A Chat with a Rich Kid

In my work, I get the opportunity to talk to a lot of interesting people, as both part of the Financial Aid Podcast and PodCamp. Last year, while I was doing outreach for the podcast on MySpace, I got a chance to talk to a kid who has had a decidedly different educational experience than most kids in the US. I can’t legally use her name since she’s under the age of majority, but let’s call her Sara for the purposes of discussion.

First, a bit of background. Sara is from one of Massachusetts’ old money families – bluebloods, as the slang goes – and as a result she attends a private school coupled with private tutoring. She’s from a family and background that will never, as far as I know, need the services of the Student Loan Network, unless it’s to offer a multimillion dollar scholarship to the Edvisors Foundation.

Now, most people would probably have a casual chat and be on their way, but I really, really wanted to know one thing: what’s her school system like? What does a child of wealth and privilege experience in school? It turns out to be something very different.

Here’s what she’s been studying as a sophomore in high school:

  • Calculus
  • Greek
  • Latin
  • Debate
  • Rhetoric
  • Classical English literature
  • Phyiscs
  • Logic
  • Geography

This, in short, is a pre-20th century curriculum focused on academic rigor with the intent of giving a child the mental toolkit to be a leader, to have at their fingertips a knowledge of the world and the mind. Most important, she moves at her own (rapid) academic pace because her tutor is integrated with her private school, moving her along academically as quickly as possible to increasingly complex subjects.

What’s more, when I asked her what else she needed to learn, there was one important component that virtually no one is taught in school – as part of her education, she’s expected to be able to network with her peers. If Sam needs something and Jane has it, Sara acts as the intermediary, the power broker, connecting the two. At family parties and gatherings, she’s expected to greet and introduce herself to the guests – and gather information from them for later use.

This blog post is not to express any opinion except to offer a glimpse behind the garden wall.  If you have kids, what are they learning?

  • http://justinkownacki.blogspot.com/ Justin Kownacki

    Anyone who believes the American education system is designed to give everyone an equal opportunity doesn’t think about all of these mitigating factors, like bloodline.

    My girlfriend’s niece and nephew have been born into a country club family. They already have more opportunities than most other children I know — and neither of them is even IN school yet.

    I doubt they’ll go to anything other than the best schools. I doubt they’ll be unable to network, since they’re being raised in a network-dependent subculture. And I doubt they’ll truly understand how fortunate they are, since they’ve only ever known affluence since the day they were born.

    And we wonder why money and power stays among the top 1% in this country? Perhaps it has something to do with access to opportunity…

  • http://justinkownacki.blogspot.com Justin Kownacki

    Anyone who believes the American education system is designed to give everyone an equal opportunity doesn’t think about all of these mitigating factors, like bloodline.

    My girlfriend’s niece and nephew have been born into a country club family. They already have more opportunities than most other children I know — and neither of them is even IN school yet.

    I doubt they’ll go to anything other than the best schools. I doubt they’ll be unable to network, since they’re being raised in a network-dependent subculture. And I doubt they’ll truly understand how fortunate they are, since they’ve only ever known affluence since the day they were born.

    And we wonder why money and power stays among the top 1% in this country? Perhaps it has something to do with access to opportunity…

  • http://www.ChristopherSPenn.com/ Christopher S. Penn

    Justin – agreed. The nice thing about social networking and new media is that it allows better access to information. There’s nothing in “Sara”‘s educational background that you couldn’t teach your own child on your own, albeit with more work. It’s just that prior to sites like MySpace which let you interact past the social firewalls, we didn’t really know what the “captains of indudstry” (as Rockefeller put it) did with regard to education.

  • http://www.ChristopherSPenn.com Christopher S. Penn

    Justin – agreed. The nice thing about social networking and new media is that it allows better access to information. There’s nothing in “Sara”‘s educational background that you couldn’t teach your own child on your own, albeit with more work. It’s just that prior to sites like MySpace which let you interact past the social firewalls, we didn’t really know what the “captains of indudstry” (as Rockefeller put it) did with regard to education.

  • http://www.yourstorys.com/ Larry Lawfer

    While my 16 year old junior son is far from the rich Sara you describe and we may need help from the Student Loan Network, what you say about what is being taught at our elite private schools is true. Sam as a National Latin Scholar student was invited to a 3 week trip to study in Rome and Greece last Spring to further their knowledge of the subject. The size of the classes makes all the kids know and interact with one another. They do have circles of friends, but they all get along. There is no room for cliques.

    It is difficult when it is time to write the check, but everyday I see evidence of what an elite education brings to my son and his school mates. Networking and social media are part of the curriculum. They are expected to help each other without being asked, and do. One of Sam’s headmasters made the point in orientation a number of years ago to say, “Be nice to all your classmates, you may work for them one day.” The school motto was “Best today, better tomorrow”. Wonderful words to live by.

    In our families there is no one else who has had this elite education. All Sam’s cousin’s are great kids from good families, but in discussions Sam always has a deeper and broader understanding of subjects because that is what is both expected and demanded of them on a daily basis.

    My family doctor put all six of his children through Milton Academy and then Cornell. I quickly added the tuition dollars to well over a couple of million dollars. I asked him if he thought it was worth those kinds of expenditures. He told me he wasn’t sure, he would wait until all his kids were in their 30’s before determining if the cost was worth the benefit. This isn’t what I was hoping to hear. He went on to say as a parent he perceived his job was to provide the very best environment he could for his kids to grow and prosper in.
    I asked him if he had the same kind of education, he said no, but he wished he had. When I asked him why he explained that in these elite educational opportunities it is just as cool to be smart as it is to be a great athlete. Using all that you are at the highest level everyday is what is stressed. His progess soothes my aching checkbook.

  • http://www.yourstorys.com Larry Lawfer

    While my 16 year old junior son is far from the rich Sara you describe and we may need help from the Student Loan Network, what you say about what is being taught at our elite private schools is true. Sam as a National Latin Scholar student was invited to a 3 week trip to study in Rome and Greece last Spring to further their knowledge of the subject. The size of the classes makes all the kids know and interact with one another. They do have circles of friends, but they all get along. There is no room for cliques.

    It is difficult when it is time to write the check, but everyday I see evidence of what an elite education brings to my son and his school mates. Networking and social media are part of the curriculum. They are expected to help each other without being asked, and do. One of Sam’s headmasters made the point in orientation a number of years ago to say, “Be nice to all your classmates, you may work for them one day.” The school motto was “Best today, better tomorrow”. Wonderful words to live by.

    In our families there is no one else who has had this elite education. All Sam’s cousin’s are great kids from good families, but in discussions Sam always has a deeper and broader understanding of subjects because that is what is both expected and demanded of them on a daily basis.

    My family doctor put all six of his children through Milton Academy and then Cornell. I quickly added the tuition dollars to well over a couple of million dollars. I asked him if he thought it was worth those kinds of expenditures. He told me he wasn’t sure, he would wait until all his kids were in their 30’s before determining if the cost was worth the benefit. This isn’t what I was hoping to hear. He went on to say as a parent he perceived his job was to provide the very best environment he could for his kids to grow and prosper in.
    I asked him if he had the same kind of education, he said no, but he wished he had. When I asked him why he explained that in these elite educational opportunities it is just as cool to be smart as it is to be a great athlete. Using all that you are at the highest level everyday is what is stressed. His progess soothes my aching checkbook.

  • http://briandigital.com/ ~bc

    This post, in a nutshell, is why the rich families stay rich… they get ahead and stay ahead.

    But, let’s remember: public schools couldn’t function in this manner. They have to lift everyone up. Thus, they can never teach this elite curriculum. I had the good fortune to attend a very good public school in an affluent Connecticut town (although my family wasn’t). People in the top ten of the class went to Ivies and the like. When I went to college (a good state school), the difference was night and day in English 101 – my freshman English course in high school was more challenging. And yet kids were doing really poorly.

    I feel the key is parenting: if you don’t have the money to buy privilege, then you have to challenge your children yourself. It can be done, but I fear many parents don’t have the time or the desire.

  • http://briandigital.com/ ~bc

    This post, in a nutshell, is why the rich families stay rich… they get ahead and stay ahead.

    But, let’s remember: public schools couldn’t function in this manner. They have to lift everyone up. Thus, they can never teach this elite curriculum. I had the good fortune to attend a very good public school in an affluent Connecticut town (although my family wasn’t). People in the top ten of the class went to Ivies and the like. When I went to college (a good state school), the difference was night and day in English 101 – my freshman English course in high school was more challenging. And yet kids were doing really poorly.

    I feel the key is parenting: if you don’t have the money to buy privilege, then you have to challenge your children yourself. It can be done, but I fear many parents don’t have the time or the desire.

  • http://www.leesabarnes.com/ Leesa Barnes

    I went to 3 different high school systems in 4 years – public, Catholic (which is publicly funded in Ontario) and a private religious boarding school (not publicly funded) – and it was at the private boarding school that I was taught that the world is abundant and that opportunities should be shared.

    Like Justin said, perhaps the reason the 1% of this world stay rich is because of access to information. But I’ll take it one step further. They stay rich because they do NOT horde opportunities. Those of us who use social media understand this concept. Givers always gain :)

  • http://www.leesabarnes.com Leesa Barnes

    I went to 3 different high school systems in 4 years – public, Catholic (which is publicly funded in Ontario) and a private religious boarding school (not publicly funded) – and it was at the private boarding school that I was taught that the world is abundant and that opportunities should be shared.

    Like Justin said, perhaps the reason the 1% of this world stay rich is because of access to information. But I’ll take it one step further. They stay rich because they do NOT horde opportunities. Those of us who use social media understand this concept. Givers always gain :)

  • Rebecca Couret

    I grew up in an average middle-class family, but my parents sacrificed almost everything to send my brother and I to some of the better private schools in New England. Private boarding school in New England is a whole different world. I went to school with the daughters and sons of celebrities and ceo’s of companies like Bausch and Laumb and Wang Computers. I was lucky to be able to go to that school, but only after getting a scholarship. My parents let me know that if it weren’t for that help, I would not have had that opportunity.

    I am now in my late 30’s and comtemplating whether or not to send my son to a school like the one I went to. there are some things I have always felt that I missed out on. Seeing my parents everyday, going through all the typical high school teenager stuff–still not sure what that is, but I know my school didn’t ahve it. There were cliques at my school, but everyone got along, I really don’t remember anything all that bad. I think we all realized that without our parents to mold us on a daily basis, we had to fend for ourselves and learn how to get along with others…and for that my experience was invaluable. But do I think my son can learn that without going to an elite private boarding school? Probably.

  • Rebecca Couret

    I grew up in an average middle-class family, but my parents sacrificed almost everything to send my brother and I to some of the better private schools in New England. Private boarding school in New England is a whole different world. I went to school with the daughters and sons of celebrities and ceo’s of companies like Bausch and Laumb and Wang Computers. I was lucky to be able to go to that school, but only after getting a scholarship. My parents let me know that if it weren’t for that help, I would not have had that opportunity.

    I am now in my late 30’s and comtemplating whether or not to send my son to a school like the one I went to. there are some things I have always felt that I missed out on. Seeing my parents everyday, going through all the typical high school teenager stuff–still not sure what that is, but I know my school didn’t ahve it. There were cliques at my school, but everyone got along, I really don’t remember anything all that bad. I think we all realized that without our parents to mold us on a daily basis, we had to fend for ourselves and learn how to get along with others…and for that my experience was invaluable. But do I think my son can learn that without going to an elite private boarding school? Probably.

  • http://jennifernavarrete.com/ Jennifer Navarrete

    Interesting and timely post. Education as we now know it has only been in existence since the early 1900’s. It is in essence a ‘Conveyor Belt’ type of education meant to produce workers. Whereas Sara is receiving a ‘Leadership’ type of education. The difference, as you illustrated, is staggering.

    Not being a blue blood or in the top 1% has not stopped us from teaching our children some of these same leadership skills.

    As entrepreneurs and homeschooling parents we introduced our sons to these type of opportunities in their early teens. Business conferences, workshops, networking events has given them the chance to meet with a wide range of folks. From business owners to visionaries. From missionaries to millionaires. Coupling that with a firm family foundation has been the key to our version of Leadership Education.

  • http://jennifernavarrete.com Jennifer Navarrete

    Interesting and timely post. Education as we now know it has only been in existence since the early 1900’s. It is in essence a ‘Conveyor Belt’ type of education meant to produce workers. Whereas Sara is receiving a ‘Leadership’ type of education. The difference, as you illustrated, is staggering.

    Not being a blue blood or in the top 1% has not stopped us from teaching our children some of these same leadership skills.

    As entrepreneurs and homeschooling parents we introduced our sons to these type of opportunities in their early teens. Business conferences, workshops, networking events has given them the chance to meet with a wide range of folks. From business owners to visionaries. From missionaries to millionaires. Coupling that with a firm family foundation has been the key to our version of Leadership Education.

  • http://inoveryourhead.net/ julien

    i took three years of latin when i was in high school (in montreal, canada) and learned to play the violin as part of the curriculum for a ‘gifted’ program in a public school. i think that same school now does spanish instead. i could argue that it might, in fact, be better.

    it’s interesting how the majority of the things that are mentioned in this girl’s curriculum are actually required/useful as an adult, versus what people learn in public school, which is mostly drivel.

    did it ever occur to you guys that the ultra rich (families like the one this girl is from) might have influenced policy over years of government to actually make the middle/lower classes stupid on purpose? it’s not entirely unfeasible.

  • http://inoveryourhead.net julien

    i took three years of latin when i was in high school (in montreal, canada) and learned to play the violin as part of the curriculum for a ‘gifted’ program in a public school. i think that same school now does spanish instead. i could argue that it might, in fact, be better.

    it’s interesting how the majority of the things that are mentioned in this girl’s curriculum are actually required/useful as an adult, versus what people learn in public school, which is mostly drivel.

    did it ever occur to you guys that the ultra rich (families like the one this girl is from) might have influenced policy over years of government to actually make the middle/lower classes stupid on purpose? it’s not entirely unfeasible.

  • http://www.ChristopherSPenn.com/ Christopher S. Penn

    Julien – not only is it feasible, it’s been argued that this is very much the case. Keep the middle and lower classes entertained and working hard, give them the illusion of upward mobility to make them work harder, and make sure they don’t know enough to mount any effective form of resistance to the leadership class.

  • http://www.ChristopherSPenn.com Christopher S. Penn

    Julien – not only is it feasible, it’s been argued that this is very much the case. Keep the middle and lower classes entertained and working hard, give them the illusion of upward mobility to make them work harder, and make sure they don’t know enough to mount any effective form of resistance to the leadership class.

  • http://slbizreview.com/ Shava Nerad

    I grew up as the daughter of a small town Unitarian Universalist minister. The small town was Montpelier, VT — pop 8000, and capital of the state, with government, education, and insurance being the primary industries. So there was an intellectual/professional life in the town for all of its size.

    I went to public schools that did *NOT* teach me to network with peers and understand how to build social/political networks — but my parents did, my Unitarian Universalist youth group did, and my parents’ peer group did.

    My dad started in the 40’s as a union organizer in a war industry. By the 60’s he was a minister, working with MLK and the SCLC on the summer marches.

    There is *NOTHING* having to do with money (except for learning to contextualize your cultural cues to talk to moneyed people) involved in learning to network, organize, and get access to people and/or power.

    It has to do with social and emotional intelligence, exposure to mentors, developing articulation for your ideas, and confidence.

    A resourceful family can get access to tools to develop these, if they recognize that they can.

    I think people with money like to believe they’ve got some exclusive license, because why else would they be paying more than a median family income for their kids’ yearly educational expenses, pre-college?

    Obviously, IMNSHO…:)

    Shava

  • http://slbizreview.com/ Shava Nerad

    I grew up as the daughter of a small town Unitarian Universalist minister. The small town was Montpelier, VT — pop 8000, and capital of the state, with government, education, and insurance being the primary industries. So there was an intellectual/professional life in the town for all of its size.

    I went to public schools that did *NOT* teach me to network with peers and understand how to build social/political networks — but my parents did, my Unitarian Universalist youth group did, and my parents’ peer group did.

    My dad started in the 40’s as a union organizer in a war industry. By the 60’s he was a minister, working with MLK and the SCLC on the summer marches.

    There is *NOTHING* having to do with money (except for learning to contextualize your cultural cues to talk to moneyed people) involved in learning to network, organize, and get access to people and/or power.

    It has to do with social and emotional intelligence, exposure to mentors, developing articulation for your ideas, and confidence.

    A resourceful family can get access to tools to develop these, if they recognize that they can.

    I think people with money like to believe they’ve got some exclusive license, because why else would they be paying more than a median family income for their kids’ yearly educational expenses, pre-college?

    Obviously, IMNSHO…:)

    Shava

  • http://inoveryourhead.net/ julien

    Shava, I think you’re missing the point. These people get a one-up on you almost all of the time. They know how to network better, and think more critically, because they have been trained to do it since they were young. We’re not saying they have exclusive rights to it, we’re just saying it’s appalling how much of a lead they have in the ‘race to the top.’

  • http://inoveryourhead.net julien

    Shava, I think you’re missing the point. These people get a one-up on you almost all of the time. They know how to network better, and think more critically, because they have been trained to do it since they were young. We’re not saying they have exclusive rights to it, we’re just saying it’s appalling how much of a lead they have in the ‘race to the top.’

  • http://www.ChristopherSPenn.com/ Christopher S. Penn

    Here’s one of the authoritative reads on the topic:

    http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/underground/

  • http://www.ChristopherSPenn.com Christopher S. Penn

    Here’s one of the authoritative reads on the topic:

    http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/underground/

  • http://spirited786.blogspot.com/ KeraC

    My educational experience was somewhat different; I was homeschooled until 6th grade, and then sent to an area magnet school (public) for jr. and sr. high school…where I learned a wealth of information through a specialized curriculum, and through regular seminars, and workshops, with area leaders and policymakers. And while I wasn’t privy to an “elite” education, I’ve found that knowledge-wise, and skills-wise, I’m on par with students in my college classes who *did* go to elite, schools. But, while I may be just as savvy as they are, I don’t have the jump-start on the workplace that they do. I’ve met several people who already have jobs waiting for them outside of college…daddy’s just making them get the appropriate degree first.

    It’s immensely frustrating to know that a select few won’t ever see the ladder that everyone else is trying to climb simply because they’re already at the top, by default.

  • http://spirited786.blogspot.com KeraC

    My educational experience was somewhat different; I was homeschooled until 6th grade, and then sent to an area magnet school (public) for jr. and sr. high school…where I learned a wealth of information through a specialized curriculum, and through regular seminars, and workshops, with area leaders and policymakers. And while I wasn’t privy to an “elite” education, I’ve found that knowledge-wise, and skills-wise, I’m on par with students in my college classes who *did* go to elite, schools. But, while I may be just as savvy as they are, I don’t have the jump-start on the workplace that they do. I’ve met several people who already have jobs waiting for them outside of college…daddy’s just making them get the appropriate degree first.

    It’s immensely frustrating to know that a select few won’t ever see the ladder that everyone else is trying to climb simply because they’re already at the top, by default.

  • http://www.phoneverifiedaccounts.net Craigslist PVA

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  • http://www.phoneverifiedaccounts.net Craigslist PVA

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  • http://www.phoneverifiedaccounts.net Craigslist PVA

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  • http://www.facebook.com/seanschoff Sean Michael Schoff

    Enlightening, Christopher.

    Once a child of the military class during the Cold War, it’s interesting to see that both Rhetoric and Logic are taught in prep schools.

  • http://www.facebook.com/seanschoff Sean Michael Schoff

    Enlightening, Christopher.

    Once a child of the military class during the Cold War, it’s interesting to see that both Rhetoric and Logic are taught in prep schools.

  • http://www.facebook.com/seanschoff Sean Michael Schoff

    Enlightening, Christopher.

    Once a child of the military class during the Cold War, it’s interesting to see that both Rhetoric and Logic are taught in prep schools.

  • http://www.facebook.com/seanschoff Sean Michael Schoff

    Enlightening, Christopher.

    Once a child of the military class during the Cold War, it’s interesting to see that both Rhetoric and Logic are taught in prep schools.

  • http://www.facebook.com/seanschoff Sean Michael Schoff

    Enlightening, Christopher.

    Once a child of the military class during the Cold War, it’s interesting to see that both Rhetoric and Logic are taught in prep schools.

  • http://www.thesuccessfulman.com Michael@The Sucessful Man

    This illustrates the biggest problem with American education. We have moved away from trades to education for everyone. The rich and those gifted from the other classes should go onto higher education. Those who are not gifted and not able to pay for a higher education should be directed towards trades which will not:leave them deep in debt, provide them with only a shallow education, totally frustrate them.