February 23 2017
Even the best satirists have blind spots. That’s the lesson from Lucinda Rosenfeld’s new novel, Class. The story of Karen Kipple, a white liberal Brooklyn mother whose principles are constantly being tested by the realities around her, the novel is a great send-up of a certain segment of New York. Kipple sends her daughter to an integrated, mixed-income Brooklyn school, but when one of the other children in her daughter’s class—a black boy named Jayyden—punches another girl, Kipple starts to question her choices and eventually illegally registers her daughter at the nearby all-white public school.
Rosenfeld accurately portrays the variety of neuroses that upper-class parents have. Mostly they want their children to be surrounded by a rainbow of other races and the full spectrum of economic success and distress but they don’t want their children exposed to all of the things that come with that—broken homes, crime, low performance in schools, even junk food.
But when it comes to understanding the education policies that have created this mess, Rosenfeld, like most of her ilk, comes up empty. The book simultaneously decries the mostly segregated schools of New York; but during an interview on public radio the other day, Rosenfeld complained about Michael Bloomberg’s policy allowing children to choose a school out of their district.
Rosenfeld also has it in for charter schools. At one point in the book, plans are revealed for a charter to “co-locate” at her daughter’s school. There is talk about how this will take away space and money from her child’s education. But co-location is a policy that is used by city bureaucrats who don’t want to give the charter schools space that other public schools have.
In the novel, Karen also doesn’t like the stricter method of education that the charter uses, and thinks that the discipline at such schools is too harsh. In the radio interview, Rosenfeld expressed her own views on charters. She complained that public schools have to keep students like the violent black boy but charters do not.
Charter schools do have much stricter discipline policies than most public schools in New York, which is why so many poor and minority parents want to send their children to the schools. Their kids are not safe in their traditional neighborhood schools and so they seek out charters. Surveys show that lower income parents are more likely to say that safety was a factor in their decision to send their kids to a charter school.
But Rosenfeld has also bought into all of the propaganda about how the people who support charters don’t know or care about public education. Karen has an affair with a hedge fund manager who supports charter schools but he turns out to be the most selfish person in the entire novel. The charter school ends up not working out because there are not enough parents who sign their kids up to attend. Never mind that, in the real world, the waitlist to get into charters in New York City is tens of thousands of names long.
While Karen and her husband may live on the wrong side of the line to attend a better school, they still have a choice about where to send their daughter—occasionally contemplating a move to the suburbs—but the poor minority parents in her child’s school have no such option. For novelist Rosenfeld, it must be nice to know these families are there to expose her children and her fictional characters’ children to diversity. But unfortunately, in the real world and in fiction, for white liberals, these poor parents are nothing more than background material.