The vicious circle of competitive parenting coupled with aggressive teaching makes for ridiculous circumstances. And what is schooling for, anyway? Oh, I remember! The children.
Many problems exist in schools these days and, according to PJM writer Aaron Hanscom, two of them are: 1) single parenthood and 2) hyper-parenting. This post is about the second, but I think the underlying problem with both issues is the same. Neither will be solved any time soon without a distinct cultural change or economic cleansing.
Hanscom offers many anecdotes for the hyper-parenting: piggish kids, bad field-trip behavior, father-son jackasses treating the ice-cream lady like dirt, etc. These stories demonstrate not so much hyper-parenting but selfish parenting. It takes effort to manage a child's behavior. It can be embarrassing and humiliating (I write as a mother whose 3 year old child staged a lay-in at Target) to engage with a out-of-control toddler. Many people ignore their child's dreadful behavior, some encourage it, because they wrongly believe the child will "grow out of it" or, and I hear and see this more, they believe throwing fits and acting like an untamed beast demonstrates "good spirit". No one will take advantage of him (unspoken--like I was taken advantage of by the ex, the boss, the tax man), no sir! He'll be assertive and that's good!
And don't forget, the rich kids likely have divorced parents, too. The kid is so much chattel to be divied up and argued over. Neither mom nor dad want to be the bad guy and so let pumpkin get away with murder. In addition, while 2/3 of low-income kids have one parent, 2/3 of middle and high-income kids have both parents working. The parents, harried and tired, feel guilty and overcompensate with activities (which have the double benefit of keeping the kid busy), material things, and awe-inspiring experiences. Except the kid isn't awed. With his limited life view, he shows no appreciation because he thinks everyone does what he is doing (a friend of a friend was taking her precious only child on a Safari and to Paris this summer).
What all the children want is time with mom and dad.
The schools, seeing the trend in absent parenting, give children copious amounts of at-home projects. It is state-sponsored behavior modification. As an involved parent, I resent it. If I worked outside the home full time or was a single parent, I'd be angry as hell. The projects are always above the child's ability to do by himself and, anyway the teacher will grade your kids projects based on what other kids parents do, so everyone is stuck. The working parents probably assume "all those stay-at-home moms" (said with a sneer) make glorious projects and work extra hard to compete. I can assure you, that the stay-at-home moms are as miffed at the situation as anyone. They're stuck, too.
A generation ago, homework wasn't given until sixth grade. What kids did at school was it. I cannot think of one instance where my parents had to expend any effort whatsoever for my schooling outside of showing up for a conference. Not these days. No, teachers want to spread the responsibility (read blame) around. If they give at-home projects that don't get done, they have an out. "If you had been more involved Ms. Smith, your kid wouldn't be illiterate. We can't help it that little Sally didn't have an enriching home-reading program."
But it isn't the home reading program that will make a difference. It's the home discipline program. If a child is raised contemptuous of authority (and let's be real here, many parents are living out their own temper-tantrum fantasies when they allow their children to behave so disrespectfully), with no boundaries and no social skills, learning will be a problem. Conversely, if the teachers forever foist the blame on the parents excusing the outcomes in their classrooms, learning will be a problem.
Like I said, only a huge cultural change could make a difference. That won't happen. People are selfish. More and more, there are the "marrying kind" and the "nobody's gonna tell me what to do types". This cuts across income, race and all other barriers. Divorce is here to stay. Single parenthood is here to stay.
The only other possibility is economic devastation. Colleges would have to cut back their fat tuition and get more competitive as people couldn't afford it, parents would be more involved because someone wouldn't be working, and hopefully, except for the Paris Hilton's of the world the entitlement mentality would deflate. Maybe a little adversity would bring humility and gratitude. Maybe it'd even keep marginally miserable people together for economic reasons which would have good implications for their child's development. No, they wouldn't be focusing on internal transcendence, but that's not what marriage is for anyway.
Parents these days make sure their child has the material things. Hanscom says that even the poor kids have their Air Jordans. That's been my experience, too. There are very few truly economically deprived children these days. But plenty of them are neglected.
As for NPR's article on "competitive birthing" and Hanscom's point:
NPR reported this month on “competitive birthing,” an example of wealthy families choosing to have many kids because they view it as a status symbol. While higher incomes have historically led to smaller families, in the past 10 years the number of rich parents having three or more kids has increased by 30 percent. Some people believe the change is due to over-achieving career women who have quit work and now focus their competitive energies on reproduction.There may be people having bigger families, but I can assure you, the people I know aren't doing it for competitive parenting reasons. In all four cases of my friends with five kids, they all love babies. Quite an old-fashioned reason to have big families, no? And generally, these families have the most well-behaved, balanced and sweet children. Their mothers are dedicated to mothering. No nannies (maybe a house cleaner in one case). No competition. No Ivy Leagues. These are economically comfortable people not filthy-rich people. In fact, the extra kids naturally impedes some of the kid's dreams, no doubt. But as one boy I met at Best Buy said of his three brothers and roommates, "Oh, they're much better than things. We didn't have much growing up, but brothers are better than money."
I'm more inclined to believe that NPR is looking for a way to justify, yet again, why big families are a blight on mankind. And "three or more" counts as big. That is just stupid. But, of course, the interviewees are New Yorkers. Three is positively outrageous, dahling.
Rich or poor, nothing can substitute for a loving parent who instills discipline and values in their children. More and more, that's the luxury that kids are having to live without.
H/T Glenn Reynolds
Update: Thanks for the link Instapundit. More thoughts on parenting: the strong-willed child, the Empty Nest Syndrome, sexualizing young girls and fleeing public schools.