New York City parents who don’t want to pay exorbitant private school tuition compete to get their children into public magnet schools. Zoe Heller writes about her descent into schooling frenzy.
When you first arrive in New York from England, you look around at the crazy fuss that middle-class New Yorkers make about their children’s education — the multiple applications to private schools, the extravagant “donations” (i.e. bribes) made to school boards — and you think, I’ll never be like that. You don’t want to pay crippling fees so that your child can run about with a bunch of horrid prepubescent snobs in Dior combat trousers. When the time comes, your child will attend the perfectly good state school down the road.
Then you hear about a “top-of-the-line state school for brainy children.”
It’s very difficult to get in, of course, but you decide it’s worth a try. And this is how it starts. This is how a perfectly sensible, non-neurotic parent gets suckered into the city-wide schooling frenzy.
First, the child’s IQ must be tested. Which psychologist gives the highest scores?
Now you have to fill out another, longer application form, full of questions like, “What are your child’s particular skills and talents?” And “How would you, as a parent, like to be involved with our school?” You write that you and your “partner” wish to be very, very involved in the school — that you would like to come in on weekends and scrub floors. Knowing that the school puts a high premium on “diversity”, you try to persuade your boyfriend to pretend that he is an Iranian Jew. He’s very tanned, you tell him, and it’s not as if they’re going to ask to see his passport. But your boyfriend steadfastly refuses.
You receive an appointment for the next round. You are to take her to the school at eight o’clock on a Sunday morning, where a panel of educational experts will observe her playing games with a group of other four-year-olds.
Heaven help the late bloomer.