I was going to write a comment on Bill’s screed about tack and tact, but the episode I want to describe (oh — maybe I should say “refer back to,” so I can commit two bloomers in one phrase) is still too painful for me to dismiss with a simple comment.
Comments on Bill’s post talk about how badly educated we have become. Let me tell you.
For many years, I sent both my daughters to one of New York City’s most highly-regarded private schools. Each one started preschool there when they were three years old. In the last year either attended, the following event took place. It’s a little thing, but the echo remains.
This school prided itself on its progressive attitude towards all things. While its reputation was strong, the fact was that there was little in the way of substance behind it. Test scores were poor, college admissions were unimpressive, the physical plant was almost embarrassingly skimpy, and its most celebrated recent graduate was a moderately successful comedy actor appearing in successful but undistinguished films. My wife and I had begun to think we needed to move our kids. One was now in the seventh grade; the other in the third.
The school had recently completed a fund drive that had enabled it to add two floors to its single building. These floors comprised a spanking new gymnasium and a theater. For a school with no real lab space, cramped classrooms, and a host of other physical deficiencies this seemed strange, but there it was.
When the new addition was almost ready to open, the school’s slick glossy quarterly magazine devoted its lead article to the new facility. In the opening paragraph, it proudly proclaimed:
“The new gymnasium is now for all intensive purposes ready to open for business.”
In the immortal words of the Cajun saucier in Apocalypse Now, “Well, I couldn’t fucking believe that one.”
I goggled. I gagged. The room swam. I reeled. The sweet nausea of dismay — the way you might feel should you discover that your sister was dating a Kennedy — rose in my throat. I made inarticulate sounds. My wife stared at me. I goggled again. “Look,” I croaked.
Later, when speech had returned, I called the head of the school. He was amused, and unperturbed. Mistakes will happen, said he. And it’s such a wonderful gym.
Both girls attended different schools the next year. The oldest forced our hand shortly after this incident by declaring her intention to enroll at the boarding school alma mater of Mr. Quick and myself. She actually went somewhere else, but that was also her choice. The youngest was fortunate enough to find a place at the school Forbes ranks second in the country. She left there as soon as she could enter the school her sister attended. She’s now in her senior year there, where if anyone says “for all intensive purposes,” they are taken to a small windowless room and flogged with a rubber truncheon for several weeks.