Our 4-year-old son has been going to preschool for the past year. We’ve been thinking about what we want for his education. Certainly, he’ll take more responsibility for what he wants in the future, and I suppose in some ways he’s taking the most responsibility for it now (ok, most ways), but we would like to do our best to guide him, so we think a lot about the choices that we make for him.

His current school is part of a chain of Montessori-style schools that was founded by (and named after) an educator named Sun Ruixue. Its slogan is “??????????”, or “Love and Freedom, Rules and Equality”. I love the freedom it gives kids to learn amongst themselves, and the patient way that the teachers communicate with the kids. The first time I visited, the description that came to mind was “Lord of the Flies with teachers”. I actually liked that, but what I have discovered is that kids are learning social norms and how to interact with each other through the freedom that they are given, and the teachers are there to nudge and support when appropriate.

The main downside that we have struggled with is that Joe is the only “foreign” kid in the school. He’s half-Chinese, we live in Beijing, and he is the only kid in the school who doesn’t look Chinese.There are potential positives and negative to this, but overall it hasn’t been an issue. As he grows older, though, we think we’d like for him to be in a more international environment.

So, in the context of figuring out where “home” will be in the future, we’ve also been learning about various different education options in Beijing. He can attend the pre-school for two more years, with the last year being the equivalent to kindergarten. Sun Ruixue also has an elementary school in Beijing, but it’s not in a location that appeals to us. If we only stay in Beijing for a few more years, we might consider sending him to a public school to experience that, and we’ll probably go check out some of the international schools in Beijing.

As we go through this process, I also find myself thinking about the purpose of school. Is it to provide a social environment? Is it to learn a specific set of knowledge and skills? Is it to the best track for college and future employment? Is it daycare?

I certainly don’t equate school with learning. And I am not convinced that participating the factory school system is either the best way to learn or necessary for gainful employment, although it can be an effective path. The most important thing that school represents to me is a community of friends and peers, and repeated opportunities for meaningful mentorship.

Answers are eluding me so far, but I’m enjoying the process of watching our sons grow and learn, and I’m excited to continue to think about how we can best support them.