Sunday, February 28, 2010

I am Thankful for Girl’s Preparatory School

“Ask me when they are thirty five, I should know by then.” That was my standard response to a frequent question, “Do you feel good about sending your girl’s to GPS?”

I usually continued with a comment about the high quality of their educational experience. I appreciated the classic liberal arts curriculum and the teachers who were clearly committed to their profession. Most had advanced degrees, even a few with doctorates in the fields they taught. The pupil to teacher ratio was quite low. They had the best technology and learning resources available. [I often wonder what our public schools would look like with the level of resourcing some private schools receive. Certainly there are thousands upon thousands of public school teachers who have the same passion, compassion, skills, and talents.]

It is impossible to visit the campus during school hours and not be impressed with the differences between this school and the public schools. The girls are all wearing the same uniform that looks not so much out of style as like something that never was in style. The dresses are the same basic design as the ones the girls wore when the school opened in 1906, only considerable shorter. They come in a variety of shades and colors, some quite hideous. The sleeves are slightly puffed. Petite buttons and pleats line the front. A thin belt hangs loosely around each girl’s waist. A black ribbons is tied into a bow adorning the neckline. At first sight one is shocked to see young women of today dressed in such an aesthetically challenged costume. A short time later, one is struck by how comfortable the girls seem in the uniforms. They are relaxed and happy, at least when compared to other institutional ghettoes for youth.

The environment of GPS is fraught with contradictions. At the heart of the community is the honor code. Girls must affirm on every assignment they have kept the code, “On my honor…. " The dress code insists on strict conformity to the uniform: bows, belt, shoes, etc. On the other hand, personal decorum is so loose as to be embarrassing. Girls plop down just about anywhere on the floor or grass, legs crossed indecently at times. Then it becomes clear they are just that, girls who are enjoying their childhood a couple of years longer than society likes to allow. They are not caught up in the pressures to artificially beautify themselves; they are not competing with each other for some boy’s attention.

Enter a classroom and you will first be impacted by the lack of order. Some girls are at desks or tables, others might be sitting on the floor. GPS was the first school I observed that integrated learning styles into pedagogy. Linger a few moments and you will be struck by how engaged with the lesson the girls are. Seeing them studying and learning, being friends, believing in themselves, is a beautiful thing to observe and a convincing argument for same sex education.

On the other hand, I had two problems with GPS. The first was my prejudices against the wealthy. I have never been comfortable with wealth. I grew up in a solidly working class family. My parents had grown up on small farms. I wanted my children to grow up in touch with their heritage and comfortable with the poor and middle class. I was concerned they would become elitists. What impact does it have on a girl to associate primarily with wealthy girls?

My other problem with GPS was the time factor. During the winter they left home when it was dark and got home when it was dark. The homework load was phenomenal. They studied constantly. There was little time for family activities. In short my vision of family life was challenged by the devotion they had to give to academics.

OK, there was a third issue. Sending a child to GPS is like paying for college, only it lasted for six years. [Five in Alethea’s case.]

What is evident is that both of my beautiful daughters are beautiful people. They are comfortable with all classes and groups of people, probably more than I. They are kind and compassionate. They are both committed to help the hurting across economic lines. I suspect GPS contributed to those traits, if in no other way, it afforded them a few extra years to relate to people as people rather than objectifying them as sexual objects. It also required community service projects of all the girls long before it became a national fad.  And after all, aren’t all people pretty much the same whether rich, poor or middle class? We all struggle with relational challenges, prejudices, and the same array of sins. We also all bring gifts and capacities to our relationships.

My concern for money and family issues were really one in the same. I don’t worry about the future. Money is only an issue with me if I can’t pay my bills on time – I got that from my father. I have more wealth than I ever imagined I would have, i.e., I haven’t bounced a check in years. Yet I live from paycheck to paycheck just like almost everybody else. GPS did govern our budget and eliminate what most would consider discretionary funds thus restricting vacations and recreation, but we managed.

In terms of what it provided my daughters, GPS was a great investment. I don’t regret one cent. It was a wonderful gift that keeps on giving. They wanted to go; they applied themselves and made the best of it. If we had it to do all over again and I knew what I know now and they were to ask, I wouldn’t hesitate to send them.

Yet, I retain a small nagging question about the overall impact of GPS on them, but that question is not really about GPS. It is about me. How could I have been a better father? How could I have made the most of the opportunity God gave us? How could I have had more faith and less worry?

Was it worth it to send them there? Was it worth the time, money, and challenges? Ask me when they are thirty five? It won’t be long. How could I have been a better father? Ask me when they are fifty five? We should know by then. I think they already do, but as they age their opinions vacillate. Isn’t that the case for most of us?

Cleveland, Tennessee
February 28, 2010


Anonymous said...

Yes, you do have beautiful, wonderful daughters.You, like our parents, sacrificed so they can have a better life. I know they appreciate greatly what you and Cheryl did.

Phil Hoover, Chicago said...

You and Cheryl are the very best parents any child could have. That is THE gift your girls received.