Debra Downs

SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS

Debra Downs

Alvin Roth, a Harvard University professor, won the Nobel Prize in economics for his design of the New York City’s high school match system. Really?  

I recently arrived late to a packed open house for one of the most coveted specialized high schools in NYC.   I was stuck in the back of the auditorium, berating myself for getting there late and sitting behind what appeared to be about 3000 people. 3,000 of us, vying to get one of the rare 175 seats offered to our own personal Einsteins.  

As soon as the charismatic principal finished his presentation, he informed us that the actual campus was not located on the luxurious, sprawling green campus dotted with beautiful, historic lecture halls that we were on, but across the street and around the corner.  Being stuck in the back was suddenly the prized location.

He hadn’t even completed his closing speech when a herd of people started running toward the door. Call it NYC instinct, but I shoved my husband out of the way and suddenly, I was in the streets of Pamplona running with the bulls.  Trying my best not to look too desperate, but desperately trying not to be left behind, I passed each parent one by one pretending I was in one of my road races, plucking off the out of shape, struggling runners.   As I turned the corner, I nearly fell to the ground laughing.  The building that our scholars would learn in, was this tiny six room building that reminded me of an old airplane hangar.  The line had already formed and snaked around the block.  I knew the tour would take another two hours, but at least I could check it off of my list of 20.  I felt duped.  

Why do we go through this insanity?  If we offer our kids more opportunities than we had as children, is that helping or hurting them?

I remember walking the halls on my sons first day of middle school in awe that every wall surface was covered by artwork and challenging vocabulary definitions. I was ecstatic that my son was being nourished on a daily basis, yet felt my own sense of sadness, that I never got this.   

This is why I stampede with the bulls.