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A Different Kind of Field Trip
June 1, 2014 2:28 PM   Subscribe

Some of us have more toys and bigger homes than others. We all have a lot in common, but there are certain things that make us unique, too. Let’s talk about those things and celebrate them, even. This is not standard prekindergarten curricular fare, but it’s part of what the 4- and 5-year-olds at the Manhattan Country School learn by visiting one another’s homes during the school day. These are no mere play dates though; it’s more like Ethnography 101. Do classmates take the bus to school or walk? What neighborhood do they live in? What do they have in their homes? - For Lessons About Class, a Field Trip Takes Students Home (SL NYTIMES)
posted by beisny (85 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
I kind of love that for the kids it's all about the snacks.
posted by maryrussell at 2:43 PM on June 1 [7 favorites]


As an adult, it still mostly is about the snacks. I kind of love this, planting the idea of diversity at an early age can only be a good thing.
posted by arcticseal at 2:48 PM on June 1


This is a super cool idea.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:51 PM on June 1


I have a bit of a problem with the wod "class." In America, as Paul Fussell reminds us in his book called CLASS there are no differences because we are all in a democracy. But, he notes, there are class differences. My thinking is that this approach tries to focus upon diversity and income and not on class. What then, is class? How is it defined? by wealth or what?
posted by Postroad at 3:03 PM on June 1 [2 favorites]


//I kind of love that for the kids it's all about the snacks.//

With kids that young, it's always all about the snacks. My 5 and 6 year coach-pitch baseball teams cared way more about the after game snack then they did the game itself.
posted by COD at 3:06 PM on June 1 [7 favorites]


My 5 and 6 year coach-pitch baseball teams cared way more about the after game snack then they did the game itself.

Awesome, your mom brought Sunny D!
posted by michaelh at 3:08 PM on June 1 [4 favorites]


Postroad, is the 'class' half full or half empty? That is the way I see it.
posted by breadbox at 3:12 PM on June 1


This is fantastic. It seems like such a simple idea, but this kind of exposure seems like a great tool to normalize differences and begin conversations that can, when developmentally appropriate, segway into larger discussions on economic inequality. Not to mention it just sounds like fun. I would love to go on field trips like this.
posted by Hopeful and Cynical at 3:13 PM on June 1


The private school I went to kindergarden at did something like this, cloaked in the ABC's- each week we'd attend a different student's house, and the parents would entertain and share their home life and do something related to the week's letter.

And that's how my mom learned to make Quiche.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:17 PM on June 1 [23 favorites]


...at 4 or 5, they’re still a few years away from wielding the word “rich” as a weapon or experiencing deep and lasting class envy. “Four-year-olds have no value judgments about one house being better than another because it’s fancier,” said Sarah Leibowits, who teaches that age group and now leads the visits. “They don’t think that way...
Huh. More evidence that I was a deeply unusual child, I guess, because I was keenly aware of it at that age. It certainly seemed like most of my peers were, as well, but maybe they weren't if this lady says so.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:18 PM on June 1


Yeah, I can't help but think that there is still a certain class level below which these kids still aren't visiting, just by virtue of this school being a school for middle- and upper-class kids already as it is.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:24 PM on June 1 [3 favorites]


This is fantastic. It seems like such a simple idea, but this kind of exposure seems like a great tool to normalize differences

Yeah, a good number of my childhood memories are from Shocking Moments where I went to someone's house and there was some innocuous (but earthshattering to me!) difference between how things ran in their household vs. my family's.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 3:27 PM on June 1 [3 favorites]


I'm not remembering clearly enough of how it was at four or five, but by six or seven (so second grade, say) I know we were pretty keenly aware of income/class differences (which as mentioned are not quite the same thing).
posted by Dip Flash at 3:29 PM on June 1


I think this is a super, SUPER awesome idea, and I also think it highlights the need to make sure that there is sufficient diversity of experience in our schools. I've worked in schools where the vast majority of the kids live in very, VERY similar ways; their homes look the same, their families are structured in the same way, they celebrate birthdays and graduations in the same way (Chuck E. Cheese's and Red Lobster respectively), and one of the problems is that, since everyone they know lives the same way, it doesn't occur to them that there are other options (just like how some of my students literally don't believe I'm white and tell me not to say such horrible things about myself).

Making sure that students are aware of other ways to live and interact and choose to structure their lives is such an awesome, AWESOME idea and I think I'll mention this to my principal and the preschool teachers at my current school because it's a great way to demonstrate and validate the kids' differences. Thanks for posting!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 3:29 PM on June 1 [1 favorite]


I just reread my earlier comment and wanted to add - this is still a fantastic idea. It may not have the class-leveling effect its initiators may have hoped, but it'll promote diversity in other ways.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:32 PM on June 1


I love this. I probably romanticize my childhood in the Excelsior district of San Francisco (vs the homogeneous upper-middle-class suburb where we moved when I was older--blech), but it strikes me that this happened more or less organically when I went on play dates as a kid--a few friends were neighbors in the mostly working-class Excelsior (including one whose mother was a cellist for the San Francisco Symphony), one in the Richmond, one with hippie parents in Bernal Heights, one with a pretty fancy house in Parkside, and one whose parents worked for the mayor and had a very chichi house in St. Francis Wood that actually had a courtyard and servant bells from when it was built in the 1910s or whenever, but we didn't think much of it beyond liking to annoy her mom by ringing the servant bells and running around in the basement.

Once we moved to Folsom, though, I was the only one of my friends without a backyard swimming pool, and keenly aware of it. That economic diversity is one of the things that keeps me hanging on in this goddamn city.
posted by sunset in snow country at 3:32 PM on June 1 [3 favorites]


i was keenly aware of how poor my family was vs my classmates and i'm a little tight in the chest just thinking about my class having my homelife as well as everything else to tease me with.
posted by nadawi at 3:36 PM on June 1 [54 favorites]


Yeah, a good number of my childhood memories are from Shocking Moments where I went to someone's house and there was some innocuous (but earthshattering to me!) difference between how things ran in their household vs. my family's.

Ooooh yeah, the prayer rugs at my friend Adam's apartment where less shocking than going to Mike's house and finding out he had her OWN ROOM JUST FOR TOYS. And a DISHWASHER. Or the kids who couldn't have pets vs the kids who had tons of pets but just kind of forgot about them.

( this is also where you learn the naracccism of small differences that define people in the middle of class levels, we where poor but noble cause we also had Educated/Hippie Affectations and Colin's Dad may have made more money but his parents drank beer during the day and always had the Tv on and they only had two bedrooms for four people and his grandmother lived in the living room. Of course we where much closer to each other than anything else but that's how you figure out pecking order status as a kid - the people on the other end of the spectrum don't care or notice the minor differences that separate upper lower middle class from lower upper middle class.)

Hell my primarily memory of Other kids's Houses was that they had TV they could watch whenever they wanted.
posted by The Whelk at 3:41 PM on June 1 [6 favorites]


And how many poor families can afford to have an entire classroom full of kids to their house during a work day?
posted by dilaudid at 3:47 PM on June 1 [7 favorites]


According to the article, only five kids go on each home visit, not the entire classroom.
posted by needled at 3:50 PM on June 1 [1 favorite]


My Montessori school in India did this, around the same age too (must have been around 1990). I have vague recollections of how excited I was about it, and I certainly treasure the old photos of little kids playing with my toys in my room. I don't know if it really exposed us to very different classes of people though; however there was certainly lots of other kinds of diversity.
posted by peacheater at 3:57 PM on June 1 [1 favorite]


Occupy Sesame Street!
posted by spitbull at 4:03 PM on June 1 [3 favorites]


At a school like this, how much different are these kids' homes really going to be from each other? We're talking about a culture of people who all buy the same model of stroller. "We take a cab and your nanny drives you in your mom's BMW" is pretty much going to be the extent of the differences. And haven't these kids been having playdates from birth, anyway?
posted by Sara C. at 4:05 PM on June 1 [1 favorite]


OK wait, this place is called the "Manhattan Country School"? How could it be "country" if it's in Manhattan? Does "country" mean something beyond "private," like something having to do with how the school is run? Sorry, on the second line of the article and already distracted.
posted by rue72 at 4:05 PM on June 1


I would be more into this idea if they had a Sister Class at a public school and had to visit their homes. Actually, no, that would be weird and exploitive.
posted by Sara C. at 4:07 PM on June 1


Sara C., the school has a "pay what you can" funding model, so even though all the parents involved in this are probably very involved parents in general and the families are going to be similar in that way, it's probably more economically and socially diverse than most Fancy Private Schools are. And actually, probably more economically diverse than a lot of American public schools, I would think, since in them, the student body is usually determined by location, and there's so much economic segregation in the US.
posted by rue72 at 4:11 PM on June 1 [4 favorites]


It's the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Sliding scale tuition isn't the point. The kids who go to this school have parents who've hired tutors and consultants to get their toddlers into preschool. It's a whole other level of wealth and connections. Poor people do not go to this school.

This is fancy private school, in New York City. The dollar amount for tuition isn't the point.
posted by Sara C. at 4:14 PM on June 1 [4 favorites]


Guys, here is some info about the Manhattan Country School. It is far from being a typical NYC Private School: Manhattan Country School was founded with the goal of being a model racially integrated school. Today it remains well known for the diversity of its student body. There is no racial majority. According to the MCS website [1] 45% of the student body is white, 28% is African American, 19% is Hispanic/Latino and 8% is Asian American. About 22% of students define themselves as multiracial or biracial. MCS is considered the most racially and ethnically diverse independent school in New York and perhaps nationally.

Approximately 70 percent of MCS students pay less than the full "cost per child." This is among the highest percentages of students receiving financial aid at any independent school.

posted by beisny at 4:16 PM on June 1 [9 favorites]


Poor people do not go to this school.

Cite?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:19 PM on June 1 [1 favorite]


Timmy's mom packs his sandwiches in store brand Zip-Tite bags.
posted by angerbot at 4:20 PM on June 1 [4 favorites]


You know there are rich African-American, Latino, and Asian-American people in New York City, right? In NYC, class is a much more important predictor of what kind of home you live in -- especially among more well off people -- than race or ethnicity. Rich non-white people buy the same $800 strollers as their white counterparts.

Also, here's the "maxium fee" for 2014:

For the 2014-15 school year, maximum tuition is set as follows:

Lower School $37,000
Upper School $39,900

So you can be very wealthy and still hit somewhere on that sliding scale. At those prices, 75% of students getting financial aid isn't really meaningful. Anybody below Bill Gates is probably getting a sliding scale cost reduction.
posted by Sara C. at 4:20 PM on June 1 [4 favorites]


OK wait, this place is called the "Manhattan Country School"? How could it be "country" if it's in Manhattan? Does "country" mean something beyond "private," like something having to do with how the school is run?

The Country Day School movement is a movement in progressive education that originated in the United States in the late 19th century.

Country Day schools seek to recreate the educational rigor, atmosphere, camaraderie and character-building aspects of the best college prep boarding schools while allowing students to return to their families at the end of the day. To avoid the crime, pollution and health problems of the industrial cities of the early 20th century, the schools were sited in the 'country,' where wealthy families owned large homes in what would later be known as suburbs.


Most moderately large cities in the US have at least one school that fits the model, though not all use the name "Country Day School".
posted by dhartung at 4:28 PM on June 1 [5 favorites]


What then, is class? How is it defined? by wealth or what?

Fussell does cover that in the book. Which is mostly satirical, of course, but it does touch on the subject.

...at 4 or 5, they’re still a few years away from wielding the word “rich” as a weapon or experiencing deep and lasting class envy

No fear, they will get there in time.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:31 PM on June 1 [1 favorite]


I think what Sara is getting at is that even though there is a sliding scale of tuition payments, there are still very destitute students who wouldn't be able to attend.

Which is why in my first comment I pointed out that the economic "diversity" was probably going to hit from lower-middle-class and up, and that the differences in class that the teachers were talking about exposing the kids to probably weren't as great as they thought - they probably won't have any instance of "hey let's go visit Danny's place in the SRO hotel." There's still a certain economic class below which these kids simply won't be seeing.

Granted, sometimes the nuances of class between lower-middle and upper-middle still can be pretty big. But I find it naive of the teachers to claim that this is doing something to address class differences, when all the examples of "diversity" they say the kids are being exposed to are more cultural differences. Equally as valuable, mind you. But it just isn't striking as vast a blow at classism as maybe they think.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:31 PM on June 1 [2 favorites]


This is great. The title and a lot of words in the article talk about "class" but it seems like it's more about diversity of cultural/racial background, at least in the stories told.

The school is just 43 percent white, and confusion in that realm was what first spurred the home visits about 40 years ago. A boy was frustrated that his classmates didn’t understand that families like his who are from India did not use tomahawks and wear headdresses. Sensing this, Ms. Gelernt asked if he wanted to invite the class to his home.

Man I know those feels.
posted by sweetkid at 4:31 PM on June 1


It may not have the class-leveling effect its initiators may have hoped, but it'll promote diversity in other ways.

It started 40 years ago, though the article doesn't go talk to the 45 year old former students.
posted by sweetkid at 4:36 PM on June 1


One morning, we visited an income-restricted building in Harlem that sits diagonally across the street from a mosque. The family looks out on an open-air African market and an old-school fish fry shop....

At the Harlem apartment, the young host, whose parents did not want to be identified because of a wary employer...
Yeah, definitely an upper-middle-class Manhattan family.
posted by Etrigan at 4:37 PM on June 1 [7 favorites]


i'm a little tight in the chest just thinking about my class having my homelife as well as everything else to tease me with.

Yeah, kindergarten was when I became keenly aware my home life was Not Like Theirs. Anything that involved providing food to other kids was stressful for me. Were we going to give them acceptable food? Were they going to think it tasted weird? If it tasted okay, was it the right kind of food? Really the last thing I think I would have wanted at age 5 was for random kids from my kindergarten class to be in my house. You know, the class that had to be collectively chastised by the teacher for making fun of my mother's accent.
posted by hoyland at 4:39 PM on June 1 [7 favorites]


Yeah, definitely an upper-middle-class Manhattan family.

Good thing I included lower-middle-class families, or did you overlook that?

It started 40 years ago, though the article doesn't go talk to the 45 year old former students.

I missed that bit; however, I noticed, as you did, that they discuss more anecdotes of cultura than they do class ones, so I still am not seeing the class-eradication bit is all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:46 PM on June 1


I may be primed to think positively about this concept as I just came back from a birthday party for an 8-year old that had a pretty large class spectrum and got to watch some careful parental navigation of that. It all went well, but I definitely came out of it being hyper-aware of that spectrum and the potential kid dynamics resulting from it.

A lot of comments have focused on the shortcomings here -- the school probably doesn't swing all the way down the scale to families living in projects (or in shelters) for example. That's fair, but I think it also underestimates the degree to which, in our extremely economically stratified current world, even giving people a glimpse into the delta between lower-middle and extreme upper (plus the other variables of culture that come into play) could be a revelation.

For the folks thinking about the potential for embarrassment etc. -- I'd just point out that those class-based differences come up with kids inevitably anyway. And often in non-positive ways. This seems like a much more positive way to be exposed to class differences than suddenly being made fun of for some distinction you hadn't previously known about. Not perfect, and very likely hard to pull off in public schools for example, but better than just avoiding the issue which is what our cultural default seems to be today.
posted by feckless at 4:58 PM on June 1 [5 favorites]


I'm perhaps a little less willing to jump on Sara C.'s assumptions here because my dad went to a school with some striking similarities (the University of Chicago Laboratory School, and the associated program for older students called University High School). Just as this school is located on the rough edge of where the UES used to stop -- 96th St. -- and Spanish Harlem began*, the UCLS sits in Hyde Park, Chicago, an academic and gentrified oasis of privilege and whiteness surrounded by square miles of poverty, unemployment, slum housing, and crime. The school has continually worked to address this disconnect with scholarships and other forms of outreach, but there's only so much you can do.

I think in many respects this school probably does not fit the model of a snooty Manhattan UES private school. It was started when there was a new progressive movement in education and although the very city has gentrified around it I don't think you can judge it by that. One of the listed alumni on the Wikipedia page is Kelis, and while she appears to have had a reasonably comfortable life, her parents were from academia and non-profit/religious backgrounds, so not really wealthy. That said despite the fact that Harlem is now relatively safe at night does not mean there aren't still pockets of real poverty and I certainly don't think there's much value in playing No True Scotsman with this sort of program -- "They haven't experienced REAL poverty until they've spent a week begging for alms in Mumbai!" I mean, c'mon. The framing of this program seems to be less about educating kids that people can be poor -- something even today I doubt you can escape in East Harlem -- but about teaching kids how to approach the interpersonal dialog about income and class differences, which is important for anyone.

* Literally, when the Islamic Center (mosque) on 96th was built, it was considered a formidable step into a neighborhood that was considered to be still informally red-lined. I visited the site during construction and while there were already signs of condo conversions in the area many of the shops were still Spanish bodegas and the like, and I knew I wouldn't be comfortable there past sundown.
posted by dhartung at 5:01 PM on June 1 [6 favorites]


Oh, goodness, dhartung, if you think I've been playing "No True Scotsman" that actually isn't my intent, I'm sorry. I do indeed think this is a great thing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:14 PM on June 1


“Four-year-olds have no value judgments about one house being better than another because it’s fancier,”

Yeah, 4 and 5 year old kids really aren't into hot tubs, swimming pools, or home theater rooms. Why, they hardly notice them and definitely don't repeatedly say they're awesome as I'm giving them a bathtub right now.
posted by jpe at 5:20 PM on June 1


what? giving them a bathtub?
posted by sweetkid at 5:26 PM on June 1 [3 favorites]


Just got back from a 9 hour car drive with said toddlers. Coherence is a struggle.
posted by jpe at 5:30 PM on June 1 [5 favorites]


Which is why in my first comment I pointed out that the economic "diversity" was probably going to hit from lower-middle-class and up, and that the differences in class that the teachers were talking about exposing the kids to probably weren't as great as they thought - they probably won't have any instance of "hey let's go visit Danny's place in the SRO hotel." There's still a certain economic class below which these kids simply won't be seeing.

I agree that these kids are probably going to be coming from pretty much middle-and-up economic backgrounds, but on the other hand, I think that this program is giving them exposure to a much broader swath of the economic spectrum than a (hypothetical) regular kid like "Danny" gets, going from head start to public school and playing with the other kids in his building or on his street. And it also gives them exposure to a broader swath of the economic spectrum than most Fancy Private School kids get. It also sounds like they're trying to teach the kids not to make value judgements based on money, and that's fantastic, I think.

Exposure to economic diversity isn't usually seen as an ideal for young kids, I think -- and isn't that baked into private schooling, where at least part of the point is usually to keep kids exposed to a certain "kind" of peer? That this school is even making economic (and not just racial or ethnic) diversity a focus and something that they view *positively* is already laudable, to me.
posted by rue72 at 5:42 PM on June 1 [3 favorites]


And it's not just economic diversity, but also racial, religious, cultural. Those are all important.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:48 PM on June 1 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: Coherence is a struggle.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:54 PM on June 1 [4 favorites]


And it's not just economic diversity, but also racial, religious, cultural. Those are all important.

And I have pointed that very thing out twice now.

I was only questioning the teachers' claims that they were exposing the kids to "class diversity" when the anecdotes they give in the article seemed to be more about cultural differences, and pointing out that the range of exposure of class differences may not be quite as expansive as the teachers seemed to be hoping for.

Very diverse culturally, though, which is - as I have said - just as important.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:55 PM on June 1


They mention income limited housing, aka the projects. As for the name: can you believe that Oxford has nothing to do with oxen? What posers

Seriously, folks, competing for the title of most cynical know-it-all works better when you read the actual article first
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:56 PM on June 1 [13 favorites]


"at 4 or 5, they’re still a few years away from wielding the word “rich” as a weapon or experiencing deep and lasting class envy. "

You can always count on the NYT to center the rich, even in the schoolyard.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:59 PM on June 1 [1 favorite]


My godson goes to this school, so I've been tangentially involved in fund raisers, parties, etc. I've met a ton of families there, and there really is a spectrum of family income. And I grew up on foodstamps, so I do know what "poor" means.

This is not fancy pants UES private school; the Dalton and Trinity crowd would never dream of applying there, and you won't see it mentioned on Urbanbaby. They also do have a farm upstate that the kids spend time at, which is the "country" part I guess.

One thing that typically doesn't go mentioned is that the better off families there are well aware that the high tuition and fundraising they do is what pays for the diversity they value. It's a conscious choice they are making, and while it is not going fix the world, it's an attempt, and I'm sad to see it being looked on with such cynicism here.
posted by snickerdoodle at 6:18 PM on June 1 [42 favorites]


A lot of comments have focused on the shortcomings here

I didn't mean to imply that the program is doing a bad job. On the contrary; I think they're not giving themselves enough credit. This one educator is, in my opinion, naively thinking that the reason the children have been so overwhelmingly positive is that they're incapable of being negative. I, on the other hand, think it's more likely that it's due to how well they've managed the experience. And if they can manage it that well, it's still a good thing for the kids even if I'm right.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:19 PM on June 1


As for the name: can you believe that Oxford has nothing to do with oxen? What posers

Sorry, I was trying to ask if the school being a "country" school meant something about its specific pedagogy. When I tried finding the answer online for myself, all I got was a huge list of schools with "country" in the name, so couldn't figure it out, and thought someone on here might know better (which they did! thanks, dhartung). I'd always just figured private schools called that were "country" schools because they were on large grounds, but that couldn't be the case in Manhattan, so...Anyway, it wasn't sarcastic. Sorry for it being a derail, though.
posted by rue72 at 6:20 PM on June 1


at 4 or 5, they’re still a few years away from wielding the word “rich” as a weapon or experiencing deep and lasting class envy

...And a few decades away from exploiting the kids whose families couldn't afford to send them to private school.
posted by vorpal bunny at 6:24 PM on June 1


I am amazed that people are disagreeing about the ever-present baseline level of class present here when this is a PRIVATE school in NYC! I'll be impressed when public school plebes out in the sticks get a taste of any of those homes.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:25 PM on June 1 [1 favorite]


Cynicism is often just another form of naivety.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:46 PM on June 1 [1 favorite]


Checkers sell better than chess.
posted by mr. digits at 6:51 PM on June 1


at 4 or 5, they’re still a few years away from wielding the word “rich” as a weapon or experiencing deep and lasting class envy

This was such a weird thing to write. The major concern I would have with this initiative is that kids would get to see which of their classmates are poor and tease them about it. Why is that outcome not even mentioned and instead we're only meant to be concerned about the possibility that the rich kids will be teased or be the target of jealousy?
posted by zixyer at 7:06 PM on June 1 [4 favorites]


NYT is obsessed with class envy.
posted by sweetkid at 7:07 PM on June 1 [4 favorites]


Zlxyer, there's a bigger possibility that the idea and outcome is to get the kids to not tease each other for being poor. The idea seems to be to make a happy and interesting field trip out of different homes, framing the diversity of homes to the kids as A Good Thing. They're not just touring the house on a playdate but actively approaching the visit as a teaching time to look for what is shared and what's different, and to find good stuff in each place. You take a bunch of little kids to a park for example, and let them just play and explore, that's one experience. You guide them through the park as a ecosystem day (Let's look at which plants grow where, what's the tallest tree? What's under this pile of leaves? Why are the baby trees growing here?), the kids will have a different concept of the park.

I wonder in the discussions here about the teachers' impact. My youngest goes to a private preschool where we are probably the poorest family (but still lower middle class), after being in one where we were at the upper end. In both, the teachers came from working-class/lower middle-class backgrounds, and quality was a question of space and curriculum, not the families that attended. The very expensive preschools here are split between hippy-dippy ones like ours (ours is comparatively cheap for its type) and surprisingly crappy academic-style kindergartens that have an expensive reputation.

Preschool is one place where the cost and wealth/class of families attending does not correlate to the quality of the school's teaching the way it does overwhelmingly in elementary onwards school.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:21 PM on June 1 [1 favorite]


Using the words "class envy" with a straight face is a great "I'm a giant shit, don't step on me or you'll have to clean my filth off your shoes" red flag, especially as our society becomes increasingly brutal and stratified.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:26 PM on June 1 [4 favorites]


They mention income limited housing, aka the projects.

I live in the building mentioned. It is a co-op and not the projects. The building is for middle income buyers with some set asides for lower income buyers. The vast majority of occupants are teachers, bus drivers, musicians, accountants, production people in the entertainment industry, etc.
posted by plastic_animals at 7:34 PM on June 1 [5 favorites]


i wasn't trying to get down on it or be cynical or whatever - just that class and religious differences feature heavily in most of my school interaction memories. around that age i was in a run down trailer park while my classmates were living in beautiful, historic downtown (where we'd take field trips because their houses were important to the civil war - one girl had a 2 story "house" in her backyard with running water and electricity for her to play in). like hoyland, the food thing was already fraught enough. i was just talking to my brother about how stressful it was when it was time to bring snacks (and how my mom rarely if ever did and how that was a big deal for a lot of reasons in a bad way).

this sort of program wouldn't have worked in my town and would have made things a lot worse for me.
posted by nadawi at 7:54 PM on June 1 [3 favorites]


I actually went to a year of preschool at Manhattan Country about 30 years ago and I remember doing these visits and enjoying them, both going to other kids' apartments and having people come to mine. My family moved out of New York after that year, when I was about 5, so I don't have many memories of living there, but that's definitely one of them.
posted by Awkward Philip at 8:39 PM on June 1 [5 favorites]


In 4th grade we did this, except we went to each other's churches or cultural centers, not homes. It was part of a comparative religion class we had at a progressive school that was religion friendly and so very diverse! lots of foreign kids, although not at all rich. Immigrant kids, minority religions and regular local kids.

We learned that our school friends who seemed so alike at school came from really different backgrounds and you should never assume. We learned that Muslim kids never go to church with holey socks (alas too late), a kindly rabbi gave us a 17.4 hour lecture on the early Christian Church and a gaggle of Hindu parents failed utterly in explaining the rules of hinduism to what must have seemed a very dogmatic group of children. By then we wanted a quick summary of the rules upon arrival. For comparison purposes.

Somewhere between the Ba'hai temple and the Poor Claires we had a kind of group revelation that all religions are kind of the same. The main rule is be nice, the second rule is look at the big picture. It was pretty mind blowing and kind of a really formative experience for me. I think we all came out of it much better people. And 99% atheist, but whatevs...

So I like this idea, although I think it would be hard to pull off with older kids who have more of a sense of wealth or class.
posted by fshgrl at 9:36 PM on June 1 [8 favorites]


Hindu parents failed utterly in explaining the rules of hinduism to what must have seemed a very dogmatic group of children.

Ha, yea that's cause there aren't really rules. I can see that being confusing. My parents are Hindu/mostly Hindu and I was always asking about rules too because I grew up around Catholics and Mormons and my parents were like buh?
posted by sweetkid at 9:43 PM on June 1 [2 favorites]


I think the problem with this school is that it involves rich parents BUYING diversity for the benefit of their ivy-league-college-bound children. Do you think it's the poorer kids who benefit from this exchange?
posted by Dr. Send at 9:54 PM on June 1 [4 favorites]


I think the problem with this school is that it involves rich parents BUYING diversity for the benefit of their ivy-league-college-bound children

This is a really good point, and reminds me of reading the chapter in NurtureShock on racial diversity in schools, which came to the conclusion (I'm paraphrasing) that a less diverse school is "better" for your kids than a more diverse school because kids at less diverse schools are more likely to make friendships across racial lines. Because at a school with a critical mass of (for example) Asian kids, all the Asian kids will sit together in the cafeteria, but if there are just a few Asian kids they'll be more likely to befriend a white kid... Which is like, I mean, good for the white kid who now has an Asian friend (but still has plenty of white friends) I guess, but in high school I would have really benefited from a peer group who shared my basic cultural frame of reference, I think. It all seemed very divide-and-conquer.
posted by sunset in snow country at 10:12 PM on June 1 [1 favorite]


I would have loved this when I was 5. I would have loved to take them around my house and show them our Star Wars toys and our kitchen and our backyard and the cinderblock fence where I scraped up my knees and that plant in the front that we weren't supposed to eat even though it was called rhubarb and my Bobbsey Twins books said they ate rhubarb. Then we would've eaten sweet pickles and applesauce, because that was my favourite thing when I was 5 what are you talking about that's totally normal.

I didn't get much class differentiation in my K-2 school, as it seemed that even though it was a private Christian school, all the students seemed to come from the same lower middle-class general area, and, really, the only difference was if your birthday party was at the park or at the roller rink (and since half of the time you were sharing your birthday party with another kid your age, even that didn't make much of an impact, since your parents went in together).

Plus, snacks. Always with the snacks.
posted by Katemonkey at 4:15 AM on June 2


I spent K-8 in a Country Day school in suburban New Jersey, and I never knew until right now why on earth it was called that. So I've learned a thing - thanks, MeFi!

I can see how this has some great benefits and would be fun for many kids. I also see the shortcomings, and think that the shy, anxious, depressed child I was probably would have had a complete nervous breakdown at the thought of hosting my class at my house. (I mean, if my mother didn't beat me to the nervous breakdown. Maybe we'd have had it together.)
posted by Stacey at 5:31 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]


Dr Send-"I think the problem with this school"--Please tell me what the problem is and what you think the negative implications are for the students from lower, middle and upper income families. Also, do you think there might also be mutual gains for the students from different income levels.
posted by rmhsinc at 5:33 AM on June 2


Depth of spread peanut butter was a key class indicator for me as a kid.
posted by srboisvert at 5:39 AM on June 2 [3 favorites]


Did greater depth correspond with higher or lower status?
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:30 AM on June 2


I understand that a private school in Manhattan, even one with sliding-scale tuition, will necessarily contain a self-selecting population, but seriously: What about this is advantageous for the lower-class kids? I mean what exactly, pinpointed, not in a nebulous way.

While I'm sure this is a fine chance for middle- and upper-class kids to get to see how poor folks live, so they can develop empathy or whatever, lower-class kids already get to see how middle- and upper-class kids live every day. They don't need to be escorted to a penthouse on the UWS for insider access; lifestyles of the rich and famous are plastered all over every TV channel, every form of print media, and every corner of the internet 24/7/365. Speaking from experience, poor kids get taught that we need to aspire to emulate these widely-publicized notions of wealth, that we are both lacking if we fail to achieve it and lacking even more if we don't really care whether we achieve it or not.

I understand that the focus for programs like this is to expose people who are in a position of privilege to people who are less privileged, but when you've been made to feel inherently inferior based on the socioeconomic station you were born into since forever, it can feel pretty damn awful to be the observed rather than the observers -- like you're an exhibit in a zoo. This divide is showcased pretty clearly in TFA, where the parents in Harlem decline to be identified in any way while the parents in Morningside Heights are perfectly fine with their names and professions being published. The former presumably need to carefully consider their actions to ensure they remain gainfully employed and thus housed, while the latter apparently have nothing to be ashamed or scared of, since they are well-educated, presumably commensurately salaried, safe, and secure. As ever it was, &c.

As a poor kid, especially if you come from a fractured, violent, or ruthlessly high-stress home environment, being shown over and over again how and where your life differs from your better-off classmates' is humiliating enough. You don't need to take a damn field trip to know the score.
posted by divined by radio at 8:15 AM on June 2 [5 favorites]


What about this is advantageous for the lower-class kids? I mean what exactly, pinpointed, not in a nebulous way.

So... your baseline is that schools should be segregated by income, because poor kids suffer when interacting with/growing up with rich kids and gain nothing from experiencing a diverse (in terms of family wealth) peer group?
posted by jsturgill at 8:38 AM on June 2 [3 favorites]


What about this is advantageous for the lower-class kids? I mean what exactly, pinpointed, not in a nebulous way.
So... your baseline is that schools should be segregated by income, because poor kids suffer when interacting with/growing up with rich kids and gain nothing from experiencing a diverse (in terms of family wealth) peer group?

So... you're going to quote an entirely non-rhetorical question I asked, and not only pointedly decline to even attempt to answer it in any way, shape, or form, but instead just turn it around in order to accuse me of being pro-class segregation? For real?

OK, I'll ask again: What are the specific benefits that are provided to poor(er) children by virtue of being taken on field trips to their wealthier classmates' homes? What are they gaining, other than an increasingly sharp perception of the ways in which their own homes and lives are likely to be found lacking? The fact that I specifically asked about this does not mean that "[my] baseline is that schools should be segregated by income." It means I am seeking an answer.

Of course schools shouldn't be segregated by income, but they are. They always have been, and until rich folks decide that they're done treating poor folks like we're subjects to be dropped in on and studied rather than actual human beings, they always will be. Making ministrations to provide a modicum of "diversity" to a population who can afford to procure it piecemeal doesn't, as far as I've ever known or seen, do anything to change that.
posted by divined by radio at 9:08 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]


Having rich friends is great. It's interesting to experience new things. Plus, the kids all love to have their homes visited, so it's only fair that they have to visit each other's homes (which they also love). Humiliation is not inherent in this exchange, at least not for the children--if your classmates purposely visit your house just the same as a rich kid's house, that means you have just as much to value and feel proud of as the rich kid does.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:24 AM on June 2 [4 favorites]


until rich folks decide that they're done treating poor folks like we're subjects to be dropped in on and studied rather than actual human beings, they always will be.

It seems to me that exposing rich folks to how actual poor folks live -- especially in the formative years of childhood -- will go a long way toward doing that.
posted by Etrigan at 9:26 AM on June 2 [4 favorites]


OK, I'll ask again: What are the specific benefits that are provided to poor(er) children by virtue of being taken on field trips to their wealthier classmates' homes? What are they gaining, other than an increasingly sharp perception of the ways in which their own homes and lives are likely to be found lacking? The fact that I specifically asked about this does not mean that "[my] baseline is that schools should be segregated by income." It means I am seeking an answer.

Possibilities, depending on the homes and children involved:

1) It's interesting to be invited into someone's home, glimpse their lives, and eat a snack. Like, for real, that's fun. Have you never visited someone with more or fewer resources than you and had a good, or at least interesting, time?

2) An understanding that wealth may not be as much of a differentiator as ethnicity, physical location, family-specific culture and history.

3) (Y) may enjoy being at (x) kid's house and actually start spending more time at (x) kid's house or simply become better friends (whether X is or y is the more or less well off kid is immaterial).

4) The poor kids might see other poor families' homes as well, with whom their lives and shared experiences may be shockingly dissimilar.

5) They may realize the smallness of the living quarters in extremely expensive parts of the city, and come to appreciate the fact that they have a larger kitchen in a worse part of town, and that's OK.

6) Little differences, such as shoes on or off at the door, how and where people eat, the number and kind of electronics in the house, the kind of decorations available, what single-purpose rooms exist in the house, are there books and if so what kind, is there hired help and if so how much, and what do they do... are all things that are specific, human, interesting, and worth mulling over as a kid (or as an adult). Rich people aren't a monolithic, uninteresting, completely cookie-cutter class of people that poor kids are able to understand accurately by watching shitty TV shows.

7) They may become outraged at the disparities in their lived experiences and go on to become lifelong advocates for social change: which would be awesome. Or they may realize that wealth is relative, and other yardsticks exist for measuring success, or that there are tradeoffs one makes.

8) I see intrinsic value in people meeting and personally interacting with people from different backgrounds. You don't? To make it more practical, a poor kid who has spent time with rich kids will likely be more capable at code switching, more at ease with rich kids in college or in the workplace, and be a better social climber--at least potentially, if that kind of crass payoff is all you're interested in.
posted by jsturgill at 10:31 AM on June 2 [6 favorites]


...if that kind of crass payoff is all you're interested in...

Apologies for being an ass; the edit window is closed, and that's more judgmental than helpful.
posted by jsturgill at 10:39 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]


I think the problem with this school is that it involves rich parents BUYING diversity for the benefit of their ivy-league-college-bound children. Do you think it's the poorer kids who benefit from this exchange?

I had a fairly rough upbringing when my parents moved to the US. We were poor, my dad drank too much and hit us, and I had no idea how to function in middle-class society. Going to my friends' houses, and seeing how they lived helped me "fake it" later in life. I learned American-style table manners and social rules. I had the grades to get into an elite school, but without the social conditioning, I would have been adrift and lost out on many opportunities. I wouldn't have known about the PSAT or national merit scholarships, or how to speak to adults in a culture that expected more than obedience.

As for Ivies... You don't send kids to progressive schools for that. They're generally derided as not being academically rigorous by the "Top Tier" parents who care about that.
posted by snickerdoodle at 11:20 AM on June 2 [4 favorites]


It's interesting to be invited into someone's home, glimpse their lives, and eat a snack. Like, for real, that's fun. Have you never visited someone with more or fewer resources than you and had a good, or at least interesting, time?

Is it weird that I might say no? I'm class-conscious above all else, probably to a deleterious degree. Visiting someone with more resources than me has never been anything except a gut-churning tightrope walk, because I'm so painfully aware of my lower-class "tells" that I feel nothing but terror. Whereas visiting someone with fewer resources than me just means that I need to share whatever I have with them until we're as even as possible, and sometimes give much more than what I can afford so we can all feel a bit rich temporarily. I wasn't in a position to meet someone who had less than me until I was an adult, so I have no idea what it would be like to be a kid coming from the privileged position rather than the put-upon.

But visiting rich classmates as a young kid wasn't fun, it was depressing -- even something as innocuous as snacking gets pretty fraught when you've been taught to check how close you are to the first of the month before you eat anything, ever, at which point the idea of opening your precious pantry to visitors either makes you break into a cold sweat or laugh in their face. The kids I grew up with later on in the projects were all similarly situated, with income being the ultimate (effectively sole) decider in who befriended whom. By that point, rich kids would just stop talking to me when they found out where I lived. Their parents didn't want them associating with my kind and they were very explicit and open about it: We were dirty little criminals in training. I'm sure the parlance has changed with the passage of time, but back in the 90s, everyone called my neighborhood Little Compton. Our boys were punks and thugs, our girls were hoes and hoodrats, and the only time non-poor folks would willingly come our way was to bestow some charity upon us or in the name of "diversity."

So growing up, it became pretty clear that exposing rich folks to poor folks' way of life would not inspire a desire to treat us with empathy or compassion, which taught me that banking on an eventual hoped-for recognition of our shared humanity was a fool's errand. Counting that same hope as a presumptive benefit to this sort of program feels very pie-in-the-sky to me. The idea that rich folks' empathy will come out of the woodwork once they're shown that we're real people, too, is seriously bewildering from my perspective because it doesn't match up with my experience at all. Rich people have known how poor people live for ages, but not a whole lot has changed; they're still fighting tooth and nail to take away what little we've been able to get (via education budget cuts, SNAP/TANF/WIC cuts, public transit cuts, etc.) every single day.

Rich people aren't a monolithic, uninteresting, completely cookie-cutter class of people that poor kids are able to understand accurately by watching shitty TV shows.

It's not that I think I understand rich people from watching them so much as I acknowledge that there is a seemingly impassable canyon between their way of life and mine, their history and mine, their future and mine, and that I am not on the winning side. When the 'game, set, match' was decided generations before you came along, it can be exceedingly difficult to see the winners as anything but a monolith because you know that nothing you say or do matters to them at all until you're striking and rioting in the streets.

I see intrinsic value in people meeting and personally interacting with people from different backgrounds. You don't?

I guess I feel like this is one of those things that's designed to be more advantageous for the already-advantaged party, which is a cause I don't find particularly valuable, myself. The rest of what you listed is all stuff that would never have mattered to me as a kid because I was super-busy worrying about securing food and housing. But I do recognize that those things could be useful for people who are a few rungs up the socioeconomic ladder -- it was very nebulous and abstract until you listed everything out, so I appreciate it.

Personally, I associate having rich folks paraded through my shitty apartment/neighborhood with shame, humiliation, and embarassment for the observed, rather than mind-expanding or door-opening for the observers. I had it happen multiple times and it was never anything but deeply uncomfortable. I'll readily acknowledge that codeswitching and empathy are valuable traits, priceless even, I just think it's next to impossible to even begin to achieve that level of commonality or understanding when you're only seeing how the other half lives in the context of a school-sanctioned field trip for children who aren't even old enough for kindergarten.

Thanks, sincerely, for the thoughtful response.
posted by divined by radio at 12:39 PM on June 2 [2 favorites]


Is it weird that I might say no? I'm class-conscious above all else, probably to a deleterious degree. Visiting someone with more resources than me has never been anything except a gut-churning tightrope walk, because I'm so painfully aware of my lower-class "tells" that I feel nothing but terror. Whereas visiting someone with fewer resources than me just means that I need to share whatever I have with them until we're as even as possible, and sometimes give much more than what I can afford so we can all feel a bit rich temporarily. I wasn't in a position to meet someone who had less than me until I was an adult, so I have no idea what it would be like to be a kid coming from the privileged position rather than the put-upon.

It seems to be an open question as to how poor the poor kids are in this scenario; different people in the thread have had different assumptions, and I think without a breakdown of assistance received or some tax returns to study, we can't really know it in the thread. The children in question may be a half-step more stable than that, with real food security, for example.

I also wonder how early this stark divide was cemented, in you and in your classmates. My bias is to think that it's a learned response, not ingrained. I suspect that young you may have been burned a few times by these kids' abrupt changes in demeanor, and responded (rightly so) by hardening yourself and becoming hyper-vigilant about these differences. Signaling from authority figures--parents, teachers, administration--might have a strong affect on how the children in this particular school process the differences they see, during the first time those differences become forefronted.

In particular, these parents seem to value diversity and have deliberately sought it out in their school placement. Rich families deciding not to live in a (proverbial, hypothetical) gated community filled with only their class peers might, I think, have a different reaction to others than middle class families who can almost afford to live in a gated community, and really wished they did.

I also think that everyone in the school comes from a family with a certain amount of shared values (such as on the worth of education), which can help when it comes to building lasting relationships across a class divide.

I'll readily acknowledge that codeswitching and empathy are valuable traits, priceless even, I just think it's next to impossible to even begin to achieve that level of commonality or understanding when you're only seeing how the other half lives in the context of a school-sanctioned field trip for children who aren't even old enough for kindergarten.

My initial thought is that early impressions are valuable, even though there will be many layers to the experience that the kids will miss.

I'm glad you posted your thoughts. They underscore a perspective (and potential problems/stresses in the trips) that I minimized enough to gloss over, but which are worth foregrounding.
posted by jsturgill at 2:41 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]


I really appreciate the comments from hoyland and divined by radio too.

Age and the support of teachers and parents seems to be key here. Taking older kids around seems more like a set up to The O.C. and without a lot of intervention, can lead to toxic social positioning. I wonder what a good age is? Kids get super conscious of gender roles around 4 plus, maybe that's when the same urge to categorize and assign a hierarchy and roles starts setting and kids need to be reached at 3-5 to help them navigate that in a way that helps.

It boils down to: how do you visit and share when there are marked differences in a way that is mutually respectful without ignoring the differences? Participation and trust and - I think a big part of me is that this seems voluntary. The kids who are attending are in a small group and the teachers presumably pick carefully and prepare with the host family and the kids to make sure it's a positive experience for both.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:53 PM on June 2


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