Even before Spring Break kicked off in New York City, my email box was flooded with offers of what I could do to “enrich” my children over that time period.
They could learn to code. Or cook. Or write a novel. Sharpen their basketball/tennis/lacrosse skills, design an outfit, or take part in a musical theater intensive. There were SAT prep courses, prep for state tests, and even a Gifted & Talented boot camp for three and four year olds.
This Spring Break, my own kids, ages 14 and 11 (the 18 year old is on a gap year out of the country)… watched a lot of TV. My son attempted to binge all The Flash, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow episodes, while my daughter broke out our Get Smart DVDs. (Would you believe…I own the entire box-set?) We also finally got around to seeing Black Panther. (My husband is a teacher, so he was on Spring Break, too.)
That’s odd, I can hear you musing. Aren’t you the mom who ruined her son’s summer by making him study for the ‘ridiculous’ SHSAT test? And didn’t you write in defense of summer homework for your daughter?
Yup, that was me!
So what’s going on? Are you, like celebrity parents Matt Damon and gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, advocating one thing for other families, while doing the opposite in order to give your own kids a leg up?
I will always advocate for parents to be allowed to make their own decisions about what’s best for their children. It’s why I believe in school choice. And why I lament that so few in NYC truly have it. It’s also why I do my best to explain how you can get it.
I understand working parents need someplace to send their kids when schools are closed. (I actually commended the Mayor on keeping schools open when it snowed.) But, judging by the nannies I see doing drop-off and pick-up, childcare is not what’s driving the NYC enrichment arms race.
It’s flat-out fear.
And that fear is driven by parents’ realization of just how few acceptable schools there are in NYC, and how early the competition to get into one begins.
Forget four-year-olds being tested – and then lotteried – into G&T programs. There are schools that look for gifted preschoolers, which means being evaluated at age two! Many applications ask about your child’s extracurricular achievements. By age two.
NYC parents understand diminishing returns. Where you go to preschool can affect where you go to elementary; where you go to elementary affects middle school; middle school feeds into high school; and, if you are going to take the aforementioned ridiculous SHSAT, you are probably going to need extensive prep, as few public schools’ curricula line up with what’s on the test.
As I’ve written before, it’s not just kids who are falling behind in school who are getting tutored, it’s those whom parents want to see get ahead – because even the ‘best’ schools aren’t getting the job done.
As a result, after a full day of academics, children as young as four are being dragged off to be “enriched” (like flour… or uranium).
In some cases, it’s activities to pad the resume and make the child stand out come application season (Music! Mandarin! Mahjong!).
But, in other cases, it’s to receive the education they should be getting in school – but aren’t (Kumon! Bright Kids! Mathnasium!).
The kids are exhausted. The parents are exhausted. Heck, even the nannies are exhausted. (Insert all caveats about how this is the ultimate First World problem, here.)
This Spring Break, I was exhausted. So I let my kids veg out in front of the TV. (Who knew there were so many YouTube channels devoted to the making of cupcakes?)
Did I let some critical enrichment opportunity slip by? The fact that I even momentarily asked myself this question shows just how out of whack the system has gotten.
Maybe the 1980s movie, War Games, had it right:
The only way to win is not to play.