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Books: The Agony Of Anxious College-Educated Brooklyn Parents


Having had the chance to read an early copy of Lucinda Rosenfeld's new book, CLASS, last weekend, I wanted to be sure to recommend it to you as quickly as possible -- even though you may not be able to get a hold of a copy for a little while longer and despite the fact that I hope to interview Rosenfeld about her novel in the next few days.

Without giving too much away, the novel tells the story of a college-educated white family in Brooklyn whose condo is zoned for a local school whose demographics and test scores have not kept up with the gentrification of the surrounding neighborhood. 

[This happens all the time when neighborhoods gentrify, and is so predictable (and often upsetting to many of those involved) that I long ago proposed that it would be smart to change federal education funding to ease the pain for these schools whose poverty rates are plummeting (and also that there should be someone in charge of school gentrification in districts like Chicago, DC, and NYC).]

Of course, there's another school a few blocks over that's already flipped, demographically and otherwise, and is an appealing option for parents who are deeply concerned (or wildly over-anxious) about their offspring's academic and life success.

There's just one catch: the only families that are supposed to send their children to that school are those who live nearby (or used to) or can find some other way of wheedling their way in.

In telling this ripped-from-the-headlines tale, Rosenfeld does a great job detailing the families and feelings that accompany Brooklyn gentrifiers, and the tradeoffs involved in making individual versus collective decisions. There are also some fantastic misunderstandings, hilarious sendups (of Success Academy, among other things), and interesting reflections on what it's like to be white, guilty, anxious, and altruistic in alternating moments. 

This is not a deep policy book, or even always entirely serious in terms of how it addresses education issues. But the issues it raises are serious underneath the satire, and the dynamics among parents, teachers, and children seem fairly realistic. Think of it as the guilty pleasure version of Nikole Hannah-Jones' NYT Sunday Magazine piece about how she chose a school for her child, or a schools-focused satire along the lines of The Corrections.

At times, I found myself wishing that Rosenfeld had taken the satire even further, out to the ridiculous edges where Gary Shteyngart and others go, with crossing guards checking children's home addresses as they wave them across the street, but I still found CLASS smart, enjoyable, and easy to recommend for a certain kind of schools-obsessed reader.  Maybe you know someone? 


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