Preschool Lawsuit Shows New Face of Hypercompetitive Parents

With apologies to fans of Lake Wobegon Days, not all children are above average.

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I love children. I am, however, starting to really hate parents.

It used to be that the parents who provoked public discontent were the neglectful ones--those who didn’t spend time with their kids, or feed them appropriately. And that’s awful, to be sure. But the helicopter parent, the smothering parent, and the hyper-competitive parent comprise their own category of most-irritating. They obsess over every tiny detail of their child’s life--be it perceived slights by their kids’ elementary school classmates or whether the soccer coach gave their children the playing position or field time desired (by the parent, not necessarily the kid)--but can’t seem to summon the time it takes to teach their kids not to scream endlessly in the mall. They’ll negotiate with two-year-olds who are not developmentally capable of such interaction, but complain to college professors about the grades their adult children earned (or quite possibly, failed to earn). [See which members of Congress get the most money from education interests.]

But it’s the super-competitive parent who is unusually disturbing. These are the types who jealously compare how many months or weeks or days ahead of other kids in the neighborhood their child was at achieving potty training. It progresses as the child grows up, with school plays and sports teams and--most importantly--attendance at a school that takes pains to exclude the riff-raff.

The most recent example is displayed in the comical lawsuit brought by a parent in Manhattan, who is appalled that the pricey preschool to which she sent her four-year-old was not providing the right training to get her daughter into an elite kindergarten.  

Sure, for many of us, kindergarten was a time of naps and snacks and hugs and games, but for Nicole Imprescia, the school just wasn’t good enough for her little Lucia. First, the parent complained, the York Avenue Preschool dumped her daughter with kids who were only two years old, and was exposed to a low-brow curriculum that involved learning shapes and colors. "Indeed, the school proved to be not a school at all, but just one big playroom," the lawsuit huffed.

What did Imprescia expect? That the preschoolers would prepare a white paper weighing the political risks of another war with a Muslim country versus the humanitarian desire to protect Libyans from slaughter by Muammar Qadhafi? [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the Middle East protests.]

The parent’s lawyer insisted that little Lucia is very smart, and would indeed get into an Ivy League school, despite whatever damage might have been done by the age-appropriate teachings of York Avenue Preschool. In this bizarre presumption, the lawyer (and by extension, the complaining parent) are making another increasingly common mistake--to assume that paying a lot of money ($19,000 a year, for York) for schooling and tutoring and dance lessons and the like will ensure academic or even life success. It’s as if cash has everything to do with it, and the intellectual potential of the child (not to mention the motivation or academic interests of the child), has nothing to do with it.

A favorite episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show involves the academic performance of comical anchorman Ted Baxter’s adopted child. The kid wasn’t doing well in school, and everyone was weighing in as to the reasons: was he not getting the proper instruction? Was his home life an issue? Maybe he was sick? Finally, Ted’s father put in his two cents, saying they all had missed another real possibility. "Maybe he’s just stupid," Ted’s dad said. It was hilarious, if politically incorrect, and I would certainly not sanction calling a child "stupid." But parents who truly love their children as people--and not little human stocks whose performance reflects on the parents--will accept that not every kid will excel at academics or anything else. With apologies to fans of Lake Wobegon Days, not all children are above average.

Imprescia already accomplished part of what I imagine she wanted--to make sure her little girl didn’t have to rub tiny, scraped elbows with children of parents who can’t afford to spend $19,000 on preschool. Maybe little Lucia will do better if she attends school with kids whose parents were too smart to pay such a ridiculous amount.

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