By Tiffany Duncan
This is an account of one family’s experience at a celebrated private school in our city. I write it partly to put an unpleasant experience behind us and partly as a way to complete a story I have been telling other parents and educators in snatches. I believe the community at large will benefit from directing a critical eye toward claims of excellence that justify the funds and labor that private schools require of parents. I have changed the name of the school because this is not an attempt at vindication.
Most importantly, I feel compelled to write this in acknowledgement of the mindlessly cruel and potentially damaging treatment my son received for over a year.
How we ended up at Hillside School
My husband’s older kids went to Hillside School in the 80s and 90s. These are terrific young people through whom I have met many other wonderful graduates from the school. They are all well educated, with many interests, open and enquiring minds, and a healthy dose of skepticism. Clearly some credit is due to the school.
Furthermore, my husband was on the board of directors of the school for ten years, four as president. He had volunteered a great deal at the school and enjoyed being part of the community. So when we were given sibling status we were optimistic that new good experiences and memories will be added to old. Our almost four-year old son (his birthday is in October) was admitted to the combination preschool/kindergarten classroom with a group of entering three-year olds in September 2003. Classroom Q was composed of three groups of, roughly, three, four, and five year olds.
On an instinctive level, however, I did not take to the school. My immediate reservation was the so-called Montessori approach of the preschool and kindergarten. I have enough experience to know that the strict application of any theoretical model in an actual learning environment is impractical, if not downright silly. I am also aware that the good name of Maria Montessori needs to be rescued from the contradictory applications and much shoddy work to which her name is attached. I assumed that Montessori accreditation required learning about the context and constraints of Maria Montessori’s work, society, and times. At any rate, I just assumed people in early childhood education had some training in these things.
But I put my own instincts on hold and trusted what was before me: actual evidence that great kids came out of that school. I believed—as I still do—in the futility of expecting a perfect any kind of environment for my son. I was not looking to fall in love.