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$43k a year, humility not guaranteed

If theres a word I dont immediately associate with a for-profit, pre-K-through-nine educational venture that has $85 million in private-equity financing (with another round on the way), that in full-page newspaper and magazine ads has proclaimed its aspirations for expanding around the globe, and that occupies a 215,000-square-foot, light- and art-filled renovated warehouse alongside the High Line Park in Manhattans Chelsea neighborhood, its humility. The very nature of Avenues: The World Schools educational mission, if thats the term, would seem to work against fostering qualities like simple gratitude and modesty. Theres also the $43,000 annual price-tag.Fortunately, the executives in charge at Avenues seem alert to the cognitive dissonance, as detailed in a New York Times Magazine story on Sunday:

[W]hile Avenues offers its students every imaginable educational benefit a 9-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio, a Harvard-designed World Course it has also tapped into an even deeper, more complicated parental anxiety: the anxiety of wanting their kids to have every advantage, but ensuring that all those advantages dont turn them into privileged jerks.As Manhattan, and particularly downtown, is transformed by a staggering infusion of wealth, there is a growing market for creating emotionally intelligent future global leaders who, as a result of their emotional intelligence, have a little humility. In fact, when the nearby Grace Church School was researching whether to start its own high school, it asked top college-admission officers what was lacking in New York City applicants. The answers coalesced around the idea of values, civic engagement, inclusiveness and diversity in a word, humility.And so Avenues students may run to their Empire State of Mind: Thinking About Jay-Z in a New Way mini-mester while passing a Chuck Close self-portrait, but they do so with the intent of being humble about their gifts and generous of spirit, as the schools mission statement puts it.

That there is a growing market [emphasis added] for creating emotionally intelligent future global leaders is something else to think about. But in the meantime, humble or not, Avenues students are at least assured a menu of diverse and healthy fare, and more of it:

After the first week of classes, a group of parents sent a seven-page e-mail detailing concerns: there were not enough worldly snacks like seaweed, zucchini bread with quinoa flour and bean quesadillas (so long as the beans came from BPA-free tin cans). In the black-box theater, Avenues chief administrative officer helped assure parents that their kids diet was sufficiently organic, local and healthful. The regional director of its food-service contractor was on hand to address any fears about carbohydrates. A doctor from Mount Sinai Hospital was ready to answer questions about allergies. A 25-page PowerPoint was presented. After the PowerPoint presentation concluded 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 dutifully worked with parents to implement many of their ideas, including more education about nutrition, and more snack time.

About the Author

Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s digital editor.



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Privilige is a terrible thing to waste on the already-priviliged. But they do deserve it, after all. Weren't they smart enough to be born rich?

The Convent of the Sacred Heart costs $39,000+ a year.

I am curious to know how they understand the word "gifts". Do they mean the students' "natural" "talents"? Or do they mean the unfathomable fortune of being able to attend such a school? I doubt it's the latter.

It looks like a wonderful school. From the Mission Statement:"WE WILL GRADUATE STUDENTS who are accomplished in the academic skills one would expect; at ease beyond their borders; truly fluent in a second language; good writers and speakers one and all; confident because they excel in a particular passion; artists no matter their field; practical in the ways of the world; emotionally unafraid and physically fit; humble about their gifts and generous of spirit; trustworthy; aware that their behavior makes a difference in our ecosystem; great leaders when they can be, good followers when they should be; on their way to well-chosen higher education; and, most importantly, architects of lives that transcend the ordinary." hope everyone will look at the school's web site and judge for yourselves.

So, let me get this right: born into privilige. educated into and with privilige. graduate into other priviliged educational systems. get priviliged jobs with other priviliged people. expect to inherit much of not all of your priviliged parents' priviliged income without paying inheritance taxes.Yes, that sounds quite American.But be very careful comes the revolution. And the way things are going, that idea is not so far-fetched after all.

Gerelyn,The problem is not with the school's mission statement, and nothing available on the school's website is likely to reassure its critics. Of course, teachers and administrators at public schools in poor neighborhoods would also like to graduate students who are "accomplished in the academic skills one would expect [for a graduate of a school that charges so much?]; at ease beyond their borders; truly fluent in a second language; good writers and speakers one and all; confident because they excel in a particular passion; artists no matter their field"; only, the public schools in such neighborhoods don't have the resources to do it. And the fact that they don't have the funding they need to do right by their students is related to the fact that there are people who (a) can afford the $43,000 yearly tuition and (b) would spend whatever they had to in order to save their own children from our public-school system. "Generous of spirit"love that qualifier. The word "generous," unmodified, would raise too many troubling questions. And speaking of questions, I noticed none of the questions asked at the school menu meeting had to do with whether the people who grow the food their children eat are being paid properly. As long as it's organic.

I just finished Rod Dreher's "The Little Way of Ruthie Leming". (He's the writer/editor on religious and social/political subjects who invented the notion of "crunchy cons".) "The Little Way" is the story of his sister who led a totally ordinary life *by choice* plus the inter-twined story of Dreher's ambitious choice to seek a significant writing career among extraordinary people. When his sister dies of a terrible cancer at age 42 he discovers that this "ordinary" woman was literally a saint who influenced thousands of lives by her following a "little way" much like that of St. Therese of Lisieux. The book is quite fraught in many spots, but generally well-written, with particularly wise sections on community, plus a bit of the humor and zaniness you'd expect to find in the woods of South Louisiana where the stories take place. Most important, it has considerable theological depth in a way that abstract theology can't. Eventually Dreher comes to see that the difference between her life and his was, as he puts it, the difference between "thinking good thoughts and doing good things". The children at Avenues should have this book on their required reading lists. And copies should be given to their parents.

That's quite a mission statement. But somehow they left out "holistic."

There's a Catholic school four short blocks (1/5 of a mile) away with annual tuition at $3900 and presumably no extra charge for lessons in humility. cultural achievement of the neighborhood: the Oreo Cookie was invented there 101 years ago.

Hi, Matthew: 1) True that nothing on a school's web site reassures its critics. Here's Choate's: Choate is a bargain compared to Avenues, only 51K including room and board. The proof will be in the pudding for Avenues. Will it be around in a hundred years? 2) Have to disagree with your second sentence, the one that starts with "Of course". Teachers can't pass on what they don't have or want.3) Have to disagree with your third sentence, too. No amount of funding could make a person who is ignorant of history able to teach history. Ditto math, English, etc. (You're young, and I'm old. I remember when the public schools of Kansas City were great: Southwest High School, now a horrible dump, was the 38th best public school in the country in 1958; at the same time, Westport High School, now closed because it had become such a horrible dump, had more Rhodes Scholars among its graduates than any school in the country; etc., etc., etc.) The decline in education, fostered and encouraged by the Republican Party, will continue. Keep 'em stupid, and they'll vote the RIGHT way. 4) Mocking rich parents is easy. (DotCommonweal has done it before. It must be hard for those who despise/envy the "privileged" to live and work in Manhattan.)

The solution is simple: double the price of tuition, and for each rich child, offer a full fellowship to a child from a needy family, chosen according to their motivation and academic potential. That will show generosity in action, develop humility by showing the rich kid how some poor kid, placed alongside him, might do much better in school, make them practical in the ways of the world by exposing them to a more diverse environment, make them emotionally unafraid by exposing them to a broader spectrum of students, etc. And the critics will shut up.

Gerelyn,Your contempt for the people who work at public schools is remarkable, especially since you yourself acknowledge that the problem is largely one of resources. (How did the Republican Party foster and encourage the decline in education if not by withholding the funding necessary to make our public schools as good as those in other rich countries, or to make public schools in poor neighborhoods as good as those in rich ones?) Part of making public schools better is making sure that public-school teachers have the right kind of training, and here the problem is not only one of money. Still, if we paid our high-school teachers what doctors and lawyers make, we'd have better teachers. If we paid them what their important work is worth, we could also fairly demand that they be better educated in the subjects they teach. We might even consider integrating the training program for high-school and college teachers the way some other countries do. But all that would depend on the political initiative to make public education the priority it should be, which would entail higher tax rates for the people who can afford to send their children to schools like Choate and Avenues. "Mocking rich parents is easy." Yes, it is. Too easy. They're making it easier all the time. Old as you are, you must remember the time when plutocrats didn't pose as cultural egalitarians.

This is not mocking rich parents. This is legitimate questioning of a venture that is so smugly certain of its superiority that it acknowledges it might have to teach humility not as a good of its own, but as another marketable skill that the brand of future monetizers its incubating can leverage as a competitive differentiator. Whats problematic here is not (just) the fees and high-priced artwork and sushi, but the all-but-explicit admission that education is simply a means in the accumulation of wealth, and by no other metric should the quality of that education be measured.

Matthew::(I guess I don't regard parents of private school kids as plutocrats. They're not that powerful. They're just people who can pay tuition at private schools. Deriding them and their kids for insufficient humility? Fatuous.)Agree, of course, that teachers should be paid what doctors are paid. If a high school history teacher had to study history for the length of time a doctor studies medicine and had to serve internships and residencies, s/he would be worth the money. Maybe. And if s/he had to earn annual credits, as lawyers must, to keep the license up to date, s/he would be worth the money. Maybe.Anyway, I think the time has passed for the old methods. Want to teach the Civil War? Show them Ken Burns's films. Show them original documents, newspapers, clothes, popular plays, songs, amputation methods, etc. At the end of the day's lesson, test them on it. If they pass, they get a new lesson the next day. If they flunk, they repeat the previous lesson. Every day until they pass. It doesn't require a "teacher" at all. Just a mouse. It could be done at home in comfort. Just come to the big ugly bunker-like building for P.E. and theater.

I'm all for humility, understood as a practical virtue rather than a style of self-presentation, but I wonder if the real problem here isn't so much the lack of humility as the lack of a healthy capacity for shame. To haveand keepmuch more money than you need when others in your community have too little is shameful.To which one could always retort: "Easy to say if you don't have much more than you need. And who gets to say how much that is anyway?" I can well imagine that some of the people who send their children to Avenues would be all for a public-education system that's both fair and excellent. Since at the moment our system is neither, they're going to do what's in their own child's best interest, as any good parent would, rather than sacrificing him or her to their liberal guilt. We don't really have to imagine this response; we hear it all the time.Among these rich parents who would be all for more fairness, there are some who vote and even donate for more fairness who don't just look forward to a time when schools like Avenues are unnecessary, but work for such a time. But again, until that time has come they'll do whatever they can for their own children, because all real love is favoritism of a kind.And then there are people who could afford to send their children to a school exclusively (or almost exclusively) for the rich and choose instead to send them to schools where the children of rich families mix with those of poor and middle-class families. Not necessarily because these parents would rather spend their wealth on yachts and signed Warhol prints than on their own children's future. Some of them recognize and recoil from the very undemocratic implications of a place like Avenues. Gated communities are to be resisted, whether they're for the old or the very young. The best inducement to civic virtue, of the kind the admissions officers at the Ivies apparently find lacking in the graduates of fancy New York prep schools, is having a personal stake in the success of public institutions.

I struggled to stay afloat through the first few gusts of the Mission Statement, but they sank me irretrievably with "confident because they excel in a particular passion," and it only got worse after that. I hope the kids will be "truly fluent in a second language," because the first, it seems, will be Pretentious Twaddle, until now useful mainly for selling the penthouse apartment in Amour Propre Towers.Shame on me for such severity! Yet they have not completed their first academic year. In five or ten or thirty years, when their goals have become accomplishments and they have a long line of marvelous graduates to their credit, and never a failure, then let them sing their own praises, and even then with more restraint.

"Still, if we paid our high-school teachers what doctors and lawyers make, wed have better teachers."Only if we first fired all of our current teachers, though, right? Or is there some correlation between pay and effort in the teaching profession that eluded me: for $50K/year, a teacher makes her third-best effort to teach; raise it to $100K/year, and she tries a little harder; crank it up to $200K/year, and she'll pull out all the stops?Those poor kids up the street at Guardian Angels School, whose teachers, if they are on a par with Catholic school teachers, make some fraction of their public school colleagues, must be getting a really substandard education; those teachers are hardly trying at all.

Jim P. --The reason money makes a difference isn't because it inspires the current teachers to work harder, it's because the current salaries do not attract the people smart enough to be excellent teachers in the first place. This is not such a terrible problem in the lower grades where the content of courses isn't all that difficult, but it does become a problem in the high schools where the content, to be challenging, has to be difficult.What to do about the current not too bright teachers is a very big *moral* problem that we seem totally unwilling even to face, much less solve. The schools have contracted with the current teachers to do their best. I cannot see just firing them when the schools decide that their best isn't good enough. Maybe they can be replaced by good teachers only by attrition, but that will take a couple of generations,

(It's not just a "current" problem. It has been a problem for a long time. In 1972, e.g., the only people who scored lower on the MAT than those going into "education" were those going into theology. Highest scores were earned by those going into psychology, business administration, and engineering.)---This is not mocking rich parents. This is legitimate questioning of a venture that is so smugly certain of its superiority that it acknowledges it might have to teach humility not as a good of its own, but as another marketable skill that the brand of future monetizers its incubating can leverage as a competitive differentiator. Did you read the faculty bios at Avenues? Pretty impressive, imho.

I did, yes. In fact, I turned the bios into a Kindle book. Download it here (proceeds benefit the Commonweal endowment).

Jonathan Wang is my favorite, so far. Lu looks pretty amazing, too.

". . . the anxiety of wanting their kids to have every advantage, but ensuring that all those advantages dont turn them into privileged jerks."Some who write about education of the privileged (at places like Choate, and its fellows -- see above) have made the point that several generations ago, parents from Park Avenue or the Philadelphia Main Line, etc., packed their sons (not, at that point, their daughters) off to places like Choate and Groton and Exeter and St. Paul's, knowing that they would get both a rigorous education and a Spartan way of living, simple food, hard beds, early rising and mandatory daily chapel, etc. etc. with none of the creature comforts they'd known back home. Privileged of course they were, but the point was to remind little Johnny and Jimmy that privilege had its duties and responsibilities, and they were not to assume that life was all featherbeds and instant gratification. And, say some of the more critical writers, as the culture of the rich and privileged has changed, so has this attitude in such schools, so that the featherbeds and instant gratification, electronic and otherwise, have crept in. The Penn sociologist, Digby Baltzell, published his Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia in 1979, which goes into some versions of this, but there's been more since, in the American Scholar and elsewhere.

Nicholas --I had a great uncle in-law who was the son of a Russian count. He was educated in France by the Jesuits, and I remember his saying that the school was freezing and that the boys were allowed to have a bath only twice a year! Aristocrats typically were hard on their children, especially their sons. The English private boys' schools were notorious for caning the children. I suspect that explains the Spartan style of the American private schools. The reason for the toughness, or so I've read, was because originally the aristocrats' function in society was to lead in war, and officers in old-fashioned one-on-one battles are always the first target of the enemy. Even in WW II second lieutenants were killed at the highest rate in combat. Remember the TV series Upstairs Downstairs? The son of the house was killed in battle in WW I. This required that aristocrats' sons had to be hardened emotionally and physically so they would be particularly brave as officers -- they knew they were the ones most likely to die in battle but had to lead anyway. In recent times when there was a war and a draft, rich men's sons could just continued in grad school, thus avoiding the military -- the death of noblesse oblige.

"The reason money makes a difference isnt because it inspires the current teachers to work harder, its because the current salaries do not attract the people smart enough to be excellent teachers in the first place."First of all, I agree that there is something to this - that if a profession pays more, it will attract higher-caliber candidates. And we can see this in the real world in the teaching profession: there are huge disparities in wages from one school district to another, and the school districts that pay more, attract the best teachers from the best colleges.But this consideration of higher wages must also be balanced against the aptitudes required and, if we dare to use such a word, the vocation-call to do the work. There are many people who are brighter and better-educated than the average elementary school or high school teacher, but would not necessarily be better teachers (I'm married to one such person).As one way to think about this: I've often thought that one of the reasons we have a priest shortage is that the profession of priest is a relatively low-paying profession, even with all of the perks like free housing and meals that come with it - even with all of those perks, it may not attract the best and brightest who could work on Wall Street or as heart surgeons. Whenever I've mentioned this, the reply I invariably get is: do we really want Wall Street traders as pastors of our parishes? The intuition behind such a reply is that not just anyone can or should be a priest; it should be for those who truly are called to that way of life.As it happens, I agree with that point of view. But I would say that this requirement to be called to a particular way of life or work isn't unique to the priesthood or religious life (or the diaconate). In my view, this notion of vocation applies to many different professions. People who are called to teach should teach, and people who aren't called to teach, shouldn't. People who are called to practice medicine, should, and people who aren't, shouldn't. And so on. I'd add that it's possible for a person to have more than one calling. At the margins, so to speak, there may be lawyers or doctors or housewives who find their current situations less than satisfying and who would make fine and competent teachers. And boosting salaries might attract some of those at the margins. In theory, it might help a little bit. In practice, there are practical obstacles: at least around here, public school teacher salaries are "slotted" by tenure and level of education, so a lawyer who wanted to leave the profession of law and teach high school would need to bump down to an entry-level salary."What to do about the current not too bright teachers is a very big *moral* problem that we seem totally unwilling even to face, much less solve. The schools have contracted with the current teachers to do their best. I cannot see just firing them when the schools decide that their best isnt good enough. Maybe they can be replaced by good teachers only by attrition, but that will take a couple of generations."As I say, I think the "slotting" of teacher salaries creates a practical obstacle. If a really bright, skilled and motivated teacher with a master's degree and 10 years of experience makes $100K/year + benefits, the community that employs her might be fine with that - they may feel that it's well worth it to pay her those wages. But as the system stands now, every one of her colleagues with that level of experience and education must earn the same wages. Most of them will be closer to average as teachers, and a certain number of them will be below-average. The community that pays those wages may be unwilling to pay those wages to a below-average teacher. And so we end up, in the short run, with excellent teachers making average wages. And in the longer run, some of those excellent teachers will move to higher-paying school districts, and we end up with a quality disparity.

Jim P.,There is also the fact that public schools are generally funded by local property taxes, so schools in poor neighborhoods begin disadvantaged. It is not a law of nature or of God, but a choice our society has made. Other countries are doing things differently and seeing better results.

Jim P. ==Much of what you say is true. However, priests, unlike teachers, can make their career decisions indepent of the financial burden of spouse and children. This is indeed one of the advantages of a celibate priesthood. On the other hand, a brilliant teacher who feels called to teach, but who has three brilliant kids to educate all the way through college, cannot in fairness to his or her kids choose to teach in most school systems because it really makes no sense for a parent to deny his/her own children appropriate opportunities so that other people's children will have the opportunity to excel. Do a little thought experiment: You're a highly intelligent and well-meaning man. If you lived in a very poor city, say Detroit or Hell Hole, GA, could you justify teaching in a school there if you knew that your own kids' opportunities would be limited because of your salary? Wouldn't that be playing Lord Bountiful without the means of a Lord Bountiful?

My pretty-bright 7th grade daughter has been invited to take the scholarship exam at two all-girl catholic High Schools, each with a ticket of around $40,000 year. My husband works part-time security at a prep school in our neighborhood with a "humanist" philosophy, also about $40,000.I am completely conflicted about even applying to send my daughters' to these schools. I understand we have an obligation to give our children the best education we can, and that these schools have a lot of resources, but I still don't want to pursue them.I don't want my children to aspire to affluence and I think they can get an almost- as -good education for a fraction of the price, or even free. And I'm thinking a lot any more about how we spend so much more than we need on things- cars, houses, prep schools- - maybe we could be more frugal and share our abundance with people who really need it.

Irene --In my experience a really bright kid doesn't have to have a lot of educational bells and whistles to eventually get into a good college, if that's what you're concerned about. (Your daughter sounds really bright :-) If a good college is what you're aiming at, do consult with some college admissions people to find out what they're looking for these days. Besides, different colleges are best for different students, and I would guess that the same is true of high school kids.

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