The progressive private school considers the visits to be one of the most radical things it does. “We knew we needed to talk about social class,” said Lois Gelernt, the teacher who came up with the idea. “It was opening up a can of worms, but if we were never going to talk about who we are and where we come from, the sense of community wasn’t going to be there.”
At first glance, Manhattan Country School seems like an unlikely place to be having that conversation. The school, which starts with the pre-K-aged children and goes through eighth grade, occupies a giant townhouse on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, just steps from Central Park. The name evokes clenched-jaw accents and competitive horsemanship, though in reality the older children milk cows and gather eggs on a school-owned farm upstate.
I think this is both a very good idea and a very limited one. The problem is that it is so difficult to go from an experiential ethnography of class to a critically aware analysis. We cannot expect young children to be critically and intellectually developed enough, of course, to understand that in many cases what they are seeing amounts to systematic inequality and injustice. Even older students struggle to understand that inequity isn’t natural but a product of human society. One can hope, of course, that these sorts of lessons can help to combat the reification of class and lay the foundation for a more profound understanding.