What's This All About?

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What's so great about the Ivy League anyway?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Itty-Bitty Ivy Leaguers?

I'll give you a moment to stop laughing. (Or crying.)

And calm down. I don't know this little pint-sized prepster to the left. Though he does look suspiciously like a few of the frat guys with whom I went to college. You know - the ones who lived in casually rumpled button downs and creased khakis and sported that stiff side part that screamed: I'm kind of somebody.

Anyway, the rumor is that getting one's two-year-old into a Manhattan preschool these days is statistically as or more difficult than securing admission to an Ivy League school. So, what does this mean? 

Parental panic of epic proportions.

A wonderful new documentary Nursery University offers an anxiety-inducing and eye-opening behind-the scenes-tour of the Manhattan preschool admissions process. It follows a handful of diverse families from that fateful and frenzied Tuesday after Labor Day through the March madness of acceptances and rejections and wait-lists to the final decisions about where the itty-bitty intellectuals will do very important things like paint popsicle sticks and build blocks. The film gives us a compelling peek inside select City schools including Mandell, Epiphany, City & Country, and Chelsea Day.

Personally, I loved the film. Why?

Because the subject matter was eerily familiar. The rainbow classrooms and highly-insecure/highly-invested moms and dads (yup, including Husband and me). The tours and toddler interviews, the application essays and yes, early admissions! Not only did I just go through this nutty nursery process for Toddler, but I actually recognized many of the nervous parental "extras" in some of the scenes. 

Because it was an endearingly honest portrayal of a socially and economically complex system where some families founder and some flourish. 

And, most of all, because the film, like the very process it illuminates, underscores just how rabidly we parents care about our babies. (Because, let's be honest here. They are babies.) Because this is not just about crafting kids' resumes before they can hold a pencil. This is not just about flashing ahead to a fabulously promising future for our progeny. This is not just about breeding sweater-vest-sporting itty-bitty Ivy Leaguers. No.

And maybe I am a bit spoiled or jaded or sheltered or too loyal to my hometown. Or, most likely, all of these things.  But I think that if you look closely at this film and the families it follows, it is as much about the precious and precarious present moment we have no choice but to occupy and wanting what's best for our babies. And going for it. Even if that entails weathering a wonderfully wacky process.


  1. I love your blog, but I've got to call you out on this one:

    You suggest that the preschool application process causes epic parental panic, even for you and your husband. This may be a hunch, but I would bet that you had no problem getting your first born into the preschool of your choosing, which will likely seque into the prep school of your choosing, dare I say your alma mater? I mean, if a mega Dalton legacy like your child can't get in, who can? To cut to the chase: DO YOU really have anything to panic about?

  2. Anonymous -

    Thank you for calling me out on this one. Truth is I had reservations about writing this post because for the most part the preschool process was a happy experience for us. Yes, it doesn't hurt to be a native NYer or to have a "mega Dalton legacy" on our side. But the reality is that the process made me nervous. Not because I was epically worried about Kindergarten or future schools, but because there are so many good schools out there and I wanted to pick a place that would be a good environment for our little girl. The reality is that even if you are connected, the process is complicated and daunting. So, yes, Husband and I were nervous along with the rest of the parents.

    Frankly, this topic, and education in general, is one that I know is controversial and potentially incendiary coming from someone who has enjoyed great opportunities, but that is not going to discourage me from talking about these things here on the blog. But I am thrilled that you said something to keep this relatively spoiled soul in check. Seriously, I applaud it. So, again, thank you.



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