dealing with one such establishment, that has been in existence for "136 years," and touts the cliché slogan of "educating boys to become scholars and gentlemen."
The legacy of a name. What does that actually mean? I call it the "Harvard Syndrome." Everyone knows that, right? We all have worked with some brilliant minds, as well as some absolute disasters, from these prestigious institutions, some of whom we question how they were even able to walk down the aisle for graduation without tripping over their own feet. And on the flip side, there are unbelievably talented individuals from unknown schools who rise among the ranks and make a name for themselves. But just like high-end fashion and retail brands serve as a symbol of status, we find similar institutions in education, starting as young as preschool. However, I do believe our generation is starting to finally call this "enlightened traditional" approach into question. I know my partner Andy and I are, especially when it comes to our son, Sebastian.
Disclaimer: This piece is from our perspective only and specifically references our experience over the last year and a half. I am writing this piece to share our experience, in hopes of giving other parents an understanding of potentially what they are entering into or the information out there that can skew public perception. Everyone's circumstances and expectations are different, and for some, this could be exactly what they are looking for in an academic institution. If that's the case, all the power to you. But each child develops differently, both academically and behaviorally, and not every environment is well suited for your child's success. That was indeed the case for our family and let me tell you why.
First and foremost, we are not at all saying that our son is a perfect specimen. We have had ups and down, and trials and tribulations, to get Sebastian to the front of the pack, or even just within the pack. Please take that into account. But it starts with a team and support and positivity from the time he wakes to the time he goes to sleep. Even when he is dreaming, I want positivity. But during the admissions process, we were sold on the all-boys experience. The "we know how to take care of all boys—all of them!" The "we help every boy achieve his best potential!" Are you sure all of them? Even my boy Sebastian? "YES! YES! Even Sebastian!" Awesome, we said. Sign us up! But wait one second…before we do, let's sit down and collaboratively understand his shortcomings, making sure that the support he needs is available for his success. And that indeed is what we did and, with the contract signed, we sent him off into the abyss.
Let's be honest—I could complain about so many situations that we encountered, which were all completely suboptimal and subpar. But that doesn't do anything for anyone. Believe me—the first draft of this was simply a big "Screw you!"; however, that iteration, although beyond necessary for my own mental health, allowed me to see a more mature approach, taking the high road in this unfortunate situation. Consider it an ode to the grown daddy in me. Are you proud of me? Or did you want the big "bite me" response? Well, after much thought and introspection, I decided the most constructive criticism would be to cite what one should look for or look out for in a school, specifically an all-boys one. From this list, I am sure you can only imagine those internal tests that plagued our family. So here we go.
• What are the overall class and grade sizes? What about the student-teacher ratios?
• Is the staff relatable? Energetic? Willing to change with the times and/or provide individualized learning? What about just being plain ol' happy?
• Do they have smaller breakout sessions and for what subjects? What are those sizes and how are they proctored?
• Besides the usual parent-teacher conferences, what other communication tools are in place?
• How do the children transition from place to place and who supervises and oversees this maneuvering?
The What Ifs:
(Pay attention to these specifics—you never know how your child will fare due to their needs and this can change rapidly at any time throughout the educational process)
• What happens if your child needs more help academically? What is the protocol and what resources are available?
• What happens if there is a behavioral delay? What's the support internally? How would the school handle it? And, more importantly, do they support children with these needs?
• Do they have an internal child psychologist on staff or one available for consultation?
• If your child shows signs of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), what is the standard protocol? What is the support or accommodations for thriving?
• If the situation gets beyond rough, do they allow push-in outside support?
The Final Question (specific to traditional environments):
• Understanding your traditional values, how have you adapted to the modern ways of educating in these complex times?
Now, clearly you can get a sense from my questioning as to what situations we encountered. Unfortunately, our school's shortcomings became quite evident early on during our first year, and halfway through the second year, we saw the writing on the wall. No, we didn't get pushed out or counseled out. We decided, as we have always done, to look out for our child's best interests. We pulled him out immediately, placing him into a school with a modernized and individualized approach to academia. One that truly embraces a child's style of learning, with the support that would benefit every single child. And more so embraces outside assistance to form an all-inclusive team for his success in the most precious times of his life. Whew. That was a lot. I got it out. That was exactly what I needed.
As I look back with a different lens, I can appreciate how a "we have always done it this way" traditional approach has worked year after year—an organized chaos of education that targets the children in the middle. Those kids will do just fine, specifically embracing the legacy of the institution. But could they do better in an environment that fosters more? What about a kid who needs help both academically and behaviorally to not only enhance his overall academic career, but also his overall character? The ones that all-boys school made sure to include in their mission—the 5-10% who need some specialized and individualized learning.
Remember the "we know how to handle boys—all of them"? Clearly, the answer is "no," they, unfortunately, do not have the capacity to handle everyone and one shouldn't be fooled into thinking the resources are going to be present in all schools. So should you ask them directly? Or talk to the current parents? Or ones who left and ask them why? Every school has different philosophies and both the school and you should want to make sure that it is indeed the best match possible to allow for not only a successful academic career, but also creating a life-long gentleman. Our advocacy for our son, Sebastian, will continue throughout his entire life, and there are for sure going to be more ups and downs (hopefully more of the ups), but it is our duty as parents to lay the appropriate foundation for our kids' success. With that comes an awesome responsibility to do constant research, evaluations, and re-assessments of all things that come into contact with our family dynamic. Our success, and your successes, are of the utmost importance.