Wednesday, October 13, 2004

New York City Nightmare #2004

Smartmom is bummin', so stressed out is she about getting Teen Spirit into a good high school. Last night she and Hepcat sat in the auditorium of Middle School 51 and listened to a roomful of parents reduce their children to a bunch of statistics. "If my kid is in the top 2% does that mean..."

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the New York City high school shuffle, there are no zoned high schools in this town. This means that eighth graders have to apply to high school much like applying to college. Admission is based on their performance on a standardized test they took in 7th grade and their grades. Some schools have special admissions tests Others rely on auditions, interviews, recommendations, and portfolios. And that's not all—every kid has to select 12 schools that they'd consider attending -- because you never know. It's a highly competitive jungle out there and you just might have to attend choice number 12...

Get the picture? As one of Smartmom's fellow Writers and Drinkers wrote in an e-mail: "I wish I could go into suspended animation and wake up with everything done." Suspended animation sounds like a good idea right about now.

As you can see, getting your kid into a good New York City high school is just another New York City nightmare. One more penetrating reason to consider pulling up stakes and high tailing it out of this burg. But where can you go? Sag Harbor, Long Island? Northern California? Iceland?

Don't think Smartmom hasn't considered renting a house somewhere, anywhere, and sending her genuis child to a local school in a town where the kids JUST GO TO HIGH SCHOOL. Y'know, wake up on the first day of ninth grade with a school down the street that will happily take him in.

At last night's meeting, the school's guidance counselors did their best to answer two hours of hysterical questions. Understandably, a lot of parents were in a state of extreme agitation. And the Board of Education isn't helping matters screwing up the way they have: the high school information books are weeks late; the rules are changing; and nobody seems to know what's going on. The guidance counselors did what they could to allay everyone's fears. But you could see that they were as confused as everyone else. And there was plenty of heavy sighing in the room, agitated grimaces, and indiscreet rolling of the eyes. Who can blame the crowd -- victims all of a dehumanizing system.

Just so you know, Smartmom went to small private schools in Manhattan. She was educated at a time when progressive education was not a dirty word. Hey, it was the late sixties and the seventies, get my drift? She had, what might be called, a child-centered education that valued human potential. Her high school was named for Henry David Thoreau's Walden Pond, for chrissake. And Groovy Aunt went to Bank Street when it was on Bank Street!! Now how's that for cool cred. It was another time, another place, a world away from the hyper-competitive rat race that is education in 21st century New York city.

Which isn't to say that Smartmom isn't pleased as punch with the public education that Teen Spirit and OSFO have received thus far. Park Slope's PS 321 is an unbelievably great public school with great teachers and staff. Heck, Smartmom and Hepcat moved from the wrong side of Fifth Street to Third Street just to send their kids to that vaulted academy. While Teen Spirit's experience at Middle School 51 has been mixed, he seems to be sailing through the so-called "difficult middle school years" with a healthy amount of confidence and smarts. So things have been basically okay. Until now.

On the way to last night's meeting, Smartmom and Hepcat had a rapid fire shouting match -- many unpleasant words were bandied about. Needless to say, they were both stressin'. Smartmom chalks it up to a bad case of "the trying to get your kid into high school heebie jeebies." Hepcat, if you're reading this: SORRY.

Imagine how difficult this process is to maneuver if you don't have a flexible work schedule, don't speak English, or didn't go to high school (or college) yourself?

Rest assured, Smartmom and Hepcat will be taking great pains not to take out the inevitable stresses of this odious process on eachother or their children. As another friend wrote in a heartfelt e-mail, "We should be drinking our way through this, however life is requiring a high degree of self control and responsibility these days." And right she is. We parents are all victims of a system that forces us to treat our children like race horses and not the fascinating, deeply unique human beings that they are.


At 12:12 PM, Blogger Third Street said...

I didn't post, but read several of your blogs - you are such a fantastic writer - just fabulous! I absolutely adored your pieces. I could spend all afternoon reading them, seriously. I'm bummed because I have to turn off the computer and get some stuff done... Can't wait to get back and read more....

I know - the whole "looking for a high school in NYC scene" is just Kafkaesque. It's so bizarre and trippy no one else in America would believe it. It's licensed child abuse. Didn't someone say that to you once about this process?

At 12:13 PM, Blogger Third Street said...

I may look like I posted the previous message but I posted if for a good friend. Thanks good friend for your thoughts!

At 8:10 PM, Blogger mrs. cleavage said...

Happy, happy, joy, joy. And I thought kindergarten was traumatizing. Chin up. Teen Spirit is so sweet & smart & talented. He will do just fine.

At 7:56 PM, Blogger Third Street said...

From Warm and Funny:
I LOVE YOUR BLOG and REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY think you should submit it as an OP Ed for the times...OR a talk of the town for the New Yorker. I know thousands of parents will appreciate it and as always you tap into the real emotions and ridiculousness of getting caught up in it all....but as I used to say to my moms in Toddler classes when they would tear up because little Liam wasn't crawling...."Listen...I guarantee you he will be walking by college."

I don't know what this means, but I think Teen Spirt will thrive....Not because he gets into a great highschool, but because he has sane, rational, loving parents like you....


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