P.S. B.S.

May 1st, 2012

My son is four. He’ll be attending kindergarten in the fall. That’s crazy and awesome and strange. It’s true what they say that time flies. I can’t believe he’ll be 5 in August.

In New York City, the public school thing is brutal. I am sure you’ve heard it all before, so I won’t bore you with the mundane and awful details. It’s a damn joke. I can’t believe the conversations I have had about my 4-year-old’s education. I also can’t believe the number of times I’ve gotten worked up over it, sent myself into an absolute frenzy.

He’s four. These kids are 4.

Just last week I had the following conversation with a mother on the playground.

Her: “Where is your oldest going in the fall?”

Me: “P.S. ____.”

Her: “We are going to P.S. ____. It’s the cool thing to do right now.”

She may have been joking. But she’s not wrong. Let me explain.

There’s a Yahoo Group set up for families living in my area. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that 85% of the moms I see every day visit this group. I know this because I am often asked, “Did you see what so-and-so wrote on the baby board?” And I always answer with, “I”m not on the baby board.” And so they fill me in on the details of whatever took place on the baby board.

Many local families are members of this baby board where all sorts of topics are discussed. I reckon most of it is very helpful. I’m not going to sit here and slam it. I’m sure it’s very, very helpful to some. But it’s also been very detrimental in the past. (A local personal trainer’s livelihood was nearly ruined thanks to one very bitter, resentful parent. My pediatrician said a number of parents are refusing vaccines and the board feeds directly into that.) Like with most forums on the Internet, there is a great deal of bitching and complaining, and then bitching and complaining about the bitching and complaining. Sometimes people get banned. It can be helpful. It can also be an absolute shitstorm. I know what happens because people tell me about it. (I assure you; I don’t even lurk. I’d rather go to the gynecologist or read comments on YouTube.)

Of course, schools have been discussed in great detail, scrutinized to the point of exhaustion. And mention the words “CHARTER SCHOOL” and you’d better run in the opposite direction. Fast.

Last year, a bunch of parents got together on the baby board and decided to take over a local school (we’ll call it P.S. Donut) known for being, at best, a so-so school. And so the word spread: “Send your kid to P.S. Donut!” And parents did! And it was nothing short of awesome. It was inspiring seeing a movement take place right before my eyes. Many of Em’s friends got accepted. Basically, every kid that was zoned for that school went to that school. We weren’t zoned. And although we tried to get in, we weren’t accepted. (We were rejected by all 6 of our requests, but that’s a story for another day.)

P.S. Donut was indeed being revitalized.

So, fast forward to January. News began to spread that one school was shutting down entirely. We’ll call that school P.S. Union Skirt. P.S. Union Skirt was performing so badly, the board of education said, “No more!” It was a notoriously bad school. So, they shut it down. But! Get this! They’re opening another school (let’s call it P.S. Dog and Pony) with a different number in the exact same location. This way, thanks to Bloomberg, they can fire up to 50% of the staff and hire new teachers. (This was what I was told by someone working for the NYC BoE. Don’t hold me to this number.)

But here’s the catch: P.S. Dog and Pony is still in the same zone it was before, which means ALL the same students from P.S. Union Skirt have first dibs on P.S. Dog and Pony. While there may be 50% new staff, the same kids are likely to attend that school. And if it lacked a sense of community before, what makes anyone think that will change? Also, won’t the families who attended P.S. Union Skirt for years feel resentment toward the families moving in?

I’m not sure. Only time will tell.

I mean, I get it. Things change. People can do whatever they wish when it comes to their children. It’s none of my business. But what gets me is that everyone got online again and, just like we saw with P.S. Donut, rallied together and suggested everyone move their kids to P.S. Dog and Pony. And nearly every person who rallied together to get their kids into the P.S. Donut a year ago are moving their children to P.S. Dog and Pony.

What’s next? And why should I believe any of them?

A few months ago, Toby and I entered into the mix and began looking at schools for Em. I shamefully got swept up in the frenzy. Back then, people were still rallying behind P.S. Donut. So we pushed to get Em into P.S. Donut. And he was accepted! And then I find out that many of those who’d rallied to get us all interested in that school are leaving for another.

In short: Screw that.

I do not feel comfortable following a group that is so easily swayed. Their word means nothing to me now, not that it should of in the first place. I should have made my own decision from the get-go. Shame on me, really.

So we went in the exact opposite direction and decided to send Em to a school known, among this particular group, as being too strict, military like, hard on the kids. I don’t agree. But that’s fine. (A little aside: we did not feel this school is any of the above. But if I blindly defend the school we chose, right now, given the fact he hasn’t yet attended, I will look like everyone I’m upset with. So I’ll withhold my comments. We are quite pleased with our choice. This school is a lot like every school I went to—every school everyone I know went to—growing up.)

Why is our generation like this? The school frenzy has become the new Thing. But it’s always going something. If it’s not breastfeeding vs. formula, it’s organic vs. non-organic. Why? Does this come from having TOO many choices? Is that possible? Would Brooklyn parents be acting this way if they lived nearly anywhere else in America where choices aren’t as plentiful? Is this some retaliative move against our parents’ generation? Or was it always like this and I was blind to what my mother and father were going through while I was growing up?

I can’t stand inane competition. I just want to cover my ears and scream, “I CAN’T HEAR YOU! LA LA LA LA! I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” You know, speaking of kindergarten and all.

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11 Comments on “P.S. B.S.”

  1. randi33 said at 1:16 pm on May 1st, 2012:

    I can’t even comprehend how a kid isn’t “accepted” into public school. Up here (Ontario, Canada) our kids just go to school. We’re zoned by neighbourhood as well, but there is no “accepted” or “not accepted” at all. I realize there are many more kids in Brooklyn than in my little town but really, how is it even remotely possible for a kid to NOT go to school? I just don’t understand. I’m really sorry that parents have to go through that.

    I’m glad Emory is going to a school YOU and Tobyjoe are comfortable with. I’m sure he’ll thrive there even if all of the other trendy kids aren’t there with him.

  2. mihow said at 1:35 pm on May 1st, 2012:

    Well, a school has to let them in. Somewhere. Although, not for PreK. And even kindergarten isn’t mandatory in NYC. So, yeah. He’d get in somewhere. The problem is, you may not know where or the school may totally suck.

    Price we pay to live here. I guess?

  3. missy said at 1:39 pm on May 1st, 2012:

    There were/are no choices where I grew up. My education was average; at that time calculus was not available at my HS, AP offerings were nearly nonexistent, and no one put much effort into developing kids’ critical thinking, writing, or study habit skills.

    I don’t think my experience was that unique and I turned out okay in spite of it – many do. The problem with NYC and similar are not the number of choices per se, but the opportunities that parents assume will be made available to their children if they merely attend the right school. Those opportunities are offered only to precious few, when you get right down to it, like admission to an Ivy League school.

    Why that sort of end goal is the end-all, I’ll never understand. Since when is an Ivy education a necessary and sufficient condition for success in life? Or is it (just, or also) a status thing?

    That said, I envy kids who grew/grow up in the city, not because of the quality of the schools, but because of the people and cultures and arts and other things that someone like me who grew up in a rural place never got to learn from. Sure, hanging out on a farm forces one to use one’s imagination and make one’s own fun, but the lack of other things (a cultured & educated community, namely) made it hard for me to harness that imagination in any meaningful or productive way.

    It’s possible that many of us who have moved to New York may have come from similar backgrounds and we spaz out about how much better it could and should be for our children, which is funny coming from a generation nostalgic for “the way things were” when we were kids. (For example, how many conversations have you had in your life with people talking about spending summers running around the neighborhood – mom didn’t care where you were or what you were doing as long as you were home for dinner?)

    There’s set of scenes in the Diane Keaton movie Baby Boom (1987) (shut up, I love the movie), that get at this exact same thing – mommies in the park talking about pre-schools even though their children are only babies, special classes to expedite young children’s capacity to learn, etc. So this phenomenon (at least in status-obsessed NYC) dates back to the late-period Baby Boomers, to the point where it was mocked in commercial movies.

  4. michelle said at 1:52 pm on May 1st, 2012:

    Have you watched “The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman”?

    The destruction of public education in the name of privatization and profit saddens and angers me.

  5. missy said at 1:53 pm on May 1st, 2012:

    I also wonder – and this is based on no science whatsoever, just something I’m (metaphorically) pulling out of my butt – if there IS some sort of backlash toward our own experiences as kids. We were the first generation for whom it was very common to have our mothers to work outside the home. I wonder if the hands-off parenting that resulted, coupled with the proliferation of television channels and packaged foods, created some sort of need for us to over-parent?

  6. mihow said at 1:55 pm on May 1st, 2012:

    All great points, Missy. And I agree. Although, lately Em has been actively asking us to move someplace with a yard and a house “without people above and below him.” And it’s starting to break our hearts to some degree. But overall we are happy here. I think he is too. For now. We will likely buy a country home, best of both!

    I love this city, as frustrating as the school thing has been. We are in a much better place this year. We are quite pleased with where he’s going, thank goodness.

    My irritation comes from the local parents latley. Their passion was so admirable! And to be so quick to totally change their minds, so easily influenced. It’s frustrating, like the blind leading the blind, you know?

    Part of me wonders how much of it IS about being cool and hip and not about what the actual child might want.

    Rambling!

  7. mihow said at 1:58 pm on May 1st, 2012:

    I wrote while the other two comments popped up. Food for thought! I’ll post more after thinking on that more….

  8. missy said at 2:21 pm on May 1st, 2012:

    Here’s another thought: the panic that parents feel about going to the right schools (conveniently downplaying disruptions that they might impose on their child with switching schools on a whim, and the hardship they place on themselves shuttling to/from and maybe even paying for schools farther away from home), may be very directly tied from the hysterical public discourse on the quality of our schools.

    I’m not a parent or a teacher and I cannot say whether the quality has changed at all since I was a kid. My guess is that we now have more teachers with Masters degrees and more teachers involved in extracurricular or mandated training than in the 80′s. So, I’m assuming the quality of the teachers has gone up. I won’t comment on testing, as I know nothing concrete about it or its effectiveness, but I can say that with the ability to measure something (however accurately…) comes all sorts of strategies for improvement. Strategies may amount to little more than blame games, name-calling, and protection of self-interests but when you are faced with actual numbers about the thing you are measuring, especially if they suck compared to other countries, there’s little doubt that shit will hit the fan.

    I generally believe that the more involved a parent is in their child’s learning, the better off that child will be. But maybe we’ve gone overboard trying to over-schedule and over-educate our children?

    Also, Michele – I can see where Emory is coming from, don’t want to imply city living is the only way to go. There are always compromises. For a kid, being able to run around and act all looney tunes is important!

  9. Michele Chaves said at 6:58 pm on May 1st, 2012:

    I think Missy makes some really good points.

    I’m not sure I think the quality of teachers is overall better, though. 30 or 40 years ago, there weren’t as many women in the general workforce. Teaching was a career track for women that I think was more honored and teacher salaries didn’t have to hold up to those in the general workforce because women didn’t have as many options as they do now. It is my understanding that today there is a huge turnaround in teaching, with people coming and going and not making it a life-long career. Teachers aren’t paid a competitive wage, they are beaten down with pressures and administrative bullshit, helicopter parents or completely checked out parents and districts that place more value on test scores than truly educating children.

    I also completely believe that the privatization of public schools, the school choice movement, while meeting a need, has largely destroyed our public school system. (I suppose that is its goal, and in that, it has been successful.) It gives choice to affluent, educated families who know their options and know how to access services and it sticks everyone else in glorified daycare warehouses.

    I live in Phoenix. We have school choice here. Affluent whites send their kids to one district, private or a few charter schools. Everyone else is crammed into overpopulated schools that are stretched beyond the limits of imagination. My neighborhood has at least 50 kids, I don’t know one who attends the neighborhood school. And school choice doesn’t apply if you have a special needs kid.

    Why doesn’t anyone go to the neighborhood school? Well, Phoenix is over 30% latino, but you sure wouldn’t know that by looking at a handful of schools in a certain district where all the whites send their kids. School choice is, if you ask me, largely about racial and economic discrimination. Schools with large populations of latino children, special needs children…those schools aren’t going to test well, they aren’t going to be rated well…and people will moan that the schools aren’t performing. We want our kids to have everything and everyone else can fend for themselves. OUR kids are “special” and they DESERVE all the advantages because we falsely believe that will assure them success and happiness. I think this generation is going to be in for a rude awakening in about 15 -20 years when our kids never leave the nest because they can’t live in a manner they think they deserve and they have no idea how to work hard, handle challenges, and work through problems. We seem to want to shelter our kids from every possible problem, to give them more than they could ever want or need, and we somehow think this is the path. Maybe we do think we’re making up for our selfish “me” generation parents who maybe took their own needs above those of their kids. Maybe we’re just becoming a nation of absolute control freaks. I’m afraid to say, women are the worst about his.

    My comments aren’t very focused here. This is an issue I think a lot about. I think public schools suck. I don’t want my kid ever going back to one if I can avoid it, but I probably won’t be able to avoid it forever. I think America is going down and this is a core reason why. When we don’t care to educate every child and give them an equal education, when two schools merely a mile from each other can have such a huge disparity in quality and population … it just doesn’t make any sense to me. For a country of smart people, I think we’re extremely stupid in the way we’re making choices about education.

  10. mihow said at 7:07 pm on May 1st, 2012:

    Michele: I wish I could mark your comment great. But we don’t have that option here! Just know, I would “like” the fuck out of it.

    I’m putting the kids to bed right now, but will write more soon. Y’all are awesome for giving me so much to think about.

  11. Heather B. said at 3:18 pm on May 7th, 2012:

    P.S. Union Skirt probably was up for School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding. SIG is for schools that are labeled as “persistently low achieving” and to receive the federal SIG money they have to choose a school improvement model. It sounds like P.S. Union Skirt chose a school closure model as opposed to a turnaround model (fire 50% of the staff and the principal). If the school continues to fail, then yes, a turnaround model could be used by the Mayor/Chancellor. And the reason the kids who were at that school will get first dibs is because it isn’t fair for those children to be uprooted from their school/community. The hope, under these circumstances, is that new name and new blood will get the school back on track. That said, schools need the right resources to help their students and they aren’t getting that right now. They’re being told to close or fire 50% of the teachers which won’t necessarily solve the problem. But that’s just my two cents.


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