Needless to say, this is ridiculous:
Settled in the well-groomed Los Angeles suburb of San Marino, Derek O’Gorman worked as an insurance broker. His wife, Mary Ann, took care of their two girls, both stellar students at top-ranked local schools. But in 2005, when the family visited a nearby private high school they expected the girls to attend, they came away disappointed. After an extensive search, the O’Gormans found the perfect fit: the Winsor School. Winsor, famed for its academic rigor and participatory classes, is also known for the academic success of its 420 students: About a third of its latest graduating class went to Ivy League colleges.
The hitch: Winsor is in Boston. After months of debate, the O’Gormans sold their house. Mr. O’Gorman, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, quit his job, and the family moved to a small Boston apartment. It would take three months and most of the family’s savings before Mr. O’Gorman, 45 years old, found an insurance job in the new city.
The article in the WSJ goes on to describe how the O’Gormans can’t even afford to move their furniture to Boston, since all their money goes to pay tuition (about $56,000 a year). My only comment on stories like this is to note that there are important adverse effects to getting an “elite” high school education. I went to a magnet program situated within a big, urban public high school. While I had some wonderful teachers, and was offered plenty of AP classes, I was always jealous of my peers at posh private schools, who got to take all sorts of nifty electives. They’d have pottery class in the morning, followed by a seminar on Latin American Literature, and a course on the Philosophy of Math. My class schedule, in contrast, consisted of the academic basics: English, Math, Science, History, etc. My only elective was Auto Mechanics.
So what’s wrong with taking specialized classes in high school? I knew too many kids in college who, after having gone to fancy private schools, felt like college was anticlimactic. They didn’t want to take Art History classes because they’d already taken Art History classes. Physics for Poets? That was so 10th grade. What about Introduction to East Asian Religion? Meh. They already knew all about the Tao. Same with Plato. In other words, these private schoolers had a false sense of having been exposed to just about everything. Because they’d learned about it as a 16 year old, they didn’t have to learn about it again. College seemed redundant.
In contrast, I was hungry for everything. I couldn’t believe that such a range of intellectual disciplines existed. I had trouble whittling down my course list every semester. It wasn’t just that I was ignorant, although I was/am; it was that I was eager to enmesh myself in the pleasurable details of knowledge. High school had given me an outline, and now I got to fill in the blanks, and see how things connected. Unlike my private school friends, who sometimes seemed burnt out by school, I knew that I knew nothing, which is the ideal way to enjoy college.
The simple truth is that the vast majority of 16 year olds aren’t ready for Art History, or Buddhism, or Plato. (Their frontal cortex, for example, is still developing.) All they really care about is getting their license and gossiping with their friends. We should make sure to save some academic experiences for college, when the mind is a bit more ready to absorb them.