Choosing the Right High School: A Teacher’s Suggestions

(Excerpted from an article by Robert Freeman, public school teacher and former Living Wisdom School parent. Robert taught history and economics in the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District.)

Choosing the right high school for your son or daughter is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make for your child’s future. However, selecting the best private school for your child can be somewhat overwhelming.

As a public school teacher with two children in private school, I’ve come up with a simple standard for identifying the best school for your child. I call it “The Embodiment Test.”

The Embodiment Test says that you should choose the school that best embodies the character traits you’d like your children to develop.

Its effectiveness rests on three assumptions.

  • First, character is more important than knowledge in determining the success your child will ultimately achieve.
  • Second, character cannot be developed by teaching alone – modeling by parents and teachers is essential.
  • Third, once character is set, it is difficult to change.

Let’s look at these criteria and see how they play out in choosing a school.

Most parents will accept the notion that character is more important than knowledge. For example, character is what parents are inculcating when they remind the child, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

While much valuable information at school can be acquired through memorization, developing character isn’t nearly so easily attained. This is why nobility of character is much more rare, and why it is greatly prized.

A child with strong character embraces qualities of honesty, self-discipline, compassion, perseverance, and self-respect. With these qualities of character, the child will be able to find the knowledge he or she desires or needs.

The second foundation is equally important: character cannot be developed by teaching alone–modeling is also needed. Meaning, it isn’t only what I say that speaks to the child, but what I do, and even more important, what I am.

Teaching is a lot like parenting. If I am a sincerely engaged teacher, interested in the welfare of each student, passionate about my subject, and embodying integrity and dignity in my actions, the children will see it, recognize it, and be magnetically drawn to it. And they will do all they can to emulate it. In my classroom, it won’t be so much what I teach them that they will learn and remember, but what I am.

How can these assumptions help you identify the best school for your child?

First, decide on what kind of character traits you want your children to develop.

Next, explore how various schools embody these traits – how these noble traits manifest in the attitudes and behavior of the teachers, administrators, students, and parents. What schools embody the values and aspirations for their students that you prize?

For example, do the teachers honor the individuality of each child? Are they passionate about teaching? Do they hold teaching as a privilege and a noble calling? Is their passion reinforced by the school’s philosophy, administrators, and community?

Information? Knowledge? The intellect? These are, of course, essential in today’s world. No parent or teacher would overlook them. But they are the easiest things to teach and measure. It is only the “whole” child who will be happy, successful, and fulfilled.

These are the foundations of true happiness, of true attainment, and of true meaning for a life well lived.

They are the components of an education that will help your child not only achieve good grades and test scores, but will stand the test of time. An education that embodies high values will prepare your child to thrive in the rapidly changing world we live in today.

This article is a chapter from Head & Heart: How a Balanced Education Nurtures Happy Children Who Excel in School and Life, an inspiring new book for parents and educators about the Education for Life approach of the Living Wisdom Schools. You may purchase a copy, download a free copy (PDF), or read online.