Today, Wednesday, March 11, was Black Wednesday in the Boston area. Well, not for everyone, of course. But definitely for some. Today was the day that admissions letters came in the mail.
I know what you're thinking..."My best friend's cousin's daughter is waiting on an admission decision from Harvard, and they said that the letters wouldn't get sent out until early April. And some people got them already? I'd better call her!" Calm down. Put down the phone. No one is ahead of you.
I'm not talking about Harvard. I'm talking about pre-kindergarten. Yes, as in four-year-olds. Of course, in some people's eyes, I am talking about Harvard. Or Yale. Or MIT. Or Oxford. Because, in the immortal words of high-achieving parents everywhere, "If they don't get into this school for pre-K, then they won't get into that school's kindergarten. And if they don't get into kindergarten there, they'll never get in at another age. And if they don't go to that school, they'll never get into "x" (their presumptive private high school). And if they don't get in to that high school, they'll never get into Harvard (or wherever)." Really. I'm not exaggerating.
So basically, some people believe that our lives and career paths are immutably determined at age 4? Scaaaaaaaary.
This year, I had the honor of watching several families go through the process of private school pre-K admissions, complete with the stresses of open houses, admissions interviews, weighing choices, gathering references. It wasn't that long ago that I went through it myself, so I can empathize. I remember the stress of it, though even then I felt somehow that the stress being experienced by my daughter's friends' parents was, in many cases, much higher than my own. The angst quotient was high in my social circles, and admission was surely the topic of conversation at most get togethers. My own experience? We didn't end up wanting to apply to most of the more traditional competitive schools (for our own reasons). She got into every private school in the Boston area that we applied to. And she didn't go to any of them. (I can't write that without giggling a little). And the real kicker? She's in public school now. Okay, so I guess what I'm saying is that my experience doesn't really count. I guess I didn't buy in. That explains a lot.
Today, I had the privilege of observing the outcome of two pre-K admissions decisions. One came from within my social realm, and one from my professional realm. Ironically, they both got into the same school, which meant that, ironically, neither of them got into their first choice school. I don't know how my friend is handling it. I know that the other described it as one of the most disappointing things to happen in her lifetime (which taught me a lot about her lifetime!).
This phenomenon, this pressure, this process, is something that I really don't get. I really don't. I wondered then, as I wonder now, what we are teaching our children through this process, even if indirectly (because I'm telling you right now: They Know.) And my wondering leads me to questions, as it so often does. No answers (yet). But a lot of good questions. Here a few of them, for a start:
What are we teaching our children about the relationship between money and education?
What are we teaching our children about where success and excellence reside?
What are we teaching our children about how to handle disappointment?
How do we know the "right place" and the "right fit" for the next twelve years when our children are only three or for years old? Or is that "right place" the right place for us as
What do our actions and choices say about what is most important to us?
I know. I'm a card carrying commie-loving progressive. And worse yet, I'm an educator. It's a lethal combination.