Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Nursery University, or WTF is wrong with New Yorkers

Well, I say "New Yorkers" like they were all the same, but that's my prerogative as a guy from L.A. Really, of course, I'm referring to Manhattanites, who are like our West Siders: Wealthy, mostly white, socially conscious, status seeking, etc.

Not sure they're competing for spots in nursery school for their kids, though, which is what Nursery University is about. This documentary follows around some of these people as they navigate the overcrowded pre-school system in the hopes of pawning their spawn off on somebody.

Sorry. That was needlessly snarky. But I couldn't help but feel that some of these kids would be better off at home. Mostly, though, I found myself marveling at how old everyone was. This is not just prejudice, although I'd be surprised if any of the white folk were under 40. And one woman had twins at 57!

Isn't that nice? She's single, 57 and has twins, one of whom (the boy) pretty clearly has a brain injury. That's gonna be fun when she's 70 and he starts going through puberty.

The big question I had was whether these particular schools actually offer, you know, better education, or if it was just a matter of prestige in getting in and paying for them? It's not addressed clearly in the documentary but it's hard to believe that there aren't some reasonably good $15,000/semester schools that might be nearly as good. Or even $12,000. Laws of supply and demand being what they are, I couldn't figure out what the supply was so small given the degree of the demand. (According to one admittance person, the demand has been going on for five years. Certainly enough time for more schools to open up.)

The pre-school people themselves are quick to point out that the value of the nursery school education, while not insignificant (in some impossible to quantify way) is certainly exaggerated. This doesn't seem to encourage them to expand, but curiously, it also doesn't seem to encourage them to raise prices.

I suppose this is very indicative of my mindset. Normal economics just didn't seem to be in play. Making things more confusing was the fact that most schools used a lottery for admission! So, how prestigious could it be to get into a place that selects (at least in part) through sheer randomity?

And then I had a stylistic question, documentary-wise. When the kids that get into their schools do get in, was triumphant music really in order? I mean, what is it we've witnessed here, exactly? People who have chosen to live in this strange place, by these strange rules, have achieved some sort of victory.

So. Yay for them.

The minority couple from Harlem got into a school, too, along with some financial aid. But I just wasn't clear on what this was buying them.

This is probably because I'm not from Manhattan. And don't think much of status-based education. But I know this can end up being big money and opportunities, so I really had a hard time loathing the parents. Even the guy who seemed really gay and his South American wife were ultimately endearing. Though one can't help but hope that they wouldn't end up warping their poor children--particularly the family that relocated because their child wasn't accepted into nursery school.

It's a strange, distorted world. But, hey, it supplies "Law & Order" with plenty of plots.

Nice documentary. Not great. Left a lot of unanswered questions. But an interesting peek into that particular, peculiar world.


  1. You don't know the half of it. Children are just another status symbol to some of these bored and jaded uber liberals. They heard the biological clock break down and they rushed to adopt children. I have this one fortyish woman who is big in liberal politics in downtown Brooklyn. She went out and adopted a child from Africa form the same place as Madonna. The kid was four years old already and was pretty much socialized. It's a lot different than adopting an infant let me tell you. Their interactions are very interesting and I am with you, just wait until the kid is in her teens. It is gonna be a bumpy ride.

  2. The thing about New York is everyone thinks of us as the upper west side liberal Jerry Seinfeld types. Now that is a kind of New Yorker. As is the Tony Danza, Danny Aiello ethnic guy from the working class. As is Sonia Sortamayor in her own way as a minority hispanic striver who made her way in her profession. It takes a lot ingredients to make up the stew that is New York.

  3. Just like LA I am sure. The surfer dude cliche is a lot different from the barrio banger and the South Central Kid in the Hood to the Westwood yuppie and the Hollywood poser.

  4. Well, I recall Althouse ran a post on how big families were becoming a status symbol. Interesting. It would actually be a good trend, overall.

    People keep adopting kids like that and Malawi will be empty.

  5. Yeah, just so about Los Angeles. Bland, vanilla guys from the Valley (like me) are not even represented.

    It is funny the divide though, and I'll bet it happens a bit NYC: We get newscasters coming into the wilds out here and totally not knowing where they are. You know, mixing up one neighborhood for another one 15 miles away?


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