Private School Prosperity

It used to be that parents with sturdy incomes headed for the suburbs and the “good schools” as soon as the kids were out of diapers. After all, why stay in a costly, chaotic city and pay good money for the same education that could be had for free 50 miles out, among the poplars and P.T.A. meetings? But as The New York Times recently reported, New York City’s private schools are currently facing a towering surge of applicants. Some have seen their applications rise by 50 percent in the past few years. These numbers indicate that the city’s upper-middle-class families are choosing to stay put, even when the tab for a year at Dalton runs $19,800, rather than decamp to the well-groomed greenery of Greenwich or Scarsdale.

The private school boom can be traced to the city’s livability, which has increased tremendously, in terms of safety and cultural vibrancy, in the past few years. When parents are willing to spend a college-size tuition for a year of kindergarten at a Manhattan private school, on top of shelling out state and city taxes, one can conclude that the myth of the idyllic suburban childhood has become outdated. Those once-great suburban public schools, former islands of purity, have succumbed to the same pathologies–drugs, alcohol, violence–as their urban counterparts. All they can offer that city schools cannot is vast parking lots filled with the students’ late-model cars. It used to be that suburban schools could boast of committed parental involvement; now with both parents working, that is no longer the case. A trip to the suburbs often finds that nobody’s home and nobody’s at school: They’re all on the road. It is perhaps no accident that middle-class suburban high schools have been the scene of some of the most vicious killings in America.

The city’s private schools are certainly benefiting from the trend: The Brearley School’s endowment has almost doubled, to about $50 million, since 1994; the Chapin School, the Horace Mann School and the Dalton School have all sunk millions into new facilities.

One hopes their graduates eventually return to the city; maybe they’ll even send their kids to public school.

Safest Subway in 30 Years

It’s not quite Paris, but news that the city’s subway system is the safest it has been in 30 years is a tribute to the innovations brought about by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his former Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. After Mayor Giuliani appointed Mr. Bratton to head the Police Department, the large-living Bostonian and his advisers began cracking down on small offenses, especially fare beating, and–not to their surprise–they found themselves hauling in offenders whose crimes and intentions were far from petty. It makes perfect sense: Rapists, murderers and muggers, after all, aren’t necessarily the sort of people who wait in line for tokens or use their credit cards to pay for Metrocards. Just recently, one turnstile jumper was found to have a loaded gun in his pocket.

Any analysis of New York’s dramatic drop in crime must begin with the crime-fighting laboratory that the subway system became under the Mayor and Mr. Bratton. What’s heartening is that even though Mr. Bratton is no longer running the city’s police, his legacy continues to reap benefits for law-abiding subway passengers. The Daily News noted on Oct. 18 that if the current trend continues, the number of felonies committed in the subway system this year will stand at about 4,400. You have to go back to 1969 to find a lower total. The police attribute the decline to their low tolerance for any sort of law-breaking in the system, from fare evasion to drinking. One hopes that whoever succeeds Mr. Giuliani understands the vital importance a safe subway plays in the city’s collective psyche.

The Mayor deserves credit for devoting so much manpower to turning the working man and woman’s subway, so long a subterranean nightmare, into a safe, well-lighted mode of transportation.

Are You a Moral Hypocrite?

If you’re like most New Yorkers, when you see the phrase “moral hypocrite,” you will nod knowingly and say to yourself, “Ah, yes, I know people like that, people who act very moral but are real skunks underneath,” and you will flip the page confident in your own moral integrity. But recent research offers proof that most people who believe themselves to be moral will, in many situations, act in amoral ways, all the while seeing themselves as behaving morally. As reported in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , researchers from the University of Kansas found that when people seem to behave morally, there is often an underlying “motive to appear moral in one’s own and others’ eyes while, if possible, avoiding the cost of actually being moral.”

In one study, given the choice between assigning themselves or another person a task with positive consequences, 95 percent said that assigning the other person the positive task would be the morally right thing to do–and yet 85 percent still assigned themselves the positive task. The kicker: Those who assigned themselves the positive task still firmly believed they had made the moral choice. Which led the researchers to ask, “How does a person manage to appear moral to oneself, while violating one’s moral standards to serve self-interest?”

Further experiments led them to conclude that people will go so far as to adjust their inner notion of moral standards so that their own actions will continue to appear moral to themselves. Rather than change their behavior, moral hypocrites change the rules. There’s nothing new in this, of course. The researchers cite John Dashwood in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility , and we have a President who routinely believes his own lies, whether on the golf course or in a Federal courtroom–but the statistics are a stark reminder that moral hypocrisy is a lot closer to each of us than we’d like to think.