Monday, February 20, 2012

Another article showing the intersection of economics and culture in raising children

The phenomenon of different ways of raising children according to class more than race status is one that is finally getting the attention it deserves. See this post by former political science professor Laura McKenna in The Atlantic.

My wife and I definitely fit the mold of the upper middle class parents shepherding the children off to various things.

I note too Ms. McKenna's belief that pushing the kids is not good. What is it with the academicians who think we should not push our kids to do well, like Bryan Caplan and some others? Those folks say, "It's mostly in the genes, so why worry about it? They'll find their way--in their own way..."

I think these sorts of academicians conclude this because they live in the bubble of academia. They don't realize how difficult it is for those outside academia to enter and that having the right cultural cues is important from how to study for and excel in testing to college interviews. My children live with someone, me, who is a fish out of water. I belong in an academic environment, and have ingested its values. My wife fits the mold as well of public service, parks and recreation. Thus, we gave our children cultural cues that have led our son to do extremely well in most of his college interviews and national testing (However, on local public school testing, he fought us and ended up with far more Bs than As). Whether the cultural tools of elite academic institutions he "naturally" learned from living in our home will make any difference remains to be seen, and maybe not enough for some schools. We're going to know in about a month as the responses from the colleges arrive.

If we want our children to advance to the best colleges, my advice is not to listen to the "let 'em wander" advice of the academics engaged in pop parental psychology. The answer is closer to, but obviously not completely, the "Tiger Mom." Training our children to think critically, linearly and yet have a deep appreciation for literature, music and art, and to excel in mathematics or science, is an important parental goal. If we don't have it, join the museums where you live and take them there. Let them hear what classical music sounds like. Read a classic novel together.

On the other hand, the one important caveat I tell my children is that if they do not want to succeed in school, then they need to find a way into the business world--mostly through sales. Sales is the last place where credentialing has not completely erected a Great Wall of China. Sales is where being smart, aggressive and effective, again without credentials, can raise you to the executive level. Another way to economic success, though here it is the rare bird that flies through the challenges unscathed, is through entertainment--whether dancing, acting, singing or playing music. We have said these things to our children and told them we will support those endeavors in any way they wish. ADDENDUM: And I forgot one more thing I tell the kids: As Warren Buffett famously said, no matter how much we get into computers and other technologies, we still need plumbers, electricians, and other building trade persons as well as folks who know how to fix a motor vehicle (cars, busses, trains and planes). It is my fervent wish that we would find work for those people in a mass infrastructure rebuilding and redevelopment, as most readers of this blog know.

The key reason that propels me toward this active sort of parenting is that American society is becoming more coarse, more heartless and frankly more insane in its discourse and its policies, whether it is the gibberish of business libertarians (pace Caplan) or the outright hateful, rigidness and anti-intellectualism exemplified in Rick Santorum. We must equip our children to deal with the world of 20 years from now, when we may reach a Balkanization of our society into regions, and the breakup of the United States as we Baby Boomers knew it. To be at the economic elite level of society gives our children true choices, including the choice to leave our fair land if things get too out of hand....

Welcome to Presidents' Day, 2012, or am I really talking about Presidents' Day, 2032? :-)

(Edited)

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