Anisha Lakhani's debut novel, Schooled, is a riveting, knowing, and clever introduction into the privileged world of Manhattan's elite private schools, tutoring, homework and education.
The novel is also a peephole into a class of Manhattan's privileged elite. Of course, Ms. Lakhani's novel is an exaggerated version of the private school world, but I can't help but say that there is a hint of truth to the protagonist "Anna Taggert's" experiences.
Once I began reading Schooled, I couldn't put it down. With each page, my jaw dropped wider and my eyes gaped larger. I repeatedly thought to myself, "Seriously?" Yes, seriously. Duh.
While I was somewhere in between Anna Taggert attending Sue Wong's faux mitzvah with Kanye West performing "Jesus Walks" and the lavish Christmas presents from her 7th grade students, I was so immersed that I accidentally took the R train to Queens!
Simply, many of us can relate and sympathize with "Anna Taggert". We move to this city with bright eyes and big dreams to pursue our passions, whatever they may be. For Anna Taggert, it was teaching, and instead, she quickly realizes that her exciting teaching job at one of Manhattan's most elite private schools isn't all it is chalked up to be. She is shocked, appalled and overwhelmed by the difference between her ideal teaching job and the real world of "progressive" private schools.
Then, Anna Taggert realizes that there is another outlet to win over her students while keeping up with the glitz and glamour of Madison Avenue: private tutoring. She loses track of what she is initially so passionate about: teaching. Most people would have done the same. She learns quickly how to play the "game," but at the end of the day, she learns a more important lesson. What price is she willing to pay to turn a blind eye to what is really going on? Can you put a price tag on your conscience?
Some teachers, like Randi Abrahams, play the game without caring who gets hurts along the way, but Anna Taggert is a heroine by giving up the designer lifestyle that she carves for herself. She makes mistakes and gets caught up, but who can blame her? She's young and impressionable, but ultimately, she strikes a balance between effectively teaching in her classroom while keeping the administration and parents content. And for Anna Taggert, that has made all the difference...
I laughed, giggled and at times, even gasped, throughout Ms. Lakhani's novel. Of course, the novel is fiction and an "exaggerated and macabre comedy of the private school world with a grotesquely naive character." Not every student at an institution like "Langdon Hall" is like Benjamin Kensington or Jessica Landau. There are many hardworking and intelligent students who, in fact, do their own schoolwork and have their own ideas.
Life isn't fair and parents do just want the best for their children. In the Manhattan private school system, many families have the luxury of affording to provide their children with the best of tutors and will pay any cost to guarantee their children's success. It's another form of natural selection. However, there's a more serious issue at stake – the nature of education not only in Manhattan, but also across the country.
There IS a price tag on everything, but there are also grave consequences that should be considered before continuing to turn a blind eye to the highest bidder.