Friday, May 10, 2013

Avenues: A Lesson in False Humility

Avenues is a pre-K-9 private school in New York City which purports to emphasize humility in its students; the school's mission statement is to craft students who are “humble about their gifts and generous of spirit." For $43,000 a year. All of my information is from the New York Times feature. I just had to post a response.

The Good

The school does seem to be an amazing opportunity for people who can afford it, at least at the lower levels.  Nancy Schulman, head of the Early Learning Center, understands why parents feel the need to ensure their children have organic, locally-sourced, gluten-free, culturally diverse snacks (it's a control thing). 4-year-olds get to view abstract art (an oddly appropriate time for them to learn about it) and Schulman, "brimming with excitement, explained how the subject matter and the field trip were perfect for the immersion classes. 'You can use the vocabulary in both languages,' she said, to learn about the art."

Yes, the kids will be brought up to be bilingual: English and Mandarin. The one spotlight on a student of Avenues is, "Jackson, [who] emerged in checkered pajamas from playing a “Star Wars” game on a Mac and broke into a number of songs in Mandarin, including “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.”He seems like a happy, well-adjusted kid.

The Bad

But how long will that last? Jackson's parents may seem both successful and reasonable, but how will they compete with the children of parents who demand the non-genetically modified, organic, locally-sourced, gluten-free, culturally-diverse raw foods snacks? Or parents that fret that their children can see, "the upper outlines of a homeless man’s backside en route to a playground." Worse yet, how will children cope when the school puts together a task force to investigate the safety of the school neighborhood in response? Humility indeed.

Of course, the homeless man incident is also referred to as "the buttcrack email," which goes to show that some people are laughing it off. I'm still concerned about the students when they get into high school though. Avenues does not have upperclassmen students yet, but they will. That's when the mental and physical health of students start to plummet; that's when AP courses, the SAT, and college applications hit you hard. Add that mix to the pressure cooker that is Avenues, and I'd hate to see the outcome. One of NYC's best child psychologists is on board. They're going to need him.

And let's face it. This school is charging $43,000 a year and is for profit. That may ensure premium service, but it's always a bit squishy when a school is for-profit. In reality, all schools are, but those who are openly so are at the mercy of parent and student demands. Also, humility?

The Ugly

Let's be honest. The best place for children of people who make enough to pay $43,000 a year in school fees to learn humility is the public school system. And not even the public school system in their neighborhood. They need to go to a low-income neighborhood public school. Or low-income neighborhood private school. But public school would be better.

Their parents would undoubtedly continue to be highly involved, and will model one or both of two things for their children. One is social activism. The other is failure. Either way, they will likely grow up to be more resilient, encounter real diversity, and grow up to be humbler human beings, if only because they will see how people without the benefits their families provide fare.

You know who would really benefit from the type of education Avenues provides? Children from low socioeconomic castes. On a purely practical level, I think they need Chinese more. Rich people can hire translators and language tutors, but the blue collar class workers may need Chinese to serve our future Chinese overlords. Or if not, as manufacturing is outsourced more and more to China, they may need to chase those jobs. Or they may need to interact with Chinese speakers or Chinese characters when they take inventory or transport goods from boat to shore. When I eat at Din Tai Fung in Arcadia, all of the dumpling makers I see through the picture window into the kitchen look Latino. Once, while grocery shopping in Hacienda Heights, I saw a Latino man speaking ebulliently with his co-workers in Chinese. I'm currently in Taiwan, teaching English to children of the rich and powerful. You know who, on average, has better spoken English? That's right, child vendors in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, etc.

Or course, there are many other reasons children from low socioeconomic classes would benefit from an education at Avenues. The point is that they will never get anything close to that. As one commenter, cmhughes, notes, what they get instead is ducking under "police tape cordoning off the street to get into the building. A man had been shot in the head the night before and died; the police crime scene investigation unit van was still there collecting evidence . . . one young child . . . is very afraid of dying."

The Black Box Theater

The NYT feature, written by Jenny Anderson, makes much of the black box theater on school campus in which parents were having a forum on whether or not their children's snacks were appropriately non-genetically modified, organic, locally-sourced, paleo-diet, gluten-free, culturally-diverse, raw food, non-processed, and high class. A black box theater is a low-cost theater that consists of a flat floor and black walls (resembling a black box). It was developed for experimental theater, and should be able to represent anyplace and anything. Like the school, it is a seemingly progressive and democratic space that has been appropriated by those who claim to feel more, care more, and are the de facto elite.
Become certifiably humble at Avenues!

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