Friday, March 18, 2011

The Making of an Ivy Leaguer

A Manhattan mother sued her 4 year old’s pre-school for not properly preparing her child for an Ivy League education. That would be like me suing Gatorade for not giving my kid the nutrients to be an Olympic athlete. The mother claimed that the $19,000 a year pre-school had the children doing finger paints and teaching shapes and colors (gasp) instead of preparing for the ERB, an admissions test children must take to get into New York City’s highly competitive, elite private schools and that by not preparing her properly, it damaged her daughter’s chances of one day attending an Ivy League school. The mom called the pre-school’s program more of a “big playroom” rather than the advertised age specific learning curriculum she wanted for her daughter. She says her daughter was forced to play with 2 year olds, and became bored by the less than stimulating atmosphere. She accused the school of committing fraud, wants her $19,000 back and is organizing a class action lawsuit for other parents dissatisfied with the pricey school’s ways.

The pre-school we sent our daughters to, which wasn’t much less than the one this Manhattan mom was paying for, was organized, creative chaos. We lovingly referred to it as a “semi-hippie” environment which was completely developmentally based, child led learning. The school’s nickname around town was, “The Naked School” because most of the time when you arrived to pick your kids up at the end of the day, they’d be running around in a diaper, undies or au natural, digging in the mud, smearing paint on themselves or others, dressing up in construction hats or frilly dresses – usually the girls in the hats, the boys in the dresses. In fact when my oldest went to kindergarten, her biggest adjustment was that she’d have to keep her clothes on. On the first day of school she earnestly asked us, “You mean I can’t take my clothes off?” She was somewhat disappointed, but she got over it.

Our pre-school did not believe in work sheets or skill drills. They read to the children, supported their play, encouraged their imaginations and curiosity, guided them in getting along with each other and showed them how to use their words to express who they are and what they needed. They supported the children’s learning, and they supported the parents as we discovered how to parent and how to help our children learn. As kindergarten approached, some parents worried that their kids wouldn’t be properly prepared. I remember one parent meeting which turned tense as a father complained that he didn’t see enough focus on ABCs and 123s. Others grumbled in agreement, expecting that very pricey tuition check to deliver more than clay sculptures, finger paint drawings and unabashed nudity. But we had faith in what they were doing (or we were too naïve to know we shouldn’t) and realized that, for our child, this was the program that would work for her. And it did. Without the pre-school using flash cards or worksheets, alphabet drills or comprehension tests to prep her for kindergarten, without us fretting over her classroom skills and competencies, Nicole left pre-school and entered kindergarten at 4 years old, about two years above grade level in English and math and ready for her academic career which would some day lead to…whatever school she wants to go to.

The other day, my youngest, Natalie, informed me that she was going to Stanford for college. I told her I thought that was a fine school but asked her what she was going to do if she didn’t get in. She informed me that even if she wasn’t accepted, she was going to go. She planned to show up anyway and go to class every day until they had no choice but to let her in. That’s the other thing our pre-school instilled in our kids – unbridled self-confidence and the idea that anything is possible. Stanford better look out, Natalie is coming, like it or not.

I think a great deal of craziness like this woman suing her pre-school is because some people don’t have enough meaningful things to do in life. If this mother had more to do, she wouldn’t waste her time fretting that her four year old might some day not get into Harvard because of a bad pre-school experience. So, you had one bad year, the next will be better. Colleges, even the Ivy League, don’t judge kindergarten math scores when evaluating you for acceptance. I’m sure the Manhattan mom's kid is smart, I’m sure she’ll do well in life regardless of a bad pre-school match, but to sue over it? Crazy. The funny thing would be if after all that, the kid decided to go to a state school. Who’s the mom gonna sue then?

For more on the story, check out the NY Daily News piece -

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