How Status-Obsessed L.A. Parents Became Rick Singer’s Easy Targets

Well, I did want to talk to you about that chapter on preschools, because for me it was the most terrifying. Can you talk a little bit about why that was such an important part of the puzzle to explain this world?

I just remember certain people saying, “Well, you know, this all begins in preschool.” They would say it. And I would just kind of honestly groan inside because I was like, I don’t have the time or the bandwidth to get into preschool for this book, but great, interesting, move on.

And then another parent would say it, and sort of enough people said it that I said, Okay, wait, what’s going on here? And I have two kids who had fairly recently gone to preschool, but it was, as I would learn—they did not attend the “tier-one” preschool. So I was very oblivious to all this. 

I started reaching out to parents who attended some of these quote, unquote, tier-one preschools. And it was just amazing. I mean, the things they would say about what they did to get into the schools and how they would feel that they had to have multiple recommendations written. And there was a school that I talk about called the Circle, which is on Montana [Avenue in Santa Monica]. And, you know, just the process of applying there.

What was the process? 

You have to, once you apply, you have to call the director—I think it’s once every few weeks—to show how much you want it. I just couldn’t believe the amount of hoops that the parents have to jump through. I immediately saw why these people had directed me to preschools because it just mirrors, in many ways, the culture at the private high schools, where, again, it’s donations. The parents who give money seemed to get preference. And it’s all about winning favor with the director because the director is the one who has the relationships with the quote, unquote, right private elementary school that you want your child to get into.

All these parents are telling me about how other parents were hiring a tutor or consultants to basically help their three- or four-year-old pass the assessment to get into the private school. Much in the way parents of high schoolers are paying for tutors and independent college counselors, they’re paying these, like, elementary-school whisperers or gurus to help them improve their handwriting or, I don’t know, short shapes better. 

I interviewed one of them, and she very openly said that she charged $350 an hour. I think I said, “Oh, I heard the fee was $250 an hour,” and she said, “No, no, no. It’s $350.” Thank you! Fact-checking. Great. 

With any of these parents whom you spoke to, those who had been through the preschool-to-college route in this world, did they feel like all of this was worth it?

They’re all very self-aware about it. They’re almost telling me this with their eyes rolling. Like, I know I’m doing this; I know this is ridiculous. But it’s just so ingrained, and they feel that they just have to do it. Maybe they’re not gunning for Harvard or Yale, but they just want the best for their kid.

But I don’t know. I never talked to anyone who said, “Oh, looking back, I totally regret it. My kid would have been fine at Cal State.” I mean, if anything, I remember parents saying, “Yeah, like, my kid now goes to”—it was an Ivy League school and it was this person’s alma mater. And they said, “You know, I’m really psyched that I get to tell my friends that my kid goes there.” It’s the privilege of being very honest—it was just like, Yeah, that does actually make me feel good. So I think that maybe reflects the reality.

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