Jungle Lovers, then you know that I was quite unimpressed with the "guidance" I received in high school. There was little to no preparation for anything - no Kaplan tests, no Internet. I had already completed my years at NYU before I even learned what prep schools were. Certainly preparatory schools predate my high school years, and there were many fine examples of such where I grew up in New England. However, such places were certainly not something a working-class family would even be aware of, much less consider for a child's attendance.
More disappointing, particularly for someone academically inclined as I was, is to learn the reality of admission to America's top colleges and universities. It is not strictly a merit-based system. Most applicants to the Ivy League universities are well-qualified to attend. In Crashing Through Knowledge, I recount an incident where an upperclassman I met was so disappointed with his rejection from Harvard.
There is no question that prep schools send a much larger percentage of their student body to top schools. From a 2010 Forbes Magazine article, "America's Best Prep Schools":
In the past five years, Trinity School sent 41% of its graduates to the Ivies, MIT or Stanford. On average our 20 top schools sent nearly one-third of their graduates to those 10 schools. (In contrast, less than 0.01% of all U.S. high school graduates ended up in those schools in 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Education.)
With this type of track record, the scramble to get into top schools starts as early as kindergarten or earlier for parents fixated on seeing their children on the best career track. The Dalton School, one of the highest rated prep schools in the United States, is located in Manhattan's Upper East Side. It occupies three buildings, spanning all grades from K-3 (shown in the photo at 53 East 91st Street) and grades 4-12 at 108 East 89th Street.
The Dalton School was founded in 1919 by the renowned progressive educator Helen Parkhurst. Parkhurst’s visionary Dalton Plan remains the keystone of the school’s progressive educational philosophy and is now the model for over 200 Dalton schools in other parts of the world.
The school is iconic and has often been referenced in TV and film. A scene in the film Baby Boom with Diane Keaton illustrates the extreme preoccupation that many New York City parents have with getting their children into top schools, even nurseries. Here, at the playground with her child, Diane Keaton overhears a mother bemoaning her fate at having her child rejected from the Dalton School:
Mother 2: What is wrong with you? You look awful.
Mother 3: We heard from Dalton, Cosby didn’t get in.
Mother 1 & 2: (in unison) Oh no!
Mother 3: I’m so upset, if she doesn’t get into the right preschool, she’s not going to get into the right kindergarten, if she doesn’t get into the right kindergarten, I can forget about a good prep school and any hope of an Ivy League College.
Mother 1: Honey, that is devastating.
Mother 3: I just don’t understand it. Her resume was perfect, her references were impeccable. Dennis is going to kill me.
More on education and schools: Read Between the Lines, Little Red, Meetings With Remarkable Men (Part 1 and Part 2), La Rentrée