We have some of the best kindergartens in the world here in San Francisco. Or they should be, given what kids and parents have to go through to get into these elite institutions. The screening begins at age three and a majority of applicants are turned down for their first choice of kindergarten. The process is grueling, beginning with the application fees and the numerous high-pressure visits to the school, with no assurance that the child will be accepted. Admissions officers have been known to go to an applicant’s nursery school to see if they are made of the right stuff; and if they do get accepted, then the parents have to figure out how to pay the exorbitant tuition. The modern kindergarten application process seems harder than applying to college. Of course, there is good reason to worry about which kindergarten you child goes to; if they don’t get into a good one, they will fail and become a homeless person, or worse, a Wal-Mart employee.
I kid, of course. Wal-Mart won’t hire you unless you’ve attended Harvard, MIT, or at least USC. But the point is, parents are frantically worrying about whether or not their kids are going to make it, by which I mean attend an elite school such as Harvard, Yale, or Stanford, and the race for these schools is beginning at the age of three.
Or earlier. Here’s how you should think of it, if you are about to become a parent: the moment your child comes out of the womb they are in a race, competing for an ever-shrinking slice of the global pie, which is a cherry pie, made out of that bowl of cherries that life is not. So get used to it, or get out of the way, you dim-witted loser.
This state of affairs is ridiculous. It is ridiculous to label people as success and failures this young, or if you ask me, ever. It is ridiculous to premise an education system entirely on competition, whether with the other teams (China, Japan, and watch out, here comes Brazil!), or between our nation’s children. If this is the premise for human civilization we might as well start euthanizing the failures of the world today.
Let’s not go down that path. Let’s acknowledge the beauty of each unique individual. Let’s believe in the hope of second chances, and third chances, of late bloomers and non-conformists, of B and C students, and yes, even kids who, like me, get kicked out of high school but still manage to live good lives. Let’s even celebrate the idea that one need not have a list of “accomplishments” to lead a worthwhile life.
Instead of worrying so much about how to make haves out have-nots, let’s build a community that is about including everyone. Let’s care about other people’s children enough that we are willing to support public schools that everyone can afford to attend. Let’s provide those schools with enough funding that they are secure, clean, and staffed with teachers who are fairly compensated for the important work to do. We are a great nation—and by great I don’t mean powerful and rich, though we are those things; I mean great, as in premised on the magnificent ideal that we are all created equal and entitled to the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.