I couldn't stand the pressure New York schools put on kids, so I moved my family to a remote town in Argentina

·3 min read
Leigh Shulman and her daughter walking in Argentina
Courtesy of Leigh Shulman
  • I left New York City because I hated that kids as young as 2 were judged and rejected from schools.

  • I didn't want my child to grow up feeling she failed before even starting school.

  • Argentina's school system offered a place for her to learn and grow with support.

The year my daughter turned 2, I began looking for preschools, along with every other mother in Brooklyn. There were limited spaces, and the competition to get in was stressful ⁠— including supervised playdates, group encounters, and psychological assessments to secure one of the coveted spots.

It broke my heart to see how kids who weren't as precocious were rejected, and I couldn't bring myself to enter Lila into the fray. So I didn't.

My family left New York instead. This wasn't the only reason we opted out, but it was one of the most salient. I didn't want my kid to feel like a failure before she'd even had a chance to start her education.

It took a couple of years to find what my family was looking for, but we eventually landed in a small town in the foothills of the Andean mountains in Argentina.

Our first day of school in Argentina

The morning we arrived at Escuela del Cerro, Mercedes, the primary-school coordinator, greeted us at the door with a kiss on the cheek. She took us on a tour and introduced us to the teachers, and an hour later we had a new school for Lila to start in the fall.

Everything about the place felt more open and relaxed. Instead of grading small children, the school evaluated via a system of "completed the work" or "didn't complete the work."

When Lila struggled to learn in Spanish, a language we didn't speak at home, her teacher gave me her phone number so we could work together to help her integrate. We were a team. I never felt judged or criticized.

The other parents welcomed us by inviting Lila to playdates, after-school activities, and birthday parties. There was no competition between Lila and the kids in her class, her compañeros. When I walked into the school, everyone knew us. It was lovely being part of a well-connected and supportive community.

My daughter is staying in Argentina for university

Lila graduated from high school during the pandemic, and she's decided to stay in Argentina for university. I braced myself for an overwhelming application process. But it turns out it was simple: fill out an application online, and pass a general-knowledge exam in her subject with a grade of 60% or higher.

She's not in competition with other students for a space, only herself.

Of course, nothing is perfect. The laid-back nature of education in Mercedes means schooling is overall less rigorous than elite schools in New York City. Here, we don't have the same variety of after-school programs, museums, or other opportunities for kids as a big city might have to offer.

Sometimes I wonder if I've done Lila a disservice by living in a place that doesn't force her to face rejection more often. After all, rejection and failure are necessary parts of life.

Then I remember the stress and fear of failure that crept into me as I read the application for preschool in New York. Lila has a whole lifetime ahead of her to make mistakes, and I'm sure she'll fail and be disappointed many times. Lila's education has given her the space to rely on herself and trust her decisions. She'll be able to lean on what she's learned as she faces the inevitable obstacles the future will bring.

Our kids have plenty of time to jump into the competition, and there are many ways to push ahead and challenge themselves. I'm happy Lila has a secure base and a community she can depend on as a jumping-off point for her to navigate the rest of her life.

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