Category Archives: Morality

Public or Private? The High School Question

I attended public elementary, junior high/middle, and high schools.  So have my children.

I attended a large, public university for most of my college education.

I have worked for a public school system as a teacher and administrator for almost 25 years.

I have even served as an elected teacher’s union representative to local, state, and national assemblies.

…And my wife and I are sending our middle-school daughter to a private high school next fall.

This rising freshman is our family’s second high school student.  Her sister, now heading into her junior year, attends the local public high school and is getting a quality education.  To be honest, we briefly weighed the private school option 2+ years ago, but Big Sister was admitted to a rigorous program that seemed like a perfect match and through many successes and a normal bump in the road here and there she has never looked back.

But Younger Sister is her own girl, and she sees that her needs are also her own.  (We all also had concerns about the general behavior of the other students in her grade, dating back to kindergarten–Hers was the class that teachers had always fretted about and that schools had conveniently decided not to take on traditional field trips–but that is another topic altogether.)  So when we weighed options this time, private school was a much bigger consideration.  At first, our 8th grader had zero interest in such a big change.  But as she started to read brochures, visit websites, and reflect upon what she wanted in a high school and beyond, she decided private school just might be her path.

The big decision happened when she went on a shadow day at a particular school a few months back, attending classes with a current freshman.  At the end of the day, she had an admissions interview, followed by our parent/student interview.  On the way home–being a crafty parent–I had planned to ask a host of questions before cutting to the chase, but I never got the chance; her opening sentence of the conversation was “I want to go to THIS school.”  Soon she was accepted, and now, with middle school behind her, she is registered there, working on summer reading, etc.–and once again it appears that there will be no looking back.

Uniforms?  Single-sex?  A daily, non-school-bus commute?  Friends attending the local public high school?  Wouldn’t these things bias a 13 year old AGAINST the private school option?  Surprisingly, each of those issues turned out to be–in its own way–a positive.  Other positives were clear from the start:  smaller classes, a clear sense of school community, higher expectations for behavior, and even the opportunity to swim for the school (since our county’s schools offer swiming as a club instead of varsity sport).  But in the end, that single shadow day offered my daugher what she needs most to thrive:

She felt safe.  The students she met were friendly and happy to be there.  And she could picture herself succeeding there.

Public or Private?  Instead, our debate was about finding the best match for our member of the class of 2016, just as we think we did for our 2014 grad and as we will try to do in a few years for Mr. 2021.




Filed under Morality, School

Thumbs Up Or Down? Sifting Film Ratings


I can be as (over)protective as just about anyone, but when it comes to deciding which movies my kids can watch, I worry far less about a rating itself than the REASONS for that rating.  PG-13 can mean many things, and the rating has been given to films that I would gladly allow my 9 year old to watch and to other films that I would not want my 13 year old to see.  Likewise, there are a few R films that I have allowed my 16 year old to watch, while there are many others that will have to wait.

Rude language and sex are the touchy issues that give a movie ‘thumbs down’ quickly in my house…at least until the kids are in bed.  If cursing or nudity are the main reasons for a PG-13 rating, that movie is off the list for my elementary and middle school kids.  For example, Austin Powers?  Not for the kids, Baby.  The same goes for Rated R:  As a former-English-teacher-dad of a book-loving high school student, I would like to share Shakespeare In Love with my daughter…but for all its strengths, the movie crosses a few too many lines along the way–for now.

In fact, from my point of view, the entertainment industry lets down families when they salt movies and programs with coarse material that adds little but makes responsible parents think twice about their kids watching.  For example, the Transformers films feature the Witwicky parents making repeated sexual remarks that do nothing to help the Autobots take down the Decepticons.  On the TV front, my son heard the Rock was going to return to wrestling a few weeks ago; he knew the Rock from several family films.  But along the way we discovered that wrestling on TV now includes obscene   between-match dialogue that would have drawn a lecture from the Hulkster in the ’80s when he encouraged the Hulkamaniacs to be good and take their vitamins.  So we will have to pass.

But what about violence?  There has been a lot of talk in the media about film violence desensitizing kids, maybe even leading them to be more violent themselves.  But for me, there is a vast difference between realistic violence and what I consider ‘cartoon’ violence.  To be clear:  I don’t want my kids on brain detail with Jules in Pulp Fiction.  And the first rule of Fight Club?  Don’t let my kids watch Fight Club. 

On the other hand, by ‘cartoon’ violence, I don’t necessarily mean ‘animated’….although Wile E. Coyote and an A.C.M.E. catapult would also fit. I’m talking about violence that moves the story along but that even my elementary age son can understand as pretend fun.  Blowing up an enemy starship?  Fine.  Release the Kracken!?  Bring it.  Pirates that turn into skeletons at night?  En garde.

So this spring we will be heading out to see the new Avengers film, with confidence that it’s a healthy, good time–the modern equivalent to Ultraman and Star Wars from my own childhood.


Note:  Dad Knows Better has enjoyed all of the films/shows/etc. mentioned above, but the point here is about when they would be age-appropriate, and Dad happens to be an adult.  Also, Dad has not received any compensation related to mentioning any of the titles in this (or any other) post…unfortunately.

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Filed under Dad Takes A Break, Morality, Movies & Entertainment