We’re coming to the tail end of the end of year festivities for the kids. I have a few more days of work. The house needs massive cleaning before the in-laws visit. I have to map out a plan for food on Saturday. I need to make sure that Jonah has a clean white shirt for his graduation to go with his white tux jacket.
The boys here all graduate wearing white tux jackets and black bow ties; the girls are in white formal dresses. It’s a tradition that dates back to the 30’s. The kids all look marvelous and sophisticated for their big day, like they are ready for cocktails at a mansion on the Hamptons.
After the photos with parents, the kids are whisked away to dinner and dancing. Later, they are locked away for the night in the local middle school, which has been transformed into a magical palace by parents who have spent a year constructing sets based on a theme of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. One parent constructed a twelve-foot portrait of Gene Wilder out of jelly beans and post it notes. After the night of PG fun, the kids run over to the town pool and skinny dip.
The price tag for that one night of fun? $160,000.
It’s a nice night for the kids, but that’s a lot of money. And the time that went into constructing these sets could have been spent in a much more productive way. Right here in the same town, there are hundreds of special ed kids who could some reading tutoring. Twenty minutes from here, there are kids in Newark who need a whole lot of help.
Jonah is going off to college with private school sophistication. He and his classmates look years older than his peers in other towns. They hold themselves straight. They have no body fat or zits. They look adults in the eye and ask the right questions. They feel comfortable in a tux. Jonah knows how to order food in fancy restaurants and joins his friends at their million dollar shore houses. He is utterly comfortable in those settings. Those skills will serve him well in the future, so, as a mom, I’m happy. But when I put on my social justice hat, I feel ill.
This is privilege. It’s not so much the education. Jonah’s education has been hit or miss. Jonah’s math teacher isn’t getting tenure, so she stopped working back in January. She gave all the kids 100s on their finals, which they didn’t take. Tutors work behind the scenes teaching the kids their math facts and helping them cram history facts to pass the AP exams. So the kids here end up with a better education than kids in other public schools, but it’s not solely because of the quality of the schools. What they really gain from this town and living in this rich people’s bubble are soft skills that later translate into posh jobs in the city.
These kids buy themselves out of the guilt by volunteering strategically and with well constructed essays for their Freshman lit classes. But it’s not enough.