Butter and Uggs

The schools in Laura’s town are pretty good but not great. Moving to a town with top schools means “a much smaller, uglier house and a community of rich, spoiled kids.” Is it worth it?

One woman in a nearby fancy town said that ten-year-olds get made fun of for wearing Children’s Place clothes. The kids somehow know which t-shirts came from which store.

My buddy in Cold Spring Harbor told me that she had to get Uggs for her six-year-old daughter, because the girls formed an Uggs club and wouldn’t let the other girls sit with them. She also told me that every kid had to have a Butter-brand sweatshirt ($100) or else they were not cool.

Her kids don’t stress about status symbols now.  “I’m not sure if it’s worth losing that innocence in order to gain a better school,” Laura writes.

For kids with educated and education-conscious parents, is there a meaningful difference between “pretty good” and “very good” schools?

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    Seems like you’d want to smack some parents around.
    There’s a good deal to be learned in school outside the classroom.
    Sometimes you get a lesson in who not to be like.

  2. Oh, what a tough question. Yes, there is a difference between good schools and average schools, though a child’s mental health is also critical as it will follow her the rest of her life. It seems there might be a way to “head this off,” such as helping kids to become socially conscious and socially “hip” (“My parents are building homes for Habitat” or something like that, though at 6, this might be a bit difficult to pull off) or some other way to detract these babies. What could that be?

  3. Homeschooling Granny says:

    How about using the Core Knowledge series, What Your ____ Grader Should Know, to fill in the gaps at a good but not great school?

    I suspect that an important aspect of the difference between good schools and great schools is what goes on in homes.

  4. This is a topical question for me personnally. We live in an affluent suburb of NYC in a high performing school district. We’re in the process of purchasing and renovating a home in a neighboring community that is more “diverse”. The schools, while still good, are not the top notch schools of our current community. To a certain extent for us the question is moot as we homeschool. My oldest has expressed an interest in attending high school in a couple years. Private school? or the decent but less competative public school? We also have a math/science magnet he could apply to. Obviously, we’ve already made our decision. What we currently do and will do in our home is more important than what the school may or may not offer. One of the major considerations for moving was the new home is located in the center of town, offering the ability to walk to all attractions (library, movies, shopping, pool), thus providing independence to my nearly teenage sons. Our current locations requires a car trip for everything. I am sympathetic to the free range kid argument, especially as it relates to homeschooled teenagers.

    In the end it depends on how much influence you have with your own child. Can we keep him focused on the important stuff?

  5. I grew up in the 1970s version of this town. Yes, the school system was a lot better than some, but the way the kids from poorer – or more-frugal – families were treated by their peers was miserable.

    I was made fun of because my parents would not buy me Jordache jeans. It sounds stupid now but to hear every day of your life how you are worthless because you don’t have the “right” clothes, or go on the “right” vacations or have the “right” toys really eats at a kid’s sense of who they are.

    I know, I know: people should be stronger than that but when you’re 10, it’s really hard to see the jerks for what they are.

    On the upside? I do think I turned out as a more compassionate person. On the downside? I still have a really hard time thinking highly of myself about anything.

  6. George Orwell wrote interestingly of this in his essay Such, Such Were the Days:

    The real question is whether it is still normal for a school child to live for years amid irrational terrors and lunatic misunderstandings. And here one is up against the very great difficulty of knowing what a child really feels and thinks. A child which appears reasonably happy may actually be suffering horrors which it cannot or will not reveal. It lives in a sort of alien under-water world which we can only penetrate by memory or divination. Our chief clue is the fact that we were once children ourselves, and many people appear to forget the atmosphere of their own childhood almost entirely. Think for instance of the unnecessary torments that people will inflict by sending a child back to school with clothes of the wrong pattern, and refusing to see that this matters! Over things of this kind a child will sometimes utter a protest, but a great deal of the time its attitude is one of simple concealment. Not to expose your true feelings to an adult seems to be instinctive from the age of seven or eight onwards. Even the affection that one feels for a child, the desire to protect and cherish it, is a cause of misunderstanding.

  7. If its a matter of keeping up with the Smiths instead of the Joneses then maybe it matters. Otherwise it has been my observation that kids will always find something to try to differentiate themselves and unfortunately it can often be something trivial.

  8. CharterMom says:

    I think one of the key questions here is whether the school system in the “expensive” town is really providing a better education or whether people just think it is better because it has better test scores or newer, fancier facilities or extra enrichment activities? My guess is that because it is in a more affluent town, the answer includes all three. But then one needs to ask are the test scores better because the education is better or because the town has students who come from more affluent, better educated parents who in turn ensure that their kids get tutoring and do homework, etc. It is not necessarily that the education is better. The same kid is going to do just as well in either school system because of the household. Now that kid might enjoy some of the “extras” and perhaps have additional academic competition but the tradeoff is going to school in the “entitled” environment and giving up on other household things to afford the affluent district.

    Another question is how do the individual schools that Laura’s kids attend in her present district compare to the individual schools they might attend in the affluent district? I currently live in a district that is generally considered lousy while the next town over is of the affluent, excellent kind. However my son’s high school is very good and very diverse — kids from mansions to kids from the projects and sons and daughters of MDs and Phds and the sons and daughters of dropouts. And other types of diversity abound. Meanwhile the excellent district — not so much diversity. Now the average SATs for my son’s school are not as high as in Affluent Town but there are more than enough strong students so that there are plenty of challenging courses. And my guess is that if you could compare SATs by socio-economic level, you would find there wasn’t much difference.

    Now that being said, I will admit that there are a couple of high schools in my district that I would have to give some serious thought before sending my kids there.

  9. I could’ve written Ricki’s post word for word except it was the 1980’s and the desired brand name label was Benetton.

    My parents weren’t poor but they believed in living below their means rather than taking on a lot of consumer debt, and their priority was on saving for long-term goals rather than buying status symbols. This made me quite miserable in junior high, but I did get my revenge on my snotty classmates when I was able to attend the private university of my choice while many of them were stuck going to the local state university because it was all they could afford.

  10. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I don’t think that the *school* matters. CharterMom touches on something important:

    “…but there are more than enough strong students so that there are plenty of challenging courses.”

    What really matters, institutionally, is whether there is a critical mass of high-achieving, intelligent, motivated students. This means that whether a school is a “good school” — in the sense of making a difference — will vary from class to class, from year to year.

    Of course, what makes for high-achieving, intelligent, motivated students is usually the parent-home complex.

  11. I hear all sorts of similar stories, which makes me feel like such an odd duck because this was not my high school experience at all (1998 – 2002). I don’t recall having to endure so much materialistic fuss among my peers. I never had any designer clothes. I didn’t own a cell phone or a car or a fancy computer. And this high school was one of the best in the state, and it was located in an affluent Silicon Valley neighborhood. But my classmates couldn’t have cared less about what I had.

    I suppose it’s possible that I was just blinded or oblivious to all the peer pressure – in retrospect I do think I was rather detached from it all.

  12. Dolly Parton would like to comment on this issue.

  13. Tom West says:

    What really matters, institutionally, is whether there is a critical mass of high-achieving, intelligent, motivated students.

    However, what really matters, parentally, is whether one’s child chooses to make aforementioned students their peer group.

    Given that many parents assume the correlation between SES and achievement is near 1.0, I think a lot of parents prefer the non-diverse school so as to avoid the existence of a non-achieving peer group whom their child might fall in with. [And try ending that last sentence without a preposition.]

    Needless to say, many of them are shortly disabused of the mistaken notion shortly after their children enter school.

  14. Oh, what a tough question. Yes, there is a difference between good schools and average schools….

  15. ” She also told me that every kid had to have a Butter-brand sweatshirt ($100) or else they were not cool.”

    On this hilarity, I have two thoughts:

    This is a very important lesson which kids should learn early. It’s the most important lesson about human nature.

    I wish my school had been this gentle. I would have preferred shunning to beat-downs I actually received for being uncool.

  16. I think a lot of parents prefer the non-diverse school so as to avoid the existence of a non-achieving peer group whom their child might fall in with. [And try ending that last sentence without a preposition.]

    ***** (try it this way)*********

    I think a lot of parents prefer the non-diverse school so as to avoid the existence of a non-achieving peer group which their child might choose to join.
    *************

    We lived in the country, and there was ONE school we could go to. It had a diverse socio-economic population, but no ethnic diversity then (late 70s). Mom wanted us to move out of the city so we wouldn’t fall in with the wrong crowd like our oldest siblings did.

    Well, my older sister still found a group of unachievers to hang with, and I was still an overachiever (for my family, at least). The only difference our move made was that I now had a much smaller pond, and was thus able to be way more involved than if we had stayed in the city.

    And no, we didn’t have the designer clothes, either, and some looked down on us for that, but they were a smaller group in this country school, and I didn’t like them or want to be like them anyway, so I didn’t care.

  17. Thanks to Ricci for the personal account, to Rob for the Orwell reference (I’d forgotten that), and to David Foster for the Dolly Parton reference (which occurred to me as well). Add this to the scale…

    Marvin Minsky
    Interview
    Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery )1994-July
    Minsky:…”the evidence is that many of our foremost achievers developed under conditions that are not much like those of present-day mass education. Robert Lawler just showed me a paper by Harold Macurdy on the child pattern of genius. Macurdy reviews the early education of many eminent people from the last couple of centuries and concludes (1) that most of them had an enormous amount of attention paid to them by one or both parents and (2) that generally they were relatively isolated from other children. This is very different from what most people today consider an ideal school. It seems to me that much of what we call education is really socialization. Consider what we do to our kids. Is it really a good idea to send your 6-year-old into a room full of 6-year-olds, and then, the next year, to put your 7-year-old in with 7-year-olds, and so on? A simple recursive argument suggests this exposes them to a real danger of all growing up with the minds of 6-year-olds. And, so far as I can see, that’s exactly what happens.
    Our present culture may be largely shaped by this strange idea of isolating children’s thought from adult thought. Perhaps the way our culture educates its children better explains why most of us come out as dumb as they do, than it explains how some of us come out as smart as they do.”

    Children infer social norms from the society which they experience. There is nothing positive about emotional abuse. For every chid who develops an allergy to mistreatment as a result of mistreatment, ten learn that subordination is normal and acceptable.

    In Hawaii, juvenile arrests fall when school is not in session. Juvenile hospitalizations for human-induced trauma fall when school is not in session.

    Richard Rhodes
    Why they Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist.
    “Criminal violence emerges from social experience, most commonly brutal social experience visited upon vulnerable children, who suffer for our neglect of their welfare and return in vengeful wrath to plague us. If violence is a choice they make, and there- fore their personal responsibility, as Athens demonstrates it is, our failure to protect them from having to confront such a choice is a choice we make, just as a disease epidemic would be implicitly our choice if we failed to provide vaccines and antibiotics. Such a choice-to tolerate the brutalization of children as we continue to do-is equally violent and equally evil, and we reap what we sow. …”

    Homeschool.

  18. As CharterMom mentioned above, watch for “nominally high-performing” schools that have high test scores only because the parents hire tutors, etc. to teach their children what isn’t being taught in school.

    The studies showing correlation between high achievement and “good” schools often don’t even try to measure the amount of outside help that students get.

  19. Kirk Parker says:

    (try it this way)

    No; bleah! Give me Shakespeare’s and Churchill’s English any day over that.

  20. Tom West says:

    I think a lot of parents prefer the non-diverse school so as to avoid the existence of a non-achieving peer group which their child might choose to join.

    Okay, fiwit, you win :-). I guess that’s why I’m not a writer.