Four years old, future dashed?

Stories of parents who do battle with schools or educational bureaucracies are nothing new, but this one from the New York Post seems a little out of the ordinary.

A mad-as-heck Manhattan mom says her daughter's Ivy League dreams have been all but dashed -- and she's only 4 years old.

Nicole Imprescia is suing the $19,000-a-year York Avenue Preschool, saying her daughter, Lucia, was forced to spend too much time with lesser-minded 2- and 3-year-olds when she should have been focusing on test preparation to get into an elite elementary school.

I rather wonder what that “test preparation” might entail, but I suppose that is neither here nor there. As a home-educating parent, my sympathies want to side with anyone who feels she’s been shafted by ‘the system’, but the consumer in me (to say nothing of ordinary common sense) says this may be a case of “Buyer Beware.”

The Upper East Side school promised Imprescia it would "prepare her daughter for the ERB, an exam required for admission into nearly all the elite private elementary schools." But "it became obvious [those] promises were a complete fraud," the suit says. "Indeed, the school proved not to be a school at all but just one big playroom."

One could ignore the pedagogical argument that almost all learning at the tender ages of 2-4 ought to take place in the context of play, but as an ‘early childhood educator’ (ie. mom) I concede that there is pointless, time-filling play, and then there is educational play.

The miffed mom yanked her daughter after just three weeks -- but the school is refusing to refund the $19,000 she had to pay up front, said her lawyer, Mathew Paulose.

In my book, $19,000 is a good chunk of cash. It rivals some college tuitions. Did the school tell Ms. Imprescia up-front that the fee was non-refundable? If not, then perhaps she has grounds for a suit. If she knew and agreed to it, however, I’m apt to think she has no one but herself to blame if the school didn’t measure up. I wouldn’t write a cheque for that amount, to anyone, until I had seen with my own eyes what I was getting for the money.

The school claimed to have an age-appropriate, quality educational curriculum. Did they show their materials, scope and sequence, to the mother? Did she ask to see them? From many years of dealing with parents, both within and without the home-schooling community, it surprises me how naïvely trusting (or generally uninterested) some parents are about the particulars of the curricula and materials that their children are studying.

As for thinking your child’s educational opportunities are dashed by age 4, well, that’s just sad, but I suppose it’s all in the way you define success.

The suit claims: "Studies have shown entry into a good nursery school guarantees more income than entry into an average school."

We all want to give our children the best start in life, and the best chances of future achievement. But this entails more than the choice of preschool; surely the child’s personal merit and hard work count for something too. Character formation, ambition, and a responsible worth ethic are, by and large, something that parents are initially responsible for inculcating in their children.

On a practical level, parents can introduce their preschool children to great art, literature, film and music. They can do hands-on math activities with everyday activities (such as setting the table or grocery shopping); they can read extensively to their children; they can engage in lively and intelligent discussion. And it can all be had for considerably less than $19,000 a year.


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