Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Jet-lagged and up nice and early...

Well, come one, come all, to the "What is Feminism?" panel discussion (this Monday, April 4, at 7 p.m., in Stuart 101) where I'll be giving a 5-7 minute speech, or so they tell me.

They (a different they) also keep informing me that I am managing editor of our "conservative"-but-not-really-conservative campus journal. I have yet to learn what this will entail, other than "managing" and doing something different with the collar of my polo shirts (made all the more complicated by the fact that I don't really wear polo shirts, not since the nine years I was forced to do so). Oh well, should be interesting.

And, in tangentially related preppy news, Matthew Yglesias's observations about income disparities at Dalton ("I went to an expensive private high school where all but a tiny handful of scholarship students must have been from families in the top one or two percent of the income distribution spectrum. In one sense, then, it was an incredibly narrow slice of American society. Nevertheless, the level of inequality in family income present among the population of Dalton parents has to be much larger than that on display in a normal school."), all true of Spence as well. Basically, Spence didn't have middle class kids. This was something of a problem for me, since my family's lack of car or country house, yet the fact that we lived in an upscale part of Manhattan, put us between the scholarship families and the Bloombergs, etc. There were a few other families like my own, and those of us kids who knew our bubble sheets ended up at Stuyvesant or Hunter, places (at least Stuyvesant) where anything goes. But we were oddities, neither the admirable Prep for Prep kids nor the folks who, by middle school, were making regular appearances in socialite magazines. Was it a hard life? No, but a confusing one.

But what was so strange, on a more general level, about Spence's lack of middle class was that the kids I knew (this was middle school; things may change in high school) were not for one second aware that they weren't "normal." The non-scholarship kids assumed that their families were about average, and that anyone who went to public school, any public school, was an impoverished resident of a slum, most likely located somewhere in one of those mysterious outer boroughs one might pass on the way out to the country.

A recent Spence Bulletin included a letter second-graders had written to then-President-Elect Clinton, in which the girls, in polished kiddie handwriting, urge the President to help the public schools, which are unfortunate and unlike the private schools, where everyone has everything they need or want. The wording the girls used in this letter was patronizing to the point of being cringe-worthy. The girls took for granted that all public schools are inner-city public schools (odd, given Spence's proximity to Hunter) and that we really ought to help them. Does the average public school need more help than Spence does? Sure. But did Spence second-graders really need to be given the impression that anyone who goes to a public school is in need of charity and, worse, sympathy?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's such a bad thing to impress upon these second graders that public school systems regardless of the individuals who attend do in fact need money. The 'us/them' thing is partially an age thing, everything is an 'us/them' or rather a 'me/everyone else' thing to a second grader. I think this silly letter to Bill is a win win situation because first of all it is an attempt to make the kids aware of their surroundings and secondly, if they really do come from big money and if they grow up to have a lot of money and influence, who cares if it's out sympathy or charity rather than civil duty that they support public education? As long as people do it is what really counts.