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.