Is my child going to a good school? How do I know? How does my neighbor know? What constitutes a good school and how do I know it when I see it?

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and all the discussion of “standards” and “testing” and “accountability” was an attempt to get at just these questions by quantifying and standardizing them. But what of reputation and trust and proper procedures? How do I know that just because someone says they have quantified a complicated metric they have done so properly?

The answer is: I don’t. And neither should you trust that “they” have.

For starters, no one knows what to quantify. No one knows what “intelligence” is, no one knows what to measure in testing for “education”. Neither is it understood what it is that has been measured, whether via intelligence tests or even via the seemingly simpler aptitude tests, either.

So what does it mean when someone says “xyz is a “good” school”? or “Janie attends a “good” school”?

What can this possibly mean for veracity when there is so much vested interest in so many directions? When parents pay for their child to attend a school, there is a gigantic component of vested interest in adjudication of that school’s value. Huge sums of money and invested time and emotional capital must all be justified psychologically. The hurdle imposed by psychological vestment raises the bar of reality.

And that bar of reality itself is unknown, possibly unknowable. The question of what constitutes intelligence and therefore education and teaching it seems to me are all transcendental. Certainly many fine minds since words were first scratched in perpetuity have been thoroughly captivated by the subject. If some feel they have cracked that code, then just as many in another journal or the next generation, believe otherwise. Thus the beat of job security marches ever onward in transcendental meditation of the meaning of education, whether legislated or not.

In the meantime, it all begs the question: is my child going to a good school? Is his school good enough? Is his school better than hers?

The last is a social question and it has been observed, irreverently, that one purpose of private education is to enable its affirmative answer by definition if nothing else. That is, one of the things that you pay for when you pay for a private school, is the justification for saying: ‘My school is better than yours’.

The first two questions are polluted no less by reputation as adjudicator. In the constant, poisonous whisperings of parents among themselves, doubt is instilled perpetually as to worth and value. It is a wearing, draining, enervating condition, and one without any obvious solution. NCLB may have been an attempt at it, but the inherent existential nature of such questions belies any claim of objectivity.

And it does not help parent’s fortitude or anyone’s effort to forge a fix, to hear a steady message from media and political quarters that “our schools and/or teachers are terrible and irremediable”. Cynicism and fatalism are ineffective tools for implementing improvement or change.

So how is a parent to determine whether they are sending a child to the “right” school? The standard response is: “you will know”. But that is filmy-eyed too. Maybe you will not. Who can peer within such complicated interactions, including the child’s spectrum of needs, the teacher’s, the school’s and its administration’s? Leaven that all with pedagogy and certainty becomes nothing short of cruel to assert. Simply declaring excellence with certainty does not make it so. Nor does faith-based belief.

Honey’d voices can swear that parents have rights and expectations but when all these elements are ambiguous in meaning – at best, this all amounts to sinister manipulation. Unless it is certain what my child needs, it is impossible to know she will get it, from any given school, teacher or otherwise. I will not, and cannot, know whether my child’s school is “good”. The meaning of “good” devolves simply from the residue of reputation.