The Battle of Grace Church: A Nursery School Class Riot
July 9, 2019 5:38 AM   Subscribe

“I love books,” [Morgano] said. “I would always pick a Caldecott winner to read to my classes.” Later, the librarian repeated the conversation to the head Threes teacher: “Who says that?” [the librarian] said, aghast. “You wouldn’t say, ‘Caldecott winner.’ You would say, ‘I love reading Make Way for Ducklings.’ ”
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 (87 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wait. This all happened because a kid walked home?

I.... can't even....
posted by schmod at 5:47 AM on July 9 [2 favorites]


I mean. It sounds like a bunch of people were building up feelings about a bunch of things.

Based on my experience with big groups, I'm imagining the kid walked home, and there was a Let's Talk About How We Handle Things conversation — and then that conversation opened the floodgates, all the seemingly unrelated built-up feelings ended up on the table, and it turned into a Let's Talk About How We Handle Literally Everything conversation.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:55 AM on July 9 [5 favorites]


No it all happened because capitalism.
posted by spitbull at 5:55 AM on July 9 [7 favorites]


Aristocrats pretending they can have things like 'community' is so grotesquely funny in how it always pans out.
posted by Space Coyote at 6:00 AM on July 9 [23 favorites]


I read this yesterday! It was extremely depressing and I regretted the lost brain cells.

The thesis of the article seems to be that there's a transition between old-fashioned rich people (WASPy, professional class, old money) and newfangled ones (celebrities, stylists, actors) and the controversial director was absolutely blown away by the newfangled ones and upended all the things the old-fashioned ones liked, plus fired a lot of people to replace them with younger people who would be dependent on her patronage. A resource squabble between micro-classes that mainly made me sad about the women who were fired by the new director.
posted by Frowner at 6:08 AM on July 9 [36 favorites]


The funny thing is if you take away the celebrities, this could be any small private school anywhere in America. Private schools are kinda lousy with this behavior.

Source: Mom Freedom was a private school music teacher, had this happen to her complete with new director replacing cherished old timer who they named the library after.
posted by chainsofreedom at 6:14 AM on July 9 [15 favorites]


This situation was heightened by the added stress of getting into the 'right' elementary school in NY.

Reading this made me sick. While the fired director did behave unprofessionally on social media, no one looked good in this whole thing.
posted by k8t at 6:20 AM on July 9 [3 favorites]


"She said this in a room of the most highly stressed parents in the world”

Narrator: They were not the most highly stressed parents in the world.
posted by escabeche at 6:21 AM on July 9 [154 favorites]


I am in higher ed, and my response to this article was, "Oh, it looks like my colleagues have moved on to preschool." This kind of situation is rampant in the neoliberal academy, toe to top. Part of the problem, more generally, is hiring deans/directors who know nothing about pedagogy and who often have MBAs or other "business" skills. As a bonus, they are nearly always megalomaniacs. They're out to make a profit and to gain as much so-called status for themselves and their school as they possibly can on their way, without realizing that in doing so they have entirely misunderstood and totally perverted their original mission.

I'd definitely watch a Netflix series based on Grace Church, though.
posted by sockermom at 6:23 AM on July 9 [21 favorites]


Grace Church had functioned as a “glorified playgroup,” as one parent put it. The children pressed leaves into paper, explored textures, and danced the Wiggle Worm. The atmosphere had often been compared to a “warm bubble bath,”

Hell yeah! Sign my kids up!

there were some who felt the school could turn up the temperature a notch.

Brb throwing kbd through window
posted by davejay at 6:28 AM on July 9 [14 favorites]


The way the school was structured before the changes sounded quite nice and restful to me. And then I thought about the weird pilgrim thing, the lack of diversity that runs like an undercurrent through this story, the class issues in this piece, all the heritage family names in the old set...perhaps the open ambition of the new set is considered tacky only by those who can afford to lack ambition, because their children won’t have to worry about transcending class or building a resume.

I do still wish there were preschools that felt comfortable encouraging little tiny kids to finger-paint and nap all day, though. That still sounds nice. Maybe there are!
posted by sallybrown at 6:40 AM on July 9 [28 favorites]


Also, I’m not saying she’s necessarily a model for human behavior, but in my diva heart I loved the silent ruthlessness of Pat Jones (including the KARMA sticker art that I’m sure was hers).
posted by sallybrown at 6:47 AM on July 9 [30 favorites]


When my kids were in grade school, a long-time principal who had herself been a student at the school retired, and the new principal was not well-liked by the staff. Then again, that staff included a large male teacher who tended to put this hands on and physically move children and parents if he wanted them standing somewhere else during a school event, an extremely sexist gym teacher who had all the kids cross their legs and then berated the boys who crossed their legs like a girl (just one small sample of a pattern of behavior) and a large contingent of members who, when the new principal held a meeting about transgender children and how to accommodate them, were openly hostile to the idea that they needed to be accommodated at all.

Coming into an organization where broken stairs exist must be a very challenging thing to do.
posted by davejay at 6:58 AM on July 9 [12 favorites]


“You wouldn’t say, ‘Caldecott winner.’

I can remember a big deal being made of these in an elementry school "gifted" class, in about 1975, fwiw. So I don't think it's all that scandalous that a librarian would say this.
posted by thelonius at 6:59 AM on July 9 [9 favorites]


perhaps the open ambition of the new set is considered tacky only by those who can afford to lack ambition, because their children won’t have to worry about transcending class or building a resume.
Yes, that's it. And in fact, one of the weapons that these people use against upstarts is to claim that ambition is tacky and disqualifying. Truly refined people are not grasping or striving. Good things fall into their laps, as rewards for their superior character. (They really get those things as rewards for their class position, but they work hard to render that stuff invisible. Outsiders don't know that you got into Princeton as a legacy admit.) They have historically used this line against Jews, and now some of the main targets are Asian-Americans. I can see how the old-school Grace Church preschool could seem appealing, but I don't think there are any good people in this story. They're all assholes.
Also, I’m not saying she’s necessarily a model for human behavior, but in my diva heart I loved the silent ruthlessness of Pat Jones (including the KARMA sticker art that I’m sure was hers).
I mean, have you read Edith Wharton? There is nothing more efficiently brutal than an old-money WASP putting a trash-person in her place.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:03 AM on July 9 [30 favorites]


I don't think there are any good people in this story. They're all assholes.

That three-year-old who just up and walked the fuck home one day is pretty awesome.
posted by Etrigan at 7:06 AM on July 9 [91 favorites]


There is a very Big Little Lies east coast feel to all of this. It's nauseating to read. Like ugh, I hate that capitalism makes us crave this kind of validation, this status, this desire to fit in and be perceived a certain way. To sort into boxes marked those who have and those who have not. Blah.
posted by Fizz at 7:09 AM on July 9 [3 favorites]


These are houses not just for people who have money, but people who have values

Stopped reading right there.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 7:09 AM on July 9 [19 favorites]


I would also be interested to hear the private thoughts of the Reverend Allen Robinson!
posted by sallybrown at 7:10 AM on July 9 [17 favorites]


There is something so profoundly gratifying, when, after spending copious amounts of time sowing discord between various groups of poor people and generally making the world a meaner, crueller, more inequitable place, the terrible, awful, no good, entitled rich start attacking each other for the most petty shit imaginable.

I mean, it would do the heart better if they actually turned their resources toward helping kids and families and schools that need it (and there are plenty that do, not even that far away from Brooklyn Heights), but they'll never do that. So we might as well enjoy the fleeting pleasures of watching the rich confirm all the worst things we ever knew about them in a public place.
posted by thivaia at 7:19 AM on July 9 [17 favorites]


I really enjoyed this article and how I could dislike all the adults in it, and, in time, I will dislike all the children in that school too. (I checked up on the pricing -- the morning group they are talking about is 1h15 twice a week, with a parent, for the low low price of 5600/year. The daycare, which is half days for 9 months, starts at 13k/year for 3 mornings a week.

But honestly I would read this entire thing as a novel, and some of it would be too on the nose. "A note or a phone call from a director could make or break the future for a 4-year-old." Surely these fabulously wealthy children who are swimming in the most privilege ever will have a second chance at Harvard, even once they are 6 or 7.

I was also a big fan of the shocking changes she made over the summer, like changing bookcases to child-friendly ones and cleaning up shortbread crumbs.
posted by jeather at 7:26 AM on July 9 [26 favorites]


Yeah, I kept reading mostly out of a "hey, look at this train wreck over here," kind of feeling. I too pretty much hate everyone involved. But I also agree that these dynamics play out in these kinds of organizations pretty often, no matter the wealth of the people involved. The Board said they wanted to make changes, but in their heart of hearts, they didn't really want those changes. Could the Director have handled things better? Of course, but the whole thing was set up for disaster from the get-go. Keeping the old director on as an adviser? Why?
posted by dellsolace at 7:35 AM on July 9 [2 favorites]


I work in higher ed, and anticipate the children who came up through this school with a mix of terror and entertainment.
posted by doctornemo at 7:39 AM on July 9 [4 favorites]


Hi Grace parents!” read the email. “The gala is now less than three months away and we are finalizing our live and silent auction items. We still have space for a handful of exceptional, mind-blowing items (think villa in italy for a week!), and we know you’ve been waiting until now to send us your best offers. Please please please don’t wait any longer! #Time’sUp!

ಠ_ಠ
posted by duffell at 7:41 AM on July 9 [32 favorites]


The daycare, which is half days for 9 months, starts at 13k/year for 3 mornings a week.

That's actually undermarket for an NYC pre-school, and don't forget you either need to be a SAHM or a nanny if your kids go to these schools. An unlike elementary school there is no financial aid, and really no effort at diversity.


BK in particular has become particularly competitive for the private school crowd as demand far outstrips supply, whereas in Manhattan, while you might not get your first choice, you'll probably get something.
posted by JPD at 7:42 AM on July 9 [2 favorites]


Surely these fabulously wealthy children who are swimming in the most privilege ever will have a second chance at Harvard, even once they are 6 or 7.

When you've lived your entire life in the express lanes, having to take the local lanes is like standing still.
posted by Etrigan at 7:43 AM on July 9 [10 favorites]


I suspect I could just tell you ten things about life in Manhattan Nursery Schools that would make people start building a gallows- and we go to what is seen as a "low-key" school.
posted by JPD at 7:47 AM on July 9 [17 favorites]


I mean, have you read Edith Wharton? There is nothing more efficiently brutal than an old-money WASP putting a trash-person in her place.

Envisaging Morgano as Undine Spragg makes this so much better!

This all happened because a kid walked home?

I would utterly freak out if a child of mine left preschool and got home on their own, but all that's really required is a sign in/out procedure. You can call it a concierge desk if you must.

I kind of love the 1984 quality of the word exmissions. I think this is my new favourite word of the week.

I do still wish there were preschools that felt comfortable encouraging little tiny kids to finger-paint and nap all day, though.

I think this kind of gets at the crux of the class war here. Here's a group of old wealth people who haven't had to worry about their kids' reading scores or upward mobility for generations. And then there are nouveau riche hustlers who want their kids in the school that bears the old-money seal of approval, but they also want Met Gala galas and instructional techniques that (supposedly) position their kids for start up/creative/whatever greatness. There really is a novel here.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:50 AM on July 9 [16 favorites]


The way the school was structured before the changes sounded quite nice and restful to me.

A three-year-old was left unsupervised long enough to walk home without anybody knowing. I'm pretty sure this would have been deemed unacceptable at literally any preschool. There's a lot going on here that is clearly informed by the unconscionable wealth of most of the people involved, but like... there was obviously something about the way things were run previously that should have set off alarm bells in any preschool. It's being painted as relaxed and comfortable by the people who don't like what happened afterwards, but I find it really weird that the article talks about this event like a "liability" and not like, hey, turns out the old way was incredibly irresponsible.

So I don't think it was fine and everything became crazy; it seems more like it was previously the "we do things this way because we've always done them this way" kind of rich people and they were invaded by the "D-list celebs who need to feel better than the E-list celebs" kind of rich people.
posted by Sequence at 7:53 AM on July 9 [13 favorites]


they subtext is old quasi/faux bohemian BK money vs new money bk instagram influencers. Its not just about "LOL Rich People"
posted by JPD at 7:57 AM on July 9 [5 favorites]


I would utterly freak out if a child of mine left preschool and got home on their own, but all that's really required is a sign in/out procedure.

And some sort of handoff procedure when they go to the library. And regular checks (not head counts). And some sort of monitoring in the bathrooms. And doors that can't be opened by three-year-olds, which basically means doors that can't be opened by an adult in an emergency or that are difficult for women who are shorter than average.

Which is not to say nothing should have changed because of this edge case, but it seems like the parents initially demanded change regardless of whether this was an edge case.
posted by Etrigan at 8:07 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]


Christ, what a pack of assholes.

The rich don't pay enough taxes.
posted by biogeo at 8:15 AM on July 9 [8 favorites]


Was anyone else hoping for an actual riot? I was, and I was disappointed.
posted by Frowner at 8:16 AM on July 9 [16 favorites]


I'm pretty sure this would have been deemed unacceptable at literally any preschool.

Unacceptable, sure, but not uncommon. I have a number of family members involved in all sides of pre-k ed, and I’d be shocked to hear of any established preschool that hasn’t had a student go on walkabout.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 8:16 AM on July 9 [6 favorites]


A three-year-old was left unsupervised long enough to walk home without anybody knowing. I'm pretty sure this would have been deemed unacceptable at literally any preschool. There's a lot going on here that is clearly informed by the unconscionable wealth of most of the people involved, but like... there was obviously something about the way things were run previously that should have set off alarm bells in any preschool. It's being painted as relaxed and comfortable by the people who don't like what happened afterwards, but I find it really weird that the article talks about this event like a "liability" and not like, hey, turns out the old way was incredibly irresponsible.

Thank you for elaborating on this point. If a three-year old wandered away from a Head Start school, Dateline would have been outside the director's house, that night, handing out pitchforks.
posted by CatastropheWaitress at 8:18 AM on July 9 [25 favorites]


Eat the rich. Let the rich eat themselves.
posted by Fizz at 8:26 AM on July 9 [2 favorites]


“You wouldn’t say, ‘Caldecott winner.’

I can remember a big deal being made of these in an elementry school "gifted" class, in about 1975, fwiw. So I don't think it's all that scandalous that a librarian would say this.


I suspect that bit is actually the old-money WASP librarian putting the new director in her place by complaining that these new people only care about flashy awards and don't have any appreciation for things themselves, only brand names and popular opinion. Declaring that you have a true appreciation for simple, classic things because of your incredible discernment and recognition of the quality of the things around you, nevermind that you're also painfully aware of what awards it's won and exactly how it's viewed by the people around you, is some classic WASP shit.
posted by Copronymus at 8:31 AM on July 9 [44 favorites]


Ha, when my brother was very small, older than 3 but not much, my mother dropped him off at the playground in the morning with the other kids, and as soon as she left he walked out to walk home. The first my mother knew about it was when the school called asking if he was off sick, whilst she insisted that he was actually at school and where the hell was her kid then.

Luckily we lived basically next door to the school and he was just in the garden.
posted by stillnocturnal at 8:33 AM on July 9 [2 favorites]


These are houses not just for people who have money, but people who have values

Stopped reading right there.


The implication is that people who buy those houses consider themselves the sort of people who have values. The author's not declaring they have values.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 8:34 AM on July 9 [13 favorites]


If you have not recently re-watched Daddy Day Care with Eddie Murphy, here is my recommendation. I think it deserves to become a cult classic. I may be alone in this sentiment. Oh, well, at very least it is a better story than that which the article covers.
posted by TreeRooster at 8:36 AM on July 9 [3 favorites]


One more take on toddler Great Escapes: no kid should just wander off and get lost by accident, but a really determined escape artist? oh yeah, pretty much all the normal measures you might take to restrain such a kid are in direct contravention of safety features.

A very nice kid who went to the same co-op preschool as my daughter did some variant of this Every Damn Day. With enough eyes he didn't get far, usually just out of the church basement into the hallway, but Every Damn Day.

He was also the one who flushed multiple pairs of underpants down the toilet, and nothing clogged.

I am still in awe of him.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 8:55 AM on July 9 [16 favorites]


Hatsy?
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:04 AM on July 9 [15 favorites]


I mean, have you read Edith Wharton? There is nothing more efficiently brutal than an old-money WASP putting a trash-person in her place

Yeah, but this?
“As she wrote in one of her social-media things, #meanrichpeople. Does she really think it was mean rich people? I don’t think she has any idea that I never really went away. That I played kind of a big hand in a lot of this.” Calm and controlled as ever, Jones went on: “I think Amy assumed, because I am quiet, she was going to tell me she wasn’t renewing my contract and I was going to walk away quietly. I refused to walk away quietly. The minute Amy started telling me these lies about why she was not bringing me back, she had a fight on her hands that she was never ever going to win.” Jones had spoken to Phyfe and the members of the board “many times,” she said. “I spoke up, and I didn’t go away, and I kept coming back again and again and again. I just kept the ball rolling. I just kept giving those stories to the board. And I was prepared to take this further and further. I was not going to go away until [I saw] the result that I wanted. I would accept nothing less.”
is more Goodfellas through a WASP instagram filter.

no kid should just wander off and get lost by accident, but a really determined escape artist?

I had a friend who was expelled from fancy preschool for figuring out how to get back into the building during recess, tricking the one remaining adult into going outside, and then locking the entire school out. Apparently he just laughed at them from the other side of the glass doors as they ordered him to let them in.

Some kids you can't do anything about.
posted by schadenfrau at 9:07 AM on July 9 [36 favorites]


In general the quotes from this are just... *kisses fingers*
"If you are going to do this, make it more discreet, so it's not so upsetting."

"She said this in a room full of the most highly stressed parents in the world."

Jessica Sailer Van Lith
Granted that last one isn't a quote, but she might as well be named Lannister FFS. There is also a woman called Phyfe, of THE Phyfes, whoever they are.
posted by schadenfrau at 9:09 AM on July 9 [7 favorites]


I mean, have you read Edith Wharton? There is nothing more efficiently brutal than an old-money WASP putting a trash-person in her place

This is more Louis Auchincloss than Edith Wharton. This is basically a lame version of The Rector of Justin.
posted by atrazine at 9:20 AM on July 9


Oh man, everyone here--except the kids (for now)--was an asshole and that delighted me to no end. It confirmed so many negative stereotypes about not just rich Brookynites, but also their helicoptered/snowplow'd kids I'll see in 15 years when they start college.
posted by TwoStride at 9:32 AM on July 9 [3 favorites]


all this fuss for 3 year olds who still scratch their bare buttholes and then taste the hand that did the scratching
posted by poffin boffin at 9:35 AM on July 9 [13 favorites]


Listen we're working on the butthole thing, it's up and down, but she's making a lot of progress.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:37 AM on July 9 [16 favorites]


I have a number of family members involved in all sides of pre-k ed, and I’d be shocked to hear of any established preschool that hasn’t had a student go on walkabout.

Wandering out of the room into the hallway is one thing. A three year old leaving the rest of her group, exiting school grounds, and walking multiple fucking city blocks is not acceptable in any way, shape, or form.

To me, it says there was bad teacher coverage at this place, but also poor facility design, because sometimes people get distracted. So good day cares back up the main teacher in a room with one or more aides (you'll notice a total fucking lack of mentioning them in the article), and also install toddler-proof gates, self-closing inside doors, and secured doors to the outside that you can't get through without passing under the eyes of a live person sitting there. It's basic stuff in modern, professional day care facilities, and underlines, to me, the lost-in-time, run-like-it's-the-mid-eighties style of Grace Church School.

tl;dr: $13k for nine months, and they still can't pay somebody to come in and install a handful of self-locking toddler gates.
posted by joyceanmachine at 9:38 AM on July 9 [20 favorites]


As a side note, my kid's day care has multiple sets of doors that my strong three year old can't open, due to handle placement and door weight, but that I easily open as a 5'2, not-strong cis woman, even while juggling a full Monday morning load with a folding stroller and two giant-ass bags filled with diapers and associated equipment, sleeping roll and associated equipment, including two (2) stuffed animals, backup books to keep my kid occupied if he doesn't actually nap, extra clothes, toddler lunch in a freezer bag, backup milk, and a water bottle.

They have the technology now! There is no fucking excuse! Rich people are really fucking bad at seeing the actually important parts about something if they've been blinded by prestige and fanciness!
posted by joyceanmachine at 9:44 AM on July 9 [13 favorites]


There’s a lot going on here that is fucking fascinating. Like - the fact that fired teacher was able to reap vengeance was probably because of those informal networks that Morgane rightly found incestuous. There’s a lot of focus on Morgano and Ritwick’s friendship but not on anyone else’s relationships.
posted by corb at 9:48 AM on July 9 [11 favorites]


I think part of it is the WASP culture of benign neglect and projecting effortlessness. No one wants it to be her children who walk home, but the idea of laissez-fair schooling and discipline is very “we all did hijinks back in the day and it was good for us.”
posted by sallybrown at 9:49 AM on July 9 [5 favorites]


My cousin’s kid is 5 and last week at the beach he left the beach house (shared by 3 or 4 families, there were a lot of adults around) and walked 2 blocks to the beach, which involved crossing Route 1. He was very relaxed about it; after all, he had looked both ways and crossed on green!

The next day he got up from his nap, changed into his swimsuit, and did it again. When my mom and several cousins saw him on their way back from the beach, he ran. No, dear reader, he was not wearing shoes.

Kid’s too smart for his own good.
posted by chainsofreedom at 10:00 AM on July 9 [6 favorites]


Man, I feel sorry for those kids. I shouldn't, of course, since they'll have everything they ever wanted, but they're so likely to be totally ruined as humans, and when a reckoning comes, they will have nothing but their sense of shock and grievance.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:35 AM on July 9


A couple of other things I found fascinating was the way that the article described the old way of doing things as... not rigorous, shall we say. Which then makes it clear that these rich people who are freaked about about what kindergarten their kid gets into is entirely about/by wealth signalling rather than meritocracy or egalitarianism--which makes their insistence that the old fundraiser was all humble and low-key (rather than a Met Gala-lite) further part of the hypocrisy of the uber-rich who want to insist that they're just hardworking people like the rest of us.

I was also curious about the part about teachers at Grace working as babysitters for these families. I guess I assumed at this wealth level they'd all have nannies or au pairs?
posted by TwoStride at 10:40 AM on July 9 [5 favorites]


Well what a marvelous argument for banning private schools and creating a National day care system.
posted by The Whelk at 10:44 AM on July 9 [25 favorites]


I was also curious about the part about teachers at Grace working as babysitters for these families. I guess I assumed at this wealth level they'd all have nannies or au pairs?

You don't pay one of the teachers from your three-year-old's daycare to babysit for you because you need the babysitting. You do it because then they "know you better" and recommend your kid for the "right" kindergarten.
posted by Etrigan at 10:49 AM on July 9 [21 favorites]


A couple of other things I found fascinating was the way that the article described the old way of doing things as... not rigorous, shall we say. Which then makes it clear that these rich people who are freaked about about what kindergarten their kid gets into is entirely about/by wealth signalling rather than meritocracy or egalitarianism
Ok, see, they would deny that it's about wealth signaling. They would say that the kindergarten is wonderful: it's warm and nurturing, and their kids are developing social skills that are far more important for pre-schoolers than academic skills. They would say that part of the charm of the place is that it protects kids from "rigor," which is not something that three-year-olds need to worry about. Three-year-olds should be coloring, playing with blocks, and singing "You Are My Sunshine." And to be honest, they're probably right. Their kids will probably get more out of a nice, laid-back pre-school than they would being drilled on phonics. It is also true that this school is very fancy and feeds into gazillion-dollar-a-year elite private schools, but you could certainly rationalize to yourself that you were sending your kid there because it's a great pre-school that fits your parenting philosophy, not because it's a fancy-pants pre-school for rich people.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:50 AM on July 9 [13 favorites]


Well what a marvelous argument for banning private schools and creating a National day care system.

I don't disagree, but there will be plenty of assholes in that system, too. And the particular type of assholery that this level of wealth and privilege enables will find a way to express itself within any system that tolerates it. C.f. "good" public schools in the suburbs versus "rough" public schools in poorer districts. Better than banning private schools is ensuring that no one individually controls so many resources than their peers that they come to expect to be able to behave in the ways on display in this article.
posted by biogeo at 11:08 AM on July 9 [2 favorites]


I was also curious about the part about teachers at Grace working as babysitters for these families. I guess I assumed at this wealth level they'd all have nannies or au pairs?

You don't pay one of the teachers from your three-year-old's daycare to babysit for you because you need the babysitting. You do it because then they "know you better" and recommend your kid for the "right" kindergarten.


no. The head of school handles the exmissions (which is mostly a mediated and negotiated process). The teachers will provide an evaluation but that will be run through the head of school.

You use the teachers because frankly sitters are hard to find, and nannies generally speaking don't work nights.
posted by JPD at 11:08 AM on July 9 [6 favorites]


In the past, parents could pay their way into Grace Church, which traditionally served as a feed to St. Ann’s and Packer Collegiate, one of the two private schools traditionally favored by Brooklynites with $40,000-plus a year to spend on setting their children on The Correct Path. Now this privilege, like all others, seemed in jeopardy.

And this, my friends, is why I moved out of New York City 15 years ago.

Wandering out of the room into the hallway is one thing. A three year old leaving the rest of her group, exiting school grounds, and walking multiple fucking city blocks is not acceptable in any way, shape, or form.

Also, even if most schools sustain the occasional walkabout, the bigger issue is them not realizing the child was missing before she got all the way home.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 11:12 AM on July 9 [4 favorites]


Ok, see, they would deny that it's about wealth signaling. They would say that the kindergarten is wonderful: it's warm and nurturing, and their kids are developing social skills that are far more important for pre-schoolers than academic skills. They would say that part of the charm of the place is that it protects kids from "rigor," which is not something that three-year-olds need to worry about. Three-year-olds should be coloring, playing with blocks, and singing "You Are My Sunshine." And to be honest, they're probably right. Their kids will probably get more out of a nice, laid-back pre-school than they would being drilled on phonics. It is also true that this school is very fancy and feeds into gazillion-dollar-a-year elite private schools, but you could certainly rationalize to yourself that you were sending your kid there because it's a great pre-school that fits your parenting philosophy, not because it's a fancy-pants pre-school for rich people.

Also - many of the gazillion dollar elementary schools that this crowd would have historically sent their kids too are also focused on softer skills and tend to teach through softer "progressive" curriculum. I mean historically you went to St. Ann's - which is about as unstructured a school as you can find,
posted by JPD at 11:13 AM on July 9 [2 favorites]


You use the teachers because frankly sitters are hard to find, and nannies generally speaking don't work nights.

Plus your kid knows them and it's a treat for your kid to have their teacher there.

Nannies, IME, like to have the option of babysitting because of the extra money for fairly easy work. However, they don't like being forced to babysit. It's also the case that many nannies work 50-60 hour weeks and start early in the morning, and if you add too many hours you might start to worry about the quality of care you're getting.

Live-in nannies would probably solve this but at that level of $$$ (given the price of housing in Brooklyn Heights) you're talking about people who can easily hire a sitter for fun, on top of their existing live-in nanny.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:28 AM on July 9 [5 favorites]


no. The head of school handles the exmissions (which is mostly a mediated and negotiated process). The teachers will provide an evaluation but that will be run through the head of school.

Just because your kid's teacher isn't "handing the exmission" doesn't mean they don't have influence, or that the limit of that influence is in a formal evaluation.

You use the teachers because frankly sitters are hard to find, and nannies generally speaking don't work nights.

Preschool teachers don't generally work nights either. Why would it be easier for them to take that particular side gig than nannies?

Also, I am nothing but amused at the idea that the Coolidges and Phyfes ever have difficulty finding a babysitter and are somehow being forced to resort to the teachers, rather than using it as yet another link in the long archipelago of access-based privilege that their families have successfully navigated for generations. Or that JJ Redick, who has made literally $100 million in his NBA career, not counting endorsements, or the Sarsgaard-Gyllenhalls also can't find anyone except their kid's preschool staffer.
posted by Etrigan at 11:29 AM on July 9 [4 favorites]


Also - many of the gazillion dollar elementary schools that this crowd would have historically sent their kids too are also focused on softer skills and tend to teach through softer "progressive" curriculum. I mean historically you went to St. Ann's - which is about as unstructured a school as you can find,

I work with the opposite end of the parenting spectrum in most ways; largely parents of color, who are poor, whose kids are struggling and who rely on the public school. The kind of "unstructured" soft skills, learn through play stuff that you'll hear from the parents at Grace is something I basically never hear. The parents I work with are all very concerned about rigor, from a very early age, including a lot of parents upset that their preschoolers don't get homework. It kinds of rubs me the wrong way, because giving four-year-olds homework isn't helpful, but I get where they're coming from. They know their kids lives will in all likelihood be a struggle, they've got a (probably correct) sense that basically only geniuses get out, and they want the best chance possible of getting that lottery ticket.

I do wonder if some of the old-money/new-money dynamic here is that same thought process playing out in a higher-income environment. Old money (historically) hasn't had to do a lot more than show up and know the rules in order to win, but if you moved up from the upper middle class to the top of the heap, you probably don't feel that security.

I mean it still bugs the shit out of me, because the golden ticket for my clients, their kid making it to a state college and finding a decent middle class job, is the same as failure for these people, but I do think that's part of the story here.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:29 AM on July 9 [35 favorites]


Preschool teachers don't generally work nights either. Why would it be easier for them to take that particular side gig than nannies?

I said this above and our comments crossed, but nannies work way way more than part-time preschool teachers. 7am to 7pm, 5 days a week is a fairly typical nanny schedule. Parents who are at all humane/smart generally try not to add more hours to a 50-60 hour work week.

There's probably an element of sucking up, there, too, though. I don't know if it has to do with exmissions but definitely there is a certain status to having your kid have a special, personal relationship with the teacher. And parents perceive it as giving their kid an "edge" in terms of how the teacher treats their kid (probably somewhat true.)
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:39 AM on July 9 [4 favorites]


tend to teach through softer "progressive" curriculum. I mean historically you went to St. Ann's - which is about as unstructured a school as you can find

Well she got an alligator in spelling, Michael
posted by schadenfrau at 11:40 AM on July 9 [11 favorites]


Bulgaroktonos, that is understandable but sad. I learned through my kids that the greatest thing a preschool can do is to get children to LIKE school. Make it fun, loving, and encouraging, before they have to really work in the later grades.
posted by Miss Cellania at 11:42 AM on July 9 [4 favorites]


As far as sitters go, money doesn't make it easier to find sitters through your personal network. Most folks are reticent to use Care.com or things like that to find sitters, and if you don't have younger family members or family friends finding sitters is annoying.

If you have a younger nanny they might have a family in which case they really don't want to work the extra hours. Of my friends and colleagues probably half of them can rely on their nanny, and the other half use someone else.
posted by JPD at 11:43 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]


My sense of the “old” Grace Church was that the parents liked using the teachers as sitters because it was chummy and pleasant to feel like the teachers were in some ways part of your milieu (although always in the sense of being “the help”). It made things pleasant and gave you as the parent a sense of greater control over the school. I’m not sure why the teachers would have enjoyed it except perhaps it was paid well and because they’re kind people who liked taking care of their students.
posted by sallybrown at 11:47 AM on July 9 [6 favorites]


Sad anecdote from the other end of the world, and the opposite end of class: a boy in the year above my daughter repeatedly tried to escape back to preschool after he graduated into kindergarten. He did go to kindergarten, but when he had to go home each afternoon, he'd run off and stand in front of the preschool gate until a parent or teacher felt sorry for him and let him in for that last hour.
posted by mumimor at 11:47 AM on July 9 [6 favorites]


I do wonder if some of the old-money/new-money dynamic here is that same thought process playing out in a higher-income environment.

Its actually way more complicated than that. Many of the uptown old-money schools were traditionally much more "Three-R's, wear a tie, etc" kind of schools, whereas the downtown and BK schools were very heavily influenced by the progressive education movement of the mid 20th century. Over the last 30 years maybe what has happened is that "Progressive Education" has become much more mainstream for this cohort, so schools uptown that a generation ago were all about academic rigor, might now spend a lot of time doing block play, and the downtown school that was all block play might have a bit more structure than it did a generation ago. What's amusing to me is that the reps remained the same, but the educations kind of began to converge over time.

Which isn't to say City & Country (All blocks all the time) and Collegiate aren't still super different.

My sense of the “old” Grace Church was that the parents liked using the teachers as sitters because it was chummy and pleasant to feel like the teachers were in some ways part of your milieu (although always in the sense of being “the help”). I
Generally speaking there isn't a big difference in social class between the teachers and the parents.
posted by JPD at 11:49 AM on July 9 [6 favorites]


I’m not sure why the teachers would have enjoyed it except perhaps it was paid well and because they’re kind people who liked taking care of their students.

Given the way some of the teachers talk in the article, I'm sure it's because they enjoyed feeling chummy and as if part of the milieu of the parents (albeit, and sub rosa, merely as "the help").
posted by kenko at 11:55 AM on July 9 [5 favorites]


Also the food is usually good and they have awesome A/C
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:58 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]


Preschool teachers don't generally work nights either. Why would it be easier for them to take that particular side gig than nannies?

Per their calendar, Grace Church closes for almost three months every summer. My understanding is that at just about every day care/pre school, staff are not paid over summer break. So babysitting/gap nannying is a standard way to pick up extra cash.

In contrast, an experienced, "fancy" nanny in a high-demand area like Brooklyn Heights likely works year round.
posted by joyceanmachine at 12:02 PM on July 9 [1 favorite]


So babysitting/gap nannying is a standard way to pick up extra cash.

Right, but the article said that many of the teachers belong to the same extremely white and extremely wealthy country clubs that the parents do, and that many of the teachers are former parents, which makes it all just a bit more complicated than "rich parents and poor teachers."

Private schools where some of the fabulously wealthy people play "teacher" for a few hours a day in order to Be Involved In The Community adds a lot of the complications here.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:17 PM on July 9 [13 favorites]


Holy shit at that ending. Pseudonymous "Pat Jones" might as well have sent along a gif of Lady Oleanna of House Tyrell: "Tell Cersei Amy. I want her to know it was me."

Someone must be trying to figure out if this is going to be material for Big Little Lies Season 3, right? It's written almost too much like a cable or Netflix series. I'm imaging Pat Jones getting fired in Episode 2 or 3 and we only get tangential glimpses of her throught the season until the finale when it's revealed through a series of flashbacks that she was behind the coup this whole time.
posted by mhum at 12:26 PM on July 9 [6 favorites]


It was reading like Big Little Lies but quite disappointing when nobody got killed.
posted by palegirl at 12:26 PM on July 9 [2 favorites]


I feel like I was expecting one sort of generational clash but got another one. Like, I started on Morgano's side because sure, sounds like the school could use some fresh thinking. But she lost me big time when she insisted teachers not be friendly with parents, yet considered herself completely exempt from the rule. She just got worse after that.

(And yes, I too was thinking "Big Little Lies" here. And a little bit of Proust - the parts of him that aren't about love and jealousy are hugely about the changing face of upper class society, as the poseur Mme Verdurin ends up, five volumes later, as the new Princesse de Guermantes.)
posted by dnash at 1:12 PM on July 9 [2 favorites]


The article also reads a lot like gossip being reported as fact. I was repeatedly questioning the reliability of the narration, particularly around points such as Morgano's interactions with parents.
posted by schmod at 1:40 PM on July 9 [3 favorites]


I can remember a big deal being made of these in an elementry school "gifted" class, in about 1975, fwiw. So I don't think it's all that scandalous that a librarian would say this.

--posted by thelonius at 9:59 AM on July 9


Not to de-rail, but THANK YOU!

I was in grade school in the late '70s, and our librarian Mrs. Higgins (RIP) treated the Newberry and Caldecott Medal announcements like the Academy Awards. You'd walk into the school library and there's be these HUGE signs: "CALDECOTT WINNER - The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses! Check it out TODAY!" "BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA takes Newberry Medal! Ask for it at the Front Desk!"

And I would be all, "Caldecott?! Newberry? ! Holy cow I'd better go put my name on the waiting list so I can check them out!" AND THERE WOULD BE A WAITING LIST FOR THE BOOKS.

I saw Mrs. Higgins about a decade ago, and I told her that to this day I still check for Caldecott and Newberry Medal announcements. "You were one my Readers," she laughed. "You were always there in the library."

“Who says that?” Well, "Mary Smith", I'll have you know that at a small school in the rural south MRS HIGGINS SAID IT. She said it loud and proud and often because she wanted us kids to know what quality literature looked like. Those books were the best thing going in kid-lit, and she wanted us to know it.
posted by magstheaxe at 2:20 PM on July 9 [31 favorites]


Thinking about it some more, my kids did spend a few early years at a charter school that was populated predominantly by wealthy folks, and the school in many ways reflected the parents.

For instance, there was no front desk person, there were no doors on the classrooms, and kids randomly wandered in and out of class throughout the day (I would visit mid-day, nobody would challenge my entrance, and id walk down the hall watching an occasional bored kid wandering around without purpose. )

This reflected the parents, I discovered, when attending school assemblies and functions; most of the (obviously wealthy, or at least well-off) families would let their kids run amuck, interrupting the event and damaging things, the parents ignoring them completely. Meanwhile, we and a few other like-minded families would keep our kids within reasonable boundaries. This was one of the reasons we took the kids out (although certainly not the only reason) and put them in a more traditional school.

I didn't quite make the connection between comfortable money/wealth and letting your kids run amuck until I was at an art event in a very fragile architecturally-significant building, replete with art installations, and some parents had brought kids who ran amuck in packs without supervision, jumping on and unplugging installations, pounding fragile windows with sticks, ripping up landscaping and so on... And when a friend of mine tried to step in for a few egregious incidents (she was part of the event's staff) some of them listened, but some were very much openly "you don't own this, I can do this if I want to."

So I can certainly see how a transition from an environment where a kid wanders off-campus unnoticed to an environment with rules and structure might be interpreted by a certain kind of parent as an affront. Some folks do not like boundaries that they did not themselves impose.
posted by davejay at 2:24 PM on July 9 [1 favorite]


Thank you. I love this article so much. It's such a nasty little tempest in a teapot.
posted by vunder at 2:55 PM on July 9 [3 favorites]


I had to check the by-line to make sure this wasn't a Tom Wolfe short-story.
posted by jquinby at 3:00 PM on July 9 [4 favorites]


They know their kids lives will in all likelihood be a struggle, they've got a (probably correct) sense that basically only geniuses get out, and they want the best chance possible of getting that lottery ticket.

Unfortunately, this population has heard what the more horrific type of school "reformer" has said about them for generations--that the reason the students don't do well is that their schools aren't tough enough, and what is called for is more DISCIPLINE DISCIPLINE DISCIPLINE. So you get charter schools that basically pride themselves on marching their children around like mini-chain gangs and do everything they can to break the kids' spirits, and some parents sign up for it eagerly, because they don't really understand (and of course desperately want something better for their children).

This is not, however, what actually makes for academic achievement, and when you go down a level from the "well we'll just endow a library at your school of choice, dear" stratum to the mere professional classes where the kids actually do have to get high test scores, you will not find them, in general, seeking out that kind of education for their kids. Basically, it's just another excuse to brutalize black kids.
posted by praemunire at 9:21 PM on July 9 [8 favorites]


Quaint works when you have the safety net of substantial wealth and long experience of slight consequences. Some of those folks probably believe that nothing could happen to their Lucky Charlie on one of his jaunts because he's always been such a clever boy and what could happen after all? Flip that around and you get the litany of stories that really do seem to haunt these wealthy families where Skipper was killed in that ill-advised boating accident when he was 14, Maribelle's sister drowned back in '72 and Little John probably should have known better.

Regarding the notion of anyone coming out of this looking OK, I thought the new rector did pretty well. He seemed to know his flock and its culture and he was pretty direct about returning to that path as soon as he could. That's probably because if the school was allowed to drift because Ms Prosky had known best for two generations then its board had a lot more to address in that hiring, a lot less of a grip on what was needed and likely failed accordingly. It's not mentioned in the story, but the church probably had a stronger sense of mission and was able to hire to that more directly and get a person who matched their needs.

Also, I would renew my Netflix to watch this series.
posted by Cris E at 1:45 PM on July 10 [3 favorites]


Truly refined people are not grasping or striving. Good things fall into their laps, as rewards for their superior character. (They really get those things as rewards for their class position, but they work hard to render that stuff invisible. Outsiders don't know that you got into Princeton as a legacy admit.)

Also, that your oh-so-relaxed brand of Old Money gentility only came to be because, once upon a time, some ancestor of yours was the grasping and striving one.
posted by non canadian guy at 11:21 AM on July 11 [2 favorites]


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