Posted Wednesday, June 8, 2011, at 12:12 PM
How much success can you really buy your kid? " Push for A's at Private Schools Is Keeping Costly Tutors Busy " is the headline on one of the most-read pieces in today's New York Times , and if you enjoy pausing in your morning for a little mockery at how the top 1 percent live (followed by a secret fear that your kids will never, ever be able to keep up), it's well worth your time. You can enjoy contemplating the six-figure tutoring bill of one student from Riverdale Country School or the statement by a former parent from the same school that "no family gets through private school without an SAT tutor." (Funny, I always thought it was supposed to be the kid getting through school.) You can ask yourself whether, as the founder of a service whose tutors charge from $195 to $795 for 50 minutes claims, the real reason behind the apparent rush to "prepping" assistance is "ambitious and intellectually curious students signing up for difficult classes" or something else.
This outing of the tutor phenomenon among the extremely wealthy elite is nothing new. When former Dalton English teacher Anisha Lakhani wrote Schooled in 2008, the novel (which featured a newbie private school teacher who quickly realizes that most of the work she's grading is not the work of her students, but the work of their tutors, and soon gets sucked into the lucrative world of tutoring herself) was broadly considered to be a roman à clef . Her students excoriated it and many fellow teachers anonymously toasted it. Just as in today's article, the school in the book discouraged tutors in public (the director of academic studies at Riverdale told the NYT that the school discouraged tutors, made its own teachers available for extra help, and were "troubled by the inequity" that exists when some families hire tutors) but privately accepted them and welcomed the results: better test scores, grades, and college admission chances. The anonymous mother of the Riverdale student with the Lamborghini tutoring budget was blunt. "The policy is that you are not supposed to have a tutor," she said. "The reality is that they all have them."
And will surely still have them, no matter how many NYT commenters call the practice "obscene" and point out that it may prepare student to pass exams but does not prepare them to face life's challenges on their own. Maybe, if you can and will fund that kind of help for your child in high school, the goal is not to produce an adult who can weather difficulties, but rather, one who knows that if those difficulties are financial, he'll never see the need. That's a role for which most of us don't have to worry about prepping our kids.