Why getting to preschool in a limo matters (but being silly doesn’t)

On his EarlyStories blog, Richard Lee Colvin also wrote about the NYT chauffeur-driven preschoolers story , and he asks a fair question:

This is a variant on a story that appears frequently in the New York media. Striving, image-conscious, nouveau-riche Manhattanites do whatever they can to get into a handful of expensive preschools because they think the schools will guarantee their kids a quick-trip to the Ivy League and we make them look silly in the bargain. Old story. Easy target. But beyond its obvious entertainment value, does it matter?

Some of the reasons that I think that this story matters (beyond the considerable entertainment value, of course):

  1. Stories like this are a reminder of a major flaw in the logic of NCLB: Parents like this will never stand still while other kids catch up to their kids. If all poor and working-class kids aced every standardized test thrown at them this year, these parents would simply find ways to move the bar. And then they’d hire drivers to get their kids to the other side of that bar.
  2. These kids are learning who they are in the world. They are learning (consciously or not, and not is worse) that they deserve
    • to be buffered from contact with people not like them by enormous personal and public space,
    • to have adults defer to them,
    • to be exempted from silly rules that were made for other people,
    • to consume as much fossil fuel on one preschool run as an entire village in African consumes in a month
    • to be very comfortable even when traversing only a few blocks to preschool.
  3. The kids heading for other schools, stuck behind the idling limos on public transportation, are learning (consciously or not, and not is much worse) their own lessons about what kids like them deserve.
  4. There is social drama going on all around the idling limos on the busy streets. The sanitation workers, bus drivers, taxi drivers, and delivery people are thinking about their own kids as they’re stuck in traffic. As they dream the dreams of parents, they think about the enormous social distance that their kids would have to travel to be within shouting distance of a level playing field with the kids stepping out of the limos. From days and weeks of such encounters, aspirations are shaped.
  5. The kids of the sanitation workers, bus drivers, taxi drivers, and delivery people are probably going to be working for the kids in the limos some day. At the very least, the kids in the limos will someday be called upon to to sit on policy advisory boards, foundations, and university boards. They’ll be major contributors to the political candidates of their choice. Other peoples’ kids are going to live under their influence.
  6. And everyone on the block is learning something about the inevitability of all of this.

Are these parents acting silly? You bet. But acting silly doesn’t seem to really matter.

One thought on “Why getting to preschool in a limo matters (but being silly doesn’t)

  1. Richard Colvin January 25, 2007 / 12:06 pm

    All good points. Pre-kindergarten, of course, is unaffected by NCLB. But states are being pushed to spend more and more on publicly funded pre-school. They are doing so partly because these investments will close achievement gaps between rich and poor, white and non-white. Your point is well-taken. Disadvantaged kids are well-served by high quality programs. Middle-class kids, whose parents struggle to pay for high-quality pre-school, will be aided as well. But it’s unlikely the rich will give up their current bastions of privilege to let their kids mix with those destined to serve their every need and want.

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