Saturday, September 12, 2009


School started this week which meant that the streets were filled with Kindergartners buzzing about... what school they attend.

Here in NYC, competition starts early. Remember Senior year, when kids would suddenly start sporting Northwestern/Yale/Vassar tees, casually advertising their admittance (not to mention their impressive SAT scores)? Shrink and add sippy cups and you've got my neighborhood playground. Tots with "Dalton" or "Lycee Francais" stamped across their chests. Tiny voices imploring "Let's play first day at Midtown West!" (Our prestigious local public school. Spaces in the school are so coveted, admission is done by lottery.) Parents hover together, discussing their preschoolers' G&T scores. G&T, or Gifted and Talented, is a big deal here. A BIG DEAL. Since most NYC public schools are desperately overcrowded and underfunded, "testing well" can help get your child into a better school. Trouble is, kids - and their parents - are getting smarter. There are tutors. Test prep classes. Books and flash cards and coaching sessions to help Baby Smartface get the score that will qualify him for something other than the concrete awfulness down the street.

In my grade school, there wasn't such an obvious range of intellect. A few kids disappeared to go to "gifted", some were pulled aside for special-ed. But the bulk of us were average. Here, average doesn't seem to exist. I think about what lies ahead for my boy and I get scared. It seems like so much pressure, the necessity that he prove his smarts. Isn't preschool supposed to be fun?


Tor said...

Yuck that sounds just insane! On so many levels!

electriclady said...

I wish instead of pouring so many resources into G&T programs for kindergarteners, they put it toward enriching the school experience for all kids. I mean, it's not like 5-year-olds will get extra math problems or something.

Missy said...

Yes preschool is supposed to be fun. The main goal of preschool is socialization and young children socialize through play. Play that is fun. While playing you may learn some letters, colors, numbers, and the like. What you describe is just nuts. Plain ol' nuts.

Colleen said...

Kindergarten used to be fun, too, and it isn't anymore! No Child Left Behind is pushing the insanity on down to the level that if our kindergarteners aren't reading by Christmas, everybody is concerned, they're given extra tutoring, parents are freaking out, etc. They go to school all day, with a little bit of recess thrown in, no naptime (and due to budget cuts this year, no afternoon snack either), and then have 10-15 minutes of reading homework to do with their parents EVERY NIGHT.

The sad thing is, people get all concerned about their kids for nothing in most cases--a lot of times, all the "behind" kids really needed was a little more growing up time, and they suddenly catch up in first or second grade. But why do we have to go through such ridiculous amounts of stress at such an early age?

I'll be nice and stop ranting before I get to the part about the actual assessment grades and the nightmare that is for everyone. Come on Congress, fix NCLB! Ted Kennedy was great and all but I still haven't quite forgiven him for helping draft that bill.

Anonymous said...

As a fancy tutor in New York city and Westchester, I know my company charges parents $595/session to work with me. (note that I do not see most of that fee. most goes to the evil conglomerate that owns my intellectual ass). Typical good tutors charge $150/hour and up. It is madness I tell you. And so much pressure to perform all the time. I can't imagine how these kids keep it all together and don't crack. Competition breeds anxiety.

Ali said...

Okay, I am gobsmacked by anonymous' comment. Color me wow (with a hint of WTF?) That's nutballs. And totally believable.

Anonymous said...

I know. Next I'm going to have to work in some progressive school in Vermont where the process and creativity is prioritized -- and somewhere there's a nice garden -- in order to refuel my soul after a few years of test prep booshizzle.

Missy said...

I just threw up a little after reading annonymous comments. That is 900 different kinds of wrong.

Ali said...

Amazing, right? Anonymous, I definitely want to hear more. Do you think the tutoring helps, or are parents just using it to have some sense of control?

Anonymous said...

whoop. sorry for the delay there..

I think both are true.

Tutoring can definitely help, but it really depends on the tutor. There are a lot of people out there now who are slapping up shingles and calling themselves tutors in order to get a piece of the tutoring pie, but they don't seem to be terribly effective.

There are also some respected tutors at my company who work their Harvard schtick, and give kids problems that are too hard for them to keep parents shelling out gazillions of $$ in the hopes that Junior might someday go to Harvard too.

There are also a lot of tutors who are great and amazing and really care and can really help improve kids' skills in a one-on-one setting in a way that you just don't get in a classroom. I've worked with some kids with "learning disabilities" who switched out of Special Ed into "regular" classes after working intensively with me. I really feel like I can make a difference in a kid's life with regular one-on-one learning sessions. I can really get to know the person and tailor my teaching style to them.

It's the hysteria of it, and the hysteria that those prices bring that makes me crazy.

Some parents don't ever talk to their kids but schedule 50 experts to deal with them all week, and pay top dollar for said experts. If they're paying $600/session, Junior better be a genius when I'm done, and I just can't guarantee that. I can improve their skills, but sometimes there's only so much I can do, and it's never a quick fix.

All of this said, I mostly work with 12-19 year olds now, but I have worked with kids as young as kindergarten. We once got a call from a parent who wanted us to start SAT tutoring their kindergartener. I was ready to call protective services.

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