Oct 24, 2006

Time to Choose: "Good," "Evil," or "Don't Know"

After Yoga on Sunday, I went to Essene (the local health food market that I usually call Obscene because it is so expensive. I went because they have an organic prepared food bar where you can eat lunch and also get a good dose of East-Bay-slash-Co-Op nostalgia due to the combination of aromas: cumin, coffee, and Seventh Generation cleaning products. Usually I try to eat and hit the road to get on to my next thing, but this time I took the newspaper and just sat and read it for a while.

I almost never seem to allow myself this pleasure. If we got the newspaper at home regularly, I'd never read it because I'd look for a spot to sit down and spread it out, and then wind up cleaning up the dining room table which would lead to emptying the dishwasher* and doing the laundry and then I'd forget what I started doing, which was trying to RELAX.

Anyway, I was at Essene reading the Weekly or the City Paper, and I gravitated away from articles about the midterm elections and towards the article about rich kids on drugs. The article talked about how Bucks County kids (the ones who are typically richer and more suburban that Philadelphia County kids) are coming down to "the badlands" of North Philly to score horse.

It seems that these kids feel that HEROIN is ok to do, and even carries great status-elevating power, because now that the Colombians are in charge it comes so strong you can just snort it instead of shooting it up. So now, just like cocaine was in the 80s, it's sort of a faddish designer drug among rich high school kids. Oh, except it kills you dead faster and much more often.

This got me all depressed because one of my favorite activities is to think about how my future children will become screwed up either by me or by the world we live in.

Once I had a conversation with Anna about where we would send our kids to school. I remember her saying that she'd just suck it up and send her kids to private school because she wanted them to be safe and not distracted by violence and crappy inner-city issues. I remember thinking that I would send my kids to public school, but not for the reasons you are all thinking. I am no martyr, and if a public school is no good, I certainly wouldn't send my child on principle (even though I believe in public schools in general and think we should not abandon them even if we can afford to pay).

The real reason I would send my kids to public school is that I'm afraid of rich kids. Rick kids can get in a lot of trouble, and rich bored suburban kids even more so. I almost went to private school for high school, because it was close and appealing to my parents. Instead I went to school with Megan at Van Nuys Math/Science Magnet, and became an honorary Asian person for awhile.

Our school was big and full of non-native speakers of English. There were two kinds - those in the magnet, who were typically raised by parents who valued good grades above all else and transferred their values to their kids, and the other kind whose parents were probably trying to make ends meet and who plodded along in ESL and then maybe joined the army. I didn't figure into either category particularly well, but was mostly in the former.

I basically hated high school. I felt it was alienating and weird and was a recipe for poorly socializing nerds and ambitious pre-meds. I had no school spirit to speak of and never went to football games or dances. We had our little group of friends and that was gonna have to be enough.

But all in all, I am not sure I would have chosen to go to private school with people who were "more like me." In this case, "more like me" means people who lived in my neighborhood on the westside, were white and the grandchildren of immigrants rather than immigrants themselves, whose parents could afford to pay for private school.

I was scared of those kids. Ever since I saw a 60 minutes episode about how the relative rich public school in the Palisades (Pali High) was overrun by drug addicts. I knew people who went to Crossroads, which was a sort of hippy-dippy touchy-feely school that was a favorite among kids of celebrities, and they were SCREWED UP people, in general - many of them alcoholics or addicts.

So I guess what I'm getting at is, what's a person to do with one's future unborn children? Everywhere has the potential to screw them up! New York is too racy, the midwest is dangerous because they will grow up smokers and have sex early, L.A. is too sprawling and weird and they will probably be in a car crash. If my kids are ugly and unstylish, they'll be unhappy. If they're pretty and popular, they'll get pregnant early or wind up among the secretly-bad-that-no-one-knew-how-bad-until-it-was-too-late.

Should I hope my kids come out total nerds with no friends so no one will corrupt them? No, right? I agree that exploring this is ludicrous at this point, but please humor me and comment.


* Actually, I don't empty. I just fill. I fill and T.J. empties. We figured that I was better at the slow-drip tasks, and he was better at defined, periodic tasks.

9 Comments:

Blogger Bob V opined...

All you really need to be a good and successful person is compassion and an understanding of the power of compounding over time. And both of those are (practically speaking) only taught at home.

10:52 PM  
Blogger amanda bee opined...

I am all about public school. My mom says I was depressed as a kid (as opposed to now when I'm never emotionally distraught at all ...) because she insisted on sending me to schools where there were no other white kids and I was isolated. She has it all wrong--there were white kids but they were all d-o-r-k-s. If she had bought me the right jeans, I might have been cool. Sending me to a private school (which was never an option, but we'll skip that issue for the moment) would not have made me cool.

You should read Fortress of Solitude which basically postulates that if you send your kids to public school they will suffer but turn out alright in the end, whereas if you send them to private school they'll end up with really soft hands and messed up adnoids and they'll generally suck. And get rich.

PS, how did you and Megan both end up writing about parenting last night?

8:03 AM  
Blogger capella opined...

But, see, you are not reading about all the rich kids who aren't snorting heroin, which is probably most of them. There is a finite chance of something unfortunate happening to your child no matter what you do. But if in addition to the possible bad choices s/he would make, s/he is vulnerable to the many bad choices of others (i.e. coming to school armed), the probability of disaster increases.

8:27 AM  
Blogger lil miss dubin opined...

1. With one notable exception (the girl from summer camp who everyone always said looked like me and is now earning her PhD at Berkeley after having gone to hippy-dippy Reed for undergrad), the Crossroads kids I knew are the most screwed-up people alive. I dated a Crossraods alum who is covered in tattooes from head to toe (his bum, even, people, hello!) and who talked about being so incredibly strung out on hard drugs by the age of 14 that he didn't even know who/where he was and who he was with, but he recalls being deafened under the flight path of LAX one night and thinking, boy was he messed up. Eeeew. EW! This is the child of one of the fanciest radiologists in L.A. (Oh and then he went to Santa Cruz, go fig.)

2. I was just going to mention Fortress of Solitude, right before Amanda did. That book discusses aaaaall this. And I think also paints an interesting picture of the kids that are just kind of playing around with the idea of being bad in high school (almost everyone) and the kids who actually make a life out of being bad (a small segment, but it's so sad when you/they realize that it's in fact their whole destiny, not just a high school phase).

3. Having said that, go L.A. Unified! I think. I mean, our parents were very brave for sending us there, looking back on it. Or was it something else other than bravery? Martyrdom? (In Fortress of Solitude, the kid's mother stood on principle, and wanted to raise her kid in an all-black neighborhood, where he would routinely get beaten up--just so she could go crazy and abandon the family and he and his dad would have to go it alone.) We were on the school bus for a 25-mile trip to Tarzana when we were 11, when we could have easily just gone to Brentwood. And picked up a nasty heroin habit. Who knows? Man, maybe you have to just pray that your children will get your good figure-it-all-out-in-the-end-no-matter-what-the-circumstances genes, and hold your breath until they grow up. Do you think LAUSD made us stronger? Or just more sympathetic/comfortable with the underdogs?

2:17 PM  
Blogger Dubin opined...

Hmm. See, I don't really think of it as "underdogs." Alienation is not necessarily a judgement call. I just felt out of place and wondered when my regular-type high school experience was going to come in. Perhaps it would have been the same anywhere, maybe certain kids are destined to be unhappy in high school, and perhaps those are often the same kids who are less unhappy later on in life. Who knows. I hate that my future children will have to go through adolescence at all, seeing as how it's so unbelievably miserable for everyone in its radius.

2:45 PM  
Blogger Megan opined...

We are so totally the same person, except that I liked our high school. But I am also scared of most high school experiences for my kids. The kids I know from small towns were drunk from are 14 on ("nothing to do"), and private school kids were all jaded bisexuals, and inner city high schools are vicious jungles where they eat the weak.

The magnet school solution worked for me, and allows parents the smugness of putting their kids in public schools without the drawbacks of putting their kids in public schools. I'm hoping that option will still be open when my potential kids get to that age.

1:40 PM  
Blogger nonblogger opined...

before your kid can even get to school it will spend the very first formative years at home.
parents are the first teachers.
i truly believe that this teacher/student - parent/child relationship will be the basis of every other relationship to come. even dealing with peers will be learned through their observation of you with yours.

once that kid is released out into the socializng world, be it school, camp, or little league, they are going to learn to (have to) fend for themselves based on the foundation that the parents have laid.
post-release parents are then only guiding their offspring. the child quickly becomes an adult and makes choices for the rest of their life.

in a nutshell, public vs. private school is only one of many outside influences that will determine whether your child spends their allowance/trust fund/minimum wage/401k on herion or not.

i went to private school, never did herion, but did experiment (outside of science classes), was drunk for the first time at 14, had a 4.0 and extra cirricular activites that ranged from punk shows to ballet classes. all this got me into berkeley and beyond i am not currently spending my 401k on heroin. nor do i plan to.

go parents!

toughest job on the planet!

2:40 PM  
Blogger AEW opined...

Because I am currently incubating a child, my friend Karen gave me a subscription to a magazine called "Brain, Child." The most recent issue discusses the public v. private school debate, but mostly from the point of view of bougie parents hoping to make the public schools better by putting their budding bougie kids into them. Which, from my present vantage, seems like a pretty good idea.

For a long time previous, though, I thought I'd go the private school route, and only recently have I realized it's because I desperately wanted to be an elitist in high school. I grew up in the tiniest of towns, as you know, and didn't really figure out how rural/unwashed/unsophisticated my world view was until I went to high school in Sacto. It was a public school, but a suburban rich kid public school, which is only a tiny step away from private school. It was mostly populated by high achieving white and Asian kids, or low achieving but preppy and sporty and wealthy (hence popular) white kids. It was the kind of high school that enrolled two black kids — one who was invisible, and the other who became some kind of totem to pathetic white kid ghetto idealization. All the jocks loved him and shouted out his name en masse at rallies.

And yeah, I went to rallies and games and dances; everything that screamed suburban high school. At the time, I desperately wished I could unlock the code to being cool, or that I could at least be really, really smart (and hence exempt from some of the pathos of not being cool), but I was neither, and felt a lot of shame for not being quite right.

That’s not really my point, though. Even though I was reasonably level-headed and came from a mostly intact home, I still did drugs and drank and had sex in high school. It would have been the same if I’d gone to private school, too. I experienced a lot of self-loathing as a teenager, and felt enormously insecure. It doesn’t matter where you send your kids to school; if they’re suffering from the kind of self-doubt that the high school environment can so cleverly exploit, they’re fucked, if even only to a small degree.

I agree with Bob and nonblogger — it’s not about the school, it’s about you and your partner and your kids. Try very early not to fuck up their self-esteem, and to a large extent, it won’t matter where they go. Ta-da! Easy.

6:25 PM  
Blogger Bob V opined...

My school didn't have very many black people. There were perhaps 10 in my class of 1000. I was talking to someone about something and mentioned one of them and she asked "how is it that you know every black person in this school?" I thought about it, and she was right. I think I knew every male, black student we had without having made any conscious effort to do so. And it's not like I actually did anything in common with most of them. (Now that I think about it, I think the same thing is happening to me 12 years later in grad school.)

As long as there is some amount of diversity around, you can interact with it. Ten black people need not be restrictive if you actually get to know those ten. Similarly, it is possible to ignore a 70% black population by not interacting with them.

(Incidentally, I can't think of a single instance in which I have tried to become friends with someone because they are black. It seems to have just happened.)

10:27 AM  

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