Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Tipping Point

The Environment or Your Life?

It's the dead of winter - drippy January days darkened by much needed rain storms. The dirt in the yard has turned to soup. Inside for days, the kids take turns dive bombing off the couch or climbing bookcases. Meals consist of broccoli and citrus. It's winter all around but more importantly, it's school shopping season.

I have a future kindergartner on my hands and find myself in the midst of determining where to send him next year. First, there is the public v. private debate and then the "how far away are we willing to travel" debate. As we live in an outstanding school district and are not willing to travel that far (for reasons including but not limited to environmental impact), we've had our field narrowed down for us to two choices. Our home school and an alternative school in the district. Our home school is one block away, attended by neighborhood children, and well thought of. My son would likely do fine there, though not necessarily thrive. The alternative school would require a drive, albeit a short one, but provides an environment geared toward my son's particular learning style. There, he would likely flourish.

What is an ecologically minded parent to do? Do we go to a decent school in walking distance or a wonderful school in driving distance? Should I even weigh the environment in determining which school would be best for my child? Or do I even weigh my child's particular needs when I could easily lessen our impact? If I were truly green, I'd homeschool but, honestly, I don't think I have it in me. So that leaves me with a decision to make - a determination of what my tipping point is. What weighs more for me in this particular instance?

Tipping point decisions are those in which your personal life and your environmental interests clash. They are all around us and tend to be the big ones.

Do we accept that perfect job even though it will require a commute? If so, we can try to ameliorate our impact by taking public transportation or buying a Prius. Is that enough? Should we just have taken a job closer to home but less beneficial to our career or happiness?

Do we buy the house in former open space because it is all we can afford or what we always dreamed of and then try to offset our impact by becoming involved in the homeowner's association and teaching environmentally friendly practices for home management? Is that enough? For the environment? For our conscience? Or maybe it is more than enough? Or do we stay in our cramped city quarters with little land for planting?

Do we visit far-away family for the holidays because, heck, they are family and it is the holidays? Or do we satisfy ourselves with friends close to home and a phone call to those separated by air miles? If we do visit, do we fly, take the train, drive, buy carbon offsets?

What are we really willing to give up to save the planet? What is our personal tipping point?

For me and for this decision, I'd have to put my child first. There will be other decisions where family takes the back seat to the environment but this isn't one of them.


arduous said...

It's difficult, but in your shoes I would absolutely make the same decision. No question.

And, hey, there's always carpooling!

Jennifer said...

My advise on the schools (IF you haven't already done this... though it sounds like you have- and for anyone who is reading who is just starting this journey)... visit both, talk to the teachers, talk to the principals. Talk to parents... talk to children. FInd out as much as you can... and DON"T rely on test scores.

Test scores mean little (that's a whole other topic!)... a charter or alternative school can "pick" their students. Maybe not at first enrollment, but they can sure remove unwanted/underperforming/disruptive students to the general school district if they want (unlike standard public schools, who can only do that for the most extreme disruptions). PLUS... the parents most likely to take the extra effort to send their children to an alternative school are generally MUCH more invested in their children's education, more likely to read to them at home, to invest time out of school in learning experiences, etc. Basically what I'm saying is of course alternative schools have better test scores... and it means nothing. (And don't get me started on test scroes meaning anything anyway...)

What DOES matter is, as you said, personal learning styles and matches between students and children. And, often an alternative school will have a less mainstream approach to learning... GREAT for some children. Find a teacher you like and respect, who will help your child grow. Find a program with lots of emphasis on the arts, with ample time to explore and create, to be a musical being, to learn about the world around them by DOING... not just learning what is on the standardized test that decides funding for next year.

Good luck on that... your child definitely comes first on this. And... maybe even the earth AND your child will come first with the right match. If your child is taught from multiple fronts (including home) to be respectful, inquisitive, creative, always searching for answers, etc, they will be that much more ready to help us revamp our lives!


On the other subjects... I've been thinking a lot about house fixing, and paint in specific. Is it better to buy a half used gallon of VOC full paint and use it up... keep it out of the landfill, etc. Or, do you go and buy that brand new can of VOC free paint... adding one more can to the landfill, plus the used paint you didn't use up, and the extras from your own paint can. Right now, I've been tending towards buying used. But, there are the effects of VOC's on health... I'm just not sure!


~mel said...

Being a mom of two little ones also, I can understand where you're coming from. And, I would definately make the same decision you did.

CindyW said...

Which-school-to-go-to was a debate we had last year and again just two weeks ago. While I fundamentally believe that with caring parents, children will thrive in most schools, I nonetheless become extremely (and unnecessarily) obsessive when it comes to comparing schools. Argh! Last year we sent my older one to a kinder 10-minute drive away vs. a school 2 blocks of walking distance - for the sake of bilingual education. We struggled and debated again in last two weeks for her 1st grade. Again we conceded that the bilingual education would have a life-long reward for her. Plus my younger one goes to the pre-school in the same place, so that threw the weight further in that direction. Anyhow, what I have realized is that in most cases, there are few clear cut, black and white decisions. We just have to struggle through them and live with our decisions and conscience. I bike to farmer's market, but drive my children to school. I turn off our lights constantly, but use my computer all day long. I work from home, yet travel a long distance once a year "to see the world". Sigh. I guess that leaves more room for improvement. Luckily their school can be reached mostly via a bike path. So when it stops raining, we will bike home.

Green Bean said...

Thanks Arduous and Mel. Now, assuming we get in that is a whole other post!, I'll have to look for someway to alleviate my eco-guilt. ;-)

Jennifer: Thanks for the advice. Are you a teacher? As to the paint, that is a tough call. You are doing a great thing by considering it buying used paint. We haven't painted since I became more eco-aware but that hadn't even dawned on me! Let us know what you decide.

Cindy: Your life sounds like mine. Some things good for the planet, some not but I guess we are all slowly improving and also, at least, aware.

Jennifer said...

Green Bean~ My husband and I are in fact both teachers, him in public, me in the private sector. Both in music... which of course influences our view of the education system!

Right now I am painting the bathroom with "ooops" paint... sort of halfway between new and used. Needs used up anyway, I guess... we will see what I decide on the other rooms in our very old 1911 house that desperately needs painting (if only to contain the lead paint from the last century).

Green Bean said...

Jennifer: Nice to get a teacher's opinion. I have a budding musician on my hands so extra love to music teachers. :) Hey "oops" paint counts as reusing. Happy painting.


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