During one of my eight-hour trips to and from Chicago for cello lessons it occurred to me that I am part of a larger trend where parents are giving up their family time in exchange for commute time.
There’s a great article in The Washingtonian about couples who buy a home figuring they will get a variance to get into a school district they like. But the school lottery banishes their kid to the bad school. What will the parents do? Move? No. They’ll find some school farther away and schlep the kid there.
We know that hour-long commutes for adults harms their social life, disrupts their sleep, and leads to depression. Why do we think it would be any different for kids?
Parents are lured into these insane commutes by another insane system: school rankings.
You know what the best high schools in the US have in common? They are magnet schools — schools that draw from multiple districts across a wide range of geographies. Which means that the highest ranked schools have kids traveling up to two hours a day. For example, some kids going to Stuyvesant in NYC do all their homework on the subway because they are on it for four hours a day.
Of course, there are schools that rank high that are neighborhood schools. But the system encourages families to either put all their efforts into buying an expensive home (median home value where I grew up: $500K) or put all their efforts into the commute. In either case, the cost is time that the family no longer spends together.
Good high schools— if you do believe they are ever good—force you to pay a price that only an insecure parent would pay. Believe in yourself and believe in your kid. Live in an area that is easily affordable to you. Pay heed to the research that says long commutes ruin peoples’ lives.
I think I am testament to that. I think one of the reasons I can’t get a handle on my own life is because of the commute I’m doing with my son to his cello lessons, because honestly, my sixteen hours of commuting each week is not that different from kids at magnet schools.