Guest Blogger Jenny: Private Schools Are Bastions of Power and Privilege says NYT

From New York Times internal memo 2010: 

Yes, we’re finally doing it: Creating a full-time beat covering New York’s private schools. It is, perhaps, the one topic other than real estate that lights up cocktail party conversation.
Dalton. Brearley. Fieldston. Spence. Collegiate, Horace Mann and Riverdale. And, yes, Regis and Ramaz and St. Ann’s and The Little Red Schoolhouse, too. They are bastions of aspiration and privilege both, places that inspire fierce competition and intense curiosity, worlds known to few outside their citizens yet critical to the shaping of the wider one. OK, maybe that’s a bit much, but we know this: The stories are yakkers that race up the most e-mailed list and get noticed; we’re talking about the kids of the people who run the world here.

 

When I first read this little tidbit, I thought it was, perhaps, something from The Onion.  It possesses both the clueless tone of the sheltered class and the cynicism of journalism as one hard, competitive business. I figured, “hey, this must be a joke, right?”

 

Nope. It’s serious. The New York Times, the newspaper of record, decided in 2010 it would be worth its while to devote a full time reporter to cover the vital importance of private schools in the city. Because, after all, the movers and shakers of the world send their kids to these schools, thus these schools shape the next generation of world leaders. This is so full of arrogance, so elitist, so presumptuous, and so badly spoken. Only New Yorkers, assuming their city is the center of the universe, could have written such hubris.

 

Let’s put aside for just a moment the fact that most people, even in Manhattan, don’t kibbitz their evenings away at cocktail events discussing real estate and private schools.  Most people are home feeding their children (who may or may not attend private schools), or, if they’re enjoying some after work intoxication, are doing so in a bar somewhere downtown.  I would like to focus on the other assumption here: that the children of the “people who run the world” are actually more likely to shape the wider world later in life.

 

I agree that, in terms of inherited wealth and a head start on success, kids in private schools have a definite leg up. This country has a class system that’s pretty obvious, and being at the top of the heap through the accident of being born into wealth is a great advantage. The Romneys, Kennedys, and Bushes stand out as prime examples of this. However, merely having wealth through family and being surrounded by wealthy people (like, say, at an elite private school), does not ensure the creation of world shapers. Kids need guidance from family. They need ethics, work habits, attention, encouragement, motivation, and more to become successful. Merely having fantastically successful parents who talk about private schools at cocktail parties just isn’t enough. Trust me: I went to an elite private school in Los Angeles, and usually the kids of the most successful (and famous) parents were the most screwed up and lost.

 

On July 7 2012, USA Today (NOT the newspaper of record, but still) ran an article entitled, “More Money, More Problems? Why rich kids hate mom, dad.” The gist was that money is an amplifier for family tension and stress. 70 percent of family businesses failed to be passed down successfully to next generations. The reasons? Rich parents didn’t say “no” enough, creating unrealistic feelings of entitlement in their kids, causing confusion and damage later. Rich parents are often rich because they’re at work and busy, and therefore don’t spend as much time with their kids, again leading to resentment. The third reason (and this reason I seriously question, given the surge of potential plutocracy in this country) is that society encourages wealthy parents to tell their kids to hide their wealth, creating confusion and tension once again. Doesn’t sound like a huge recipe for guaranteed success, although I guess it’s completely possible to hate your rich, world shaking parents and still become outrageously successful yourself.

 

On a more personal note, as a parent of a private school educated child, I’m puzzled by the idea that there’s this cabal of wealthy powerful people at private schools. I’m sure that they are there, of course, but my experience as a private school parent has never revolved around money or privilege.  The get togethers at Mirman School with other parents is usually interesting, but money and power is never discussed. Many of these parents are academics, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and yes, a few very financially successful businesspeople. Who never talk about it. At all.

 

You know why they don’t talk about it? Because the private school isn’t about them, it’s about the kids. What is the most absurd thing about that NYT memo is that the beat sounds more like a rich and famous gossip beat than a true education beat. It’s all about the fascination with, and catering to, the rich people, not about different ways and means of educating our children. If I didn’t know better, I’d say it was an internal memo from The National Inquirer, not the venerable New York Times. No wonder I thought it was Onion worthy.

 

Rather than yakking online and otherwise about the ultra rich world beaters who send, and have always sent, their progeny to private schools, perhaps the emphasis should be on the middle class parents who have sent their kids to private school because they feel a quality public school education is no longer a possibility.  Maybe parents like myself, who tried public school for years before determining it wasn’t working for my child. Parents who sacrifice financially to send their kids to private school because there really isn’t a viable alternative; parents who qualify for financial aid and it’s still a hardship. Discussing private school as an alternative many parents seek because the public system has been hijacked by politics at the expense of our children: now that would be a private school angle worth exploring.

 

Jenny Heitz Schulte has worked as a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Carmel, freelanced in the South Bay, and then switched to advertising copywriting. She is a graduate of Crossroads and U.C. Santa Cruz. She earned her M.S. in journalism from San Jose State. Her daughter started 4th grade at Mirman School in 2010. She previously attended 3rd St. Elementary School. Jenny has been published in the Daily News and on Mamapedia, The Well Mom, Hybrid Mom and A Child Grows In Brooklyn. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad.


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Guest Blogger Jenny: A Public Elementary School Shunning In Calabasas

A Group Of Parents Petitioned The School Board To Have A 5 Year-Old Removed From Class
At Bay Laurel Elementary In Calabasas
Editor’s Note: Beyond The Brochure is a blog about private elementary schools. But, when we learned about this issue, we felt compelled to write about it. 
If you’re a parent of a school aged kid, you’ve doubtless had to deal with problem kids. Sometimes they’re your kid’s friend, sometimes just a classmate, and sometimes simply the subject of amusing dinner conversation.
But what happens when a small group of parents at a public school decide they don’t “like” a particular kid, start a petition for the kid’s removal from the classroom, and then take the matter to the press? That’s precisely what’s happened at Bay Laurel Elementary School in Calabasas.
The child in question is barely five years old, and is in a transitional pre-K program to help evaluate whether younger kids should be kept an extra year in kindergarten or moved forward at year’s end to first grade. The child has been accused of numerous types of “violence,” ranging from throwing chairs, kicking teachers, and screaming fits, all of which is hearsay and all of which is reported quite freely as fact in The Acorn, a Calabasas area newspaper.
The result of this is a modern day version of villagers storming the castle and demanding the “monster’s” head. Mind you, there have been no injuries, the child in question is being evaluated for behavioral disorders, and the school district is trying to refute the allegations, especially since it’s installed two aides to help the child adjust. Indeed, the district has no choice but to try and accommodate the child, since the obligation of the public school system is educate everyone, not just those without problems.
So how could this have been handled differently?  First off, it could have been handled internally. These sorts of issues are best handled by the individual school’s administration, not by petitioning the School District at a public meeting and then giving the information to the press (the organizing parent for the petition was particularly quotable in the article; this is not a compliment). Usually, problems with a single child can be reasonably handled by having the teacher, parent of the child, principal, and school psychologist meet and discuss strategies.
I had a similar situation happen in my daughter’s second grade year at Third St. Elementary. There was one child in the class who was so disruptive, even the 17 year pro of a teacher couldn’t handle him. After countless incidents, including this child whacking mine in the middle of class for coughing, the child was switched to a different classroom. In this case, it was, of course, a stop-gap measure: the mother refused the free assessments the school was offering, instead citing racism (the child was African American) as the reason for the complaints. Under the circumstances, the situation was handled fairly gracefully; the one who truly missed out was the “problem” child, since his parent refused to have him evaluated for behavioral issues.
While I understand the instinct to try and “protect” your child from violence or disruption, perhaps demonizing another person’s child in a public forum is taking instinct too far. Many parents seem obsessed with the idea of equality and “fairness,” but the public system is a far more complex balancing act. If these parents in Calabasas are so anxious to protect their progeny and handpick classmates, perhaps a private, rather than public, school might be a better fit. In the meantime, The Las Virgenes District School Board now not only must deal with angry, scared parents, but a potentially costly public relations problem. And in these times of tiny budgets and dwindling resources, that seems like a real waste of time and money. In the end, all the kids, including the one being thrown in the stocks in the town square, get nothing.
Jenny Heitz has worked as a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Carmel, freelanced in the South Bay, and then switched to advertising copywriting. Her daughter started 4th grade at Mirman School last year. She previously attended 3rd St. Elementary School. Jenny has been published recently in the Daily News and on Mamapedia, The Well Mom, Sane Moms, Hybrid Mom, The Culture Mom and A Child Grows In Brooklyn. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad.

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Guest Blogger Jenny: Mommy Online Referral Groups Are Paradise for the Parsimonious

I am a “member” of an online mommy group. It’s a group that, by virtue of a very efficient moderator, has been stripped of any political, humorous, or timely posts. Instead, it has become an online referral source, sort of like a no fee Angie’s List, that seems to be the country of “cheap.”


Now, before you decide I’m some crazed spendthrift, let me assure you that I’m not; I enjoy a bargain just as much as the next person. I do, however, try to keep the bargain buy phenomenon in perspective. I believe in paying for quality. I believe in passing down gently used goods when it’s appropriate. But, I draw the line at looking for bargains when it comes to people.

You know what I’m talking about. There’s a constant search on these online groups for nannies, housekeepers, gardeners, and handymen. The demands are heady: adjectives like “flexible” (in terms of schedule, we assume, not physically), “trustworthy,” “CPR trained,” “licensed,” “compassionate,” and “self motivated” are rife within the posts. But, the other adjective (and synonyms thereof) found accompanying this laundry list of requirements is, invariably, “cheap.”

Now, “cheap” is not an adjective one usually associates with quality. “Cheap” is something shoddy, second rate, cut rate, or even promiscuous (probably not the right definition in this case, but you never know). How this adjective gets paired up with such a lofty list of other requirements is amazing to me, a kind of domestic cluelessness.

Because, you see, the people hired to help you run your home, care for your children, and maintain your home’s physical integrity and exterior décor probably shouldn’t be “cheap.” By hiring “cheap” or underpaying domestic help, it demeans the important jobs these workers perform, and it seems to imply that those who want “cheap” labor don’t really value their homes or children (something that I’m pretty sure is not the case).

Yet, the people I’ve recommended to the group, per requests, have usually had negative experiences. Things like a housekeeper being offered fifty dollars per “day,” a “day” being described as from 9-2, cleaning a four bedroom, four bathroom house and cooking a reheatable dinner. That’s a lot of work for more than a half day for inadequate pay; a really bad deal for any housekeeper. And when the potential employer called me for a reference, her question to me was : “Is she going to trash my house?” Yeah, sure, I felt like replying. That’s why I employed her for seven years.

One time I recommended a really wonderful handyman. This guy has done tons of work for me, plus he’s just great to have around, so trustworthy. All of us have hung out and our kids and his niece and nephew know each other. But every time he went to consult with a potential job gotten though the group, it always ended with an argument over the price and a decision to either put off the work or do it themselves. In other words, it was always a waste of his time, and he won’t do referrals for the group anymore as a result.

Why is there this fundamental lack of respect for household help? Why is it so undervalued, so thought of as cheap labor? Since when is hiring someone to perform a job an expectation for getting something (actually, quite a LOT of something) for next to nothing?

I have written about these issues before. One commenter accused me of being “anti working mother” because I dared to criticize (indeed, parody) the request of one mother looking for the going rates for both legal and illegal nannies. First off, as a semi-working mother, I most certainly would never criticize the real concerns of other working mothers. In fact, I’m so pro-working parent that I even consider the nannies, housekeepers, and handymen I hire to be working parents, too, deserving a living wage to better their children’s lives.  Yeah, that’s right, they have families too.

In the end, I think the quest for “cheap” actually cheapens the poster, the group, and the referral pool. Why should I refer someone I deeply value and respect, only to have them be humiliated? Plus, although this group is relatively large at around 750 people, I have a feeling a large percentage of them aren’t in the poorhouse. If you’re looking for domestic help to begin with, you must have extra money to spend, so why be a cheapskate? By hiring someone at a good wage, you not only let the employee know that you respect his or her time and talent, but that you respect your own space as well. And that would be keeping it, in the immortal words of Will Ferrell, “classy.” 


* Originally published on The Twin Coach



Jenny Heitz has worked as a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Carmel, freelanced in the South Bay, and then switched to advertising copywriting. Her daughter started 4th grade at Mirman School last year. She previously attended 3rd St. Elementary School. Jenny has been published recently in the Daily News and on Mamapedia, The Well Mom, Sane Moms, Hybrid Mom, The Culture Mom and A Child Grows In Brooklyn. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad.

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Guest Blogger Jenny: Another Holiday Season, Another L.A. Private Elementary School Holiday Program



Coming from public school into private school was a total study in contrasts, for obvious reasons. But one thing I didn’t anticipate was the difference in the approach of the holidays.

At Anna’s former public school, there was never much fuss made about the holidays. Usually there was some sort of potluck organized by classroom parents, but that was it. At Mirman, however, the holiday music program is a big deal. It’s also kind of a strange deal, one that is probably played out repeatedly at other L.A. private schools.
Held in a huge Presbyterian church, the Mirman Holiday Music Program is jam packed with song. The kids wear different colored t-shirts, ordered especially for the event, and they’re about as disciplined and trained as any amateur juvenile singers you’re likely to see.
What struck me hard, however, is how resolutely secular last year’s program was (especially in contrast to the resolutely religious setting). Called “The Colors of Winter,” it had sort of “winter” themed songs, a couple of secular Christmas numbers (“Reindeer Rap” is the one I remember), a Chanukah song, and a Kwanzaa song. By secular, I mean that there was no mention of the religious significance of Christmas anywhere; it was as if Christmas had always been about Santa and his reindeer. Chanukah, of course, (jokes about Chanukah Harry aside), can only be described in historical and religious terms, while Kwanzaa has never been adequately described to me on any level, ever, religiously or otherwise (after a little research, I do know that, unlike the other two holidays, Kwanzaa has only been around in the U.S. since 1966, and is an ethnic celebration rather than a religious one).
Now, I have no real religious affiliation. I’m technically Jewish, have a Christmas tree, love the Easter bunny and celebrate holidays in a schizophrenic fashion. But, I still play religiously themed Christmas songs at my holiday parties.  I would have no objection to more Christmas religious significance being paid at my kid’s Holiday Program, especially since Chanukah is there in all its glory.
In fact, by dodging the Christmas bullet, perhaps the private non religious schools are missing a golden educational opportunity. Part of a good secular education is examining and understanding, on a factual and intellectual level, the practices and priorities of cultures. What’s wrong with a little religious education in a secular school, if it isn’t favoring that religion, is merely informative, and relates to the holiday at hand. What are we celebrating here, anyway: two weeks off to go skiing?
This year’s Holiday Program at Mirman is all about Hollywood and the movies, utterly abandoning the holiday religious significance altogether. Thus, instead of holiday songs, we get songs from “The Lion King” and “When Harry Met Sally.” I guess, then, when Anna is up there singing “It Had To Be You,” she might be singing it to Jesus, or maybe Chanukah Harry. It’ll be hard to know.

Jenny Heitz has worked as a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Carmel, freelanced in the South Bay, and then switched to advertising copywriting. Her daughter started 4th grade at Mirman School last year. She previously attended 3rd St. Elementary School. Jenny has been published recently in the Daily News and on Mamapedia, The Well Mom, Sane Moms, Hybrid Mom, The Culture Mom and A Child Grows In Brooklyn. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad.
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Guest Blogger Jenny: Does Your Potential L.A Private Elementary School Have An Anti-Bullying Policy?

When you’re first applying to private schools, your child is usually around five. They’re small, innocent, and seem closer to toddler than child in some ways. Most likely, the last thing on your mind is that, in just a few short years, your child might be the kid bullied and teased mercilessly by classmates (or, possibly even worse, be the bully).
Asking about a school’s anti-bullying policy is sound policy for you. Sure, bullying seems like a problem best dealt with internally, on an individual basis. But, schools that do this and don’t have a solid program in place often end up with big problems, and your kid might pay the price. Kids who bully often never learn alternatives to aggression, kids who are bullied often suffer from depression and psychosomatic illness, and the bystanders feel a sense of pervasive helplessness. And bullying runs the gamut from teasing to physical endangerment to true gendered harassment.
I recently heard about a very well-respected L.A. private school that has ended up in precisely this position. After repeatedly placating complaining parents and kids regarding bullying incidents, either not dealing with the problem or dealing with it inconsistently and inadequately, the school is in turmoil. There are a bunch of angry parents and a defensive school administration, trying to sort out a problem that should have been firm policy long ago.
When asked, an admissions director should be able to coherently and concisely map out exactly what happens regarding a bullying incident, from individual talks to involving the parents to eventual suspension/dismissal. Many schools have an honor code that encompasses anti-bullying values; my daughter’s school, Mirman, touts the “Character Counts” program.  Any policy regarding bullying should also cover the cyber aspects. Again, at my daughter’s school, which has a laptop program, all students are required to sign a use agreement that covers these issues. An infraction involves the loss of a laptop.
One stumbling block in these policies that no admissions director would ever admit to is this: what happens when the bully happens to be the child of a board member, or a major donor? Yeah, that’s a pretty big conflict of interest. That’s why schools should have a program in place to raise awareness and prevention through student behavior before any bullying takes place. Because, let’s face it: all kids are capable of either acting like Lord of the Flies, or of acting like good citizens. It’s up to the school and the parents to help kids develop character and good behavior. The kids certainly aren’t going to learn it on their own.
Are any of these policies and programs foolproof? Of course not. There’s probably always going to be some form of pecking order in a school; it may just be human nature. But, a school should be observant enough of its students and responsive enough to its parents to stop the bullying behavior in its tracks, before it creates a truly toxic environment for all the students. By all means, ask about a school’s policy, and if the admissions director can’t succinctly describe it, approach with caution.Jenny Heitz has worked as a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Carmel, freelanced in the South Bay, and then switched to advertising copywriting. Her daughter started 4th grade at Mirman School this year. She previously attended 3rd St. Elementary School. Jenny has been published recently in the Daily News and on Mamapedia, The Well Mom, Sane Moms, Hybrid Mom, The Culture Mom and A Child Grows In Brooklyn. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad.

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