December 26, 2008

What do we think of a 30-something woman lurking in a school bathroom stall to eavesdrop on the conversations of schoolgirls?

She holds herself out as a loving mother who only wants to select the best middle school for her daughter.
"It gives you a glimpse behind the scenes," [Aimée] Margolis explained of her sub rosa research. "At the tour everybody’s ready for you, everybody has a happy face. They say what they want to say, and you hear what they want you to hear."
So she thinks this is the way to get the poop on the school.

Now, the NYT has promoted her method of spying, and I think it needs to be denounced as creepy, lest we have no end of adults hiding in kids' bathrooms.

And, of course, this would never have been perceived as cute if Mother Aimée had been Daddy Arnie, squatting in the boys' room.


john said...

(And also, if Daddy Arnie was spying in the girls bathroom.)

"Ms. Margolis was on her 11th school tour ... but also worried that her daughter, Amelia, could be at a disadvantage." I agree, and you only have to look at the photo of Ms. Margolis to see why.

Middle school was also an "educational black hole" for both our kids. As parents, we had less involvement in our kids middle schools compared to their elementary schools, and strangely, to high school. Kids certainly expect their parents to back off when they hit their tween/teen years. It's fledging time.

George M. Spencer said...

Instead, she should have put a listening device in the teacher's lounge or on the principal's phone.

If you do not have school-age kids in public schools--or have not had kids in school for 30 or 40 years--you really cannot imagine how strange public schools have become.

Security cameras everywhere. Security fences. Children with ID badges that must be checked. Parents who must sign in and wear badges. Lots of assistants--every class has an assistant teacher, a student teacher trainee, and the mandatory obsessed parental volunteers; plus, scads of school social workers. Ah, what else? Walls arrayed with images of countless herebeforeto unheard of African-American and Hispanic heroes. The mandatory anti-bullying programs. The global warming curriculum. The anti-fat curriculum. Best of all, the administrators.

Ron said...

Surveillance Nation meets Mean Girls!

This fall on... Fox!

Mark O said...

A wide stance?

This is why urnals are a superior method of elimination.


KCFleming said...

Aimée Margolis, yet another woman who demands to be the girl with the most cake, obsesses and claws and grasps and shoves and spies, all in the singular effort to make daughter Amelia, a fragile fifth grader, the winner, and avoid picking the wrong school, the one that 'forever dashes her chances for a top high school or college'.

"All hinges on this moment", muses Aimée, who quietly sits on the loo, furiously scribbling the pedestrian conversations of pre-teen girls as they primp and pee, hoping for that key insight that never comes.

All I can say is, daughter Amelia was doomed at birth, not because of middle school.

Jennifer said...

Is chilling in the bathroom to spy on tween girls more or less creepy than touring 11 (!) middle schools? I can't decide.

David said...

Yes, very creepy.

And by seeking and permitting the publicity, destructive to her child.

Can you imagine what a group of 5th grade girls, among nature's most cruel creatures, are going to do to Amelia?

Yuck, mommy. Bad judgment!

Unknown said...

Well writ Pogo.

chickelit said...

That's pretty anal of the mom don't you think?

Expat(ish) said...

You could sit in the boys room of a middle school (or college dorm) and hear nothing at all besides the obvious noises.

A joke about f*rts is permitted, and one may mention a sporting event.

Nothing more.


Expat(ish) said...

Another thing occurs - I am guessing the girls room must smell a whole lot better.

Not to gross anyone out, but I've used slit trench sitters in the summer and am pretty immune to smell. I used the boys locker room at my sons middle school and was driven out even though I was breathing through my mouth.



MadisonMan said...

How very un-midwestern. Here, we just decide between the public school and one private school. Too many choices does not translate to something good. (I say that having just returned from my first trip to CostCo. Do people who shop there save money, or do they spend more heating the warehouses and freezers they use at home to store what they have purchased?) And that mother needs a real job. Currently, her job seems to be running her daughter's life. She will shortly be terminated by management in that endeavor.

Peter Hoh said...

I didn't perceive that the article was casting the bathroom spying as cute. It felt very creepy to me.

I have advised parents who are looking at school options. Among my tips, I suggest they observe the hallways when students are passing between classrooms.

Ultimately, there is too much made of choosing the right school. Much as choosing a spouse, the choice only carries you so far. It's what you do after the choosing that matters most.

Your child may not be able to make good in a lousy school, but the the goal should be to find a good-enough school, not a perfect school.

We looked at 4 or 5 schools when my younger child was entering Kindergarten. I met one mother who was planning to send her child to one school for Kindergarten and another school for 1st grade. She wasn't happy with any of the 2nd grade teachers at the second school, so she was anticipating moving him to a third school. That seemed crazy to me.

Geoff Matthews said...

Sure, it's creepy when a mom does it, but when an anthropologist does it, it's scholarship.

If a paper hasn't been written on the interpersonal communications of young girls in school bathrooms, it wil be soon.

Geoff Matthews said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Trooper York said...

What you have here is the typical yuppie or as we call them in the neighborhood, "liberal" experience when their precious flowers are moving from grammar school to junior high. You see these kids live in the neighborhood but are not “of” the neighborhood. They have their carefully scripted play dates and group activities where their little Satan spawn never run into a working class kid or a kid from the projects. They are protected and cosseted from the minute they leave their $1,000 strollers and told they can do no wrong. Instead of running out after school to play in the street and mix it up with all different kinds of people. They would have found out that there are assholes and bad guys that come in all shapes, sizes and races and everything isn’t as nice and safe as their fucking basinet from Pottery Barn.

These people move into an urban neighborhood and don’t realize that their kids have to toughen up especially when they go into a school that draws from a wider area. That’s why they want to put them in “gifted classes” and “special programs.” They bought their homes thinking they could flip it after a few years when their kids needed to go to a “better” school like the one they went to in the burbs. But there ain’t no flipping now pal so your kid has to go the school with a kid who will punch him in the face and take his lunch money, his lunch and maybe his pants. It’s time for yuppie jr. to grow up. But that is most unlikely because their parents never did.

George M. Spencer said...

Tips for those visiting schools....

1) The noisier the school, the better.

2) The more artwork you see on the walls, the better.

3) Most of all, if you take a tour with the principal (and good luck with that!), watch how he (or she) interacts with the children and whether or not children spontaneously come up to him. If you visit a school whose children hug the principal, you are at the right place.

4) Finally, when talking with teachers, observe how they react if students come up and interrupt them. It is amazing how many teachers will pretend not to notice a child while talking with a parent, even if the child needs permission to use the bathroom. Even more amazing is the number of teachers who, when told about a problem at the school, will instantly (instantly!), say, "I don't know. I don't know anything about it."

George M. Spencer said...

And, finally, if you walk into a classroom unannounced, watch how the children react.

If they do not react, that's good.

If they all suddenly stare up at you, that's bad.

Expat(ish) said...

@Original - If my child interrupted a teacher talking I'd correct them. If the teacher responded to the interruption I'd reduce my opinion of them as an adult.

If a child needs to interrupt an adult conversation they can stand quietly where they can be seen.

If they wriggle we all know they need the potty and can be told "go ahead" without interruption the flow.

And, yes, I have multiple children. We're just old-fashioned.


Peter Hoh said...

I'm with Expat. Students should not be interrupting a teacher speaking with another adult. It would be reasonable, however, for the teacher to respond to the child's presence.

But overall, OG has a good set of benchmarks.

I'll add this one: if teachers can control errant behavior by raising an eyebrow, that's very good. We're not talking about really bad behavior, but the stuff that's a notch below that.

KCFleming said...

Additional advice on How to know if it is better to enroll elsewhere:

** If the words 'diversity', 'multicultural', or 'Kwanzaa' come up at any point.

** If any teacher or principal talks about 'self-actualization' at any time ever.

** If the teacher appears to be a hostage, or mouths help me to you.

** If firstgraders try to sell you drugs.

** If there are pregnant 5th graders.

** If one of the current teachers is the father.

** If one of the current teachers is pregnant with a 5th grader's child.

** If there are 8th grade pimps hawking 6th graders in the halls.

** If the science teachers are the most frequent customers.

** If the kids' drawings on the walls have more than ten weapons or 15 murders in total.

** If the lunchroom ladies push a plate through a slot in the floor.

LordSomber said...

Maybe she got parenting advice from Lori Drew.

Roberto said...

"Now, the NYT has promoted her method of spying, and I think it needs to be denounced as creepy, lest we have no end of adults hiding in kids' bathrooms."

I read the article, also found her actions to be strange, but didn't see where the NYT's "promoted her method of spying."

Is reporting now considered a form of promotion?

KCFleming said...

A close reading would, I agree, demonstrate the article was approving of her ruse.

"Then there is the bathroom test.
...She carefully occupied a stall, waited for a cluster of students to walk in, and listened.

...Unlike another school, whose impressive tour was undercut by a dismal bathroom test in which Ms. Margolis heard students poking fun at teachers, making grammatical mistakes and using “trash mouth,” Clinton’s bathroom-goers revealed themselves to be articulate, friendly nonswearers who at least momentarily refrained from gossip.

The deal was sealed..."

Matt Eckert said...

Luckyoldson is a good person to ask as he spends a lot of time hiding out in children's bathrooms.

Joe said...

Strikes me that Ms. Margolis wasn't looking for the best school for her daughter, but the best social scene.

Danse Monque said...

She could have saved herself a lot of time.

Two words:

"private school"


"home schooling"

Given her drive (and seeming lack of other meaningful activities in her life), I'm betting the latter would have been a natural choice. Perhaps not a better choice for her carefully cosseted daughter, admittedly.

The public schools are the largest failure of the 20th century - money pits, always needing more, more, MORE! tax dollars, intent on protecting the interests of the teachers at all costs. and unconcerned that their product (graduating students) continues to drop in every available measure of quality.

A private business will eventually suffer the consequences of such a business model (see "GM" or "Chrysler"), while we will suffer the consequences of the public schools' "business" model.

If we haven't already.

Bah. Humbug.


Quilly_Mammoth said...

Ms. Margolis is really looking for the best place to which she abdicate her responsibility for her daughters education and upbringing. One day, years from now, Ms. Margolis will be able to whine to her friends "I worked so hard, I vetted so much and still New York's school system failed me!"

Brandy said...

Original George, at my school, our students are instructed to rise and greet visitors to our classrooms as a sign of welcoming and respect.

As to the original post, wow, this is going to be a pain-in-the-butt family for whatever school they eventually choose. I think finding the best school for your particular child is one of the most important decisions a family can make, but this woman's strategy seems a little creepy! I suppose if you were in the bathroom for legitimate reasons and you overheard certain conversations from the girls it might set off warning bells, but to sneak in with the intention of spying is just weird.

You're never going to find a school with perfect children. Our school is known for having kind, polite students - visitors always remark on it - but even some of our kids can say some shocking things when they think no one is around. I think a better indicator of the culture of the school is to see how coarse talk and other disciplinary infractions are handled. Is the school's philosophy on discipline the same as yours?

Poor Amelia! I feel sorry for that little girl.

Anonymous said...

"And, of course, this would never have been perceived as cute if Mother Aimée had been Daddy Arnie, squatting in the boys' room."

That's because women are pure, Ann.

Men are perverts. If they even show up at a school, should be surveilled and put on a watch list, because obviously they're only there to hunt children for sex.

Shame on you Ann, for not being alert to these dangers. Men are evil and to be ostracized from polite company.

PunditJoe said...

Considering all the time she has already spent touring schools and hiding in bathrooms, it might have been cheaper to simply home school and or hire a private instructor.

What are the odds this mother will, when the child is old enough to get a job, interview staff and use the bathroom spying method before allowing her offspring to work anywhere?

stoqboy said...

Commenting about smells (Expat(ish)), I ref high school sports. If you ever want to punish a ref, make them change in the boys' locker room.

Unknown said...

Other than that she is an easy target, I fail to see the problem here.

I am not a "helicopter parent" (always hovering), but it is a fact that middle school is where children's friends start influencing them more than children's parents. Its good sense to consider the peer group your kids are going to have to deal with in middle school. Given the variability in quality in Middle Schools and how truly bad bad middle schools are, parents should put in a lot of effort with this. The wrong Middle School can make your child's life a living hell.

Monitoring bathroom conversations is not a particularly good way of evaluating the peer group. I think I would seek out local high school kids who went to the school and try to talk to them, provided that you can talk to high school kids without being judgmental.

Either of these methods though is far more accurate then tours or conversations with administrators.

Unknown said...

I see that only one person commented on...

"And, of course, this would never have been perceived as cute if Mother Aimée had been Daddy Arnie, squatting in the boys' room"

...and that they offered only the obvious response, women are pure and men are perverts, "Florida" responded satirically.

However... remember many many moons ago when Jesse Jackson actually said that if he heard footsteps behind him on a dark street at night, he had to admit that he felt relief if he turned and saw a white man, but fear if it was a black man?

A. I don't think he would have been overly concerned by a woman of any color.

B. When it comes to sexuality, facts is facts. The genders ARE differently wired and men ARE a bzillion times more likely than women to be active perverts.

Most men aren't perverts and some women are. But...

I'd rather learn that a woman had been hiding in my daughter's school bathroom than a man in my son's.

There ARE things, important things, that men are better at than women. The genders are complementary, not equivalent. But 90+% of sexual perverts are men.

Unknown said...

Trooper York:

"It’s time for yuppie jr. to grow up. But that is most unlikely because their parents never did."

Thank you, sir, for your comment. And frankly, I can't imagine a circumstance where Ms. Margolis might ever be happy/contented... and I'll bet a bazzilion she's Malthusian in a hurry... but I digress... ;-)

Anonymous said...

What IS up with people who are ten years my junior doing things like this? Was there something in the junior high school water during the 1980's that made 'em all cookoo?

Unknown said...

We have some crummy schools in this country. How can we make them better.

We can get people who try to evaluate the schools beyond the pap that the administrators dish out in their meetings and the teachers dish out in open school week, maybe check out the bathrooms and what the kids are actually doing.


We can start a blog which periodically takes shots at our schools and makes fun of people in the first group.

Which method is more likely to result in better schools?

Anonymous said...

How depressing it must be to raise children in an East Coast big city.

I can't imagine living someplace where the public schools are one rung below the island in "Lord of the Flies," while decent private schools cost a fortune and require competitive exams and interviews, even in preschool.

Trooper York said...

The problem is with the parents not the kids. Kids are always barbarians and they need to be kept in line. Since the parents refuse to allow that they run amok or don't learn squat. That's why we need vouchers. End the monopoly of the evil teachers union and spread the money around. In this economy it would be a boon to growth and opportunity.

reader_iam said...

What do we think of ...

After reading this thread?--me, I'm thinking of Brownsville Station. And, also, life 35 years ago and thereafter.

reader_iam said...

But then, also, Billie Joe McAllister.

reader_iam said...

Not sure with whom I'd like to just set myself down for lunch or whatever. You never can tell 'bout those preternaturally [XX] sorts.