Tuesday, March 22, 2011

She’s Really Good At Blocks

YG and I recently started talking to people in our neighborhood about preschools. And by “talking to,” I mean absentmindedly replying to the question, “You haven’t started thinking about preschools YET?” Apparently, there is a lot to learn about preschools. Stuff that I didn’t really bother to pay attention to since Zygote is 1.9 and won’t be entering preschool until 2.9. I thought we had time.

And I was wrong. We are already in the 80s on one wait list, and still need to research other places to see what works with our schedules and budget. So I found myself reading Katie Roiphe’s article in The Financial Times, School for Parental Delusion,and laughing out loud because almost ALL of it struck a chord, from the talk of diversity(“This is a puzzling word, “diverse”, thrown around all the school promotions, into pamphlets and brochures and websites, because if you were truly committed to sending your children somewhere “diverse”, would you not be selecting a different school, one that doesn’t require almost all of its students to pay tuition that could support several villages in Africa?” to the ridiculousness of having an 18-month-old do an interview.

Look, I love my kid and think she is brilliant and hilarious, but I find myself at a loss when I fill out the daycare forms asking me to describe (specifically) her strengths and weaknesses. Strengths? Funny, charming, likes people, not too messy. Weaknesses? Poor bowel control, gets irritated when she doesn’t get her way, needs assistance with basic tasks like putting on shoes and socks. Isn’t that pretty much EVERY two year old? How do they even evaluate this stuff?

I also find that my bullshit meter is on high when I read through descriptions of the various schools and programs. Everything is an “exploration,” or encourages “expressive art” and is “vibrant and holistic.” I use those same words in pretty much every press release I write, so I know they are marketing schlock. And let us not forget CREATIVE.

Roiphe describes,
“The most sought-after school in my neighbourhood, a famously open-minded and progressive and arty yet very exclusive private school, is conferring a kind of creativity on the parents, so that even if they are bankers or hedge-fund guys, as many of them frankly are, they can tell themselves in the dark of night that they are creative people, because their children attend this impeccably creative school. And if they are creative people – that is, people who have somehow made enough money to send their children to this school, but work in film or music or advertising – they can congratulate themselves on their creativity, even if they are not, although in a creative profession, exactly creating anything themselves. The secret suspicion that you might be a hack, a glorified hack, making a rather nice living doing something fun (but not truly living out your fantasy of creating art the way you honestly thought you would be in college), well, the cheque you make out to that fancy, creative, open place you are sending your child to is proving otherwise. They are putting on operas when they are three years old, after all. They are illustrating Wallace Stevens poems by the time they are six. How could anyone accuse you of just being a banker, or a music executive, or an internet guy with good glasses? I have a friend whose five-year-old attends this school. She and her husband were pleased that when their daughter had an assignment to write down what she wanted to be when she grew up she wrote “artist”. But when they arrived at the class presentation the next day they saw that all 22 children had put down “artist”: there were no “veterinarians”, no “circus acrobats”, no “doctors”, no “hair cutters”. Twenty two artists, and one kindergarten class: the school, you see, does not play around.”

I relayed that story to YG, and he said, “God, I really hope I have the kid in that school that says ‘I want to be a cop so I can kick some ass and carry a gun.’” I am not with him on the desire for a gun-toting tot, but I do hope I have the kid that can look at all this uber bougie nonsense, and say, “Seriously? Are you fucking kidding me with this?”

Luckily, I will be there to rescue her when she gets reprimanded for swearing because at all “good” pre-schools, I will be required to have a job to give me extra “insight” into my kid’s universe. I will have work days and classroom time, sometimes adding up to at least three hours a WEEK. Each of these schools have an accompanying FAQ about parent time that has one question like, “What if I already have a job and can’t make my designated times?” with a guilt-ridden answer about how if you really loved your children, you would give them all the time in the world. And a rainbow. And a pony.

It’s scary, and seems hyper competitive. My parents were always involved in my schoolwork – my dad was a teacher and had a long tenure on the Board of Ed and my mother was the homework checker, diorama builder, and project manager. Both believed STRONGLY that education was the most important thing in my life. For Zygote, I imagined that we would settle on a decent school using our standard “know it when we see it” rule and that my involvement would be somewhat like my parents – helping her to do the best she can. That feels very naïve. Apparently, I need to develop a “philosophy” about education and I need to get my happy, silly girl the How to Win Friends and Influence People: Toddler Edition, along with quitting my day job so that I can learn how crafts help broaden her worldview.

I am so not ready for this.

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