Preschool panicking


This Dave Barry column was published October 31, 2004

So my wife and I went to this meeting at our daughter's preschool. The purpose was to give us helpful information about our kindergarten options.

Let me just say, as a parent: AIEEEEEEEEEEE.

Centuries ago, when I was a small hairless preschool child in Armonk, N.Y., kindergarten was simple. When you turned 5, you enrolled in Wampus Elementary and attended Miss Gregory's kindergarten class, where you made hideous refrigerator art from construction paper and paste. There were no other curriculum options, unless you count the option of, when Miss Gregory was not looking, eating the paste.

I honestly thought it would be pretty much the same thing for our daughter. I mean, we live near an elementary school. It has a kindergarten. I figured Sophie would attend kindergarten there. I was an idiot.

It turns out that this is not about kindergarten at all. This is about LIFE. And when I say "life, " I of course mean, "Harvard." You need to get your child into the right kindergarten program, so that she can get into the right elementary-school program, without which she cannot get into the right middle-school program, without which she can't get into the right high-school program, which means SHE WILL NOT GET INTO HARVARD AND ALL BECAUSE YOU FLUSHED HER LIFE DOWN THE TOILET BY PICKING THE WRONG KINDERGARTEN WHEN SHE WAS 5 YEARS OLD YOU WORTHLESS UNCARING PARENTAL SCUM.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking: "That's ridiculous! You can't wait until your child is 5 years old to start thinking about Harvard! You have to start MUCH sooner!"

This is true. In certain places, by which I mean Manhattan Island, serious parents start obsessing about Harvard before their child is, technically, born. They spend their evenings shouting the algebraic equations in the general direction of the womb so the child will have an edge during the intensely competitive process of applying for New York City's exclusive private preschools - yes, PREschools - where tuition can run - and I am not making this figure up - well over $15,000 a year. If you're wondering how on earth a preschool can get away with charging that kind of money, the answer is three words: really delicious paste.

But seriously, the question is: Why are these parents willing to go to such extremes, and spend so much money, to get a child into a certain nursery school? The answer is: They're insane.

No, that's unfair. They're simply people who want their children to have every possible academic advantage so they can get into Harvard, which admits only extremely high achievers, which a lot of the time means students whose parents have driven themselves insane.

But it's not their fault! It's Harvard's fault! Harvard could do this nation a great service by changing its admission policies. Imagine if, instead of accepting a typical applicant who is class president AND valedictorian AND star athlete AND active in community affairs, Harvard started selecting applicants based on, say, their ability to burp the theme song from Gilligan's Island. Wouldn't that be wonderful? Wouldn't that cause these Harvard-crazed hyper-parents to chill out and allow their kids to just be kids?

No, it would not. It would create a huge demand for burping tutors.

But getting back to our kindergarten meeting: We went in there navely thinking we were going to find out how to enroll our daughter in our local kindergarten. Instead we spent 90 minutes finding out that we had all these options: Did we want our daughter to be in a magnet program? What kind? International studies? Math and science? Performing arts? How about a charter school? Or maybe a gifted program? And should it be integrated gifted? Or pullout gifted? Or learning disabled? Or learning disabled gifted? And what about private school?

These options, and many more, were explained to us by two nice, knowledgeable, thoughtful people with long experience in the local schools. They urged us to visit different schools and ask many questions before making our kindergarten decision. They stressed that every child is different and there is no right answer. I think I speak for every parent in the room when I say that I came out of there truly believing that, whatever choice we ended up making for our daughter, it would somehow be wrong and she would NOT GET INTO HARVARD.

After the meeting, we went home and relieved the babysitter. Our daughter was wearing her Ariel the Mermaid outfit. She is deeply into being a mermaid. If there were a gifted mermaid magnet kindergarten program, that would be her first choice. And, for that matter, mine. Assuming they have decent paste.

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