America's Elite Toddlers Face New Obstacles to Preschool Admission


The suspension of perspective and sanity wealthy, fretting parents (or even expecting parents) exhibit when they’re trying to wedge their children into exclusive preschools is a well-documented and risible phenomenon. Don’t parents politicking for coveted preschool spots for their barely-cognizant offspring realize the absurdity of their relentless search for the perfect preschool? Have they no shame? Wouldn’t they rather spend the summer, you know, not thinking at all about school instead of cold-calling the haughty admissions directors of glorified playpens?

It’s easy for the childless among us to ridicule the ultra-wealthy parents who hover over their children and wait outside the homes of preschool board members in a trenchcoat with the collar turned up, chain smoking filterless Lucky Strikes late into the night until a decorous-enough hour arrives for ringing the doorbell, but having kids does crazy shit to parents’ brains. All that oxytocin the brain releases to dissuade new parents from, you know, devouring their brood? That stuff’s got to fuck with one’s sense of perspective. Sure, parents hammering away at applications and interviews for elite preschools seem to be basing their decisions on a value system warped by wealth and social privilege, but they’re really just trying (or think they’re trying) to do the best possible thing for their kids. They want to set their kids on a certain “track” that will sweep them smoothly through life without, say, a detour into a (gasp!) service industry job.

It’s hard to criticize that sort of sincerity, but it’s also hard to feel sorry for wealthy parents who’ve backed themselves into a stress-corner of preschool searching. In a longish chronicle of the simmering madness that has attended this year’s Great American Preschool Scramble, The Daily Beast’s Eliza Shapiro explains that parents across the wealth spectrum are more stressed about preschool than they’ve ever been before. This is partly, she reminds us, because President Obama had to go ahead and fuck with every parent’s deepest insecurities by saying in his State of the Union that every four-year-old in America needs to attend a quality preschool, otherwise “they’re going to be behind on their first day of Kindergarten.”

Access to good preschools is a great goal, but the current reality for some parents on the lower rungs of the American income ladder is that public preschool options are scarce. In Philadelphia, for instance, a $304 million budget deficit forced 23 public schools to close on Friday, and don’t anyone even start with the state of public schools in Chicago (hint: it is not awesome right now). Parents are trying to get their kids into decent environments where they can socialize properly and learn how to stack blocks (no sarcasm intended— block-stacking is a really important skill to learn), but the fact is that, in Shapiro’s words, some urban areas are facing a preschool “bottleneck.”

Meanwhile, higher up (and safely clear of the protuberance that frustrates climbing attempts) the income ladder, wealthy parents are witnessing the mass retirement of elite preschool directors they spent years forging nominal relationships with for the thinly-veiled purpose of getting their children accepted into elite schools. A parallel preschool bottleneck is starting to form on the admissions lists of elite schools — demand for a world-class block-stacking education is at an all-time high, with parents making admissions pilgrimages to New York preschools from as far afield as Russia and China. A full-on tectonic plate shift is changing the preschool hierarchy, shaking the gilded halls of America’s wealthiest worrywart parents.

Take for example, the current crisis (crisis, I say!) facing privileged Los Angeles parents:

In Los Angeles, parents are facing a fresh wave of panic this summer as Tom Hudnut, the longstanding president and CEO of Harvard-Westlake, a middle and high school widely considered L.A’s most prestigious, steps down. The major catch for pre-K parents: Hudnut is married to Deedie Hudnut, the admissions director of one of L.A’s most exclusive preschools, the Center for Early Education. Barbara Streisand and Denzel Washington, along with a coterie of A-listers, have sent their toddlers there.
The Center is known as a feeder school to Harvard-Westlake, which is why so many parents are desperate for their 4-year-olds to start at the Center in the first place. But now parents are terrified that, with the Hudnut tie severed, the Center will no longer feed into Harvard-Westlake.

Harvard-Westlake, for anyone not in-the-know, is a super elite private school that automatically confers onto each of its students limitless material wealth, one unicorn colt, and spiritual nirvana. Forget whether or not early education is really this important — best not to ask too many questions. All you need to know is that America’s super-wealthy parents of preschool-age children are having a shitty, preoccupied summer, which means that their beach houses are probably all empty and available if you want to enjoy a few restorative weeks squatting in some rich asshole’s second home.

Elite America’s Summer Preschool Madness [The Daily Beast]

Image via Getty, Peter Macdiarmid

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