Pre-K Converts

January 17th, 2012  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  5 Comments

We’re converting.

I think. I mean, I don’t know where I’m going to get a baptismal record for my son, who was never baptized. Nor am I confident that a boy who is really not that excited about the sight of blood will be able to concentrate in a classroom that has a gigantic statue of suffering, blood-soaked Christ in it.

And what will I tell him about the other three-quarters of his heritage, the Jews and Dutch Reformed Church-goers in my family, the Buddhists on my wife’s side? Her mother is the only Catholic anywhere in the family tree, and yet here we are: very close to putting the boy in Church of Bleeding Jesus of the Ascendant Virgin (or whatever it’s called at the church down the street) preschool.

We are doing this because, as much as I might make fun of the Doloroso names that Catholics love to give their institutions, they seem to offer the only halfway affordable preschool education in Manhattan. So after a quick surgical reattachment of his foreskin, we will be shipping the boy off to be beaten by nuns for the next school year.

We thought we would be able to scrape by with what qualifies as a moderately priced private preschool in the Upper West Side: my son’s current $19,000 a year school. But we could not. Every penny of that has ended up on credit cards, taking from the kids’ college fund and, thanks to the compounding wonders of interest, taking from their college funds of the future. We went in to tell the Director of Admissions, a smooth-voiced southerner who had always been kind to us, and said that we were taking him out of school next year because we couldn’t afford it. She smiled faintly, shook her head and said, “I honestly don’t know how young families do it anymore.”

That answer did not help us much. We are not a young family. My wife is a doctor, and I am a high-rolling dadblogger. OK, even without much income from me, we still should be able to afford to put our kid in preschool. Not that I can single my son’s school out. There are dozens of schools, Montessoris or Progressive Preschools or little boutique-y schools like my daughter went to last year that talk about building a thriving, loving, whole community, and then charge tuitions that ensure that they will only ever educate the children of stockbrokers with the occasional scholarship child thrown awkwardly into the mix. The rest of us are just left to be parboiled by the price.

There is Universal Pre-K: for two years now, in different forms, DadWagon has been pointing out the somewhat obvious (but important!) point that Universal Does not Mean Universal. The only thing I have to add to that conversation is that all the private schools—including the ones that come with rosary beads—cunningly require ALL YOUR MONEY and a commitment well before the Universal Pre-K application process with NYC public schools even begins.

Anyhow, dear readers, I would admit that this is just a Manhattan folly, and that we deserve these strange collection of choices because we have chosen to live in a very expensive city. But the bad news about pre-kindergarten is not just here.

From a new AP report on the importance—and scarcity—of pre-kindergarten around America:

Kids from low-income families who start kindergarten without first attending a quality education program enter school an estimated 18 months behind their peers. Many never catch up, and research shows they are more likely to need special education services and to drop out. Kids in families with higher incomes also can benefit from early education, research shows.

Yet, roughly a quarter of the nation’s 4-year-olds and more than half of 3-year-olds attend no preschool, either public or private. Families who earn about $40,000 to $50,000 annually face the greatest difficulties because they make too much to quality for many publicly funded programs, but can’t afford private ones, said Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.

Put a one in front of those annual earnings, and you still are stuck, unable to pay, ineligible for free.

So tell me again, GOP candidates in the debates, what is so wrong with Europe?


  1. BloggerFather says:

    January 17th, 2012at 4:29 pm(#)

    It’s definitely not like that in Baltimore, but the $7K they wanted at some of the pre-Ks may as well have been $40K. We’re struggling now with the $4K we’re paying the JCC for 3 hours a day. None of it makes any sense. They’re getting my 4 year old ready to compete for school placement? He’s 4! Leave him alone! Let him hump a couch like a normal kid.

    Funny, but I actually looked at the website of a Catholic Montessori near us, and they also wanted a Baptismal record. It’s a Montessori–isn’t it supposed to transcend this BS?

  2. Liesbet says:

    January 18th, 2012at 3:28 am(#)

    All the time while reading your post, I was thinking how lucky we are here in Europe, and then came your last sentence :-)
    Preschool in Belgium is free from 3 years. School is free from 6 to 18 years old. University is about $500 a year, and there are scholarships for those who can’t afford it. Medical treatment is not free but very inexpensive (a consultation with a GP costs about $5).
    The difference? We pay taxes. A LOT! But these taxes depend on your income, and so everybody has a right to free education and (relatively) cheap medicine. And to unemployment benefits. And there are all kinds of social services for those who need it.
    I honestly don’t understand why there are so many people who vote republican in America… A more social society is better for EVERYONE!

  3. karen says:

    January 18th, 2012at 12:49 pm(#)

    I’ve got to tell you, I’m not convinced. My children are fairing much better at home then they were in grades 2 and 3. Today they are busy making faerie stew, pictures to follow on facebook.

    They made tv dinners complete with written instructions to the faeries, measured out ingredients, and thought deeply about the time it will take to reheat the meals.

    Later they will have an unhurried half to three quarter hour practice on their violins, some as duets some each on their own. And we may do verbal math, working on pattern identification, a discipline that is taught in the schools today but, according to my sister the psychoeducator/public school vice-principal, few teachers know why they teach. But we may not. It is a rare snow day, and the local hill is beckoning. Perhaps we will measure the angle of the hill. All in a day’s work.

    Thing is, I noticed that through the school system, with all of it’s make-work testing and focus on spelling over storytelling skills, my children’s ability to think critically and create work of value was falling. The school was teaching in ways that were “easy” for a teacher working a job, rather than a teacher who inspires children and the results were predictable.

    Since they’ve been home my personal fulfillment of my individual self and what I can “accomplish” as measured by today’s yardstick has most definitely shrunk, but my children are happy and productive. (See?! That sentence proves I am letting things go!)

    If my society was heading in more of a direction of the Europe Liesbet described, or better Finland, where schools do not test kids till they are 16 and the focus of most school years is to help children find their interests and learn around them, I would be fully engaged in the process. But if it is not, I will find a way to do this for my children from the comfort of our home.

    That said, Nathan, I acknowledge that you, yourself, contribute significantly to society through your writing and I’m pretty sure your wife contributes to your family’s bottom line in most likely necessary ways to sustain your family. I am NOT advocating one member or the other stay home — I have never been a regular working person so being the stay-at-home whatever was a simple default “choice” for me. (Full disclosure.)

    So I have no answers. Only concerns. (Like I feel bad about all the kids we left behind in that nightmare of a school they attended.) For the first time in my life, I am glad I don’t live in New York City.

  4. Vivienne Walt says:

    January 19th, 2012at 3:05 am(#)

    Nathan… I have three words for you, mate: move to Paris. Three years of free nursery school, beginning at 2 and a half years, and before that, day-care which costs a whopping $10/day or so, starting from when a baby is three months old. French parents would be appalled at the thought of leaving a small kid at home all day – they firmly believe is socializing a kid as early as possible and in women getting back to work asap. Our kid, now 5, has been in these settings since he was 1 year old – and seems to have thrived. He has a bigger circle of friends than me, and knows half the neighborhood… and well as an awesome repertoire of French kiddie songs… And: he is served a five-course meal daily in the canteen — for the crippling cost of about $6/day….


    Monday links – Europe works, the US tax code does not, and thank goodness for subsidized preschool « Dispatches from Daddyland

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