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.

Reader Question: DK vs. Stay at Preschool Final Year?

We received an email from one of our wonderful blog readers. She wanted to know if she should apply for Developmental Kindergarten (DK) or keep her child in preschool for one more year. Her child is happy at preschool and doesn’t have to leave.


Christina’s response:

This is a tough question. I have a daughter who entered The Willows School at K and a son who entered DK. My daughter was thriving at her preschool and her friends were all staying. She was not ready to leave preschool so I kept here there. My son was at a preschool where virtually all the kids were leaving and he needed to leave to…if he had stayed, he would have been left with virtually no classmates his age. And, I wanted him at Willows with my daughter.

Here are a few issues for you to consider:


  • The DK programs are not preschool. They are a mix between preschool and kindergarten on a bigger campus with everything that goes with being on an elementary campus (using the bathroom that is down the hall without help, possibly playing on the yard with older kids, eating lunch without help, being in a class with older kids (up to a year older) a longer day, sitting still for longer periods, etc.). Is your child ready for that?


  •  Secondly, DK programs have fewer spots since many of the spaces are taken by siblings. Some have only 2 or 3 spots. That said, schools need new families to enter DK for various reasons. And, if your son enters DK, the transition to K will be easier (most likely).


  • What if you like a school that doesn’t have a DK/Pre-K program? You will be limiting your choices to a smaller number of schools if you go the DK route. That’s fine if the schools you truly like are the ones with the DK programs.


  •  Yes, I think turning down a spot at a school for Pre-K and then applying the next year for K is risky and very time-consuming (unless the school advises you to do that i.e. your child isn’t ready for DK, but they are interested in him/her.).


  • I think you are in a great situation! You can keep your child at preschool and apply to K or go the DK route. Your preschool has a very good placement record at various schools. Decisions, decisions!


  • Yes, I do think developmental and progressive schools prepare the kids for the rigors of higher education. Absolutely!


Beyond The Brochure co-author Anne Simon’s response:
I agree with everything Christina has said, and it sounds like you are happy with your current school. I do not feel that you are putting yourself at a disadvantage by waiting until K – there are more schools to see and more spots available. I do think, however, that it might be useful to tour the PK and DK programs. You will get a head start on some of the school tours that way and you might find something fantastic that would pull you toward it. You don’t have to apply if you tour, and it is time you will spend anyway in a year probably.


Good luck and thanks for your support for BTB.


Anne Simon is the co-author of Beyond The Brochure. She is the former head of Wildwood Elementary School and the former dean of the Crossroads Middle School where her daughter, a veterinarian, is an alum.  


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Pasadena Waldorf: Blending Old and New For An Expansive World View

Opening the doors to a global world vision

Diane La Salle, the director of admissions at Pasadena Waldorf, occupies an office in a big, beautiful, rambling home with a bohemian feel that has been turned into administrative offices and the 4th grade classrooms for the school. Located on a quaint residential street, Pasadena Waldorf is a hideaway from the hustle and bustle of city life. On a very hot day recently, Diane welcomed me to her office on the second floor.  A fomer Waldorf mom herself, Diane is extremely friendly, genuine and passionate about the school. We talked for 30 minutes about this intriguing school: its mission, the guiding Waldorf philosophy and specifics about the curriculum. Unique and fascinating, the school pays homage to Rudolph Steiner’s 90 year-old ideas, while embracing many current educational practices.


A view of the campus


Waldorf schools take their name from a world-wide educational philosophy centered on the belief that nurturing both the imagination and the intellect are important to create a deep love of learning in children. Pasadena Waldorf is a developmental school, meaning that, “children learn in distinctly different ways at different stages of their development.” (Source: Waldorf materials). As Diane explained, the intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual development of each child are all nurtured. This is essentially what is known as the whole child approach. However, Pasadena Waldorf is not a progressive school, Diane explained, although it shares many elements with progressive schools. For example, students at Pasadena Waldorf don’t call teachers by their first names as they do in progressive schools.


Interestingly, there is no head of school. The school is governed by its faculty and decisions are made by consensus. Weekly faculty meetings help sort out and identify issues involving students and curriculum.


Kindergarten play area


Walking through the gorgeous 3 ½ acre campus, surrounded by enormous trees on a gently sloping hill, I was taken in by the beauty of the natural surroundings. The school is stunning in its pristine beauty. Classrooms are in located in rustic one-story bungalows. At the top of the campus is the renovated home that serves as the majestic entrance to the school. The middle school is up the hill from there. A newly opened high school resides at separate location.


One of two identical kindergarten classrooms


Pasadena Waldorf has a modern vintage vibe. Walking into the kindergarten classroom felt very nurturing. It is reminicient of a life-sized dollhouse. When we arrived, the teacher was setting up for story time while the kids played in the enclosed outdoor kindergarten play area. The retro feel of the school comes from many of the play and learning tools in the classroom, which are made largely of natural materials such as wood, stones and other found objects.


Close up: One of two Kindergarten classrooms


The main lesson is a two-hour block in the morning over a period of three to four weeks, focusing on one subject. Specialist teachers are responsible for music, languages, P.E., arts and other subjects. Hands on activities are important at Waldorf and the classroom is filled with imaginative activity centers. The power of childrens’ imaginations plays an important role in the classroom. In kindergarten, much of the teaching is done through teacher-led storytelling, without reading from a book. The teachers tell stories based on carefully selected books, while encouraging free play to both teach and inspire. Kids learn through baking, creating books, making snacks, gardening and doing handicrafts. The hands-on quality of the classroom gives one the sense that learning here is both serious and fun, organic and inspiring. Kids reach for the stars while learning the 3 Rs.


Basketball court


What you won’t see in the classrooms are computers or technology of any kind. Pasadena Waldorf is a tech-free zone until 9th grade. This is unusual in the world of private schools. But, it fits perfectly with the Waldorf method, which focuses on learning through play, imagination and hands-on experiences with natural materials.


First, Second and Third grade classrooms


Pasadena Waldorf is a structured school, but it is one without the intense academic pressure found in so many private elementary schools. One of my favorite aspects of the program is called “looping.” Teachers remain with their students from 1st to 8th grade, forging a deep bond and mutual understanding. There are two kindergarten classes, each with a teacher and an assistant for 20 kids per class.


A place in the sun: the gorgeous garden


Until this year, when the school added its high school, Pasadena Waldorf students went on to 9th grade at The Waverly School, Flintridge Prep., Mayfield, St. Francis, and public schools. Families who attend Pasadena Waldorf live in Pasadena, Altadena, Los Feliz, La Canada and other locations.


My observations of Pasadena Waldorf are that it is a school filled with a love for teaching children to reach their fullest potential. A tried and true philosophy that instills the spirit of adventure radiates from every corner of the school.  The educators here have seamlessly blended the past, present and future, creating a warm, nurturing school filled with imaginative elements created by– and for– kids. Attention to tiny details combined with a big picture focus on the world in which we live has created a school that is authentic and uncontrived. Encouraging students to dare to dream big is what makes this school so remarkable. Retaining the best elements of eras gone by while remaining just ahead of the educational curve is what Pasadena Waldorf is all about.


If you’re looking for a school with a distinctive vision, a stunning campus and a style of teaching that has the just the right mix of structure and freedom with a magical, homespun quality, this school might just fit your family’s wish-list.


The coolest store ever: A carefully curated selection of all things Waldorf-inspired


The school’s super-popular Elves Fair is coming up on Sat. Nov. 17th. Admission is free and it the fair is open to the community. It includes music, crafts, games, food, a tea garden, a silent auction and puppet show. Best of all, you’ll get to visit the charming campus store that is stuffed full of amazing Waldorf educational objects and toys.

For more information, visit,




Private Elementary School Buzz!

  • Manassa Tangalin has announced her retirement as the executive director of the Independent School Alliance for Minority Affairs of Southern CaliforniaHer replacement has not yet been named. The Independent School Alliance was founded by its members schools for the purpose of placing underrepresented students at the elementary and secondary levels.
  • Intense dislike for a lower elementary school teacher at one Westside private school has caused several families to exit the school. Apparently the teacher’s abrasive style with kids is causing the friction, but the head of school stands behind the teacher.
  • We hear that a very unfortunate situation is brewing at a respected traditional parochial school in L.A. At the start of this school year, a serious allegation was made anonymously that a newly hired male teacher was known to have acted very inappropriately at a previous job. Phone calls to families in the grade and an anonymous email letter have circulated. The school tried unsuccessfully to find out who made the allegation.  The situation remains unresolved and it is unclear whether there is any truth to the matter. However, some staff and parents have been shaken up by the controversy.



Characteristics of a GREAT Written Application by Anne Simon


If you’ve been staring at a blank application form wondering what to write, nervous about how to describe your child, you’re probably not alone. Writing applications can be exciting once you get going, but its the getting started that can be so hard. We have real applications in Beyond The Brochure for this reason. Its great to see what an accepted family’s application looks like.


Beyond The Brochure co-author Anne Simon offers these essential characteristics of a great written application:

  • Create a family mission statement and make sure that everything on the application is reflective of this family message in some way
  • Be able to craft a positive and accurate picture of your child
  • Communicate something unique about your family and/or your child
  •  Describe what you can– and will do– as a participant member of the school community
  • Read the school’s mission statement.  Demonstrate that you understand the mission of the school and that you feel it is a great fit for your family and/or child
Anne Simon is the former head of Wildwood Elementary School and the former dean of the Crossroads Middle School. Her daughter, a veterinarian, is a graduate of Crossroads.