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But there was one small moment, in itself neither controversial nor alarming, that summed up this whole strange experience.
A few weeks back, we went to an open house at Stuyvesant High School, the most famously demanding of New York’s public schools, which is widely perceived as a funnel into the Ivy League and the upper echelons of the professional, financial and academic elite.
(Hey, she got a call-back.) We waited in a four-block-long line for 90 minutes to get into a brief presentation at a former groovy-lefty alternative school that is now — this is not so much ironic as inevitable — intensely competitive and desirable.
My son and I tried to visit a tiny math-and-science target school in Harlem (which features, I kid you not, ) and found ourselves in a mob scene perhaps five times the size of the school’s entire student population.
Everyone involved with the high school application process (like everyone involved with American public education at any level) insists, of course, that the education and welfare of the students is the most important thing, perhaps the important thing.It might well be the apex moment of helicopter parenting in America. For their parents, however, it was a critical test of patience, savvy, endurance, critical thinking and navigational skill.The principal’s words of praise were directed entirely at his adult listeners: If our children were prepared for Stuyvesant, he told us, it was because we had been “preparing them for academic excellence since they were in utero.” I wanted to get up and leave then and there.But who can admit defeat in front of that many other parents?
I sat with a group of parents who did not flinch while a biology teacher told us that 80 percent of incoming freshmen seek after-school tutoring because the homework load is so arduous.This ludicrous, byzantine and maddeningly opaque process — the hard work of many intelligent and well-meaning people, resulting of course in a nearly catastrophic outcome — is almost entirely about the parents.