There was an Open Thread earlier today where people were talking about teaching — how draining it can be, how different posters had or hadn’t learned to read, write, communicate effectively; and the degree to which “effective teaching” has been reduced to bumping up the percentage of kids who correctly fill out the blanks on a standardized form. And I had a flashback to the days when I was helping out at beginner dog-training classes, and one exasperated woman voiced the all-too-common objective: “I don’t wanna do all this! I don’t *care* whether my dog learns anything! I just want him to be good when my friends come over and stay out of my way when I’m busy!”
Sad thing is, she was already a better owner than all the impulse buyers who just “get rid” of dogs who fail to magically intuit everything that might be expected of a successful family pet. People like the co-worker who complained about his kids’ dog being “dirty and noisy”, and when I offered to hook him up with a training class, responded, “I already spent a ton of money buying the stupid animal, why should I have to spend even more to make him do what I want?”
Then came a story on the local news about the competition between various towns for a share of the stimulus money being released to the state for “education”. Every parent, selectman, and administrator (I don’t remember any teachers on the air) spoke in favor of more supplemental funds for their town, either because the local citizens couldn’t afford what their kids deserved, or because the property-owners in the wealthier burbs were being taxed so heavily already. A minority of individuals deplored the whole concept of the stimulus package, because it wasn’t fair that “their money” should be capriciously taken by politicians under any circumstances. And the one thing everybody seemed to agree upon is that the governor’s intention to use the greater part of the funds in certain large urban school districts was just WRONG, because “Those People are given so much already… It’ll just be wasted by the teachers unions, or on frills like make-work summer job programs… I already pay a ton for MY kids’ after-school activities, why should I have to pay for other peoples’ kids as well?”
Sometimes it has seemed to me as though Americans basically hate kids. “We” considers them a nuisance and a drain on the public coffers and would really prefer they all be raised in camps somewhere far away. Sure, people like their own individual sprogs (mostly, most of the time), and kids can be mildly entertaining for brief periods, not to mention they’re a ridiculously vulnerable target market. But who wants to put up with the vast undifferentiated nuisance and squalor of other peoples’ offspring, with their noise and their neediness and their demands for our tax dollars?
And suddenly it occurred to me: The way American public policy runs these days, kids are basically treated as very high-maintenance pets. Raising them is considered a hobby, like breeding fancy chickens or keeping horses. Parenting is just another special interest group, with its own patois and skill-sets and warring factions. And while the Parenting Community is fascinated with every tiny detail of its fandom… everybody’s personal domestic livestock is special & deserves nothing less than the best of everything! — no sensible American wants to pay taxes for the upkeep of other peoples’ hobby children. Even the most committed locavore may balk at living next door to a stinking yardful of grubby chickens and crowing roosters, and the local housing development committee is less interested in the distinctions between trail riding and dressage than in the possibility that horse manure may depress local property values. If people insist on breeding children, they should be prepared to deal with the ensuing problems on their own. It’s not as though the general population had an ongoing interest in the welfare of other peoples’ hobby-farmed offspring! Especially all those horrible pet-shop-quality children, whose careless breeders spawn on an impulse — who are they to expect the rest of us to support their expensive hobby? Not to mention the kids themselves… if only Animal Control were enpowered to remove nuisance children who roam wild in decent neighborhoods, damaging private property and public amenities! Why can’t children come with an “off” switch, or at least a decent owner’s manual? You go to the trouble of having a kid, and all you get in return is 18 years of mess and whining and neediness and social embarassment! Sure, busybodies are always yammering about “classes” and “education” and “two-way communication”, but why should “we” be bothered to go to so much trouble over a long-regretted impulse, anyway?…
Okay, okay: A metaphor too far. But does it seem like “we” are forgetting that children are part of “our” communities?
C Nelson Reilly
I think they’re supposed to be seen and not heard
Hi, Anne Laurie. I wasn’t here last night, so welcome to the front page. As a fellow owner of female bits, welcome! Welcome!
As to your post, I don’t think kids are truly valued in this country. I think we (as a society) value the idea of kids more than we value the actual kids themselves. In addition, we expect snap solutions in today’s climate. If there are kids who are troubled, we want to be able to one-two-three them back to ‘normalcy’ rather than figure out how to improve our overall system.
Personally, I got a lot of crap for making the decision to not have kids when I was in my early twenties. I pondered it from all angles, and I realized that I didn’t want kids and I wouldn’t be a good mom. Unfortunately, I think most people still feel like they have to have kids, that it’s just something you do–like get married.
Raising children is hard work, often unappreciated. I don’t think this is stressed enough in our society.
I agree with the basic point of this post. The bolded statement
“kids are basically treated as very high-maintenance pets”
seems a little inaccurate to me. We treat our pets much better than our children.
During college and grad school, and in work, I get to know a lot of people from a lot of different countries. When talking about differences between the US and their own countries, one of the most common comments I have heard is that the US treats its children like dogpoop.” (edit: I first wrote dogsh*t, did that put the comments into moderation?) Why do you treat your children so badly?” “I’ve seen things here would never happen in my country.”
And these comments were not just made by poor brainwashed oppressed people from socialist hellholes like Sweden, but low and middle income countries like Ghana, Estonia, Poland, Vietnam.
When you hear a fairly conservative George HW Bush admiring grad student who grew up in Ghanaian village, who is studying international finance scold you that Ghana treats its kids (given their economic means) far better than the rich U.S. does, it makes you think. He used to tutor at inner city schools and told me that he met black and Hispanic kids that were more pessimistic about their chances in life than kids growing up in small towns in Ghana. So, I believe what you say.
Whenever he read about after-school programs being cancelled, and sports and science clubs, and supervised playground playing-around time being cancelled he would say “This would never happen in my country. The neighborhood children would have ‘something’ to do.”
18 years? I only hope to be so lucky.
The horses and chickens we can always sell. The kids, OTOH, there’s no process to return them and we’ve lost the damn receipt anyway.
Way too many people I work with think that ‘my body-my choice’ meant that 100% of the work and expense associated with my raising their gerontologist of the 2030s is my problem–because nobody held a gun to my head and forced me to have her!
Btw, you fail to note one essential service children provide. They give prudes an excuse to outlaw consenting-adult type behavior. “Won’t somebody think of the children?”
Bad Horse's Filly
Yup to all of the above.
I’ve seen many, many parents who abdicate responsiblity once their kids hit about 13. I’m always amazed. Though I am equally amazed/angry at the idea of disposable pets.
And my personal favorite: there are 900,000 (just an estimate, because records are spotty) children in foster care – many of them adoptable.
These are the family values we should discussing. IMHO.
I think a lot people like the IDEA of being parents, but still want the privileges and perks of being without kids.
Screw me. I though DougJ was an .html nightmare.
I need a drink.
I do so appreciate posts that take the care to create informative typographical stylings that clarify the meaning of the post, and present an elegant look to the blog. I certainly hope some boor does not come along an disrespect such conscientious effort. But that could never happen at a high class blog like this.
Don’t know what you mean, but cheers.
It’s not just the pricey burbs getting taxed if you live in Pawlentysota. Then he slashes the LGA again anyway. I’m a s.i.n.k. and I voted for a city tax increase for schools. stoopid librul. at least I can still vote a block from here.
Actually, I value my dogs more than I value your kids.
My Labrador managed an airplane ride when he was a year old, and he slept on the floor of the cabin at my feet the whole time. Didn’t kick a seat once. The person the row in front of us was shocked when we got off the plane with the dog in his working dog in training jacket.
I’ve NEVER been on a plane and not known where every child under the age of 25 is within a five row radius.
I’ve been thinking a hell of a lot lately about why boarding schools aren’t more popular in the US, so I’ve been thinking about the contradictions you’ve highlighted in your post.
I think popularizing the concept of boarding schools would be good for everyone. First, it would get the inner city kids out of a hellish environment. Second, it would get all the middle class kids out of middling schools and away from inattentive parents.
Win – win.
Neither seen nor heard, and no longer distracted by lame parents/circumstances.
I know it’s not a panacea, but I do think boarding schools could be a better alternative to what currently passes as both education and childhood in this country.
DougL (frmrly: Conservatively Liberal)
Children are a political prop, just like every other ‘issue’ that is important to the voters. If you scratch the surface of that ‘concern’, you will quickly notice that the ‘concern’ for the children is little more than lip service given by those in the pursuit of their varied goal(s) or concern solely for ‘their special angel(s)’. On a visit to our wingnut vet, during a political discussion (the ponytail sucked him in) he told me that ‘Obama is burying our children in debt’. I pointed out that that horse left the barn years ago and now it is our great-grandchildren who will be paying the debt off, and that placing the blame solely on Obama is not being realistic. I told him that it is my opinion that neither party cares any more for children than they do in using them to achieve their own goals.
When you hear a politician (or any other involved concerned person) talking about ‘the poor children’, be prepared to read between the lines to get at the truth of what they are really saying. Politicians know that each parent thinks their child is the perfect child so they try to appeal to their respective voting bases regarding kids issues in an attempt to achieve their own ends. People are generally selfish about sharing resources with others when they think that they could be put to better use providing for their ‘special angel(s)’ needs.
I think you might have hit a slightly larger issue with that last sentence of your post. How large one defines one’s own community appears (to me, IMHO) to be the dividing line between liberal and conservative these days. Conservatives think of communities to mean groups no larger than a family or maybe a small town or suburb, while liberals (or leftists, or whatever) seem to think in much larger terms for what is a community (working class, Hispanics, all living beings, etc.). Some out there might recognize that this is a flip from the 19th century where right-wingers talked about large communities (for example the nation as a whole) and liberals talked about individuals and their rights. Children are just pawns in this game of defining our communities and who and what people are willing to consider part of the term “we” when they speak. Kids outside of “us” don’t deserve “our” support.
Tooo meny wurds!
First, see commodity fetishism, then reification.
Just Some Chick
I was trying to post to the open thread, but my *borrowed* internet access is getting spotty. So, when I finally got my signal strength back, I was happy to see the current thread/topic, in which I hold a personal and professional interest.
However, I still must go OT, to say what I’d planned to say earlier. I scanned this post, and have thoughts and experiences to share, but first this:
I just wanted to share with someone(s) how perfectly bissful I am right now. A lifetime of not-always-so-good experience has taught me that these moments, when they happen, and miracuously, you are actually aware of how awesome they are WHILE they are happening, are so few and fleeting, that you HAVE to acknowldege, recognize, and relish them. And, I think, share them.
I was going to email an old friend, but I’ve been really impressed with the Balloon Juice crowd (which btw, is a slight contribution to the current bliss). So, here goes.
First, I started lurking at this site a few months ago, and was impressed with the posts. I was even more impressed with the comments. Before you think I’m kissing ass here, that is not necessarily a compliment. It was just that soooo many comments I read, I was either thinking, “I
just had that exact same thought” or else, “Damn, I wish I’d thought of that.” So that doesn’t necessarily mean you are all brilliant, just that a lot of you seem to have a mind meld with the weird way I think.
If you knew me better, you would probably take that for what its really worth.
I bought the first Discworld, “The Colour of Magic” (according to the visual map John provided) based on recommendations here. I actually was more interested in “Mort”, but didn’t want to get out of order. I read the Piers Anthony “Incarnations” long ago, and loved “Riding a White Horse” the best.
Then, yesterday (today?) someone added “and this paddle game, but that’s ALL I need” – paraphrasing, but you get the reference. I pull that one out, well, whenever appropriate. But, alas, no one but my husband ever seems to even get the reference, let alone see the humor, so I relish finding peers.
So, anyway, on to the bliss. (And this is maybe, slightly, (absolutely) on topic – I’m 6+ [celebrating the bliss and all] so forgive me.
Education!! I was a high school dropout. Spent 10 years slinging pizza a a chain restaraunt. Decided I was better than that and went back to school. First a CC, then University, then Masters, then got a job teaching at a CC. Went back one more time and earned a title (plus exactly $1
First, the misery & horrors described in memoirs like Orwell’s “Such, Such Were the Days”, and movies like RABBIT-PROOF FENCE, and our grandparents’ stories of Depression-Era ‘orphanages’, religious “children’s homes”, and Indian reservation boarding schools.
Second, the last Important Public Person to bring up concept of taking “inner city children” away from their parents and putting them in re-educational orphanages was Newt Gingrich, talking about what he called “an alternative to welfare”.
There are expensive upper-class boarding schools in America — Dubya Bush went to one — and a tiny percentage of very lucky, determined, hard-working scholarship kids manage to use them as a ladder out of the “inner city.” And boarding schools for special-needs children have a generally good reputation. But the whole idea of “improving” children’s lives by taking them away from their communities for “re-education” has been so tainted that even parents who believed a specific school would improve their specific child’s life might worry about what the neighbors would think about them taking such a risk.
Just Some Chick
Sorry, edit time ran out. Here’s the end of the rant.
When We Last Left Our Story . . .
Education!! I was a high school dropout. Spent 10 years slinging pizza a a chain restaurant. Decided I was better than that and went back to school. First a CC, then University, then Masters, then got a job teaching at a CC. Went back one more time and earned a title (plus exactly $1 more per hour as an adjunct – glad that dissertation paid for itself). Still, the bliss . . . I just closed on a house today. I’m in my new home as I type. I am a home owner!! Pizza slinger would never have imagined that, but she was me about 10 years ago.
So, totally blissed. Totally digging this the new people I’m typing at. Totally over my limit. And it is ALL extremely good.
Education (and student loans) are the secret to social mobility. Nothing else will do, and until EVERY student or potential student knows this, our entire social system is not what Americans think it is. The great American dream – at least these days – is nearly impossible without education. I give you Obama and Sotomayor as our most recent GLARINGLY obvious examples.
And I also myself as a smaller example.
You guys rock. And I’m having one more beer before I sleep for the first time in my new house.
The Main Gauche of Mild Reason
It’s more than that. I think a lot of people are bad at internalizing the idea that (unless you’re really old), these children will some day become your peers. You know that dick down the street that has obnoxious parties/deals drugs/is a general drain on society? You have the potential to prevent future versions of that guy from popping up. Troubled adults cause a much larger financial/political/social drain than troubled kids are.
But instead we (and I’m speaking as a Southern CA native from a suburban Republican area where the “clean suburbs, evil inner-city” mentality has ossified) end up with this pennywise, pound-foolish approach where we lament that “too much money” is being spent on those “useless” inner-city kids and DAMN IT WHY DIDN’T THEIR PARENTS BE RESPONSIBLE AND DO WELL IN SCHOOL SO THEY’D HAVE A DECENT LIFE FOR THEIR KIDS INSTEAD OF TAKING MY MONEY?! (of course neglecting that many of these parents were in the same situation as their children)
For anyone needing help with how this whole markup thing works, start here.
You can go two directions with this. For those of you that want to learn how the form describes the function, veer off into learning xml. For those of you just wanting rudimentary functionality while telling form to sod off, you can just go back and learn html.
Xhtml is an xml compliant implementation of html, and has pretty much been the standard on the web since you started using it, unless you started with mosaic or lynx.
Just as long as you know the difference between an element and an attribute, and how elements have to be nested in a tree structure, you know almost everything you need to make a blog post.
Oh, and as for the Chicken Coop status:
I give you this.
Instant gratification, have a baby, show baby off, send baby to school to be raised by teachers, then be baby’s best friend rather than a parent. Yes, a recipe for disaster and I see way too much of this shit.
That said, as a parent of a 6 and 8 year old I think the majority of parents are conscientious and do their absolute best, sacrificing much of themselves in the process.
Oh, and spot on with our whiplash “Save the children!” but “Don’t raise my taxes!” split personality disorder. You want a healthy, productive workforce? Guess what, you have to invest in it. (see also universal health care)
@tc125231: I would agree with this, too. What communities?
@Anne Laurie: I would think with good reason we would want to be cautious in proceeding with the idea that boarding schools are the answer. Again, what can we do to improve the urban areas in which disadvantaged kids live? In addition, many come from dysfunctional families, but they love those families. I am not sure taking them away from everyone they love and plopping them in a situation in which they are completely at a loss is the right solution, either.
I worked with juvenile delinquents (as a counselor) when I first got out of college, and I don’t think my kids would have functioned in a boarding school. My best friend is the director at an at-risk youth alternative school, and I think more of those are better options. Her school gives the kids the structure and the safe haven they need during the day, but it doesn’t totally remove them from their family.
In some cases, it may be better for the child to get away completely, so I’m not saying we should totally rule out boarding schools.
@Just Some Chick: That was a beautiful rant. Are you sure you are +6? Congrats on the new home!
I typically like kids. Don’t plan on having any for a while still, but I like them. As for what we do with them, can’t we just let them run wild?
Given a choice, I’d rather deal with people who disdain children in general than those who think their kids are precious little snowflakes who never took a stinky shit or ever cheated on a test. I’ve got a shot at convincing a single childless person that it’s in their best interest to fund schools because of the public safety issue if nothing else. But a helicopter parent who hovers over their kid, gets a doctor to prescribe them Ritalin even when they don’t need it, and hassles me when I fail dear little snowflake for ripping a paper off the top google hit and turning it in without even taking the url off the top of the page needs to die in a fire.
The Cat Who Would Be Tunch
And I thought you couldn’t top your previous high (or low, depending on the perspective) of insulting the way a frequent commenter’s pet died.
Ahh, what a way to greet your latest poster.
Back on topic.
I have to say that I think it’s more of a generational issue than it is an issue with ‘Muricans specifically. I personally love teaching and I enjoy being around kids, even when they’re being “annoying”. Yeah, they can get on your nerves and some of them may have you think that they’re the spawn of Satan. But on the whole, being around and raising children can be incredibly rewarding.
On the other hand, I’ve noticed most people in my age group have the exact opposite view of children. Ergo, here’s an example of a conversation that happened between a friend’s wife and her mom.
Mother: Guess what I was doing when I was 28?
Daughter: Guess who’s still having fun at 28?
I’ve heard many other examples of kids being referred to as nuisances, speed bumps, or some other derogatory term. It’s an attitude that’s both puzzling and sad at the same time.
I wish people would consider the big picture. If you aren’t into altruism, fine. But do realize the consequences of not providing equal opportunities to as many children as possible. Increasing the educational options for kids does not immediately benefit you or your own family but in the long run, it contributes greatly to the reduction in crime, increases general productivity in society, and reduces the burden on society. A quick perusal ot the recent headlines shows exactly why ignoring “other people’s kids” can often be to your own detriment.
Complaining about welfare queens? Educate their kids and that problem is greatly reduced. Granted, you’re always going to have a certain number of slackers. But if you look at the unemployment stats of so-called social1st countries in Europe, the unemployment rate isn’t anywhere as high as one might think. Most people don’t want to live off of unemployment checks. Given the opportunity, most people do actually want to do something fulfilling and/or improve their standard of living.
Okay, okay: A metaphor too far. But does it seem like “we” are forgetting that children are part of “our” communities?
Totally, and “we” in this case isn’t just the US. And the problem is worse with teenagers, who are not only annoying but are actually SCARY and DANGEROUS. Thank you, media.
@The Cat Who Would Be Tunch: If it makes any difference, I thought the post itself was very interesting and provocative.
I think there should be a basic definition of ‘community’ which includes the population of the country you live in. And all children in this basic community should get the resources they need to get a fair shake in life.
So, I think this “why should I pay for ‘their’ kids” stuff is unpatriotic, selfish, and immoral. And, since these kids will be future peers and voters, it is also stupid, as a commenter pointed out above. Anyone doesn’t like it, they can buy themselves an island and build their own libertarian utopian hellhole if they wanna be total jerks.
As for xtml, well dammitall, these markup languages are 40 years old now, and when I was a lad, coding away barefoot in the snow, nobody complained or they got a good whooping. If good old markup was good enough then it’s good enough now. I want see nothing but slashes and brackets around here, you dang lazy kids!
xtml, stylesheets and suchlike -who knows what deviltry is going on down in there? Bah, humbug, I say.
Anne, you might enjoy looking up the feminist economist Nancy Folbre, who has written about the fallacy of our society’s “children as pets” metaphor. Her book The Invisible Heart is very readable.
Hell, pets are often treated better than are kids.
The Cat Who Would Be Tunch
It’s all good. Things are even, especially when I saw that you were getting updates from Vitter. There is a karmic quality to the way the world works.
Just Some Chick
Back on topic – anyone hear the about the new “bad parenting” book genre discussed on NPR today?
Maybe that interview inspired the post, but you can listen here: http://www.hereandnow.org/stand-alone-player/?fileUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.bu.edu%2Fwbur%2Fstorage%2F2009%2F05%2Fhereandnow_0528_5.mp3&fileTitle=Bad Parenting
Apparently it is now tres chic to publicly complain about what a buzz kill your kids are. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The host commented that Erma Bombeck made it ok to admit that parenting is not 100% joyful, all day, every day.
Still the social acceptance of of publically calling your kids a pain in the ass (as opposed to privately saying the same about someone else’s kids) seems kind of new to me.
The actual interview left me feeling ambiguous. I have a grown child, and don’t remember exactly feeling thrilled with every diaper change.
However, I don’t think I would have blogged or written a book about those feelings. At a minimum, the intertubes are forever. How does the kid feel when he finds out what a drain he was on the rents good time?
I think it’s because kids are losing some of the direct economic value they once had in a more agrarian society. In such a society, kids work – they farm, help feed chickens, and so forth. Just as importantly (and more recently) kids were the source of retirement income and support.
And here is the perfect illustration of OC Republicans. Newport-Mesa school district is the most economically diverse in the nation. It stretches from the economically and largely Latino Santa Ana/Costa Mesa area to the holy-fuck-that’s-a-big-yacht region of Newport Beach.
Much of the political weight of the state is in the district and they work really goddamn hard to keep their tax dollars from flowing to the schools because they don’t want it showing up at the Latino end of the district. The Newport Beach schools have private foundations supporting them that the community dumps money into to compensate for the lack of public funding.
So here in the span of no more than 5 miles and within one district you can see the economic game play out.
In my community, we sort of have the opposite problem with the kids – they’re over-educated. My son’s friends routinely have 3-4 hours of homework per day in elementary school. In addition to what the school sends home (which is maybe an hour, tops) there’s piano and Chinese and tutoring. They really don’t have much time to just be kids. They’re all pretty good and for the most part I think the parents are on the ball around here. The biggest problem is when they get older and they just don’t have any place to go and anything to do. Things are well suited for little kids and adults, but teens are neglected. Drugs are a reasonably big problem because, well, what else is there to do?
As for the complaining about the kids, I don’t hear much of that. Yeah, life changes with kids, but without my son I wouldn’t do as much camping, swimming, going out in the boat, and so on. Life is harder, but certainly better with them around.
I have a high-maintenance pet. No need for a kid.
And weirdly, I’m one of those people who’s not all that fond of children, in general. Nonetheless, I still remain heavily invested in their education.
In fact, I recently wrote a post about how my dog-trainer friend helped me solve a child tutoring problem I was having: http://www.someofnothing.com/2009/05/of-dogs-and-disciples.html.
So yes, I think the analogy between education of pets and that of kids is quite appropriate. And, personally, I find the child-pet analogy to be a useful one…not at all negative.
I think that’s how John feels about the blog.
@Just Some Chick:
The queen of this may be writer Ayelet Waldman, who invited the wrath of the public on herself for the following:
Fortunately, for her sake, she did note that she cared very much that her kids be raised well.
1. I went to fancy boarding schools and they still suck. I would never send my kid to one. It’s like Lord of the Flies or lonely or both. Summer camp is ok. Boarding school is just too long.
2. The reason our society has contempt for children is because of their low/nonexistent earning power. That’s why it has contempt for stay at home moms and also old people. Our society sucks big fucking elephant fucking balls [I think that was from Raging Bull, so it’s ok to say].
3. I love your post, Annie Laurie.
I meant Anne Laurie. I’m so sorry.
I went to boarding school in America and it is nothing like you describe. Almost all of us had a scholarship or financial aid, and they were pretty easy to get. The likely reasons that not many people apply to boarding schools is that students are unaware that the option is available, parents don’t want to be labeled as “absentee”, and both the parents and students are worried that they’ll miss each other too much to be apart during the kid’s adolescence.
Ha! I just defended mine, you just blasted yours. Sorry your experience was so sour.
Heh. I just discovered a YA novel, UNWINDING, about a near-future society that’s perfected organ & even limb transplants. Life is sacred from conception to age 13, but the legal guardians of teenagers between their 13th and 18th birthdays are free to “donate” them to the state for use as… spare parts. Be a giant pain in the arse, get “unwound” for the good of society. Not sure how many of us in the BJ community would have survived to adulthood. I’m waiting for the paperback due out at the end of the month.
I will, henceforth, refer to my own four adorable, angelic (if slightly grubby) chilrens as “sprogs”.
I can’t figure out what helicopter parents think they are doing for their kids when they coddle and protect them like that. Whenever my kids get in trouble I assume they are guilty and work from there. It is amazing how accommodating teachers and schools can be if you admit your kids are not perfect and need to learn a thing or two while they are at, you know, school.
Overall our education policies reflect the complete breakdown of social norms and basic decency in our politics. The only place in this region (New England) where I can get what I consider a functioning and healthy school system for my kids is a university town in a rural area. Nothing is gold plated, the schools are old, but the teachers are well seasoned and supported by the schools and most families really value education. With less than half the resources per child of the fancy suburbs, and a lot of poor minority and rural white kids, we do just as well by any fair standards.
This strikes me like a most healthy thing. If the spousal bond is not strong it gets awfully hard to have the emotional reserves to deal with children. Children are like siblings – you get the personalities you get, whether they are especially compatible with you or not. Love them unconditionally of course, but the whole point is that they become themselves, whoever that is, which not necessarily your best friend for life. Probably not your best friend for life. With kids you get great love, deep love, profound love, sustaining love or maybe nothing but agony – but never anything like romantic love.
I have no idea where people get these weird expectations of what parenting and families should be like.
There’s some generational items involved here as well. I turn 30 in a month and a half. Most of my friends are within my age +- 5 years. Most of us are upper-middle income (though we all live in Northern Virginia, so while the income is upper middle, the CoL brings it back down somewhat).
Most of us plan on having children at some point, with a few deciding to remain childless. A couple for not wanting to be tied down (they love to travel and jet-set), one for health reasons (doesn’t want to pass on his genes, and isn’t all that child oriented anyways).
But the rest of us who are planning on having children are planning on doing it far more community-oriented then we were raised to be. While we aren’t going as far as co-housing, though we looked at it, we’re all congregating to one or two neighborhoods where we’ll be within walking/bicycling distance to each other. My wife and I are planning on being one income (she’s planning on staying home), and her sister and her sister’s husband are also probably going to go that route (where the husband will be a stay-at-home dad).
I can’t discuss the inner-city. I grew up white, privileged and in Vermont. Few of my friends grew up all that hard or difficult. But I know for us, the choice to have kids was a very conscious one, of both the perks and the downsides, and that we are choosing it actively, rather than having it chosen for us.
Isn’t this just about power? Our society is one that is based on the idea of power, uber alles.
I heard our (sadly) lamentable governor on the radio last fall, talking about the budget cuts he was planning to ask the legislature for in anticipation of a fall-off of tax revenues. First, said the governor, we will take out about 1/2 billion from the health-care budget – mostly medicare. Then, he said, we will need to hit programs for seniors. He then turned to the school budget and said that a long-overdue increase would have to be cancelled, and that major cuts to education would be required. He topped all this off by renewing his pledge to never, ever raise taxes even on the wealthiest hedge-fund managers: that would be wrong.
That little speech encapsulates everything that’s wrong with us today. If there’s a way to put risk, adversity, pain, etc., on the backs of someone who is powerless to resist, we do it. Balancing the budget on the backs of the sick, the old, children, while ensuring that the richest are not asked to do their share — it’s despicable. We are shamed by these values.
I like kids, I know lots and lots and of them, and I’m always struck by one thing. They love their parents. Parent. Guardian. Whatever. They will defend the worst parents in the world. Parents that I know don’t do an adequate job, abusive or neglectful or addicted or mentally ill or just bullying jerks, they all get defended by their children.
Five year olds will do it and so will fifteen year olds. I think it is partly that it is simply too scary to admit that they’re essentially alone, so they’ll make up a “parent story” to avoid that.
They go to elaborate lengths to justify adult behavior, and put it in some context that isn’t an indictment of adults.
I don’t know if we treat them as pets. I have trouble thinking of them as other than individuals, so I can’t make any broad statements other than this: they think we’re really important and powerful.
Good point. For you educators out there — are the helicopter parents generally older or younger? Do they fall within late boomer/gen. Jones or gen. X categories? Maybe it is more of a class issue, or just a generalized pathology in the culture.
How much do I love you for knowing about and recommending this book? She is so fabulous. And the book is entirely readable; it’s written for an intelligent general audience.
This post overall just makes me want to say so many things I don’t know where to start. Well, first of all, it’s great, thank you, and this is an issue that people don’t talk about nearly enough.
I agree with you entirely, and I think it’s telling that some people miss the point by focusing on whether or not the parents are doing a good job. There always have been and always will be parents of all kinds – good, bad, and middlin’. But as a society, we could be doing so much more to help children have healthier, happier, better-educated lives, and thus grow up to be better, healthier, happier people. I think there are two (related) problems that lead to this.
1. We have such an individualistic way of thinking about children and families. I think PhoenixRising is exactly right that people take the fact that childbearing is (nominally) voluntary to mean that it’s a lifestyle choice and they have no obligation to subsidize someone else’s lifestyle choice.
2. Most things that we do as a society that help children help their parent(s) too (subsidized day care, after school programs, health care, welfare, etc). So we don’t look at it as support for children themselves; we look at it as redistribution to lazy selfish awful poor people. Children are seen as innocent victims of the crime of poverty; their parents are seen as the perps. So when people imagine “their” money being used for child-friendly programs, they think it’s not fair that those other parents are getting “free money!” while they themselves are not.
Also, re: “helicopter parents:”
I’ve found it fascinating that this has become a widespread cultural complaint recently, because it mirrors exactly the fears of “overprotection” that were rampant in the 1950s. There were dozens and dozens of books written about how “today’s” parents were crippling their kids psychologically, making them incapable of independence, shielding them from consequences, etc. That’s not how people *today* think of the 50s; what you tend to read are wistful memories of running free until dark (and after), and comparing that to the stifling parental anxiety of today. But that sure wasn’t how it appeared to the adults 50 to 60 years ago.
Also, same thing about parents not disciplining their kids anymore. I read that a lot these days. But the older adults of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s complained that the Boomers were the generation that was “Spocked when they should have been spanked.”
So, in “
kidsparents these days” complaining, there’s little that’s new under the sun.
Here is the economic/political solution – easy to conceive and present, hard to implement: give votes to all persons, regardless of age.
One person one vote (from a USSCT case) needs to mean what it says.
Maybe lower the voting age to 14 then have parent (which one?) vote by proxy for those under 14.
Should mitigate the structural problem you correctly identify.
@Betsy: I found a great 50s era book of that type called “Suburbia’s Coddled Kids”. I wonder how the author, Peter Wyden, applied his observations to his own kids, as one of his sons, Ron, is now a Senator.
I agree with this wholeheartedly. To expand on Xenos’ thoughts, I feel that my wife should be more important to me than my daughter. Too often once people have kids, their focus is “all about the kids” and they neglect their marital vows, and let their love for each other whither and die. Then you end up with broken homes and the potential for dysfunction as the kids are going through their very formative years….and you end up with the slow train wreck that’s being played out on TLC right now (I feel dirty being the first person in the thread to mention it). If Mother and Father make sure they keep their love alive and their marriage and family unit strong, the kids usually turn out pretty good, they know mommy and daddy love each other and love them, there’s no confusion of why daddy has a new girlfriend, or the child wondering if they did something wrong to make mommy and daddy not love each other any more, etc….
1. We have such an individualistic way of thinking about children and families. I think PhoenixRising is exactly right that people take the fact that childbearing is (nominally) voluntary to mean that it’s a lifestyle choice and they have no obligation to subsidize someone else’s lifestyle choice.
I don’t think treating children as an interest group works. It isn’t ideological for me, and it isn’t class-based. I just believe that it doesn’t work. It separates them from the actual individuals they depend on, daily, and gives them a false sense that they can operate independently of their family. They can’t. They probably won’t succeed. Some will, but that’s the exception. They have to operate within a family. They know it, too.
I think the best approach is to help the individual adults who care about them act as their advocates. That can mean voting for a school levy, or turning in the free lunch application, or making sure they’re on the school bus, or dad getting a GED. Because the teacher goes home without them, and the coach goes home without them, and at the end of the day they are dependent on whatever caretaker card they drew. I don’t think it’s fair to give them the impression that they will be cared for and valued as individuals in a public policy when they won’t be. They know the difference between people and programs.
I think things were a little more laissez-faire in the 70’s, though. Maybe it was all the drugs. ;)
But I definitely remember at age 6 playing outside with my friends and running around in the woods all day long. There were definitely no “playdates”. If you wanted to play with your friend, you knocked on their door and asked if they could come out and play, and if they could, their mom would yell “Be back by 5 for supper!” and off you’d go.
Was it the best way to raise kids? Hard to say — our generation has it’s successes and its failures. But it was a damn fun childhood, that’s for certain.
I think perhaps you misunderstood me – I wasn’t saying that kids weren’t or shouldn’t be located within a family…? I was saying that the attitude that “your kids are your choice and your problem and I shouldn’t be bothered with them in any way shape or form” is a problem.
Hee, that’s great! I haven’t seen that one in particular – I’ll have to look it up.
As someone who lives over near Bristol and Baker in Costa Mesa, that’s a spot on description, sadly. (I have some friends who work in/work closely with the district.)
As a parent, I can confirm that yes, sometimes kids are a buzzkill, particularly in their teens. They screw up, they get underfoot, you wind up putting off things that you really want to do because of their schedules and resource hoggery.
However, those years are temporary. If you still manage to do things you personally enjoy from time to time, if you let them know that they’re a part of your (and everybody else’s) world and not the center of it, then you can get through it with ease.
I guess I disagree with the basic premise. I know what you’re saying: the impulse that says “I’m caring for MINE, why can’t you care for YOURS?” and how that is reflected in funding.
That’s why I think the broad approach doesn’t work. You run headlong into that. It’s easy to get around, but it’s local, it has to be local. I see it almost daily. I can make a persuasive case for a school band program if I get the 50 parents with kids who want to be in a band in a room. 40. 10 won’t show up.
It’s one of the issues I agree with sane conservatives on. Local is the whole deal. Local changes national, not vice versa. It has to be personal.
Ah, ok, I see what your saying. I think for me it depends on the issue. For instance, I don’t think something like universal health care for children works on a local level – that has to be national, or at least state level. But something like after school programs can certainly be organized that way.
But I think the caveat for me is that when it comes to funding school and similar programs for me, I want it to be metropolitan district wide, at the very least. Because otherwise, if it’s as local as you say, poor kids still lose in the end. If the tax money from (for instance) the Houston suburbs was mixed with the tax money from inner city Houston, and distributed evenly on a per-child basis, that would be fairer. But if Sugarland gets to spend all its money on its kids, there’s precious little for the kids in the 5th ward. That’s my problem with hyper-local solutions.
Totally right. I feel exactly that way about children, and that’s why, wait for it now… I AM NOT GOING TO HAVE ANY.
I don’t care what you think of kids, and biologically children ARE high-functioning animals until they reach a certain age where they become “people” (alternately we are all animals and the kids go from high-functioning to incredibly complex high-functioning). If you can’t deal with the responsibilities that involve raising one, then don’t.
Christ, some people should be sterilized.
I also should be clear that I agree with you entirely that grassroots organizing is critically important for quality of life and quality of education issues like these. It absolutely is. But the fact of the matter is that middle and upper class parents have a hell of a lot more clout when they organize than poor parents do, and I don’t want poor kids punished because their communities aren’t as able to mobilize resources.
I agree on school funding. I canvassed for a governor on just that basis, and he hasn’t done squat, although my state supreme court said our school funding inequity was a violation of the state constitution, and we’ve been operating outside the law since 1993.
To me, the hard truth is that you have to cobble together some sort of community for children, and you have to do that one person at a time. I represent “youthful offenders” and also act a guardian, so I tend to see where we’re really obviously failing, and I don’t see them as a policy problem, I see their faces when I think of “children”.
This is heresy in liberal circles, but I tend towards the moderate conservative side as far as public policy towards children. Moderate conservatives get the bottom-up idea better than liberals regarding children, in my opinion, and the bottom-up idea works better. They also “get” the primacy of family better, again, as a practical matter. The right wing lunatics veer off into religious fundamentalism and extreme positions, so that pollutes the whole discourse, but I generally agree with the moderate conservatives in my state legislature more often than I do with the liberals, on children.
One area I think the feds could be effective is regulating commercial marketing aimed at children. We’re hurting them with that, and badly.
Anyone read (or hear about) the book Free Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry?
[blog here, amazon here]
Seems appropriate to this thread.
Yeah, well, western society tried that route. Didn’t work out well.
That’s true. I hated school, so I’m sympathetic to parents who really don’t want to go in there. I still go to the grammar school I once attended, almost monthly, for my work, to interview my little charges, and I immediately revert to opposition mode. I have to remind myself I’m no longer in 4th grade, and I’m probably not going to get in trouble. Probably. If I keep my head down, and my shoulder to the grindstone.
Too, there’s no reward. If your child is doing lousy at school going in there is an entirely negative experience. They avoid it, and part of that is shame, they think they failed, and that’s sad. I find nearly everyone will show up for a meeting supporting sporting programs (for boys). Maybe that’s cultural. Football is wildly important. All hail.
At first I thought this was parody. I get tired of living in a PG-13 world designed to be as “kid-friendly, mother-approved” as possible. I think our communities revolve around children in an unhealthy way.
It’s just so extreme. There has to be some middle ground between following them around and monitoring their every emotion and completely ignoring them.
It’s wrong to make them a parental or community “project”, because they’re individuals and they need a certain amount of rope, but it’s also wrong to insist that they’re completely capable of operating without adult or community assistance in a system where they have so little power, as individuals.
I object to both extremes.
Anne Laurie, thanks for this post. You’ve said what I’ve been thinking for a long time. Hurray!
Also, I agree with Betsy that at least part of this attitude is because childbearing has become largely voluntary for many people.
My children are in school with a number of other children who are essentially their parents’ high-maintenance pets. My children are also in school with a number of other children whose parents are helicopter parents. My husband and I were trying to determine the other night, in as dispassionate a way as possible, how many parents in the school do not fit into either of those extremes, and I’m sad to say that we think only 10% of the parents are neither child-pet owners nor helicopter pilots.
While my husband and I fight to stay in the middle of the spectrum ourselves, I have to admit we stray towards helicopter pilothood on some issues. For instance, we have boundaries on what the kids are allowed to watch on TV that are stricter than many – no Adult Swim for them! But OTOH, they have been going to sleepaway camp in the summer since they were 8 years old – you would be amazed at the number of parents who were shocked that we do that.
WRT boarding school, my next-door neighbor sent all of his kids to boarding school. They have all turned out OK and seem to have a positive and loving relationship with him. He is a retired Army officer, and he told me once that he would rather send them to boarding school where they could have a stable routine despite what was going on with his job, than to have the constant turmoil of not knowing whether or not they would see him that day, or with whom they would be spending the night. So I think boarding school has its place and might be a good option for some of the child-pets if their parents weren’t so tied up in status displays.
Well, we’ve gone from treating children as sources of cheap labor to blocking them almost completely out of society. This is an unhealthy situation for all. See 1960s educational radicalism, passim. (Including, yes, Bill Ayers.) Krawk!
This is exactly what infuriates me from Bill Maher (among other things, like his vehemence about marriage and also religion — I don’t mind that he’s atheist, but his perception that people who do have some religion must therefore be both stupid and science-hating is infuriating). Bill does like animals but somehow children seem to come several levels below dogs in his sensibilities.
This is a wonderful post. You’re a delightful addition to the team; I appreciate it.
As for child-raising, one particular bit from my youth stands out. When I was in high school, I had my only somewhat-serious disciplinary infraction, which led to me being suspended out-of-school for a day. I’d thought it would be just like a vacation day, but my father banged on my door at six in the morning, shouting “REVEILLE! REVEILLE!”, and explained that I was going to be filing papers for him at the office for the entire workday.
The problem with children being useless in society is that they are useless. We stick them in school for half of the day to do useless rote repetition because there’s no place for them. This is John Taylor Gatto’s primary thesis, which he goes on to claim leads us to be stuck with masses of emotionally-stunted, crazed pinheads instead of well-adjusted, though smaller, human beings. While I have trouble with some of his ideas, I certainly agree that children will be seen as annoying burdens so long as society construes them as such.
One day I hope to adopt a child, probably age 5-10 area, where I feel I can make a difference but still have many children in the age range not wanted for some reason.
But sadly, I’ll most likely have to move countries or spend untold thousands to do it. The laws in America are cruel to those who love their same gender.
OT, but not really: today on his way to work a co-worker noticed an elderly woman a bit too close to traffic near the 7-11. He stopped to help her; realized she was very confused (to the point of dementia) and called the police. He left cash for the cops to get her a meal, and his contact info. Turns out the woman was an Alzheimers patient that had been missing since Tuesday. My co-worker was so distressed to think that an old, confused woman had been wandering such a heavily populated “nice” area for so long (the suburbs of DC Fairfax) and that no one had helped her.
Fundamentalist Christianity has dominated politics at the same time this society has stepped farther and farther away from the most basic tenet of most religions: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. All of us were children, and with luck, most of us will become old. We as a society need to decide to take care of our children, our old, and our weaker members. Because they are us.
I actually agree with both Anne Laurie and Billy K here: I simultaneously think that our culture treats kids like shit and that society revolves around children to an unhealthy degree, particularly in making sure that everything is “kid-friendly and mommy-approved.” The Cult of Mommy and all of its adherents should go play in traffic. (I despise women who frame their identities entirely around motherhood; how regressively antifeminist is that?! And I especially loathe the Magical Mommy Cult ones the most. No, giving birth does not bestow on you goddesslike powers of knowledge and wisdom; get over it.)
Caveat: I don’t have kids, and don’t even like kids, but I certainly do see the necessity for funding stuff like education and community safety initiatives. I probably don’t have even a gimpy leg to stand on here, but I also think that if your kid is so scheduled sie needs a daytimer, UR DOIN IT RONG.
Incertus: I used to teach at the postsecondary level. You think helicopter parents are bad, you should try tangling with their quasiliberated offspring, especially where the helicopter parents in question are too far away to interfere effectively. There’s nothing quite like being whined at for half an hour by a mediocre student who can’t figure out why you’re being so meaaaaan to hir by not giving hir the A sie wants so badly, even if sie nowhere near to meets the criteria for an A in the course…
Really, this is about people. Kids are just a subset; many people simply couldn’t give a fuckabout others and that attitude extends to kids as well.
I long ago came to the conclusion that we as Americans basically don’t give a shit about anybody else’s kids. Alright, I exaggerate, but it does seem like we don’t give enough of a shit about kids that aren’t our own. We talk a good game, but we don’t put our money where our collective mouth is. Texas, where I live, is a great example of this. This bastion of so-called “family values”, where people are lauded for getting married, having kids and raising them in a church-like way, has no problem with cutting health care for kids, cutting back education spending, cutting back on spending for foster homes, etc., etc. Basically you’re applauded for your family…as long as you can provide for them yourself. And I think every one of us is guilty of seeing a kid getting wailed on in a Wal-Mart and just walking away (except my wife, who has balls of steel when she sees kids getting mistreated), or reading in the paper about yet another kid getting killed by his mom’s boyfriend, and then just shaking our heads and flipping the page.
I think there’s a lot of reasons for that, not all political. But I’ve never loved kids as much as when I had one of my own, and I don’t honestly understand how people can tolerate the fact that children are raised sleeping in state offices because there are no foster homes for them, or children going to school in buildings we wouldn’t work in, or children being murdered by their supposedly loving parents before we bother to get involved.
I spent 15 years as a high school English teacher, but don’t have children of my own. Most of the schools where I taught were in small farming communities where classes of 20 students were considered big classes, and overwhelming majorities of students were reading and doing math at or above grade level (90% or better). I then moved to a small city (240,000) that has a widely lauded school system with a high national ranking for test scores and graduation rates. I spent two years teaching here before I moved to post-secondary education. The contrast was shocking. Discipline problems in the small communities were mild and easily corrected. One call to a parent, and the misbehaving student was misbehaving no more. By contrast, multiple calls to parents here in the city produce everything from “It’s not my problem, you’re supposed to make ’em behave in school” to “I’m sorry but I can’t do anything with him either. Good luck”. Or, even more likely, there will be a parental complaint to the principal because you are mistreating little Johnny or Jennifer. They’re sensitive, you know, mustn’t be corrected, might damage their self-esteem.
I’m with John Rosemond. Raising children isn’t that hard unless you make it that way. How do you make it that way? By putting the child at the center of everything and letting the world revolve around him/her. I see the results at the college where I’m an adjunct instructor. Entering students are shocked and appalled that we will actually require them to complete assignments on time, pass tests without extra credit to make up for their failures, and fail them if they don’t meet the requirements of the class. This has not happened to them before. The public school system doesn’t do any of this. It might damage their self-esteem.
Should public schools be better funded? Yes, but there should be some strings attached.
1. Schools don’t get to jump on every trendy educational theory or method that comes along. The whole-language reading fiasco alone should be enough evidence for this one.
2. Most of the new funding has to go to keep good teachers and recruit top students to the teaching profession.
3. School district administrators and school boards need to grow backbones. Parental complaints should not, except in rare cases of actual misfeasance, result in discipline of the teacher rather than the student. In the immortal words of Amy Pohler (channeling Hillary) “Grow a pair”.
4. Every teacher, administrator, and school psychologist should be foreced to write the following 100 times every week: Achievement creates self-esteem. Self-esteem does not, in the long run, create achievement. Constantly telling kids how wonderful they are when they have done nothing to earn such praise creates self-centered, narcissisistic kids. It doesn’t produce achievement. Praising kids when they have done something well produces confident, able kids. It’s a teacher’s job to create the opportunities for kids to achieve, not just be praised.
Sorry this has turned into a rant, but this whole discussion struck a nerve. Kids all too often get cheated in today’s public schools, and many times it’s done with the best of intentions.
After a couple of puppy training sessions it became clear to me that it was not the dog that was being trained, it was me. I try to remember this when “training” my children.
In my experience, I think Americans aren’t fond of kids, and it’s an issue I’ve been chewing over for awhile. Here’s part of my rather erratic take.
Americans are not people up for long-term planning and achievement. We want it, we want it right now, and we don’t care about the repercussions. We’re also distracted by ephemera – the latest jewelry, having to have the boat, etc.
Children are the ultimate long-term project – you’re going to be raising them for at least 18 years, making a big investment. Now if you think long-term, value having the relations, the family, the grandkids, the support, kids make perfect sense. We’ve all got our paternal/maternal instincts – being unable to have children, in fact, I do channel such energies into other areas of constructive community involvement.
However, when you’re thinking short term, when you want the shinies, kids are sort of an annoyance. They don’t fit the go-go get-rich-or-die-trying lifestyle. Planning for the future isn’t cool, hip, or important. Long-term is for suckers.
So kids are at best luxuries and worst annoyances.
I find this especially amusing in the light of so many “pro-family” people who are anti-education, anti-health care, ready to start all sorts of wars, and don’t care about spending. They sell out out future and make it worse for the kids we do have – but because they’re anti-gay, they must be pro-family.
If we don’t decide on the future we want to build, we won’t build one.
The whole problem is because America is a capitalist nation, and we judge, rate, or evaluate everything in dollars.
Kids cost money; they don’t make, or have money. So, in a sense, they become an investment for the future by the parents.
Why do you think Americans have no problem with spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a triple heart bypass on a 80 year old man, but hesitate to spend a dime on someone else’s kids? The old man has money. And not all 80 years get that kind of care, usually just the ones with money, to expand on the basic Medicare.
It’s all about money!
@Beej: Whole language? Is anyone still talking about that these days? FWIW, out of three kids of mine who have become readers so far, I had two pure phonics kids and one pure whole language kid. The schools (in Mass., at least) use whatever works best for each kid, as they should.
The self esteem issue… maybe I just missed it. I suspect it is just a shorthand term that attempts to justify spoiling your child and then pulling strings for them. Was it ever really a serious educational or psychological movement?
Nice post. Thanks Anne.
Ok, kay is my idol.
And boarding school might be ok for some people some times.
And children shouldn’t be ignored/warehoused in schools OR raised like veal with their feet never touching the floor.
And speaking of YA dystopian fiction, I highly recommend the “Uglies” series by Scott Westerfeld. It’s a four book trilogy because his fans forced him to write a fourth book.
A somewhat extreme example of the self-esteem without achievement issue from Japan is the elementary school that cast every girl in one class as Snow White so none of them would suffer the indignity of being told they weren’t good enough. Other cases in the USA involve, if I remember correctly, cancellation of spelling bees and other competitive events because if you have a winner, the losers get upset and can’t cope. I don’t know how widespread this is, but it happens often enough that someone must be pushing this snake oil somewhere in the system.
I speak in this situation as a married adult with no children. But I also speak as someone who remembers having been a child and having multiple friends and siblings with children who were raised with varying approaches. The people who complained in the 50s about the liberty granted the average child were likely upset that the workhouse no longer existed as a valid option and hadn’t grasped the fact that the mere existence of suburbia, a phenomenon that exploded post-WWII, changed the game. When the kid isn’t able to contribute to the family’s bottom line because there are few to no options to do so and there’s a growing opinion that the workaday world isn’t meant for the prepubescent, you get the childhoods most of us experienced, myself included. Those are harder and harder to find now, though, what with the fear of a random pedophile and all the other patterns already mentioned in the discussion.
I would characterize the American societal attitude toward children in the majority culture as being contradictory and fragmented almost to the point of being schizophrenic. We can’t expose the children to the nastiness of life, so we prosecute a TV network over an exposed nipple and hold long Congressional preachfests over video games. At the same time, too many people forget that our childhoods tended to enjoy fairly well-funded schools and also forget it costs to maintain a public school structure worth discussing. Property tax laws akin to Prop 13 and MA’s Prop 2 1/2 are short-sighted attempts to fix one problem while creating or magnifying another.
I fear the results if this continues.
The Pale Scot
“I love children!, As long as they’re properly cooked”
Poor John, Anne, you’re raising the bar around here.
Sock Puppet of the Great Satan
“But a helicopter parent who hovers over their kid, gets a doctor to prescribe them Ritalin even when they don’t need it”
Don’t knock Ritalin. My niece was getting into lots of trouble in school, bouncing off the walls. 2 years on Ritalin, and she went to being an A-student 14 year old who reads the American Prospect (and this is in a very fundie exurb).
I’m suspecting I’m gonna have the same issues with my kid, but hoping that sending him to a very demanding school will expend his excess of energy.
I agree with some of what you’re saying very much, particularly on taxes and public funding (I’m a former teacher, too). But on other hand, there’s a pretty pervasive attitude that childless and/or single adults somehow have less claim on a community, etc. And almost every sanctimonious, restrictive crusade has “Won’t someone please think of the children?” in the pitch. It’d be better not to treat all adults as children – and to treat the actual children as if they can actually think, too. (I prefer the Robert Coles and Montessori approaches.)
On the parenting issue – our school worked extensively with parents, including plenty of “helicopter parents” and unengaged parents. Many of them were trying, but they had bad habits and poor skills, and it takes time to break that. Parenting isn’t easy. Mentoring and support from veteran families helped a great deal. It’s inspiring when it clicks for parents, and if they get it, it has a positive ripple effect through the whole family. In contrast, if you make progress with a kid but the parents remain seriously screwed up, it’s hard for the kid not to backslide.
On the drugs issue – some kids really do need them. There’s no doubt that kids are overmedicated overall, and it should not be a solution of first resort. However, it’s trendy, and it appeals to some parents because they don’t have to look at their parenting. But some kids do need them.
On your private school examples, Ann Laurie – I’m familiar with those examples (and Rabbit-Proof Fence is a great flick) but wow, are you really conflating forced re-education efforts with private schools in general? I’ve taught at a private school. If you’re talking about young kids, I’m with ya. And Gingrich is an ass and an ignoramus, to be sure. But especially with helicopter parents, the best single thing for adolescents is often getting some space from their parents, and then the kids can really bloom. That’s assuming it’s a good school, of course. Plus, a good boarding school is a community, and some kids are coming from places that are pretty damn hostile to who they are as people. One of the key values of a good high school or college is to help students explore and form their own identities and learn more about themselves as well as the world. Schools or communities that stifle that are bad, of course. But not all home communities are inherently positive, and while I detest achievement-obsessed school models, private schools are not inherently negative. The larger point is that a cookie cutter, dismissive approach to children is harmful and unnecessary, and I believe that’s much of what you’re saying as well.
@Xenos: Deadly serious. Don’t use a red pen or pencil in correcting or grading school work because that damages self-esteem. Don’t tell a child that his answer is “wrong”, tell him instead that this is not the “best” answer. Find something to praise, even if it’s only that he’s “looking at the right thing”. (Incidentally, that last was in 9th grade, not 1st grade). Don’t ever force a student to repeat a grade because studies have shown that repeating a grade doesn’t produce much improvement in skills probably due to the damage done to a kid’s self-esteem. (Why has no one ever done a study to determine what being in the 11th grade and reading at a 3rd grade level does to a kid’s self-esteem?)
Don’t make tests hard, because then kids might miss questions and that damages their self-esteem.
All of the above are things I have encountered in public schools. Up until about 6 years ago, all the schools in my city used a whole-language reading curriculum. Only remedial reading teachers were allowed to use phonics. The district finally decided to return to a phonics curriculum when No Child Left Behind and the state standards developed to comply with it pretty much demanded that they had to do better in teaching kids to read. They had been either concealing or downplaying the poor reading scores on standardized tests for years.
Given all of these horror stories about self-esteem builders, I think I feel a lot better about my new hobby of going to Yahoo Answers, finding kids who have simply pasted in their homework problems, and solving them (since someone’s going to do it anyway) in the most insulting way possible, lacing my answers with “if you’d bothered to pay attention in class, you’d already know this” and “if you’d shown the merest spark of intelligence, this would be self-evident”, especially when the questions include phrases like “this is due tomorrow” or “I need this for extra credit”.
I like to think that, even if this had been available when I was in school, I wouldn’t have had other people doing my work. I sincerely hope these kids get a profoundly rude awakening when their bullshitting skills run out. It’s disgusting.