When at-risk kids do “succeed” — get a scholarship to a prep school, go off to an elite college, get an amazing job — a lot of them realize that there are unwritten social codes that you need to know to excel.
In my dissertation about the experiences of urban Boston kids who go off to elite boarding prep schools, they told me repeatedly that it wasn’t the academics that were hard. It was everything else: what to talk about with other prep school kids, what to wear, what music to listen to, how to respond to conflict. They were incredibly lucky to attend a preparatory program before prep school (Beacon Academy, but there are lots of others, like Prep for Prep) that emphasized not only learning academic skills but also social and cultural knowledge.
The article also talks about how overprivileged kids may be lacking these skills because their parents have helped them navigate all of life’s challenges — even what to wear on job interviews or how to resolve conflicts. This again makes me think of Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed and his argument that disadvantaged kids face too much adversity and that middle class and wealthy kids often face too little. Neither group learns and practices the coping skills they need to be successful at a whole range of challenges. The American ethos of individuality and family assumes that this job is done by the family unit, but for many, it’s clearly not.
Do you think it’s the responsibility of schools to provide this sort of compensatory education?