Saturday, October 16, 2010

Private school frenzy

Toronto Private School Expo was an interesting experience to say the least. Probably the most interesting aspect of it were the attendees, the vast majority of whom were parents or parents-to-be. Strollers were dominating the convention floor of Ron Thompson Hall despite the abundance of five-step stairs and lack of easily accessible ramps. The strollers were dominated by offsprings of anywhere between 6 months and 3 years - so this is a clear indication of how early some parents (call them responsible, well-prepared, obsessive, or worry-wort) start worrying about their children's education. Children of older ages were surprisingly few and far between, majority of parents there I guess weren't interested in considering their spawns' input on the choice of schools. The facial expressions of the parents betrayed a mix of desperation (how hard is this school to get into? How do I choose a school? How do I pay for it? Will it be good for my son/daughter? What do I do if I can't get my child into this school/afford to pay for it?), incredulity (38 thousand a YEAR? The uniforms cost HOW MUCH?), weariness (jeez that's a lot of private schools), and hope. Not quite as heart-breaking as the faces of parents waiting for lottery results of a charter school in "Waiting for Superman" documentary, but very interesting nonetheless.

Then there were the booths of the private schools themselves. If the booths and stands are any indication, there are clearly the 'have' and 'have-not' schools. Just about every booth had a laptop running some sort of demo, or showing the school's website or whatever. The crests, logos, and mottos were on prominent display, even as the PR people practically tried to pry potential customers away from competitors' booths. What I found faintly sickening or pathetic were the number of schools that trotted out their students to either give out brochures, model school uniforms (at least that's what it looked like to me), or demonstrate some sort of artistic commitment that the school has (usually music). Overall the effect was probably the opposite of what was intended: rather than highlighting the schools' commitment to student success, it presented a picture of the schools using the students for their own means. OK, so private schools are of course more interested in students as a source of revenue, but these displays drove that home. "We're going to use your child to get more parents to send their children to our school so that we can make even more money." And then there was the usual spiel about the limited spaces availability, and how important it is to make the choice ASAP and register your child, or else it's too late and the spots will be filled and oh my god what will you do then send your child to a PUBLIC school how can you possibly do that to your dear Johnny/Betty and oh my god the sky is falling!!!!!!!!!!!!!11111!!!111ONEONEONE

OK, take deep breaths you poor breeder. Take nice deep breaths. Everything will be fine. But oh no, here comes the solicituous vulture from one of the financial institutions attending the expo! (I won't list them, but rest assured that a variety of both general banks and credit institutions, as well as companies specializing in education loans) And then the panic really sets in, pitches a cooler and a lawn chair, and cracks open a brewski. Because your child's education will run you anywhere from 12 to 40 thousand a year depending on the type of school, programs, uniforms, lunch options, trips, school locations, and so on. But never fear, these helpful folks from Insert-Your-Debt-Here company will help you take out a second or third mortgage on your house, or advance you a nice 10 year line of credit. Because we wouldn't want to risk your child's future, now would we? Because clearly if you throw money at your child's future, it'll turn out better, won't it?

Dear parents: I'm very critical of some of the methods and reforms in public and Catholic education, but it's not nearly so bad that you need to sell yourself into debt slavery to send your offsprings to a private school