The New York Times magazine profiled the Avenues school in New York City. Avenues is a private school that was recently opened by the media and education entrepreneur H. Christopher Whittle; Alan Greenberg, a former publisher of Esquire magazine; and the former Yale president Benno C. Schmidt Jr. (and current chair of the Board of Trustees of CUNY colleges).
Working with $85 million in start up money and annual tuition payments of $43,000 per child, they are tapping the great minds to build the most perfect school ever. Sound good, doesn't it? Imagine having a blank check to create the perfect school. Imagine building your own team of fresh, energetic teachers and consultants from scratch. Sound good, right?
The problem with building a school that needs rich parents and their tuition payments is that you have to deal with the parents. You'll have to sell your program to them. Any education program would have to sound fun and new. So, you couldn't sell an old school program that had the kids read the classics and write, re-write, and re-write essays.
The school also has to deal with parental anxieties. There are meetings, after meetings.
And then there was the food committee. After the PowerPoint presentation concluded in the black-box theater, the questions started flying: Why so much bread? What was the policy on genetically modified organisms? Why no sushi? Nancy Schulman, the head of Avenues’ Early Learning Center, who was sitting among the parents that night, has a theory about the wealthy parents of young children. Privileged parents want to control everything in their kids’ lives. When the kids go to school, the parents can’t control what happens for eight long hours; hence, food. She dutifully worked with parents to implement many of their ideas, including more education about nutrition, and more snack time.
The article mocks the mission of the school, which seeks to provide the kids with humility. They want to promote humility, because elite colleges and businesses say that super rich kids coming out of New York City are too arrogant. Elite colleges are sick of them, and companies end up firing them. The idea of an exclusive, expensive, elite school creating committees trying to figure out how to make rich kids less arrogant is a little wonderful.
I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in a wealthy town. The professors lived on the same blocks with the cops. The lawyers, doctors, CEOs, and the occasional musician lived on the other side of town. So, I thought I knew rich people, until I moved to Manhattan and took my first job as an editorial assistant at major book publisher. While I entirely supported myself on my $15,500 salary (rent, food, entertainment, clothes), some of the other assistants were society page types whose daddies paid the rent on their midtown apartments. Their salary was pocket change that contributed towards their entertainment funds. One fellow assistant told me that she had never ridden on a subway before.
How do you teach rich kids humility?