Butter and Uggs

Steve and I have been in deep discussions about moving to a town with a better school system. The school system in this town is pretty good, but I went to one of top public high schools in the country and I hate to give my kids' a second-best school. The downside to moving would be a much smaller, uglier house and a community of rich, spoiled kids.

Right now, my kids have zero stress about stuff. Their friends wear Payless sneakers and jeans from Old Navy. Jonah never comes home agitating for clothes or fancy vacations or expensive haircuts, because his friends don't have that stuff. It may be a girl-boy thing. I'm not sure.

Since we have moving on the brain, I've been quizzing other parents about their schools and communities. One woman in a nearby fancy town said that ten year olds get made fun of for wearing Children's Place clothes. The kids somehow know which t-shirts came from which store.

Fullsize6993-2659 My buddy in Cold Spring Harbor told me that she had to get Uggs for her six year old daughter, because the girls formed an Uggs club and wouldn't let the other girls sit with them. She also told me that every kid had to have a Butter-brand sweatshirt ($100) or else they were not cool. All the girls in the town have three pairs of Uggs, the Butter sweatshirts, and two North Face jackets. (Vomiting a little in my mouth.) 

I really do love that my kids are unconscious of status symbols. I'm not sure if it's worth losing that innocence in order to gain a better school.

71 thoughts on “Butter and Uggs

  1. It may be a girl-boy thing. I’m not sure.
    I’m not sure I could recognize tweener status symbols. My wife says the middle school girls at our son’s school are wearing some fashion statements where they can (there’s a uniform-ism dress code).

  2. I went to one of those elitist schools — and had a lower-middle-class income. I survived because I was there from kindergarten on, so everyone knew me… Y’all should seriously consider the stress of moving into a district like that — without the means to fit in. I have to wonder if that additional stress on the kids might not erase the difference between your pretty decent district and the excellent district?
    Might it not be a better idea to do enrichment activities? Y’all could dedicate some time to doing additional things, especially since there is so much homeschool material available.

  3. “she had to get Uggs for her six year old daughter, because the girls formed an Uggs club and wouldn’t let the other girls sit with them.”
    I don’t know…it’s a tough one. On the one hand I would really want for my son to be in with the kids he liked. On the other, if my kid came home with /that/ reasons that s/he “had” to get a designer item, my first response would be “oh hell no.”

  4. My kids went to no name, no reputation high schools and were accepted at top rank colleges and did well at them. As long as your child enjoys learning, they will learn at even the worst of schools. Live where the values coincide with yours rather than where the school district has the best rep. There are lots of kids who do poorly at even the best schools. Thinking of you and wishing you the best

  5. The need for name brands is so dependent on the child, how badly they want to fit in and what they’ve been raised to expect. I have always been a frugal shopper when it comes to clothing and proudly talk about my inexpensive acquisitions. Name brands only if they are reasonably priced. We live in a very wealthy community and my kids, now 13 (boy) and 17 (girl), have never asked for name brand clothing. It just doesn’t register on their radar. My daughter, now a senior in hs, has started to care about her clothes, but not in terms of brands. She wants to look nice and have her own style and I can live with that. Her friends are similar and some have boat-loads of money.
    In regard to schools. We moved to our current town 6 years ago because of the schools and I am thankful everyday day for our wonderful school system. My kids know that some of their friends are better off financially than us, but also realize that some are not – it doesn’t seem to determine who they hangout with. Learning to live in the town has been an adjustment, mainly for me. I think I worry more about my clothes and appearance than my kids! In the end you have to stay true to your values regardless of where you live.

  6. “In the end you have to stay true to your values regardless of where you live.”
    I understand and I agree in principle, but to be honest, there are days when I think it’s cruel of me to send my child off to the island with Ralph and Piggy and Jack and Roger and the stick sharpened at both ends without at least giving her a spear with which to defend herself.

  7. MH: Bingo. I adored Shadyside, husband was in love with Upper St. Clair, and somehow Fox F’ing Chapel became our compromise.
    Anyway, to relate back to the post, the quality of schools actually didn’t have much to do with our decision. We were happy enough in our middle/working class neighborhood with its city schools, but decided we needed to get off our high-traffic street. And once we decided to go through the hassle of moving and hoped for this to be the final move until our kids were out of the house, well, it just all spun out of control. The choice of FC had a lot more to do with what we wanted in a dream home/property than it did with the schools.

  8. I get lost every time I try to go somewhere in Fox Chapel. But, it wasn’t a hard guess. All of the similar neighborhoods have worse commutes to Oakland.

  9. I share the experience of philosopherP. Went to a top-rated public high school in upstate NY, where 4 out of 5 kids got some type of car (Lexus, Mercedes, etc.) on their 16th birthdays even if they didn’t have a license. The education was outstanding, but the social pressure and SES gap was pretty killer. I survived because I was known (come up since Pre-K) and I was smart. But I was miserable. As my husband and I get ready for kids, this is something I think I would trade off. Good over great school if it means less-pressured social environment. Happiness is worth a lot.

  10. I don’t know. I live in a small house in a ritzy NJ neighborhood, and I am very happy here.
    I certainly won’t deny the existence of spoiled rich kids doing the sorts of ridiculous stuff you mention in your post. That’s all real, and it gets worse as they get older.
    But, there are also about 40 girls in my eldest’s third grade class, and a lot more who will feed into her high school from other elementary schools. I mean, I can imagine exactly which 2 girls would form the “Uggs Club,” and the 5 or 6 other girls who would immediately run out and buy Uggs to join the club.
    That doesn’t mean, though, that there aren’t a bunch of perfectly nice boys and girls who aren’t cliquey jerks who are the core of my daughters’ friends. Just because I clique exists, doesn’t mean you have to stare longingly at it.
    There’s also something to be said for the positive peer pressure of needing to buy “the book all my friends have read,” or the prioritization of education over athletics. And there’s the similar mindsets among other moms and teachers, so that writing is encouraged in the schools, over “busy work.” Worksheets are solely for homework, as review.
    So, yes, there are definite downsides to living in Moneyville, but to me they don’t come close to outweighing the advantages.

  11. Geeky Girl recently expressed interest in the private girls’ school across the street from where Mr. Geeky works. I was perfectly willing (and still am willing) to consider this option, but my main concern was this fitting in thing. They wear uniforms to school, but many of the parents are very, very wealthy. I have enough trouble fitting in with my middle-class PTO moms. I can’t imagine what it would be like to show up for a meeting in my beat-up mini van and my Old Navy ensemble. Yeah, I know I shouldn’t worry about it, but I do. Geeky Girl would probably be fine. And of course, there’s the college-level price tag . . .
    I like our schools. Middle school is going to suck no matter where we are, and I’ve been pleased as punch so far with the public high school. I think the kids will be fine.

  12. Um, that’s 40 girls over the 3 classes in the Elementary School. 40 girls in 1 class would be a different sort of problem.

  13. I went to a crappy, small town school. Very working class, in some cases downright poor, but the social pressures to wear the right clothes were still there! There are rich and poor in every community. If you are “rich” there is always someone richer, if you are “poor” there is almost always someone with less. Look at the inner city. Having the right clothes and sneakers matters in those schools just as much. I agree with Ragtime, not all kids want to join the popular clique. Sometimes we have to take a leap of faith with our children and hope we raised them well.

  14. We’ve been debating moving neighbourhoods for similar reasons – not the school so much (the girl will be going to a private school) but for the sense of community.
    We have the perfect house for us in the wrong neighbourhood – it used to be middle class but now is primarily trust fund parents and their kids. Nice people but you can see even in the four year olds the sense of entitlement. Having grown up working class (first kid to go to college, etc.), and although now financially in a much different economic class, this just isn’t my crowd.
    I would think hard about ‘community’ in terms of you fitting in with the parents and your kids’ peers. The rich ARE different and if your values differ, it’ll get pretty lonely going against the tide.

  15. “Very working class, in some cases downright poor, but the social pressures to wear the right clothes were still there!”
    Exactly. Some years back, there were news stories about murders for the sake of tennis shoes and team jackets.

  16. I’m not sure if it’s worth losing that innocence in order to gain a better school.
    FWIW–and of course, you and Steve are the only ones who really know your kids and the situation well enough to judge–it’s not worth it. I agree with Sarah: “Happiness is worth a lot.” And, even more importantly, the happiness that comes from being satisfied with the life you can build within your own resources, not in response to the consumer expectations foisted upon you by others.
    Of course, Tina’s also right: there are always cliques, in every environment, and every clique will dictate something that will probably have a price tag attached. Maybe it’s just an aesthetic thing, but Melissa and I fine the kind of price tags you’re talking about here–the Uggs clothes and all–sound simply repulsive to me, for reasons entirely aside from the cost. It borders on the commodification of one’s kids, IMO.

  17. Very working class, in some cases downright poor, but the social pressures to wear the right clothes were still there! There are rich and poor in every community. If you are “rich” there is always someone richer, if you are “poor” there is almost always someone with less. Look at the inner city. Having the right clothes and sneakers matters in those schools just as much.
    Getting back to MH’s comment about strict dress codes where brand competition could creep in, I’m recalling how little brand pressure there was at my expensive private high school. With enough wealth, you cease to care what people think about your clothing and you don’t care what other people are wearing. The wealthiest kids weren’t wearing $150 slacks or Thomas Pink shirts to impress anyone; they were wearing them because that’s just what everyone in their family wore and it’s what their father wore when he went to the same school. That attitude really trickled down to those of use whose families didn’t own banks.

  18. The rich ARE different…
    As I get older, my circle of acquaintances is getting broader and I’m really seeing the difference between the sub-types of rich. They are, like all the other social classes, annoying in their own way. In my opinion, those who didn’t earn their money are most annoying when young, because they haven’t gotten a grasp on how privileged they are yet. Those who earned their own money are most annoying when old, because they forget the help they had along the way and the mistakes they made starting out. Those with high income, but no wealth are annoying for the usual reasons the people from the coasts are annoying.

  19. I grew up as the poor kid in a very wealthy town. My dad was a professor. The other parents were doctors, lawyers, professional sports players, actors, famous musicians, CEOs. My brother and sister and I were mocked for not having the right stuff and that was back in the late 70s, when things were still pretty hippy. It’s much worse now. Kate Spade and Doone Burke bags for 13 year olds. The kids go skiing in Austria during spring break.
    Cliques and mean kids do exist in every school. However, in this town I can afford whatever pointed stick that I need to give my kids to arm them against the savages. We will never be afford the pointed sticks in other towns.
    On the other hand, I totally get what Ragtime says about peer pressure to read and what Tina says about values from the family. So, there are real pros and cons, aren’t there? Glad we’re not the only ones wrestling with these issues.

  20. We may move but because we want a different house (don’t like ranches).
    I interview prospectives as an alumni interviewer for my Alma mater. We’ve had accepted students in our SD, and that’s all I need to know. I asked E’s psychologist abt whether a GaT private school would be better for him and she didn’t think so. He needs less change so he can focus on social skills and EF skills instead of stressful transitions.

  21. According to the internet, Uggs cost well over $100. Is that right or do you usually get them cheaper? I though they were a cheapo thing that somehow caught on.

  22. “However, in this town I can afford whatever pointed stick that I need to give my kids to arm them against the savages. We will never be afford the pointed sticks in other towns.”
    Right.
    “EF skills”
    What’s that?
    Speaking of social skills and keeping up with the Joneses, every now and then I think about signing the kids up for cotillion. It’s totally out of my experience, and it sounds like there’s probably a dark side to it, but I think my kids could learn a lot.
    http://www.ocfamily.com/t-featurestory_thank_you_what_has_happened_to_our_manners0504.aspx

  23. I MIGHT find it easier to stay in a school where we “fit” socioeconomically, because I’d feel like I could fix any academic deficiencies easier than I could fix the problem of being much poorer than everyone else. But it’s not like you fit perfectly where you’re at — sure, the clothes and vacations more-or-less match, but it doesn’t sound like the goals or academic values do. Argh.
    It’s too bad there aren’t any designated academic enclaves in the greater NYC area. You want to live among people who are broke enough to clothe their children in Target and Old Navy but willing to pay high taxes for really good schools.

  24. I went to school in expensive towns where we always lived in the smallest house, and I wasn’t particularly accepted but I don’t think it was all that money-based–I think if you’re a damned intellectual your kids are going to stick out based on their kooky bohemian values regardless of the stuff they own. In a way it was harder for my mother, who was always going to PTA meetings and listening to the moms natter on about their expensive ski vacations.

  25. You want to live among people who are broke enough to clothe their children in Target and Old Navy but willing to pay high taxes for really good schools.
    I would think you’d want to live amoung people with enough money to buy whatever clothes they want, but less peer-influenced views of fashion.
    Of course, no good school is complete without a “Take your child to work day”.

  26. Ooh, a hot topic.
    My kid goes to a school where most are privileged in every way, and some extremely so. But, the environment prides itself on being academic and, yes, somewhat geeky, when geeky means smart and passionate. My kid is only 9, but I haven’t yet noticed any brand-name clothes status creeping in.
    And, unlike Ragtime’s situation, I can’t really imagine the girls who would start an Ugg club, and if they tried, I’m pretty confident that the majority of parents would suppress it. We’re a small community, and there presence of a few personalities can suppress that behavior, at least among the younger kids. Mine, for example, but, I’m not alone. If I have a few of other moms on my side, though, we can pretty much prevent the behavior among the 20 9 year old girls in my daughter’s class at school.
    Where I have noticed money come into play in a more difficult way is in other status items — vacations, lessons, camps, access. We have kids in the house who get invited to White house ceremonies, have tickets to the Olympics (a full 1/4 of my daughter’s class went to the Olympics). Ski vacations, trips to Hawaii, trips to Europe are all common.
    I’m willing to take a stand with Uggs, but I would be unhappy if I couldn’t provide my children with the opportunities others have — if all the kids were going to sailing camp in the Caribbean one summer, and I couldn’t afford to send my kids, that would make me sad. As Laura says, I can “arm” my children with those opportunities, but if I couldn’t I would consider a different choice of school.
    Oh, and, bohemian intellectuals fit in in our school, and have their own cache. It helps even out things, when people are nattering about their ski vacations. I get a surprisingly large amount of status for my facility with folding origami polyhedra, for example, more, frankly, than my daughter gets for wearing Uggs.
    (If you look for sales, you can get Uggs for about $70, for 9 year olds with big feet).
    “I would think you’d want to live amoung people with enough money to buy whatever clothes they want, but less peer-influenced views of fashion.”
    Yeah. My daughter wears her Uggs with Target hoodies. The shoes are *nice*. If you try on a pair, you’ll see — they make your feet happy.
    I can’t imagine what circumstance I’d pay $100 for a sweatshirt, and I hope there never is one.

  27. I don’t think a school that enables 6-year-olds in exerting that kind of peer pressure is a good one. What exactly is “better” about the school district you’re considering? Are there any ways to provide those improvements without negating them by the stress of the move and unfortunate social dynamics? How much of your desire for the kids to go to a different school is elitism on your own part rather than actual benefits? In my experience, once schools meet a baseline level of competence/ safety, kids get out of them what they put in.

  28. I can’t imagine what circumstance I’d pay $100 for a sweatshirt, and I hope there never is one.
    I can imagine a circumstance in which Old Navy sells its cheapest sweatshirt for $100. I’m not willing to trust the Fed right now.

  29. “I can imagine a circumstance in which Old Navy sells its cheapest sweatshirt for $100. I’m not willing to trust the Fed right now.”
    Deflation vs. inflation is still an open question. I wish I knew which it was going to be, since the survival strategy for each is completely different.

  30. “I don’t think a school that enables 6-year-olds in exerting that kind of peer pressure is a good one. ”
    Yeah, that’s my point — parents can suppress this behavior, and the problem isn’t the Uggs, but the demand that all comply. I’ve heard similar pressure developing about American Girl Dolls (come to a party but bring your $100 doll with you). That’d be harder to suppress, because the dolls are more than the brand (that’s their success in marketing). But, shoes are shoes. There’s never a time when Uggs, the brand itself, or frankly, the kind of shoe can be justified based on merits.

  31. I think there is only one particular path where a very very strong 8-12 preparation makes a major difference, and that’s for kids who have strong skills and career goals in math and science. In that particular case, you’re at a disadvantage that almost can’t be overcome if you have ambitious goals for your college education and beyond. I think almost every other kind of kid can make up the difference just with a supportive home that’s rich in intellectual and emotional resources.

  32. Our school is so totally hippie that it’s more likely a kid would be given grief over something made with child labor rather than not wearing a designer brand.
    We have friend’s kids that go to a traditional middle school who get crap about who is wearing what all the time. I think it’s as much about age (11 to 15) as it is about socio-economics. They are trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in, and clothes are an easy way to sort without too much critical thinking.
    My older daughters’ high school is often in the top 100 in the country, there is never any talk of who wears what among their friends- rich or poor.

  33. Deflation vs. inflation is still an open question.
    Yes, I’m not claiming predictive capability. I no longer blithely dismiss the possibility of double-digit inflation, but I have no idea what will happen.

  34. All of the similar neighborhoods have worse commutes to Oakland.
    My husband’s employer just announced a move to Bakery Square, and I still couldn’t sell him on Shadyside!

  35. Oh, that employer. Anyway, I could see not liking Shadyside. It’s never quiet until very late and there really aren’t any yards.

  36. “I think there is only one particular path where a very very strong 8-12 preparation makes a major difference, and that’s for kids who have strong skills and career goals in math and science.”
    8-12th grade? Yes, probably. But, not completely impossible. But you might not need “very very strong.” You just need not bad. Not bad isn’t trivial to come by, though. And, it’s the math that’s the problem, not the science.
    8-12 years, no.

  37. His argument was more about spending that much money on a neighborhood that is increasingly dealing with the effects of its proximity to East Liberty and Homewood. This morning’s shootout on S. Highland made me glad that I caved.
    /Pittsburgh thread hijacking

  38. Putting things into a more local context — our municipality didn’t get its last state aid payment from Gov. Christie due to budget issues. (I don’t blame the Gov — who inherited the mess and is doing what he campaigned to do. I blame my fellow Jerseyites who voted for the “cut the school budgets first” guy.)
    I believe that’s pretty universal in the Garden State (except for a few of the poorest districts). As a relatively wealthy district, we weren’t getting very much aid anyway, so are debating which of several “extras” we will need to cut next year.
    I imagine that “middle-classier” who get more state aid are looking at much more substantial cuts. If you are leaning toward getting out of Dodge, this might be the perfect time for it.

  39. Siobhan, I hear that. Between that shooting, the Squirrel Hill muggings, and the Greenfield car-jacking, it is a distrubing week. I drive by all of those spots regularly and live very near one of them. But, any random violence is still fairly rare in my neck of the city.

  40. Ragtime – There are no extras in this town. They are starting to look into cutting the busing.
    re: values from the home (anti-materialism or prioritizing education). Studies have shown that peer values out weigh home values by the time they get to middle school.
    re: how do I know which schools are really good? Rankings and experience. Greatschools.net is a good resource. When I got to college, I had such a good education in high school that I could stay drunk through four years of college and still get good grades.
    I only heard about the Butter sweatshirts yesterday. I can’t believe that they cost $100. Steve wants to quit his job and start bedazzling shit. Someone made a fortune with that garbage.
    Maybe it’s my upbringing or the baggage from being the poor kid in a rich town, but Austrian ski vacations and sailing camp make me run for the hills.

  41. Steve wants to quit his job and start bedazzling shit.
    Who doesn’t? But I’m guessing that path to fortune through bedezzling shit is even harder than the get rich through studying English Lit path.

  42. “I only heard about the Butter sweatshirts yesterday. I can’t believe that they cost $100. Steve wants to quit his job and start bedazzling shit. Someone made a fortune with that garbage. ”
    Wait, they’re bedazzled? That makes it completely different. Totally worth $100.🙂. I hadn’t heard of the sweatshirts until you clued me in. Now, I’ve done an internet search. Geez — those sweatshirts are 50/50 cotton polyester, for $100, for kids. And is it supposed to be ironic that they have a peace sign on them?
    If the price of a school included that sweatshirt, I would have to leave. If the world ever changes so that sweatshirt is a requirement for success, I plan on moving my family to upstate New York, and trying to live a sustainable lifestyle (and that’s putting us perilously close to death, since I don’t know how to hang a painting, let alone keep chickens).

  43. “Maybe it’s my upbringing or the baggage from being the poor kid in a rich town, but Austrian ski vacations and sailing camp make me run for the hills.”
    We did a BC ski trip in January and MIL wants our oldest daughter to do a sailing camp (also British Columbia). Maybe it doesn’t count unless it’s actually Austria and the Caribbean?

  44. “We did a BC ski trip in January and MIL wants our oldest daughter to do a sailing camp (also British Columbia). Maybe it doesn’t count unless it’s actually Austria and the Caribbean? ”
    I think it doesn’t count if you actually ski or sail. It’s when you don’t want to do those things but go for the status that it’s an issue.

  45. “It’s when you don’t want to do those things but go for the status that it’s an issue.”
    I definitely didn’t want to ski. Too expensive (ticket, rental, clothes), plus after all these years, I’d probably hurt myself, and there’s nothing worse than being an injured mommy. (Right, Wendy?) We went to see my elderly grandparents and get the kids skiing. My husband and the kids got sick, of course, so each child skied about two days (instead of the three that I planned). I’m not repeating that anytime soon, but I’m glad we went.

  46. We keep talking about a sailing camp on Lake Erie, but never go. I think the “Lake Erie” factor cuts the status pretty quickly.

  47. I went to private schools my whole life. Yes, there may be some uber-rich, but there are probably just as many kids on financial aid. The key is to find out how many kids receive financial age — that will help you gauge how many kids are actually walking around in Uggs.
    I’m sure it’s not even close to half of them.

  48. “re: values from the home (anti-materialism or prioritizing education). Studies have shown that peer values out weigh home values by the time they get to middle school.”
    But until when? I used to work in university admissions and the “Who is your hero” question regularly netted 90% “my mom” or “my dad”, 5% Jesus/God and 5% other as responses.
    Isn’t it our job as parents to build our children’s characters so that they can stand up to bedazzled bullies and then, later, Mr. Burns-type bosses, evil neighbors, and/or corrupt governors?
    In any case, I don’t think familial influence can be that easily dismissed.

  49. I’m just trying to imagine living in a town where all the kids are going on a trip to the Caribbean…. We’re the crazy ones who take our kids everywhere. People in my town take their kids to Disney and Portugal.
    I’m not going to spend too much time thinking about kids and peer pressure. S has always been pretty strong-minded, and E will always be clueless, I’m convinced.
    SF was nice but unusually cool (everyone we saw was bundled up–LOL! we were practically in shorts and t-shirts). Then we came back to SE Mass where it was frickin’ snowing. Ugh. Or Ugg.

  50. it was frickin’ snowing.
    Our snow is finally melting fast. But this winter was bad enough that I bought actual snow boots*. Something happened to my last pair sometime in the early 90s and never replaced them as I never needed them.
    *Not Uggs.

  51. I went to an absolutely shitty, fundamentalist Christian school for 12 years. I learned very little there, including almost nothing about science, and the emotional and social sides of school were awful. In spite of all that, I went on to earn a PhD from one of the best, if not the best, programs in my field.
    If your schools are good enough and your kids are happy there…well, good enough is good enough. K-12 schooling is important, yes, but it is not the final word on your children’s futures. They can have a wonderful life and be successful by any defintion, even if they don’t attend one of the top 100 schools in the country.
    You know what got me through a school I would NEVER want my own kids to attend? I loved reading and writing from a very early age, and my mom encouraged those interests as best she could. She was dead-set that I would be the first woman in my family to graduate from college, and I became dead-set on it, too. I didn’t go to a prestigious high school or college, but I received an excellent education at my little, unknown college. I feel like my life is the embodiment of The Tortoise and the Hare–and yeah, I’m the tortoise.🙂
    I know this is hard, though. I am having my own issues with Pistola’s school right now, and it’s hard for me to be all, “Well, I got a horrible education and look how I turned out!” when it comes to her.
    We want the best for our kids. The problem is defining what that best is.

  52. From Australia, I still can’t believe that ugg boots are a genuinely trendy (no irony) item. Here when I grew up they were largely worn by poor working class people. It’s a bit like wearing sweatpants to wear them outside the house.
    We got a pair from our cheap chinese kids clothes shop for each of our boys for $15 each.
    But to the main point – I’m inclined to go with the slightly worse (but only if its slightly) academic school to avoid the extraordinarily sense of privilege you describe. Our closest high school (200m) away (and private) is like that and I won’t touch it with a barge pole.

  53. Isn’t part of the issue here that Laura & Steve don’t feel that their current schools are only slightly less qualified academically? I mean, it sometimes sounds like the schools are actively turning Jonah off to education. That’s hard to handle, no?
    There are 11 elementary schools in our district, and I know the three which would have had a really bad effect on MY ego, never mind my kids’. Stretching to afford a fancy house in a fancy neighborhood, and then not being able to afford the fancy lifestyle of all your new peers, that stuff is not easy to handle. Not when the school your kids attend creates a big chunk of your social world.
    After first grade, our kids were re-districted from the school that included the hippy/bohemian neighborhoods to a school where half the kids live in a development where the median home price is $750K, and the school culture is just different. It’s not a HUGE big deal, but it’s noticeable. I find myself thanking my lucky stars that middle-school districting starts from scratch, and we’re back with the hippies again.
    Also, I think there are significant regional differences in this stuff. I would have a hard time finding a place to fit in the greater New York area or — God forbid — in southern CA.

  54. SF was nice but unusually cool (everyone we saw was bundled up–LOL! we were practically in shorts and t-shirts)
    A few times while growing up in Idaho we went to visit my mother’s family is Southern California on our spring break. In Idaho it would be gray, mid-40’s, sometimes still a bit of snow sticking around. In Ventura it would be sunny and mid 70’s. People there would wear winter coats and hats and we’d wear shorts and go to the beach. (You couldn’t swim, but it still seemed great to us.)

  55. Girls get into clothes snobbery much more than boys. For some kids, a certain amount of lack of social awareness is a good thing, because it protects them from reacting to social bullying. Also, one report of a group of mean 6 y.o. girls doesn’t mean that the entire school culture is mean. This often varies by grade.
    I think every school and town has its own culture. Affluence doesn’t necessarily tract with educational excellence (nor with mean behavior). It really depends upon the town, and the particular group of people who live there. A town near us has a large percentage of lawyers. It’s very different in culture from the town which has a large percentage of doctors, and the town where the computer engineers end up.
    If you want to decide between towns, don’t look at the elementary school culture. Focus on the culture at the middle schools, and the high schools. In our neck of the woods, the lower the school’s SES factors, the earlier the kids get into drugs. At the lowest end, a certain number of middle schoolers are waiting for court dates. The higher the SES factors, the more one runs into entitled behaviors. The very highest SES factor town in our area correlates with a weird, “don’t want to stress the kids” school culture. This town also has the highest percentage of child psychologists in private practice.
    If we had to move in our area, I would move to a real middle-class town, in which the parents are working professionals, but there’s no upper-class delusions. I’d look for a high school which offers honors courses and APs in all academic disciplines (or IB). For us, a strong math team would be an indication of a good school culture.
    One can always ignore the vapid and ill-informed. Many schools in more affluent districts are better because there’s a certain quality of education below which the parents won’t allow the school to fall, even if they have to donate money and volunteer. (Tangled grammar alert!)

  56. Laura,
    I see that you’ve triggered a big google ad for Uggs in the sidebar. May I suggest a continuing series attacking consumption (taking care to drop a lot of brand names)? I’m not sure if it will help your advertising income, but it can’t hurt.

  57. >>One can always ignore the vapid and ill-informed.
    >In school, you usually can. After that, it gets
    >harder.
    Especially when the set includes customers or executives. Or both.

  58. I’ll bet that the parents will include a certain number of vapid people. So what? In any “better” school district, there will be many families who are there for the education.

  59. I attended public school, but because of the way the city’s GATE program was set up, I had to change schools in fourth grade. I went from a solidly working- and middle-class school to one where people lived on the beach and owned boats. It was really, really hard on me as a girl in particular. The pressure to have the latest clothes and to be aware of all the “best” things was ridiculous, and it plunged me into a period of low self-esteem that lasted until 11th grade and set off what has become a lifelong battle with depression. I can’t emphasize enough how seriously it messed with my brain and my self-image.
    I think this situation impacted me extra specially hard because I was a girl, and was therefore expected to be extra specially image-conscious.
    I understand the desire to give your kids the best educational experience possible. I will say that I went to one of the top high schools in California, but it was in the inner city, far far from that elementary school packed with wealthy kids. If a school has the right magnet program, you can get your kids among high-performing students and also shield them quite a bit from spoiled kids.

  60. As a kid, I attended some of the finest public schools in the country (my dad was an executive and we basically spent my childhood moving from one highly rated school district to another.) My sense of what a school needed to be “good” was profoundly influenced by this.
    But my folks were pretty down to earth. We were comfortable, and probably fit in the middle of the economic scale in these communities. Our vacations weren’t fancy or frequent (trips to visit family, mostly) and we probably had 1 of whatever the trendy must-have clothing options were each season, rather than a wardrobe of same. It was the 70’s, and it was pretty easy to mock people who were too caught up in fashion.
    My kids, on the other hand, attended a rural school, with a fraction of the resources the schools I had growing up offered. We’re in a much more economically diverse school district, where some families don’t always have a phone. So “fitting in” was mostly a matter of playing down the vacations we took, and dressing in the Target and Old Navy stuff everyone else (except the insufferable princessy lawyer’s daughter) wore.
    I’d have to say that despite my worries, their k-12 education was just about as good as mine. Here, the very talented teachers had more freedom to address kids’ individual needs, and the opportunity to participate in a range of activities, even if one is only mildly talented, gave them a series of experiences which my nieces in their high-powered public school in an affluent community can’t really match.
    The aforementioned nieces probably fit on the lower end of the economic spectrum where they live, and have definitely registered feeling somewhat deprived as a result of not having what their friends do.
    We have less in the way of economic resources than their parents do. But we are in the upper end of the spectrum where we live. The result is that our kids have not felt the pressure their cousins have. And managed to qualify for admission to first rate colleges ANYWAY, because the highly selective schools look for whether the kids have challenged themselves to the extent their environments permit. (Note. It is possible to get into, and excel at a top school with precisely zero AP courses, if you come from a school which does not offer them, but has teachers who see their role as preparing kids to excel at top schools)
    Which is a long way of saying that in my experience, it’s a lot easier to adjust for shortcomings in the academic environment than in the social one.

  61. I grew up in that kind of town and was miserable in jr. high because my parents had more long-term priorities for their money than buying status symbols. This year will be my 15th high school reunion and the majority of my classmates I have deliberately not talked to since the day we graduated.
    I *did* get excellent academic preparation for college. I’m just not sure it was worth having to endure the social nastiness…

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