Smartmom has always been a strong believer in public schools — so it’s no wonder that she feels angry, confused, and bitter when her friends, even those who are zoned for a good public school, send their kids to private school. For Buddha’s sake, one of the reasons that Smartmom and Hepcat moved to Park Slope in 1997 was because of PS 321.
Her pregnant belly bulging with Teen Spirit, Smartmom would randomly stop people on the street during their months of apartment hunting and ask:
“Is this street in PS 321?”
Even then, Smartmom felt like the cliché of the over-determined New York parent. She even wondered if they’d still be living in Brooklyn by the time Teen Spirit hit kindergarten. Maybe their ship would come in and they’d be able to move back to Manhattan.
That’s right. In the old days, Brooklyn was the booby prize, the place you had to move because you’d been priced out of Manhattan.
Sadly, Smartmom and Hepcat moved to the wrong side of Fifth Street. They didn’t know it at the time but only the north side of the street is “in the zone.”
Luckily, when Teen Spirit turned 3, Smartmom found an apartment in the zone and grabbed it as fast as you can say, “I love those limestones on Third Street.”
At the time, Teen Spirit was enrolled in a wonderful Montessori school called The Children’s House. It cost $11,000 and Teen Spirit had a great, if expensive, year. But, boy, were Smartmom and Hepcat thrilled to drop Teen Spirit off on his first day of first grade at his excellent — and by excellent, she means free — public school the following fall.
Almost immediately, Smartmom worried that she’d made a mistake. Compared to the hushed atmosphere at the Children’s House, Teen Spirit’s first public school classroom seemed chaotic.
Smartmom even wondered if the teacher knew how to control the class.
Hah. That teacher, who is now an assistant principal at PS 321, was smart, organized, imaginative, and compassionate: a real winner.
So much for public school misgivings.
That’s why when a friend recently told Smartmom that she’s choosing private over public, her first reaction was a little snarky: That’ll just make room for some kid whose parents can’t shell out $20,000 for kindergarten.
But then the dread set in: Is the Oh So Feisty One getting a good education in public school? Will she be prepared for the hyper-competitive world out there?
Then, when the apocalyptic dread wore off, she went ballistic.
Over the years, Smartmom has heard all kinds of reasons for writing the big private school checks. One friend, whose daughter went to pre-school with OSFO, once told Smartmom, “My kid is too sensitive for public school. She’s too delicate. She’ll get lost.”
That made Smartmom think: What, my kid isn’t sensitive and delicate?
Yeah, right. Your kid is so delicate, she needs to be handled with boxing gloves.
Another friend who went private offered this rationale: “My kid is very smart, you see, and I’m worried that he won’t get the attention and level of instruction he deserves.”
This made Smartmom livid: So, your kid is too smart to go to school with my kid. Got it.
Another friend told her that public school is too diverse. “You know, bad influences, too many levels of intelligence, too many learning styles.”
It doesn’t take a private school graduate to see that comments like that contain some subtle and not so subtle hints of racism and classism. Sorry, your kid needs to be around kids who spend spring vacations in Gstaad and have beach houses in East Hampton. Hope they don’t get sunburned.
Some of the excuses make Smartmom laugh: “We only have one child and can splurge,” one friend told her. “We want him to have a special experience.”
Oh, your only son is more special than either of Smartmom’s kids.
Sure, some kids do need special school settings. But Brooklyn certainly has some excellent small public schools, like the Children’s School, which only has 250 kids (compared to 1,300 at PS 321); PS 39; the Brooklyn New School; or PS 107, where Dumb Editor sends his kid.
Smartmom knows there is a difference between public and private school. She herself went to progressive private schools after spending three years at public school.
She felt the difference as a child. The kids at the private school were richer, whiter and more likely to have a country house.
Smartmom does admit that middle school is a whole ’nother kettle of stinky fish. As there are no zoned middle schools, students must apply and it’s a harrowing process.
In preparation for next year, when OSFO will apply to middle school, Smartmom is getting pre-emptive shock treatments and is planning to start a Middle School Stress Meditation Circle for herself and other parents on weekday morning.
Who can blame anyone who wants to opt out of that? Of course, getting into private middle school is no piece of cake either. But once you’re in, you’re in — and you can keep your kids there until they graduate from high school.
So, the other day, when a neighbor told her that she was sending her daughter to a private middle school, Smartmom had a very civilized reaction.
Lucky you, she said with not a trace of envy (hah). Now you don’t have to worry about high school. What a break.
She did feel a pang of snark: What, all of the new schools aren’t good enough for you?
Later that same day, OSFO, who barely understands the difference between public and private, told Smartmom that she wants to go to the Berkeley Carroll School because one of her best friends may be going there.
Smartmom almost fell over. But then she gave it some thought.
You know, OSFO is such a sensitive child, a delicate one. Very smart. Very special…
Then, Smartmom remembered that Teen Spirit would be going to college in two years.
College and private school tuition? Simultaneously?
Like she said, Smartmom has always been a strong believer in public schools.