For the sake of full disclosure; I am separated from my son’s mother and my choice of school for our child was an excellent public school system on the peninsula. Being a father in the family court system that was not the outcome.
Children’s Day School is not an awful school by any means. From my observations there are many positive aspects; the staff is lovely and genuinely caring. My son likes his teachers, as do I. The atmosphere is relaxed. Parental involvement is absurdly high, for better or for worse. My fundamental criticisms of CDS center around two ideas: lack of emphasis on rigorous academic standards and an overemphasis on political “education” of children.
My son (now starting 2nd grade) arrived at CDS from an excellent Montessori program (Big City) enthusiastic about math and a very competent and excited early reader. When asked about what he wanted out of kindergarten he wrote, essentially “ I want to learn more math.” To date he has not learned more math. By Christmas his reading had atrophied to the point where he lost everything gained in preschool and his math competency suffered similarly. When I compare the work I saved from preschool to the work brought home from CDS it’s genuinely startling. Generally I would say that by the middle of 1st grade he had caught up to his previous reading levels but reading has become qualitatively different for him. He’s far less enthusiastic about it and I fear he’s lost his head start. To this day he still complains about not being challenged by the math presented to him.
One particular aspect of my son’s CDS experience I find troubling is the deliberate de-emphasis of conscientiousness and meticulousness in handwriting,spelling, and coloring. The Montessori program he attended did a wonderful job of emphasizing conscientiousness in these areas. It was loving and gentle but it was expected, and the children rose to that expectation. The bromide that coloring outside the lines is somehow a precursor or key to creativity is just flat out wrong. Creativity requires discipline. Children will rise to the expectations we have. My great fear here is that this de-emphasis of is instilling a sense of laziness in my son. He is smart enough to get by without making his best effort and I fear that the CDS environment is continually reinforcing that behavior.
CDS utilizes a Project Based Learning (PBL) approach. While I am not fully informed about PBL I have spoken to a couple of parents who’s kids have gone through a PBL program. Their reviews were mixed. One mother had an interesting observation, her daughter attended a PBL school (not CDS) during her middle school years and when she returned to a traditional high school she lacked a foundation of basic facts and skills that the other kids had. One of the more legitimate sounding criticisms of PBL is it is inappropriateness for mathematics instruction. Whether this is tied to my son’s situation I cannot say for sure, but it seems plausible. I recommend before applying to CDS fully educate yourself about the pros and potential shortcomings of PBL.
In regard to politics, I think it’s relevant to mention that my politics are centrist and I find myself generally disgusted by both the left and the right these days. One activity both extremes engage in, that I am particularly disturbed by, is the political manipulation of children. On the right there’s creationism etc… and on the left there’s the fetishistic control of language. I find it amusing that on the CDS calendar the second Monday in October is “Government Holiday” not Columbus Day. Now the calendar
Here are two brief anecdotes to illustrate my concerns regarding CDS. At one point my son’s class was taught a little ditty about environmentalism which included the lyrics “ protest, petition, let big business know…” I’m not particularly concerned that my son learn the skills of protesting and petitioning at age five. I’m not particularly concerned that he ever learn those skills. I would prefer something along the lines of “innovate, invent, do the hard work to make the future better, maybe start a company of your own ” but it lacks rhythm and I don’t think that fits the world view of CDS.
Also in kindergarten my son was subjected to a social experiment which I (and my son) found deeply disturbing. It’s complicated, and I may not get the details right, but in honor of MLK day the children were to learn a lesson in injustice, an experiment was carried out on the kids in which those with lace up shoes or wearing jeans were going lose a privilege. It sounds pretty benevolent, but these were 5 year olds, and my son came to believe that because he was wearing lace up shoes he was going to have to be “mean” to the other kids. He was having difficulty with his peers at this time and he simply lost it prior to school and became very very upset. From my point of view no matter how you dress it up this was simply an attempt to make sure white liberal guilt is instilled in another generation. But this is not the place for a discussion on race relations in America, and neither is kindergarten.
I find it telling that this politically correct indoctrination is done within the context of a pricey private school whose “diversity” is hand picked with very few African American kids. Every one of the parents at CDS had the option of sending their child to a SFUSD school where every conceivable metric of diversity is rigorously enforced. Yet opted for a more exclusive environment.
The school has a contingent of true believer parents who undoubtedly disagree with me (my son’s mother among them) but this is my experience. I encourage them to leave comments below, my prerogatives are not fixed in stone and I welcome criticism, but generally speaking, I find that the emphasis on politics, and the bias that go along with any tightly held political belief, has shortchanged the quality of the education being delivered at CDS. By in large, these are advantaged kids and will probably succeed regardless but in the case of my son I’m concerned about what he’s losing, and what he’s already lost.