Today’s New York Times magazine has an amazing look at what it means to be a girl growing up in an affluent, north Boston neighborhood where expectations are high in so many ways and where kids, and families, are struggling to deal with them. As the father of a nine-year old daughter, I read this with a sense of sadness for these girls who, by all traditional measures are getting a “great” high school education but whose motivations are borne more from what they perceive as necessary to achieve as opposed to their true passions. The author, Sara Rimer, just does a great job of chronicling this struggle for the main protagonist in the story, Ester Mobley, whose mother worries that these “amazing girls” will end up with an “anorxia of the soul.”
A couple of passages that really struck me:
And, for all their accomplishments and ambitions, the amazing girls, as their teachers and classmates call them, are not immune to the third message: While it is now cool to be smart, it is not enough to be smart. You still have to be pretty, thin and, as one of Estherâ€™s classmates, Kat Jiang, a go-to stage manager for student theater who has a perfect 2400 score on her SATs, wrote in an e-mail message, â€œItâ€™s out of style to admit it, but it is more important to be hot than smart.â€
â€œEffortlessly hot,â€ Kat added.
And if you think that the SAT prep services don’t know a gold mine when they see it:
The test-prep business is booming. Kaplan (â€œBe the ideal college applicant!â€) is practically around the corner from Chyten (â€œOur average SAT II score across all subjects is 720!â€), which is three blocks from Princeton Review (â€œWeâ€™re all about scoring more!â€). My First Yoga (for children 3 and up), with its founder playing up her Harvard degree, is conveniently located above Chyten, which includes the SAT Cafe. High-priced SAT prep has become almost routine at schools like Newton North. Not to hire the extra help is practically an act of rebellion.
I’m not sure what the best path for my daughter (or son, for that matter) is, but I’m pretty certain it’s not this. I care less about where (or if) she goes to school and more about what I can do to support her passions. And that’s the question I constantly struggle with…not what she needs to ace her SATs, but how do I help her find those things that she’ll love learning about her entire life? And how can I help instill in her the work ethic to master it, to, as Darren asks of his students, become an expert at it? And how can she get through all of this with a strength and character that is measured by her own standards and not societies? If I can help her get there, the rest will take care of itself regardless of what scores she gets or schools she graduates from.