"We" aren't on the travel soccer team."
September 6, 2015 8:20 AM   Subscribe

 
Furthermore, we as a society so obsessed with learning as a product — grades, scores and other evidence of academic and athletic success — that we have sacrificed learning in favor of these false idols.


*applies to school having learned a lot, but with shitty grades, doesn't get in, lives a life of ever-increasing poverty*

whew thank god I learned so much in middle school. totally worth it
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:23 AM on September 6, 2015 [30 favorites]


Watch what happens when you go to a teacher and say, "I'd like to give my child some increased autonomy this year, so I won't be meddling in his homework and I'd like for you to hold him accountable for the consequences of his mistakes." You will have an admirer for life.

Why would I care more about whether my kids' teacher admires me than whether he gets in to a college with a good enough brand name to get him a job that will actually pay enough for him to make me some grandkids? This person seems to know nothing about parenting and/or getting me some grandkids.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:24 AM on September 6, 2015 [61 favorites]


I had my mom read this article and she said it was stupid and that I don't have to read it.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 8:29 AM on September 6, 2015 [160 favorites]


I do help my kids - by eating their homework. You know since we don't have a dog.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 8:32 AM on September 6, 2015 [43 favorites]


I might read this after my scheduled play date, but (A)H&(W)O's mom said it was stupid so I likely won't bother.
posted by parki at 8:32 AM on September 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


And when you tell me that schools like Harvard and Stanford are full of all these coddled kids and then expect me to see that as a reason not to coddle my kid...why? It obviously won't keep him out of Harvard or Stanford. The kids at Shitty For-Profit Commuter U aren't being coddled at all. Isn't it great that they're learning so much resilience while they continue to be trapped in the cycle of poverty?

I'm sorry to be such a snark butt about this article, but I think it's such nonsense to blame parents for trying to maximize their children's outcomes in a country where things like where you go to college increasingly determine whether you will literally ever have the chance of living a decent life. Not an amazing life, but a decent life, where you can afford housing and a kid or two.

Maybe consider whether the defunding of the public universities has something to do with this? Or maybe consider whether your school actually provides opportunities for kids to fuck up without it seriously affecting their future? Naw. It's probably stupid parents being stupid again. I'm sure they have nothing better to do with their time than some 6th grade science project. There's no way they could be rationally responding to real pressures.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:36 AM on September 6, 2015 [165 favorites]


"Watch what happens when you go to a teacher and say, "I'd like to give my child some increased autonomy this year, so I won't be meddling in his homework and I'd like for you to hold him accountable for the consequences of his mistakes." You will have an admirer for life."

nope, that's not what will happen. Yes, parents do stupid stuff, but going to the teacher and, basically, saying "I'm not going to parent any longer, you take care of it...make sure he does well because YOUR evaluation and job depends on it...good luck", is NOT going to gain you an "admirer for life".

My wife teaches 8th grade math, she's been teaching for nearly 25 years, she's consulted on a state and national level, is department head, and probably the best math teacher this district (which is failing financially) has had in decades. This year she has nearly 200 students to teach every.single.day. Some classes with 38 students (15-20 of which are special ed students or have 504 plans with NO additional support in the classroom). She's expected, this year to implement a new curriculum.. Oh sure, there's been encouragement from administration, in recognition for her hard work, experience, and additional duties, they've cut her pay and reduced her benefits... and, to top it off, her room doesn't have air conditioning because they can't afford to fix it...

Please, don't go to a teacher and say that you're not going to parent any longer...that's not the answer... go and say that you're going to parent in a responsible manner, that YOU are going to hold the student accountable, that YOU are going to impose logical consequences for missed assignments, poor grades and inappropriate behavior... If the kid isn't doing the job in school it is more likely that the responsibility lies with your parenting, not the teacher...

Here, I'm done with this soap box...someone else can have it...
posted by HuronBob at 8:40 AM on September 6, 2015 [140 favorites]


Most kids are not going to get into Harvard or Stanford. Most college-bound kids are going to go to state schools. State schools actually allow kids to flunk out, unlike Harvard or Stanford, and they don't have the resources to coddle your kid. You can coddle your kid into college, but you're probably not going to be able to coddle him or her through it. You can't coddle your kid through his or her first job or his or through any of the other challenges he or she will face as an adult. The reason to raise independent adults is that getting into college is not actually the end-point of human existence.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:42 AM on September 6, 2015 [72 favorites]


This past year my daughter was in second grade. She's bright and learns fast, but not to the extent that she gets bored in class and causes problems if she's not challenged enough. She loves school and shows up ready to learn. She has no social, emotional, or behavioral problems that cause trouble in the classroom. In other words, she's a kid whom it would be easy to just let bob along with the flow, doing well, achieving nicely, scoring in the top couple percentiles on all the tests, etc.

Her 2nd grade teacher, though, saw a place where she did kind of struggle and need some support -- in focus, time management, organization, workspace discipline, etc. (This is unsurprising. I have ADHD and she doesn't exactly get great modeling for those skills at home, plus I think the apple didn't really fall far from the tree, if you know what I mean.) And so despite the fact that this isn't part of the standardized testing or the grades and that neither my daughter nor her teacher are evaluated on how well she displays those metacognitive skills, the teacher reached out to me with her concerns, and together we developed a plan not just to help her learn those skills but also a framework by which we would know that she needed further evaluation if progress wasn't being made. Her teacher's reasoning was that this isn't a big deal in second grade, but it's going to start to be a pretty big deal in three or four years, and she wanted to be ahead of it.

One big part of that plan was, yes, giving her more autonomy around projects and homework. (Not that she had a ton of homework in second grade.) Easier after all for her to learn how to be responsible for her own stuff in 2nd grade, where the consequences for not doing your homework are very minor, then in 9th or 10th. So I wouldn't bug her, and at the end of the week I'd ask her to check in with me about how she thought she did, and I'd have a report from the teacher about what she was seeing, and we'd discuss how the week went. By the end of the school year, the difference in her abilities along those lines was really dramatic -- not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but a vast improvement. Plus we now have this whole suite of tools and processes to help continue to develop her abilities in that regard. (Which, uh, I partly use myself, now.)

Did it have anything to do with her grades and test scores this year? Not one thing. Is it a better example of "true learning" than whether she can fill in bubbles appropriately on a Scantron? Yeah, I really think it is.
posted by KathrynT at 8:43 AM on September 6, 2015 [113 favorites]


Academics is just part of it. I see my nephew, for instance, 12-13 years old. He was starting football practice and some other activity at 6 AM. This meant he was up by 5:15 every morning and din't get home from school until 4 or so.

Plus all the weekend stuff, constant shuttling, tutoring, back and forth. And summer? Time off? HA. MORE ACTIVITIES! It's completely crazy how kids get scheduled these days. I cannot see how such constant adult oversight can be a good thing.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 8:49 AM on September 6, 2015 [9 favorites]


And when you tell me that schools like Harvard and Stanford are full of all these coddled kids

I would guess that Harvard and Stanford are full of kids who have been supported by their parents (emotionally, financially) but who are also very self-motivated and hard workers. Not all of them, surely. But many - most. There just aren't enough spots in top tier schools for rich kids who rely on their parents for everything. Anecdotally, I teach and tutor principally at two universities -- one a large state school, the other a top tier private university. The difference in the quality of the students is clear -- the students at the private university work much harder and are much more self-reliant. Additionally, it is far more likely for me to receive an email or a phone call from the parents of the state school students than from the parents of the private school students.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 8:50 AM on September 6, 2015 [14 favorites]


There is a vast sea between "push your kid to succeed by encouraging him/her to engage in a lot of activities" and "refuse to allow your child to fail at anything by always bailing them out or blaming others for their failure." Seems like some of the tension in this thread might be a result of conflating the two.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 8:54 AM on September 6, 2015 [45 favorites]


I know kids flunk out of state schools. They also take 6 years to graduate, rack up tons of debt, get shitty advising, and don't meet the kids who are going to be directors before they're 30. That's why I want to get my kid into Stanford or Harvard.

Getting into the "right" school isn't sufficient, you're right about that. But it is increasingly necessary.

Just on a game theory level, you're never going to convince parents to disadvantage their individual kid just so they can impress their middle school teacher or whatever. This isn't an individual parent problem, it's a a systematic problem. Every parent would need to voluntarily back off simultaneously in order to avoid a situation where the parents who don't back off are advantaged.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:04 AM on September 6, 2015 [13 favorites]


This is a "crises" in the same sense that avocado prices going up by 50c is a crises. Ie it is actually the symptom of a distant but real bloodsoaked nightmare, in one case Mexican drug cartel wars, in the other, the devouring of the American middle class. The headline of this article should be changed to "Failure Is Worse Than Death".
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:06 AM on September 6, 2015 [30 favorites]


And when you tell me that schools like Harvard and Stanford are full of all these coddled kids and then expect me to see that as a reason not to coddle my kid...why?

The answer is right there in the article. If the kids subjected to this type of parenting weren't suffering greater rates of anxiety and depression than the general population, then maybe we could wave this off as not-a-real problem. But they are suffering; there's no way around that fact. 'Elite' colleges in particular are reporting record high rates of students with anxiety and depression and are not at all equipped to handle it. Suicide rates are rising. It's not an economic problem, it's a national health problem.
posted by capricorn at 9:11 AM on September 6, 2015 [32 favorites]


I have trouble with this kind of article, because while I sense it may reflect some actual dynamic in the real world (and I can see examples of it occasionally), it broadly states that this dynamic is happening to "kids" and to "parents".

I'm pretty sure it's not happening to poor kids. I kinda doubt it's happening to rural kids, although I could be wrong. Immigrant kids? Maybe, although I'm guessing the dynamic would be a bit different. Super-rich kids? Probably, but hardly something new.

Upper middle class is not the default. If you're worried about a dynamic that you see in upper middle class parents and kids, say so.
posted by feckless at 9:12 AM on September 6, 2015 [20 favorites]


it is actually the symptom of ... the devouring of the American middle class

An alternative theory would suggest that aggressive parenting can be more simply understood as a symptom of lower birth rates.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 9:14 AM on September 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


You think that record high rates of depression and anxiety are due to coddling...why?

It's just as well explained by what I've been saying about the enormous pressure these kids are under to succeed or forever be vulnerable to the economic predations of the upper class.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:14 AM on September 6, 2015 [14 favorites]


Naw. It's probably stupid parents being stupid again. I'm sure they have nothing better to do with their time than some 6th grade science project. There's no way they could be rationally responding to real pressures.

I don't have children, but if I did I doubt I would feel comfortable being as hands-off as my parents were. Looking at friends' kids and the college students I meet, there are benefits to the middle- and upper-middle class intensive parenting in today's world.

'Elite' colleges in particular are reporting record high rates of students with anxiety and depression and are not at all equipped to handle it. Suicide rates are rising. It's not an economic problem, it's a national health problem.

Is that really coming from intensive parenting, or from the very real pressures of needing to constantly succeed in the face of rising standards and intense competition?
posted by Dip Flash at 9:20 AM on September 6, 2015 [12 favorites]


internet fraud detective squad, station number 9: "It's just as well explained by what I've been saying about the enormous pressure these kids are under to succeed or forever be vulnerable to the economic predations of the upper class."

I would answer that by saying that the pressure to succeed which you mention comes from coddling parents as much as any other source. I think the article does a fair job of explaining that too - coddling someone means they've never had to sink or swim on their own. They cannot handle failure because they have never experienced it, and are taught that failure should never be allowed.

feckless: "I have trouble with this kind of article, because while I sense it may reflect some actual dynamic in the real world (and I can see examples of it occasionally), it broadly states that this dynamic is happening to "kids" and to "parents"."

This is addressed pretty plainly in the article.
posted by capricorn at 9:31 AM on September 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm sorry to be such a snark butt about this article, but I think it's such nonsense to blame parents for trying to maximize their children's outcomes in a country where things like where you go to college increasingly determine whether you will literally ever have the chance of living a decent life. Not an amazing life, but a decent life, where you can afford housing and a kid or two.

As a non-American, I've actually been wondering about this. Is learning a trade in the US some sort of a dead end in terms of living a decent life? That is, not going to college and just becoming a plumber, an auto mechanic or something. Do kids and/or parents consider this shameful, somehow? Or do people in those professions make a shitty living?

Around here, there's a reasonably sharp divide between a) teenagers who go to a trade school rather than a high school at 16, and b) teenagers who go to a high school at 16 and later a university (or a "vocational university") at 18-20. The former learn a trade before they're 18 and stick with it, then settle down in their early-to-mid 20s and have children earlier than the latter. At the point where the latter are just starting out working (assuming they didn't pick a poor major and graduate into unemployment), the former usually have a reasonable, stable income, perhaps a house they've bought or built, etc.

Obviously, most tradespeople don't have as much income potential as some of the higher paid university degree holders, but they earn money a good 5-10 years longer, assuming the same retirement age and that their chosen profession doesn't deteriorate their health prematurely.

So, ignoring the differences between our respective schooling systems, what's the situation with learning a trade in the US?
posted by jklaiho at 9:33 AM on September 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


That is, not going to college and just becoming a plumber, an auto mechanic or something. Do kids and/or parents consider this shameful, somehow? Or do people in those professions make a shitty living?


Both? I think there are plumbers who make a very good living, but most parents don't envision their son or daughter becoming a plumber. It is considered a blue collar job.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:35 AM on September 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Books like these are aimed to trap parents in an inescapable web of fear. They present a world in which childhood is a narrow path with lava pits on either side. "Don't drop off something your kid forgot to bring to school -- if you do it's into the lava you go!"

Screw that. Kids are resilient. By and large they will survive and thrive no matter what silly thing we parents do, and God knows every one of us does a lot of silly things.
posted by escabeche at 9:35 AM on September 6, 2015 [23 favorites]


Is learning a trade in the US some sort of a dead end in terms of living a decent life?

No you can make a good living.

Do kids and/or parents consider this shameful, somehow?

Yes, some people do.

Or do people in those professions make a shitty living?

BLS stats on plumbers and pipefitters.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 9:37 AM on September 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Both? I think there are plumbers who make a very good living, but most parents don't envision their son or daughter becoming a plumber. It is considered a blue collar job.

Right, and that's considered a bad thing?

Admittedly, here in Finland educated parents usually produce educated children, and less educated tradespeople parents produce both tradespeople and educated kids thanks to reasonable social mobility, but blue collar jobs on the whole are seeing rising respect, with increasing unemployment among people with masters' degrees or doctorates.
posted by jklaiho at 9:37 AM on September 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


What kind of bubble do you have to live in to not know anyone who went to anything less than a top-tier private or flagship state school and yet has even a decent life? I don't mean 50-somethings, I mean people who graduated in the last ten years.
posted by aaronetc at 9:39 AM on September 6, 2015 [26 favorites]


It's not an economic problem, it's a national health problem.

Ha, as if these were so easily separable!
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:40 AM on September 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Suicide rates are rising.

Suicide rates for 15-24 year olds are slightly higher than they were in 2000, quite a bit lower than they were in 1980 and 1990, and much much higher than they were in 1960. Maybe today's culture of closer relations between children and parents should get some credit for college students killing themselves less frequently now than they did when I was in college.
posted by escabeche at 9:42 AM on September 6, 2015 [17 favorites]


State schools actually allow kids to flunk out, unlike Harvard or Stanford, and they don't have the resources to coddle your kid.

If your kid can tackle in the open field, trust me, they do.
posted by escabeche at 9:43 AM on September 6, 2015 [14 favorites]


On one hand I have a lot of sympathy for the viewpoint expressed in this article. Basically, raise an adult. Kids should free range, gradually assume more responsibility for themselves, learn life skills, fail a bit here and there, et cetera.

On the other hand, society has increasingly raised the stakes on childhood and college success. So when I hear people complain about school success being taken too seriously I deeply sigh and wonder if they appreciate the rules and stakes of the game being played here.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:43 AM on September 6, 2015 [12 favorites]


A very rough estimate of the percentage of US citizens who attended Ivy league schools puts that number at 0.2%

What many people believe - including people in this thread - is that, unless their child becomes part of the 0.2% they have literally failed.

It's been pointed out that this is a systemic problem, but these numbers put it into perspective. This reminds me of parents who force their child to play football so they have a chance at the NFL. Which, according the the NCAA, is about 1%.

So the moral might actually be that your kid has a better chance of becoming a professional athlete than going to Stanford.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 9:46 AM on September 6, 2015 [32 favorites]


This just seems like a classic problem of escalating competition. If we measure financial and academic success in relative terms, we will then have to accept that there will necessarily be better and worse performers because we are creating that relative system ourselves through our measurements.

The consequence of this writ large is that everyone wants to be successful--but relatively speaking, most people can't be exceptional or the goalposts of success get moved again.

So, we create a variably toxic system where kids need to be allowed to fail, but if they actually do fail then they're screwed for life, so we try to get them to be exceptional (sometimes in spite of themselves), which of course can't always work and sometimes makes things worse.
posted by Phyltre at 9:52 AM on September 6, 2015 [9 favorites]


I know kids flunk out of state schools. They also take 6 years to graduate, rack up tons of debt, get shitty advising, and don't meet the kids who are going to be directors before they're 30. That's why I want to get my kid into Stanford or Harvard.
Well, I want a flying pony. But unless you personally went to Stanford or Harvard or are sending your kids to a hyper-elite private school like Exeter or Dalton, the chances that your kid is going to get into Stanford or Harvard are extraordinarily small. I think that responsible parenting prepares kids for the world they're going to encounter, not the one you want them to encounter in your fantasies.

I'm an academic advisor at a state school. I'm sorry you think I'm doing a shitty job! But here's what I see every day. I see kids who think they're superstars because they have 4.23 high school GPAs and have always been told that they're A+ exceptional students. But when I look at their admissions record, I see that they're in the 75th percentile of their high school class, which means that fully a quarter of all students had above a 4.23 GPA. The student in my office is a good, not exceptional student who went to a school with a lot of grade inflation, and they've been able to get excellent grades without ever struggling or working very hard. So now they're taking college chemistry, and it's tough. They are doing all the homework and still getting a C. And it is rocking their very world, because part of their self-conception is that they're an A+ exceptional student who understands everything without working hard. We offer tons of free tutoring, but they don't want to use it, because that would mean they're the kind of person who needs tutoring, and that would mean they weren't exceptional. I suggest they go talk to their TA about study strategies, but they don't want to do that, because they consider it humiliating to admit to an authority figure that they're having trouble grasping something. They literally can't cope with the idea that you could have to work hard to master something, and that wouldn't make you dumb. Often, they blame the professor: if they're doing the assignments and not doing well, then the professor must be doing something wrong. Sometimes, heartbreakingly, they decide they're stupid and change their majors to something they perceive of as being easier, often without making much of an effort to work through their initial struggles. Sometimes they go into denial mode and keep taking tough classes and getting poor grades until they lose a scholarship, flunk out, or face other really serious consequences.

I have had to change my advising methods to deal with this mindset. For instance, now I tell my students that they should use the tutoring resources because they might want to be a tutor later on, and it is easier to get hired if you have used the resources yourself. This gives them an out: it's an excuse to use the resource without admitting that you need it. But they shouldn't need to do that, because it is perverse that there would be stigma on working hard to understand something. To my mind, it is the opposite of the way things should work. People should be prouder of the the concepts that they've worked hard to understand than the ones that they just mastered with no effort. If you worked hard, then you not only mastered the concept, but you also developed the self-discipline and learning strategies that were necessary to accomplish that task.

I don't think this is just (or even primarily) parents' faults. A lot of it is coming from schools, and I think it's partly ideas about intelligence that are floating around the general culture. But I really, really wish that my advisees, especially the ones from particular competitive suburban schools, came in with more of a sense of the value of academic struggle. I wish they thought it was ok to have to figure some things out for yourself, rather than being fed them by a teacher. I wish they believed that initial failure was a starting point, not evidence that failure is a person's very identity.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:53 AM on September 6, 2015 [227 favorites]


I saw this with the Math Olympiad team I coached last year. These were third graders, who can't compete in the local Olympiad (unless they're in the gifted parents and their parents petition to get them in and then they can but that's another issue). So, it's just to show them what it can be like, and for fun, and for a bit of extra math time.

One of the girls on my team handed in homework that was often done in suspiciously neat handwriting, and if I asked her to explain how she got an answer she couldn't do it. It was obviously being done, at least occasionally, by her parents.

Why? I was the only person who saw it, and I was just a parent volunteering at the school. I wasn't going to be impressed. But this girl's family -- well, her mother -- is so wrapped up in her daughter's success that the difference between short term success (you handed in a completed assignment) and long term (you learned the stuff) is completely ignored.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:54 AM on September 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


Readers with intensively parented children: I understand your concerns about your children and your wishes for them to succeed in an increasingly difficult and hostile-seeming world.

However, thinking outside the parent/child dynamic or the educator/student dynamic, once these young people have hit the jackpot and graduated from their Ivy League school:

1. Would you want to hire a young person like this?
2. Would you want a young person like this as a co-worker on your team? (Will you have to be their office parent?)
3. Would you want a young person like this doing your taxes, designing your marketing strategy, drawing up your will, or fixing your teeth?
posted by Hypatia at 9:55 AM on September 6, 2015 [21 favorites]


I have had a pretty direct observation of some of the things addressed in the article. I admin admissions to a top 3 science graduate program. We deny 80+% of the applications we get. The small group of applicants we're interested in, we bring for an in-person visit before we make offers to either our MS or PhD.

We admit most of those students after the visit but the ones not admitted have all had helicopter parents. They look great and accomplished on paper but can't hack it in an intensive two day interview process where they can't check in with mom and dad every few seconds. I've had a few cases where we denied the kids, and was then called by one of their parents to ask why. So inappropriate and yet affirming of our decision.

So there's definitely a line between giving your kid advantages, and creating an insecure psuedo-adult who isn't capable of independent thought. I think educators are worried because they're seeing an increase in the second.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:56 AM on September 6, 2015 [38 favorites]


In many ways, I was the kid this article is talking about. I grew up upper middle class in a wealthy SF Bay Area suburb. My parents were and are high-achievers, and I was expected to be nothing less. I did well in high school, but I also suffered from (at the time undiagnosed) pretty crippling anxiety. I don't think the anxiety was necessarily caused by being constantly stressed about grades, college, academic competition, extracurriculars -- but it certainly exacerbated it. In high school, I "worked through" the anxiety by way of my parents pulling me through by brute force, which I am grateful for in some ways (it set me up for a life of continued privilege), but I also learned zero coping mechanisms.

My parents never actually did my homework or referred to projects or applications or whatever as "ours" -- they were clear that my accomplishments were my own, even when they helped and prodded a LOT. My dad was essentially my math, chemistry, and physics tutor for 4 years. My mom sat up late to help me with history. They didn't drive me to a thousand activities, but I was editor of the paper and on the soccer team, and it was expected of me to participate in extracurriculars.

In college, without their intense involvement, it all came crashing down around me. If I hadn't been attending an elite liberal arts college, I would've flunked out; as it was, I was on academic suspension for a year. I was intellectually and physically capable of doing the actual work, but I wasn't doing it -- I simply couldn't manage stress and anxiety. And while I recovered from that deep, deep hole (again, enabled by my vast privilege), managing my anxiety is still a daily struggle. I just started grad school, and I'm excited but also terrified: I've been out of school for 4 years, and what if I fuck up again?

I am not a "ruined," spoiled, unhireable person. I am certainly, certainly privileged. I am capable of holding a job, renting an apartment, doing groceries and laundry and all the sorts of other things expected of the middle/upper middle class.

So, it's complicated. If my parents hadn't "overparented," I may have washed out well and truly in high school, and been unable to "recover" from that. But I may have also learned real coping strategies that would absolutely have served me well in the years to come. And maybe if I'd washed out early, I would've found a different, equally satisfying path. It was a gamble, and my parents chose one option. Who's to say what the outcome would've been if they'd chosen a different option?

And to add to the mess, there are of course lots of other confounding factors, like the stigma of mental illness in my community, etc.
posted by Ragini at 10:00 AM on September 6, 2015 [44 favorites]


Well, I want a flying pony. But unless you personally went to Stanford or Harvard or are sending your kids to a hyper-elite private school like Exeter or Dalton, the chances that your kid is going to get into Stanford or Harvard are extraordinarily small. I think that responsible parenting prepares kids for the world they're going to encounter, not the one you want them to encounter in your fantasies.

I didn't go to Stanford or Harvard. I didn't even apply because I had no idea that those schools were even in the cards for me, because my parents were both poor kids who made good at the local state U and had no idea about the college admissions process, about studying for standardized tests, or about anything besides "go to law school and you'll be fine". Which, LOL.

I don't think you're doing a shitty job as an advisor, but my guess is that you're stretched and you're going to continue to be stretched further and further by budget cuts. You have to be blind not to see that the real flying pony in the vast majority of the states is a functioning state university system that can actually educate kids affordably in four years. The public higher education system is dying, and in a number of states, it is already dead. That's not my fault.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:03 AM on September 6, 2015 [12 favorites]


I don't think this article is saying that parents shouldn't be involved at all in their kids' schooling or that they shouldn't help with homework when needed. It's saying that maybe the phenomenon where parents actually do their kids' homework for them is a problem, both in that it sets unrealistic expectations for all the other kids and makes it harder for teachers to know where their students are actually at, and in that it doesn't actually help the kid in the long run. The latter because, among other things, kids can't bring their parents in to take their exams for them, so they'd better know the material; kids are actually missing out on the chance to learn skills that they might find applicable either in school or in other parts of life; and kids at some point will be adults who might benefit from having had practice in navigating the world on their own (see one of the authors' rant about a parent filling out their kid's DMV application for them).

Personally I'd add that there's also benefit in teaching kids (and their parents) the difference between work that is their own and work that is created largely by other people (because frankly turning in your parents' work under your own name is plagiarism). Also hopefully at some point your kids will be responsible for work above the level at which you can help them, and it can only help them to know how to actually tackle it on their own.

This is not about the (enormous) value of being able to help your kids understand material, and how to tackle projects they don't yet have, say, the organizational or artistic skills for, or deal with lack of motivation, or give them extra context and understanding beyond what they learn in school. I think helping them learn how to deal with things that are hard in a way other than "I give up" or "here, you do it" is basically vital. I really agree with the authors though that actually doing the work in place of them is not. I definitely agree with them that teachers should not be rewarding work that is obviously done by adults, and that parents, instead of throwing fits when their kids fail, need to focus on helping fill whatever skills gaps exists rather than papering them over.

I think there's a lot of room in between taking over your kids' work and "not parenting" at all, or leaving your kids to languish in community colleges, unable to ever transfer out or get a job. That's not the choice in question here. And if the argument is "that's all well and good but my kid getting a job is more important than any of that," then I guess I'd say their ability to keep that job and further advance in it is also important. Plus, and this admittedly might seem more theoretical -- I really would like to live in a world where I can trust that most of the people around me have a pretty good level of knowledge and skills and that the people I have to interact with in their professional capacities are not incompetent. Granted, that's never actually been the case universally, but I don't think that doing your kids' work for them because surely they'd never be able to compete on their own is any help.

The point about the shrinking middle class is right, I think. I understand the panic over kids' futures. But I'd rather send a kid out into that world with actual skills, both academic and not. At some point those skills define your options even more than the college name on your transcript.
posted by trig at 10:08 AM on September 6, 2015 [12 favorites]


What kind of bubble do you have to live in to not know anyone who went to anything less than a top-tier private or flagship state school and yet has even a decent life? I don't mean 50-somethings, I mean people who graduated in the last ten years.

The people I do know like this are all white men. So that's another thing. You need credentials out the ass to even get a second look if you're, say, a woman of color.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:16 AM on September 6, 2015 [11 favorites]


It's not just about achieving hyper-elite status. It's challenging to even gain admission to a state school. Our "flagship" state university denies admission to valedictorians. Why are we scolding the middle class for trying to hang on?
posted by stowaway at 10:16 AM on September 6, 2015 [15 favorites]


If we're talking about anxiety and depression, I think the fact that today's kids are almost always being actively supervised by adults is a big cause, regardless of schoolwork.

Their days, weekends and summers are all plotted out on schedules. Even down time like playing games is monitored and strictly limited. They are all-day monitored by adults: parents, teachers, coaches, tutors, etc.

I spent a lot of time by myself as a kid, hours and hours, writing stuff, drawing stuff, reading junk I liked, wandering around, digging holes in the yard, playing frisbee, etc. That simply does not happen with any of the kids I see these days. They are nearly always monitored in some supervised, planned activity. I think they are never learning to be comfortable in their own skin, by themselves, making plans (no matter how silly) for themselves.

Not like I'm Mr. 100% perfectly adjusted. It's an observation, and regardless of what kids learn/not learn, they are spending their childhoods constantly in the presence of authoritarian adult guidance. No matter how benevolent that guidance might be, I can't see being in a room with your boss every day for 14 hours, 7 days a week as a good thing.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 10:18 AM on September 6, 2015 [16 favorites]


If "not meddling with a kid's homework" is "not being a parent", I grew up an orphan.
posted by idiopath at 10:18 AM on September 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


And by "meddling" here I mean helping in any way.
posted by idiopath at 10:22 AM on September 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


As a non-American, I've actually been wondering about this. Is learning a trade in the US some sort of a dead end in terms of living a decent life? That is, not going to college and just becoming a plumber, an auto mechanic or something. Do kids and/or parents consider this shameful, somehow? Or do people in those professions make a shitty living?

I would say that the vast majority of my extended family is either in a trade or in the military (or in a trade after getting out of the military). My dad put himself through school working in an auto manufacturing factory and as a janitor. I wasn't raised to look down on these jobs, I was raised to think of them as honest jobs that should be avoided if at all possible.

My grandmother was hurt by someone hitting her with a forklift when she was in her 50s and working at a warehouse job. She has lived in chronic pain and had a poverty-level income ever since. She doesn't travel, she doesn't go out, she doesn't do much besides volunteer and watch TV. She doesn't have the funds and it's painful for her to do much of anything. Watching her struggle to walk the ten feet from her car to her apartment and realizing that she's been doing that same painful walk for the last 30 years is chilling.

So it's not about being above the trades or above blue collar labor. Quite the opposite. I know too much about doing blue collar labor to romanticize it.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:34 AM on September 6, 2015 [17 favorites]


I know kids flunk out of state schools. They also take 6 years to graduate, rack up tons of debt, get shitty advising, and don't meet the kids who are going to be directors before they're 30. That's why I want to get my kid into Stanford or Harvard.

Hi, state school grad here. Took five years due to stumbling through the first couple learning how to study and apply myself. Wound up working on teams with grads from MIT, Stanford, Caltech, as peer or outperformer. I also have a nationwide network of people from my state school to yell Go Blue! at. Name recognition fetishes are no reason to impugn the schools that the vast majority of professionals attend.
posted by Existential Dread at 10:35 AM on September 6, 2015 [41 favorites]


I'm bothered any time people talk about kids in the context of "well, I grew up this way and I did great, so we all know what the problem really is." That's just too close to the shit people have said to me to justify hitting kids. "I turned out fine!"

The fact is, if you don't know anyone who has applied to college recently, you have no frame of reference for this whatsoever. It was completely different even 5 or 10 years ago. These kids are under insane amounts of pressure, and the things that were previously extra bonuses for transcripts are now effectively minimum requirements. You know how you used to be able to get a lot of jobs with a BA, and now you need at LEAST a master's? It's like that for 16 year olds. 5 AP classes wasn't enough for some friends' kids. It's insane.
posted by teponaztli at 10:37 AM on September 6, 2015 [18 favorites]


I had a mother tell me last week that when her daughter texted her from high school asking mom to bring her Starbucks, she did it. "Was I a bad mom?" she asked me. "Yeah, you were," I told her.
posted by Peach at 10:41 AM on September 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


Hi, state school grad here. Took five years due to stumbling through the first couple learning how to study and apply myself.

Yeah, I know stumbling through school. I'm still working on my BA after spending more than a decade floundering. That's a whole other conversation - the notion that if you don't go to school after a certain age you are doomed to forever be unemployable (as one high school teacher called me) and completely incapable of learning how to be a student. I think the problem isn't necessarily that some kids are excessively coddled or whatnot, but that they just aren't ready to be college students, even if they could pull it off in high school.

There's so much stigma around being an older student in college that I know people one year older than the majority of their class who say they feel old and disconnected. We've got to change that - it's one thing community colleges do great. The race to the finish is really killing kids. I think we'd see a lot less of these issues if it were socially acceptable to send your kids, or to go yourself, to community college, state schools, and so on.

Also, Go Bears!
posted by teponaztli at 10:45 AM on September 6, 2015 [10 favorites]


Honest question, how widespread is this problem really? I'm sure it happens but what percentage of kids are we talking about?

I have no kids and limited interaction with children but the 4 I know who would fit the ages in this story come from families that are very diverse in terms of culture, income, rural/urban, religion, etc and yet all four sets of parents have a completely normal, fairly hands-off parenting style, these 4 kids are involved in 1-3 activities a week and in no cases would these parents be doing homework for the kids.

I realize 4 is a small sample size but it does make me wonder.
posted by Cosine at 10:49 AM on September 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Hi, state school grad here. Took five years due to stumbling through the first couple learning how to study and apply myself. Wound up working on teams with grads from MIT, Stanford, Caltech, as peer or outperformer. I also have a nationwide network of people from my state school to yell Go Blue! at. Name recognition fetishes are no reason to impugn the schools that the vast majority of professionals attend.

There's nothing wrong with state schools that decent funding couldn't fix. Since I'm not in charge of state funding cuts, but you object to my mentioning them and their inevitable results (reduced services, extended time to graduation, higher debt loads), I will just say "Go Blue!", and we won't think about the fact that Harvard and Stanford are both more affordable than Michigan for most poor and middle class families.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:50 AM on September 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


The Thursday of our second week of classes, one of my freshmen turned to her friend and said, "Have your parents started calling you for no reason yet?"

Her friend said, "Yes," and rolled her eyes.

(Some of) the kids are all right.
posted by BrashTech at 10:50 AM on September 6, 2015 [9 favorites]


I didn't turn out fine. I was getting Ds and Fs in school (and then incompletes when I was moved over to an alternative school that didn't give grades), and never enrolled in higher education. Instead of offering help, my parents punished me, expecting that would be motivation for improvement (it wasn't and the punishments became normal, and piled up, until I was living a semi-monastic life while still getting bad grades).

My social existence was stunted, but in the long term the misanthropy and habitual isolation that came from this led to me being self taught (might as well learn something interesting if I don't have social activities to take up my time), but of course this doesn't scale.

But if my parents had been doing my homework for me instead, I wouldn't have learned any more in school than I did already, and I would have the shame of participating in a fraud to replace the alternate shame of simply being an abject failure. I don't know if that would be so much better.

Can't we focus on what might actually best serve kids? Like, what if the point of being in middle school could actually be learning the appropriate skills (both intellectually and socially) that will lead them to have happy and fulfilling lives? What kind of system could we make where this would be possible? I don't think it would involve doing their work for them. Perfect being the enemy of the good and all, but I'd like to at least remember the dream.
posted by idiopath at 10:50 AM on September 6, 2015 [14 favorites]


we won't think about the fact that Harvard and Stanford are both more affordable than Michigan for most poor and middle class families.

I'd factor accessibility into cost, though. Doesn't matter how cheap it is if you can't get in.
posted by teponaztli at 10:51 AM on September 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Obviously, most tradespeople don't have as much income potential as some of the higher paid university degree holders, but they earn money a good 5-10 years longer, assuming the same retirement age and that their chosen profession doesn't deteriorate their health prematurely.

I supervise skilled trades workers as part of my job. They earn very, very good wages -- but they are also very lucky to still be working at 50. By then their bodies have taken too much damage and they have switched to physically easier (but much lower paid) jobs or are on disability. At least in the small view of trades work that I can see, your two assumptions of retirement age and health don't hold up at all.

A very rough estimate of the percentage of US citizens who attended Ivy league schools puts that number at 0.2%

You aren't competing for Ivy League spots with the entire population -- you are competing with a much, much smaller and self-selected population, largely the children of educated parents themselves. The competition is still intense, but nothing like those kinds of statistics suggest.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:53 AM on September 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


> I'm pretty sure it's not happening to poor kids. [...] Upper middle class is not the default.

This cannot be stated strongly enough. I do a fair amount of science outreach to kids in underserved DC & Chicago Public Schools, and all I can think is those kids should be so lucky to have the problems described in the article. The type of anxiety these kids have is not just the fear of failure, but a feeling of hopelessness and risk-aversion that comes from not having enough support.

Part of my outreach included serving as a DCPS Science Fair judge at Oyster-Adams, a bilingual public middle school in northwest DC. Oyster-Adams' student population is pretty diverse: kids from families not unlike mine (white, professional, educated) who wanted to send their kids to a multicultural public school to get an immersive Spanish education, and immigrant kids, mostly from Guatamala & El Salvador, whose families were struggling to make ends meet and who spoke no English at home.

There was a boy there, the most adorably polished & charming kid, who gave an equally polished presentation -- first in English, then in Spanish -- of his experiment growing mold on bread. He answered the questions with aplomb, confident in his knowledge & his practice. His father had taken the morning off, and was proudly watching his son's performance from the wings. The boy earned a deservedly high score: he knew the material, he was articulate, he understood his experiment, he answered the questions thoughtfully. It was certainly his own work, but there was also no question that he had a lot of help. His parents, I imagine, were a lot like my own parents (or Ragini's parents) -- the sort who don't actually do the work for their kid but who provide a high level of tutelage & encouragement, and have concordantly high expectations.

And then there was this girl. Her work, too, was her own -- but painfully obviously independent of any help. She'd carried out an experiment inspired by an ad, regarding the dissolving "power" of various detergents. She followed the scientific method as best as a 7th-grader might: she had a hypothesis, she had variables, she had controls. But her experiments weren't done with the same meticulous attention to confounding factors that the boy had, and her presentation was VERY rough. It wasn't just that she spoke haltingly in a mix of Spanish and ESL English; it was that she didn't seem practiced, didn't know what questions to anticipate, didn't know what details to include. When I asked her questions, she seemed caught in the headlights. There was no dad waiting in the wings with an encouraging smile. On my last question, when I asked her about a comparison that she didn't make ("what do you think would happen if..."), she broke into tears and explained how she'd wanted to test it but it didn't happen because her mother and sister had a fight and her sister threw out her experiment in a fit of pique. She'd been left on her own to muddle through, and was doing her best, but she had none of the supports that boy had -- none of the guidance that would have enabled her to think about her project in a more rigorous way.

I stared at the scoring rubric for a very long time; it was impossible to judge. There was no way that I could give her as high marks as I gave the boy -- the criteria were very clear -- but it was not a fair comparison, not by a long shot. And I don't begrudge the boy his privileges at all! I'm glad he had the benefit of educated & involved adults: he learned more in the process and gained the type of confidence in one's skills that one can build in the safety of an an apprenticeship. I just wish she'd had those things, too. I don't disagree that it's very possible that once he's out on his own without a safety net he may become crippled by anxiety, or that his parent's expectations will become overwhelming. I very much hope that doesn't happen. But flying without the net from the start is no better; he at least has the tools he gained in that protected environment and comfort in the knowledge that he has the social support of people who can meaningfully catch him. And having no expectations for success is in some ways far, far worse than having ones that are too high....

At the end of the fair, the girl came up to me and asked, almost incredulously, if I was a real scientist, whether I did experiments all day. (I didn't have the heart to tell her it was mostly grant-writing!) "I've never met a scientist before," she said, with the wide-eyed giddiness of someone meeting a celebrity. "You can be one just like me!" I told her. "I started out with science fairs, too!" And then I went home and cried.
posted by Westringia F. at 10:53 AM on September 6, 2015 [317 favorites]


That's another point I wanted to add: affordability. It's the highest achievers who get the scholarships. I think these parents are trying to shave off a few hundred dollars a month in loan payments.
posted by stowaway at 11:02 AM on September 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


The best way to get your kid a scholarship is what we did: Have white privilege and be (technically) poor. I recommend it to everyone. Nobody seems to be able to take my advice.
posted by Peach at 11:06 AM on September 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


I feel like I've seen at least a couple of articles in the past few years about the unique challenges for less advantaged kids who attend Ivy League schools... ah, yes, here we go.

What is it like to be poor at an Ivy League school?

The Challenge Of Being Poor At America's Richest Colleges

If it's that important for your kid to go to an Ivy League school, are you planning on sending them to one of the feeder prep schools? How about training them to handle the social challenges of not having grown up in the same class as their moneyed peers?
posted by palomar at 11:10 AM on September 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


If it's that important for your kid to go to an Ivy League school, are you planning on sending them to one of the feeder prep schools? How about training them to handle the social challenges of not having grown up in the same class as their moneyed peers?


Look, both my parents are class mobile, I have had serious relationships with people from highly privileged backgrounds, I also have worked as a nanny for the last 7+ years so I'm not completely ignorant about what it's like to be surrounded by people whose family incomes are many times your own.

Guess what it has taught me: having more money and more opportunities is better than not having that money, and not having those opportunities. From the health care to the job opportunities to the food to the socks: being rich in the US is great, and being poor is terrible, and being middle class is increasingly precarious. You can blame the messenger all you want, but it's the truth. And you're not going to stop the parents who can do so from trying to get their kids the best life they can get for them by trying to shame them for caring.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:28 AM on September 6, 2015 [21 favorites]


When my son was in middle school, we moved from an urban working class neighborhood to a wealthy suburb. He is a really bright kid. He'd score in the 99th percentile on standardized tests pretty regularly, he was really articulate for his age, and his math skills were always far, far above his grade level. He got bused to the local university in 4th grade to take college level algebra for high school students. Really bright kid.

In the urban schools, they recognized that, and tried really hard to accommodate his needs. In the wealthy neighborhood schools, though, when he did well, his teachers just casually accused him of cheating. He actually failed a major English project because his teacher said it was plagiarized, with no evidence to back it up. (It was not. I saw him working on it, and I'd done a final read through and recommended he rework a couple things. His work was perfectly indicative of his skill level.)

I didn't do his homework, and I didn't coddle him. I was a single mom with a demanding career, and straight up wouldn't have even had the time to do so. But apparently, it was such a common thing in those schools that it never even occurred to his teachers that a kid would be able to do well on their own. They pretty consistently screwed him over and made hostile assumptions about him to the point that he ended up dropping out (and scoring in the 96th through the 99th percentile on every section of his GED).

We kind of straddled some privilege lines in his schooling. Obviously, he was bright, and I was educated and made pretty good money. We're also white, but people tend to think he's Hispanic, so was often the target of some misdirected racism/bigotry because of that. And single parents are pretty rare here, too, so I think that tainted his teachers' perceptions as well. I know for pretty sure that if I'd explicitly told a teacher that I was taking a hands off approach to my son's education, they would have complained about me being lazy and uninvolved. I got enough shit as it was for not being able to just pop into the school to talk to his teachers in the middle of the workday. They were apparently so used to stay at home moms that they couldn't fathom that I was actually at work (or worse, on a business trip out of state) and not shooting up in an alley or something.

So it's tough to tangle out what perceptions were responsible for what, but however it parses out, my kid really got screwed by shitty teachers and their shitty assumptions, and I am super-disinclined to take advice and criticism from educators at face value.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:31 AM on September 6, 2015 [26 favorites]


I just... man. I hope you're braced for what happens next if your kid doesn't get into an Ivy despite all your pushing.
posted by palomar at 11:37 AM on September 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


I don't understand why people think that the individual competition for higher education will somehow solve the class problems in the united states, when those are collective, political problems.
posted by eustatic at 11:44 AM on September 6, 2015 [24 favorites]


Nerves have been touched.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:50 AM on September 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


Man oh man I don't think IFDSS#9 deserves a pile-on here, just as I don't think this article, by calling out well-intentioned parents who go too far in keeping their kids on the "path to success"* is calling out parental involvement, which in the case of all but the most phenomenal kids is absolutely necessary.

Push your kids, love your kids, believe in your kids, encourage your kids, check over what they've done and help them to do it correctly, all of that (while, of course, maintaining a career and paying for rent and not losing your own mind, etc.) Just don't do it for them. That only causes problems.

*Harvard, Stanford, etc. aren't actually the path to success. Do they look like it? Sure! But it's like that old fallacy of "money wins elections, therefor this billionaire is going to win!," when the reality is "donations help elections and are a good barometer of a candidates support, and if you don't believe me look at how abysmally low the Koch-brothers actual election-fixing success rate is."... I'm getting off on a tangent. The point is that kids get into Harvard because they are 1.) Wicked Smaht, 2.) Wicked Hahd-Working, andor 3.) from super-connected rich families. Preferably all three. Take Harvard out of the equation and those kids are going to succeed anyway.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:53 AM on September 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


As someone who literally grew up surrounded by MIT and Harvard professors, and who has had the occasional opportunity to talk with them about the student bodies, what I think is being missed is that yes, of course it helps to come from educational and socioeconomic privilege. But plenty of childern with these privileges don't get into those schools. I'm one of them! My father was a prominent MIT professor with tons of Harvard connections at the time I applied to college, and I didn't even think of applying to either school. One thing that all the students who succeed at these schools have is a high level of intellectual curiosity and much higher than average self-motivation to succeed. These things positioned them to be accepted at these schools, and for many of them to succeed at these schools. It's hard to imagine that anyone whose parents did most of his/her work would even have a possibility of developing these attributes. Most of them that I knew wouldn't have wanted their parents doing that for them.

My father once opined that you could take the incoming freshman class at Harvard and put them in a box for four years while the incoming class of the local community college took their place, and yet the students who had spent four years in a box would still on average attain higher achievements as a result of their socioeconomic advantages and connections but also importantly their advantages in intellectual curiosity, self-motivation and high drive to succeed.
posted by slkinsey at 12:12 PM on September 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


Oh man, ernielundquist, it sounds like your son and I had similar experiences. I went to one of the top public high schools, the kind where they kept a bulletin board list of how many of the last years' graduating class had gone on to Ivy League schools. I wound up with teachers making fun of me when I wasn't there, telling me I'd never get a job when I was there, and so on. I dropped out at their suggestion and got my GED.

Everyone's talking about this as if the biggest problem today is coddling and grade inflation, when there's a whole other side - especially for certain groups - of the institutions offering you nothing. I didn't really want to mention my own experience because I've always thought of it as kind of an outlier (in which the problem began and ended with me), but maybe that's not as true as I thought.
posted by teponaztli at 12:15 PM on September 6, 2015 [10 favorites]


I wound up with teachers making fun of me when I wasn't there, telling me I'd never get a job when I was there, and so on. I dropped out at their suggestion and got my GED.

If you want to raise the percentage of your graduating students going to an elite college, an easy way to do it is to keep as many lower performing students as possible from graduating.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 12:19 PM on September 6, 2015 [19 favorites]


[At 50] their bodies have taken too much damage and they have switched to physically easier (but much lower paid) jobs or are on disability. At least in the small view of trades work that I can see, your two assumptions of retirement age and health don't hold up at all.

It depends on the trade. Higher wages often mean higher risks. Chemical and dust exposure are two career killers I've seen at close range. Repetitive stress and bad ergonomics, too, though those hit white collar workers as well. But most of the tradespeople I personally know (electricians, machine shop workers, auto mechanics, builders, painters, farmers) have either made it to normal retirement age or seem to be on track to make it. But overall, a comparison is difficult; external factors like governmental involvement in occupational health and safety and the access to occupational healthcare may vary wildly.

Anyhow, this has been a bit of a derail, sorry about that. I've just found it interesting how American media (be it popular culture or basically all of the articles about education that I've run into) seem to ignore or forget that learning a trade is an actual alternative to a college education. I am completely unfamiliar with the particulars of how that works there. But it seems like it's always college this, college that, this article included.
posted by jklaiho at 12:20 PM on September 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


I am really confused as to why this conversation is focused on the Ivy League. Kids and their parents have to hustle hard to get into state schools and pay for the privilege. You can't just be smart and have ok grades and good SAT and feel certain that you (or your kid) will secure a spot at somewhere other than a community college. Community college can be great, but it also means you may lose out on scholarship money at the 4 year schools. (Not every c.c. is cheaper than a 4 year college or uni.) The state schools (both cc and 4 year) are chasing the foreign and out-of-state students who pay more out of pocket. There just aren't as many places and dollars available for the number of students who'd like to go. The system is really screwed up, and what worked for middle class families 20-30 years ago does not work today.
posted by stowaway at 12:25 PM on September 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


And it is really screwed up for students whose families don't know how (or don't want) to work the system.
posted by stowaway at 12:27 PM on September 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


The idea that all Americans are sorted into two classes--the smart (those who get into an elite college), and everyone else--based on what one does in high school or where one went to high school is just fucking pathetic. So we can sort merit and ability throughout a lifetime based on a kid's grades at the right school when she's not old enough to vote? How the fuck did we buy into this myth?

I'm a tenured college professor. I have a bunch of smart people in my circle of acquaintances. Some did their undergrads at Ivy+ schools. Many didn't. There is no correlation in my world between smarts and ability and where one did her undergrad. Maybe the median Ivy+ student is better than the median state school kid. But let's top pretending that going to an elite school is necessary and sufficient for being smart. It's just absurd that people walk around for their entire lives branded with the college they went to. Why are we so intent on trying to be pre-Lloyd George Great Britain here in the U.S.?
posted by persona au gratin at 12:38 PM on September 6, 2015 [32 favorites]


We bought into this myth because it allows for both the Meritocracy we are compelled to claim America is with the neo-Aristocracy is actually is.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:40 PM on September 6, 2015 [27 favorites]


My father once opined that you could take the incoming freshman class at Harvard and put them in a box for four years while the incoming class of the local community college took their place, and yet the students who had spent four years in a box would still on average attain higher achievements as a result of their socioeconomic advantages and connections but also importantly their advantages in intellectual curiosity, self-motivation and high drive to succeed.

I hereby opine that I could take the future incoming freshman class at Harvard at pretty any four-year period during K-12 and treat them like losers and criminals, and ignore their educational needs to the point that they would never become the incoming freshman class at Harvard.

I could just subject them to the same treatment many students are already getting from the educational system because they're disabled, POC, socioeconomically disadvantaged, gender variant, or even just girls in certain contexts, and I could beat that intellectual curiosity, self-motivation, and high drive to succeed right out of them.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:55 PM on September 6, 2015 [67 favorites]


The people I do know like this are all white men. So that's another thing. You need credentials out the ass to even get a second look if you're, say, a woman of color.

If you think the only recent grads of regional state schools with "decent" lives are white men, I have to wonder what the threshold of decency is. I happen to teach at one of these schools, and my department's majors are about 60% female and a third non-white. They get decent jobs! They have decent lives! Some of them even do this after struggling academically, or coming into the university with less than stellar records. They are not all or even mostly 4+ GPA kids with 100s of hours of organized activities and community service on their resumes.
posted by aaronetc at 12:56 PM on September 6, 2015 [13 favorites]


Well, these sorts of parents don't want their kids to have "decent" lives. They must have the best lives. Yes, yes, every parent wants their kid to have the "best" life they can, but there is certainly something predatorily aspirational about upper middle class parents that is a pretty pure distillation of "fuck you, as long as my kid gets theirs".
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:15 PM on September 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


> I could take the future incoming freshman class at Harvard at pretty any four-year period during K-12 and [...] beat that intellectual curiosity, self-motivation, and high drive to succeed right out of them.

It might only take a day or two. [previously]
posted by Westringia F. at 1:16 PM on September 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


This recent Jacobin article talks more about the anxiety of the middle class and it rang very true to me.
If they knew that the kid was going to be OK; if $15 was the minimum wage and you could go to college for free, everybody has health care, there ’s plenty of affordable housing — if they just knew that the kid was going to be OK, there would be way less hysterical pressure of making your five-year-old jump through that standardized test hoop.
If you are paying attention to how very precarious middle class status has become, you're only sensible to work as hard as possible to give your kids an edge. It's not just schooling, either. I grew up very poor and even after a these years middle class mores and expectations sometimes catch me flatfooted.

Yes these are systemic problems, but you are not going to get parents to stop caring about their specific children by pointing it out and folding your hands as if that's just the end of the conversation.
posted by winna at 1:24 PM on September 6, 2015 [24 favorites]


So I'm a Canadian middle-class, striving for upper middle class parent, and before I had a child in the school system I'd've probably agreed with the theory that parents should guide but leave a lot of space for failure, and leave tons of time for free play, and not be solely focused on amazing grades.

Now I have a kid going into grade 5 and let me tell you, I have done crazy shit I never thought I would do. I was also trained that way! In October of grade one my child received an assignment to "invent something new that does something practical, build it, write a booklet about it, and create a pitch for it to present at an "inventors' conference."

(And no, we don't live in the midst of VC capital!)

My son got a B- because he did not label his diagram. To review, he was SIX and had learned to read about 9 months earlier. Clearly this was an assignment for parents, and that kind of set the tone for his continued education. Should we let him fail at wildly bizarre expectations, or do what his peers' parents are doing and basically sit there and tell him what to do every step? It's nuts out here.

Also, unstructured time is really important and especially great in theory, but when your child's hearing about his friends' digital animation and Mandarin lessons, and he has no friends kicking around the 'hood because they are in those classes, and you yourself are holding onto the middle class by your fingernails because you are working late and then having an hour-long commute which means "free play" would translate into hours and hours...it is not just tempting but really one of the best choices to simply enroll your child in digital animation, with his friends. Huzzah.

Plus I have to say, that sense of holding on by my fingernails leads me to different choices than I used to make back when my husband and I were dual income, no kids, not paying $1600/mo in daycare for our younger child, and not middle-aged-layoff-fodder.

It may all be a shared delusion but parenting is full of choices where you don't get the results for a long time, and part of the advantage of getting at least somewhat in line with the traditional herd is that you know your child will at least have the same problems as his contemporaries, which probably means there will be life coaches for 22 yr olds who don't know how to fill out their forms.

All of which is to say a year and a half ago I basically finished my child's project for him and I am so sorry Ms. L., and my kid, who got a shitty lesson in project-making but hopefully at least learned I have his back? I don't know. It was a strange decision made at 11:30 p.m.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:28 PM on September 6, 2015 [52 favorites]


Reading just the first paragraph makes me think being a manager will well-prepare me for parenting. I'm already learning to let people fail, even if I am attached to them and want to see them grow and succeed!

besides, I'm too busy to do homework
posted by rubah at 2:05 PM on September 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Take Harvard out of the equation and those kids are going to succeed anyway.

So people have actually studied this - you can look at groups of students, for example, who were accepted to Harvard and decided to go to a state school instead. The answer seems to be that this is true for white middle-class kids, but: "a few major groups did not fit the pattern: black students, Latino students, low-income students and students whose parents did not graduate from college. `For them, attending a more selective school increased earnings significantly,' Mr. Krueger has written."
posted by en forme de poire at 2:37 PM on September 6, 2015 [29 favorites]


We aren't on the travel soccer team.

Lots of people make money off of parental anxiety; it's big business. Exhibit A: the children's resume enhancement industry, which includes tutors, test prep schools, extra-curricular lesson providers, college application coaches, etc. Exhibit B: the children's industrial sports complex, where all must pretend that the youth have a shot at the pros--or at least a college scholarship--and need to wear $BigBucks worth of gear. No missed practices, even when they're scheduled for holiday weekends, expensive out-of-town trips for phony tournaments that are just a racket. It's appalling and it's very hard on family life and finances.

And I am reminded of admonishments to praise kids for trying hard rather than for being smart/natural athletes. Kids rewarded for effort keep trying even when results are disappointing, which will serve them well throughout life, while kids complemented on their brains and other intrinsic abilities become very scared of failure.
posted by carmicha at 3:05 PM on September 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


Example C: People who write books on overparenting crises.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:08 PM on September 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


The fact is, if you don't know anyone who has applied to college recently, you have no frame of reference for this whatsoever. It was completely different even 5 or 10 years ago. [...] 5 AP classes wasn't enough for some friends' kids.

This was certainly the case 10 years ago, I promise. I took 11 AP classes and didn't get into an Ivy, which I am tremendously glad for now but which devastated my 17-year-old self. The pressure!
posted by Ragini at 4:05 PM on September 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


1. Would you want to hire a young person like this?

Of course you would. Just ask their parents- they're waiting out in the lobby for the interview to be over.

2. Would you want a young person like this as a co-worker on your team? (Will you have to be their office parent?)

Of course you would. Look, the parents are on the phone right now and they'd like to talk to you about it.

3. Would you want a young person like this doing your taxes, designing your marketing strategy, drawing up your will, or fixing your teeth?

Of course you would. Honestly, your insinuations are getting very disrespectful- the parents would like to talk to your supervisor.

I'd just like to point out that if you say 'no' to hiring thisis child, well this is obviously something the parents are going to have to take up with HR, and probably start a lawsuit over. So just sign the papers already.
posted by happyroach at 4:11 PM on September 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


This was certainly the case 10 years ago, I promise. I took 11 AP classes and didn't get into an Ivy, which I am tremendously glad for now but which devastated my 17-year-old self. The pressure!

Oh, sorry, I meant 5 AP classes per semester.
posted by teponaztli at 5:20 PM on September 6, 2015


5 AP classes per semester isn't even really possible for all of your high school career; there are only 34 offered. I think y'all are overestimating the importance of APs vs outside activities and such. People going to Ivys take a lot, but not all 34.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:35 PM on September 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


This was certainly the case 10 years ago, I promise.

This was the case 25 years ago, too. If anything, the difference is that kids with 4.25 GPAs and 20 AP courses from a high school in Borger, TX or Junction City, KS 25 years ago didn't necessarily set their sights on getting into the most selective colleges in the country. The fact is that, unless the student has done something truly exceptional like winning a prestigious regional competition, there isn't much a student from a non-leading school system can do to get into one of those colleges. There never has been. Here's the thing: I was lucky enough to grow up in an area with a leading public school system. I got good but not exceptional grades. And when I got to college, I was around plenty of those 4.25GPA/20AP kids from unexceptional school systems. Turns out many of them struggled academically and I didn't. The elite schools aren't unaware of this. It's common.
posted by slkinsey at 5:40 PM on September 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


My observation has been that about a third of the people with cool jobs went to Harvard, Yale, Princeton or Stanford, a third went to the top 30 or so other private schools and the top dozen or so flagship publics, and a third went everywhere else, or nowhere at all.

That actually strikes me as just about right. They're all the complete package, but varied in how long it took them to get everything exactly lines up: done by 14 = HYPS, well under way by 18 = elite privates & flagships, well under way at some point in their 20s = everywhere else.
posted by MattD at 5:45 PM on September 6, 2015


I think it's funny when I see people commenting about this phenomenon with the crazy things they did to help their kids in school, but yet people often think they could never homeschool their child because it would take too much time. Opt out of the system entirely... seems a lot easier when the alternative is having to complete incredibly detailed and work-intensive projects for them into the wee hours of the night. As the article suggests, I've found that if you teach your kids a love of learning, you've given them the tool they need to succeed regardless of what they want to do in life.

I'm not understanding the anger here. I think that the authors being interviewed seem very understanding about why parents behave the way they do - they appear to have admitted to doing these very things themselves. The premise that doing things like homework and projects for kids is the best way to help them get ahead in life seems questionable at best, I would think that things like "writing your child's college essay for them is not a great way to support them through the college applications process" would be sentiments we could all get behind. I can definitely understand wanting your child to have the best opportunities and go to the most elite schools, but I really don't take it as a given that doing their homework for them is the right way to achieve that outcome. The idea that if kids do their own homework they'll be condemned to an impoverished life doesn't ring true to me - much less the idea that letting them do their own homework would be something that you would do so you could abrogate your parental duties or just to make their teachers happy. The point wasn't just making their teachers happy - the point was that it would please their teachers because their teachers want them to learn the material and gain skills on their own, too.

It's clearly possible to be a supportive and attentive parent while still allowing your child to experience struggle, experience failure, and gain independence. Allowing kids autonomy doesn't mean "not parenting" and it doesn't mean setting them up for poverty. I find that idea pretty offensive. My own parents would never have dreamed of completing homework for me, or coaching me through the college applications process, or getting me some sort of intensive training for standardized tests. They supported me by always being willing to help if I asked them for help, by being there for me, and by applauding my successes. They coached my sports teams, they led scouting troops, they taught me things, they attended my events. They covered the costs if I applied and was accepted for a special educational program, and made sure I had the ability to focus on the program and take advantage of the opportunity. But they didn't push me to do these things, they let me do the things that I wanted to do - I think because they understood that I would work hardest and achieve at the highest level if it was something that I wanted, and not something they had pressured me into.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:27 PM on September 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


Part of the fear parents have is based in the sense that they are entitled to get their kids into an Ivy League school or its equivalent. Getting into an Ivy is like winning the lottery. You can do all kinds of things to put yourself into the pool from which they select, but in the end they are still not picking everyone in the pool, or even close to everyone. You can game your chances of either getting into an Ivy or getting a scholarship, but you can't game resiliency. You can't game creativity, or grit. Honestly, I'd like my students to be able to handle getting a B- in sixth grade, let alone an F. I once had a kid in great gulping sobs in my room because he got an F from another teacher on an assignment. "You can handle an F," I said, giving him a tissue, and by gum he stopped sobbing because no one had ever told him that. Everything parents do to protect their children against poor grades tells the kid that he is weak, that he is fragile, that low grades are the worst thing that can happen to him or her.

Perhaps I'm a little prejudiced because I dropped out of the Seven Sisters college my parents insisted I attend, became a waitress, worked as a secretary and went to art school, raised a kid . . . and in my early forties got my graduate degrees at a fergawdssake Ivy on a full fellowship, with a 4.0 GPA and my dissertation with distinction. Because I had learned from failure. When I spoke at my high school as the Alumna of the Year a few years later, after publishing a couple of books just because I could and winning several age group world championships in the sport I took up in my 40s, I talked about the importance of failure, and I could see the headmistress in the back of the auditorium, looking grim because it was conveying the Wrong Message. Which is apparently that your life doesn't end when you're eighteen years old and have completed your college application process.
posted by Peach at 6:59 PM on September 6, 2015 [20 favorites]


I have a second grader. Last year she had two projects, and Mr. Llama and I split things and so we did. The first was to imagine some kind of ecosystem and put it on a poster board. I don't remember the second, because it wasn't 'my' (ha HA) project.

Little Llama and I did an undersea world. It was super dorky. She used file labels and she called them 'long fish'. We had some moss for the plants in the house, and that was like, kelp. She had some stickers that were actual fish. She drew actual fish. She drew lots of them.

But I helped, I thought this stuff through. I was like, 'clownfish? you want some clownfish?' and she added them, she was excited.

And she got an A or an Alligator or a 3333% or whatever the top tier thing was.

And Mr. Llama did the second project, and he was like, I'm not helping, it's her deal. I don't even remember what it was but I was like, 'this is not my business' and she did 'okay'. She got a B or a Badger or a 1111%.

I'm not writing her homework for her and I never, ever will. But if she's doing an ecosystem and I say 'what about a crab? should there be a crab?' Is that so awful?

We're on the hill behind our house picking mushrooms and jointly learning how to do spore prints. I don't know. I do know, writing this, that we're seriously a bunch of dorks.

For the record, if Little Llama became a plumber or electrician I'd be totally psyched. That's like knowing a lot about the web/programming -- you know this arcane knowledge and it frees you.

I know I want the best for her, literally the best. I don't want the best college or the best clothes or whatever, I want the best. I want her to have freedom to choose things, I want her never to be stuck with circumstance. If she wants to live in our house and stay and be an electrician and save money and buy a house when she's thirty, with cash, god, that's great. If she wants to move to Maine and write poetry, I am so totally there.

I am there if she's pregnant and starts a family at twenty. I'm there if she dorks around until she's 35.

I just want her to have choices, lots and lots of choices. I didn't feel like I had choices.

And that's what all this class shit comes down to: do you have choices, or don't you, and what do you have to take to protect your little bitty choices?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:04 PM on September 6, 2015 [40 favorites]


Unless you're parenting now, it's probably hard to understand what the parents are saying, and glib dismissals don't help. We have two kids in elementary school, have a low key parenting strategy, try to reward effort, help (but not do), provide strategies, etc. We'd never actually do homework, and don't plan to fill out job applications or write college essays.

And still, every article like this feels like an attack because parenting is continuum and we're always veering back and forth trying to get the balance right. Apparently, we're lax parents because we didn't realize the "suggestion" to drill multiplication over the summer was really a mandate because the schools don't teach it anymore; they just assume mastery. Our son labored over his third grade poster on one of our founding fathers - it wasn't pretty but it was all his work. The other kids though... computer printed articles and pictures perfectly framed by construction paper matting by their parents. In both cases, we probably should have done the (to me) overparenting route.

And we're not even in middle school yet! I can't predict what it'll be like, but I'll probably think so many things to come are ridiculous and then find myself helping anyway. I just don't know yet what they'll be.

Also, the discussion about the precariousness of the middle class and the escalating standards is right on . Taking the long view, life (including getting into a "good" college) really does seem like an arms race that, as a parent, I have a duty to help my kids prepare for the best I can. Sure, a good college doesn't guaranty success in life, but it probably means a better education, more striving peers, and perhaps a second look for those first or second jobs. [Failing, course, a total game change from climate failure or diminishing resources.]
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 7:08 PM on September 6, 2015 [14 favorites]


Parenting: ur doin it rong - since 2000 B.C.
posted by Peach at 7:14 PM on September 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think being a modern parent is a guilty, guilty, defensive business.

You're always wrong, you're always failing on the input or the output -- you should have done X and why didn't you do Y.

Fun times, ya losers.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:14 PM on September 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


Apparently, we're lax parents because we didn't realize the "suggestion" to drill multiplication over the summer was really a mandate because the schools don't teach it anymore; they just assume mastery.

What the actual fuck?
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:22 PM on September 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Apparently, we're lax parents because we didn't realize the "suggestion" to drill multiplication over the summer was really a mandate because the schools don't teach it anymore; they just assume mastery.

We had that too, and cursive writing which is no longer actually on the curriculum.

I think it's funny when I see people commenting about this phenomenon with the crazy things they did to help their kids in school, but yet people often think they could never homeschool their child because it would take too much time. Opt out of the system entirely... seems a lot easier when the alternative is having to complete incredibly detailed and work-intensive projects for them into the wee hours of the night.

I really do not like the "just homeschool" solution to the issues that arise when parenting and educational systems intersect. But I would argue in this thread that homeschooling is actually the furthest out on the continuum of this kind of super-involved parenting, not a step back from it.

Sure, parents may choose to do it in a way that builds in failure, etc., but regardless of approach other than the most unschooling of unschoolers, or the most rote computer-led systems, it's basically creating an individualized private education, most often at the expense of the earning power of one of the adults of the family.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:44 PM on September 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


The classism on display in this thread is astounding.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:55 PM on September 6, 2015 [15 favorites]


Terrible Lama, you sound like a great lama.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:22 PM on September 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


We have been so, so fortunate in having a family member basically fund our kiddo's hippie Montessori-like private education which we could never afford in a million years. And yet even with that, we have no illusions that he'll get into an elite school (should he want to ) and are at best hoping he can get through a college degree or into a trade with a minimum of life-crushing debt. I'm not underselling my kid, but acknowledging that as lower-middle-class nobodies, we take for granted that certain doors don't often open for us. He could surprise us, of course, and that would be great. But it would also be winning over the odds.

And the thing is, my kid shouldn't have to be a goddamn genius, or a millionaire, or have enormous luck, to get a decent education and a shot at a decent life with basic financial stability. No kid should need their parents bankrupting themselves, or not daring to let them fail at anything, just to insure they will have a chance, but more and more it seems like they do. It's certain that many parents feel like they have to act this way. Like their children's chances at success are more and more narrow and risky.

We have got to force this fucking system to change.
posted by emjaybee at 8:51 PM on September 6, 2015 [22 favorites]


So I can see where this is going. Parent(s) who work 60+ hours a week, and then obsess over the performance of their children, forcing the to get perfect grades to get in a good university. Hmm. So what does this resemble?
posted by happyroach at 11:18 PM on September 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Long time lurker, first time poster. I signed up just to comment on this particular thread.

I have served as a mentor to many young people over the years, in many contexts. Educationally, professionally, Big Sisterly, freelance friend/aunty. I have 6 nieces and nephews, but no children of my own.

The thing that has been missing from their skillset is the ability to advocate for themselves. It is not a question of helping them to get into school, or do their homework, or even to understand what it is they are doing. It is a question of empowering them at a young enough age that they feel CAPABLE of asking for what they need.

Life skills- things like being able to make their own dinner, or do their own laundry, or accept that they may not get exactly what they want- those are the things I see missing. It's not an either/or situation- it's a making sure they have made enough decisions for themselves early enough that whatever it is that is in front of them isn't so daunting that they are frozen in the headlights, wondering what to do next.

I have taught far too many people how to balance their checkbook, make pasta, and budget so there isn't more month than money.
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 12:52 AM on September 7, 2015 [17 favorites]


While spleening, let me relate my conversation with the college counselor at my middle/working class high school. I was first in my class when I had this.

Her: did you take the [yes, there was one] AP class?
Me: Not yet. But maybe next year.
Her: How much do your parents make?
Me: less than 40k/year.
Her: ok, you can't pay for private schools, then. They cost $25k/year. Apply to state schools.

So I did. My junior year in college I ran into a non-rich kid who went to U of Chicago. My mind was blown. How did you afford this? Oh, I pay x after scholarships (where x was about what I paid at the state U).

Now, I wasn't among the rich suburban kids, those who had paths to elite schools. But I wasn't dodging bullets between classes, either. I met lots of those kids at college. What a fucked up school system we had. And have.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:40 AM on September 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


Y'know, I've been teaching for like 30 million years and yes, the helicopter parents have been around for a while. It's not exactly a new thing. But they're not the worst parents by a long shot.

I work at a high school for teens with emotional disabilities. Our kids have diagnoses of psychoses, personality disorders, attachment issues, BPD, depression, disordered eating, self-harm, you name it.

We have "Benign Neglect" Parents. These are the scary ones who have completely given up on parenting and expect everyone else to raise their kids.

You know those little kids you see running around screaming in Starbucks while their parents are on their phones ignoring them? Well, a lot of those kids have internalized that and they think the only way to get attention is to continue running around, screaming for someone to interact with them. It's pretty awful to see in toddlers but it's a lot worse in 18 year olds.

These parents? They:

* let their kids miss school at least two days a week because the kid was up all night gaming or online and they didn't have the heart to tell the kid to go to bed;
* let their kids miss school because they can't wake them up;
* express great surprise when the school calls a meeting because their kid has 57 absences and is failing all their classes;
* reply, "They're NOT?!" when we call and ask why the kid's not in school;
* demand the school give their kid NO HOMEWORK because, "I don't know how you do math now;"
* don't get outside psychological support for their kid despite it being part of an agreement they sign when enrolling their kid;
* continually forget to refill their kids' SSRI, anti-psychotics, ADHD and other medications;
* send their kid to school with $20 daily because their kid told them how much lunch costs;
* when their kid refuses school because they don't like taking the train, they buy them brand new cars and when the kid doesn't like the car's color, they buy them ANOTHER one;
* don't report to the school that their kid was arrested over the weekend;
* let their kid be dismissed early every day because their kid lies about having a job;
* don't know when the school year starts and let the kid stay home because they can't be bothered to check our website or call;
* continually demand different teachers because as soon as we try to get a kid to do some work, the kid goes home and has epic tantrums and instead of responding, "Yeah, you have to do some goddamned work in school," they demand we switch teachers to someone who understands how their special snowflake learns;
* are 100% okay with their kid earning D's and sleeping in class because they "don't want them to feel pressure;"
* let their kids stay home every Monday AND Friday because "the week is too long and they said need a break."

THESE are the scary parents who have so erred on the hands-off side that their involvement in their kids' life is negligible. As a staff, we continually wonder how many of those in our therapeutic high school for kids with emotional disabilities are only with us because their parents have removed themselves from parenting and have been leaving it to others.
posted by kinetic at 4:14 AM on September 7, 2015 [19 favorites]


What I'm trying to say is, sure, there are Helicopter Parents. They meddle, they do their kids' homework, they hire tutors, they push for extracurriculars, they may push their kids too hard, they take parenting on as a personal competitive challenge with high stakes. It's not a GOOD THING.

But they're an easy target. Far, FAR worse is this generation of kids whose parents are completely "I'm best friends with my special snowflake and never want to upset them" and put forth this helpless attitude of, "I just want my baby to be happy; even if that means they have no sense of boundaries or manners and are rude and horrible to just about everyone. I don't want to see them sad."

Parents who have the most entitled attitude that they can unleash their little monsters onto school systems where they expect educators to raise their kids. Parents who shrug helplessly and want to be friends with their kids. Parents who demand a soccer trophy because their kid simply showed up. Parents who keep their kids home from school because teachers are telling the kids they need to put their cell phone away and do some academics, and the kid comes home and epically freaks out. Parents who lie and say their kid was sick when the kid just didn't want to do their homework and the parents didn't want to push them. Or take away their Xbox. Or laptop. Or cell phone.

I see a lot less Helicopter Parents. I see a lot more MIA Parents.

This happened a few days ago at my school and it happens ALL THE TIME.

One of my students said his classmate was "epically retarded," and the teacher said, "Hey, that's not an okay thing to say," and the kid told the teacher, "if you don't like it you can go fuck yourself."

The parents were called and the mother's response was, "What did the teacher do to him to make him so sad?" and then she kept him home for two days so he wouldn't have to come to school and serve an in-school suspension.

You can slam parents who vicariously live through their kids' achievements and push too hard, but I will take all of those parents for the rest of my teaching career if I never again have to deal with the parent of a Special Snowflake.
posted by kinetic at 7:06 AM on September 7, 2015 [13 favorites]


I missed the part of the article that advocated the false dichotomy everyone seems to be upset about.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:16 AM on September 7, 2015 [13 favorites]


Upper middle class is not the default. If you're worried about a dynamic that you see in upper middle class parents and kids, say so.

FTA: How do you respond to the criticism that the problems you're describing affect only privileged kids?

Lahey: Guilty. ... However, just because some kids are suffering more than others from a particular kind of trauma — whether that's poverty or depression or anxiety — that does not mean that the trauma is not worth our time or our ink. The good news is that the effects of high anxiety and academic pressure are far easier to heal than poverty, violence and childhood trauma. If parents and teachers in high SEL schools would just calm down and value individual autonomy, learning, competence, and personal fulfillment more than grades and wish-fulfillment, we could fix the high-SEL problems pretty darn fast.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:45 AM on September 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


So what does this resemble?

Yeah, it's kinda like that except a majority of the American students don't actually learn any math before graduating high school.

kinetic, I don't see the helicopter parents and the special snowflake parents as that distinct. If you're calling me about your 21 year-old college senior, to complain he hasn't has enough showers while on an intensive backwoods field course, you're an inappropriate jerk no matter what category you fall into.
posted by Squeak Attack at 11:31 AM on September 7, 2015


So yeah, here's my advice for every irritated parent on this thread - if your kid expresses any interest, at all, in going into STEM fields and you want them to graduate in 4 years, one of your main academic goals for them should be making sure they're ready to take and do well in calculus as freshmen.

You're welcome.
posted by Squeak Attack at 11:37 AM on September 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


(Especially because the people setting the curve in their Freshman calc class at their competitive college are mostly going to be people who have actually already taken calculus and are just sandbagging for an easy A)
posted by en forme de poire at 12:01 PM on September 7, 2015


Yes, I'm pretty sure my life would be very different (though not necessarily better) if anyone had cared to provide me with a grounding in calculus in high school. I was completely blindsided by it in college, and quickly shunted off to humanities (my parents were very hands off).
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:04 PM on September 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


The thing is, I don't think most parents are equipped to tell whether their kids are ready to do well in calculus in college. This is especially true because high schools sometimes mislead parents and students about how much they've learned. I frequently see first-year students who have decent grades in something called a community college pre-calculus class (but which was really taught by their high-school teacher in their high-school building), and then when they take our placement test, they test into pre-calc or even algebra. If the school says that your kid got a B+ in college-level pre-calculus, how on earth are you supposed to know that your kid still doesn't really understand algebra? Especially if your own math skills are rusty at best?

For what it's worth, though, at my university you can graduate in four years with a biology or other life sciences degree even if you need to take pre-calc. You can even graduate in four years if you need to take remedial algebra, as long as you're willing to take calculus over the summer at community college, which many students do. STEM is not a single thing, and there are different requirements for different degrees.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:45 PM on September 7, 2015 [4 favorites]



So yeah, here's my advice for every irritated parent on this thread - if your kid expresses any interest, at all, in going into STEM fields and you want them to graduate in 4 years, one of your main academic goals for them should be making sure they're ready to take and do well in calculus as freshmen.


I cannot agree with this more and would really suggest that this applies to all kids. They are young and can't know what they want. Calculus will help in almost any field.

They should really be taking it in high school, but at a minimum they should be ready for it as freshmen.
posted by winna at 1:50 PM on September 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


kinetic, I don't see the helicopter parents and the special snowflake parents as that distinct. If you're calling me about your 21 year-old college senior, to complain he hasn't has enough showers while on an intensive backwoods field course, you're an inappropriate jerk no matter what category you fall into.

the special snowflake 21 year olds live in their parents' basements because they're can't keep a job and college professors are mean. no way they'd go on an intensive backwoods field course.
posted by kinetic at 4:51 PM on September 7, 2015


The freshmen I know would have to re-take calculus a couple of times in college if they took it freshman year.
posted by Peach at 6:35 PM on September 7, 2015


I cannot agree with this more and would really suggest that this applies to all kids. They are young and can't know what they want. Calculus will help in almost any field.

Calculus is nowhere near as useful as statistics. I did calculus - big mistake. I've never used it, not even in graduate work. Stats, that's the one I keep needing (and don't have, because I was advised to do Calculus instead).

So I'm thinking of going back to do stats, freshman level, at age 38.
posted by jb at 9:03 PM on September 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


I don't disagree, jb, but on the other hand, I think there's quite a bit in applied stats that is a lot easier to understand (and therefore retain) with the benefit of having had calculus and linear algebra -- like cumulative distribution functions and regression, respectively. I do suspect the sort of "orthodox" college applied math sequence is biased towards the needs of engineering/physics crowd, and the most common solution for college students in the life/social sciences (which in practice seems to often boil down to, "take the engineering/physics stream but stop earlier") really doesn't serve people very well.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:53 PM on September 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


ArbitraryAndCapricious - your description of these students sounds like a perfect illustration of "fixed mindset" as described by psychology professor Carol Dweck.
posted by theorique at 4:37 AM on September 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Especially because the people setting the curve in their Freshman calc class at their competitive college

If my kid goes to a college that grades math courses on a curve I am sure as fuck not contributing one red cent to his tuition.
posted by phearlez at 10:29 AM on September 8, 2015


i know this is way back upthread but wow, Ragini, i started reading your comment and thought maybe i had somehow written it myself and just forgotten about it. everything about it, including where you grew up, is pretty much identical to my life so far (but with a healthy dose of major depression along with the anxiety). it's nice to know i'm not the only one who had that experience and is still struggling with it. i still have a lot of weird guilt and regret surrounding my college experience and feeling like i don't truly "deserve" my degree because i received mental health accommodations (what a horrible, irrational feeling). i'm getting ready to apply to grad school now, and it's exciting but scary thinking about going through the whole application process again but this time without my (well-intentioned but very hands-on) mom helping me along.
posted by burgerrr at 12:51 PM on September 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


If my kid goes to a college that grades math courses on a curve I am sure as fuck not contributing one red cent to his tuition.

It's not super-uncommon -- a lot of schools use calculus to weed out students who aren't going to hack it in engineering, so they give really tough exams where the median score is, say, 40%. They're usually not curving the grades to be nice!
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 4:47 PM on September 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's not super-uncommon -- a lot of schools use calculus to weed out students who aren't going to hack it in engineering, so they give really tough exams where the median score is, say, 40%. They're usually not curving the grades to be nice!

Usually if the course hits the students that hard, the curve will be used to bring the distribution back into line with 'expected' grades, so a 40% might earn you a solid C+ or B-, and a 75% might be the highest grade in the class and earn you an A+. (ymmv, etc)
posted by theorique at 5:49 PM on September 8, 2015


Math major here. There was only one course that I took for my degree that didn't grade on a curve, and that was because the professor should have written his own textbook because he was so awesome (the class was applied calc but a more specific description would be Into to Partial Differential Equations). He was so good that I looked him up for another of my upper division credits (Intro to Real Analysis) and promptly scored just above the class average of 30%. That course did have a curve.

If your math class has a curve, its not necessarily grade inflation, it could be really tough material or a class with only a few items that contribute to your grade.
posted by LizBoBiz at 7:58 AM on September 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am not worried about grade inflation, I am skeptical that you can curve a score if you're truly testing for mastery. If you have an instructor who has lost their class so badly that 90% of the class doesn't manage 30% I think that's a sign of a problem, but the solution is not to give passing grades to people who don't know the material well enough to go on to success in higher levels.
posted by phearlez at 7:38 AM on September 10, 2015


I had a physics class that worked the same way. It's not for lack of knowing the material, and it does not prevent success at higher levels. It's because the problems used are aggressively difficult, to challenge the class. The idea that it shows the instructor has lost the class is ridiculous.

Knowing the material well will show, but won't be enough to completely solve everything. That takes either exceptional insight or exceptional effort, beyond what's really practical on the deadline and have other classes. Moving slower, with easier problems would get a higher natural average, but wouldn't teach more effectively. It's just hard. It's hard because the math is hard, and the class doesn't shy away from that.

It sounds like you're imagining that the class is on a curve because everyone started failing, so the teacher curves it to maintain average. That's not the case. The class is designed so that everyone will have a natural grade that's very low. It's expected going in. The curve is planned for before day one.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 11:06 AM on September 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you have an instructor who has lost their class so badly that 90% of the class doesn't manage 30% I think that's a sign of a problem

I should clarify - at least in some of the courses that I'm thinking of, the exams were known to be designed by the professors to be extremely difficult, and more senior students warned the junior students that by getting a 30-40% raw score on the exam, they could earn an A. So the grade distribution would be spread out across (say) 5-60%.

It's not that the students hadn't learned the material - it's that the exam was too large and too challenging to complete for the vast majority of students. But it would generate a good distribution of the different levels of mastery of the material, that could be used to assign appropriate grades.
posted by theorique at 11:08 AM on September 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Organic chemistry in particular was notorious for giving tests with very high ceilings, as theorique describes. Biology tests tended to have low ceilings, which I actually found obnoxious: if the mean is a 91/100, that means the distribution becomes very compressed at the high end. That means tiny mistakes become much more important and you have many fewer opportunities to redeem yourself.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:21 PM on September 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Relevant to previous discussion: NYT infographic about which top colleges are doing the most for low income students. The UC schools actually come out well by their metrics, especially Irvine and Davis, both of which appear to graduate a lot of Pell Grant recipients. But Harvard is still tied with Princeton, Stanford, and interestingly, Davidson for the cheapest net price, assuming a middle-income family. In addition to Davidson, Pomona was another liberal-arts surprise (to me, anyway, since my perhaps-unfair stereotype of SLACs is that they mainly cater to parents who can afford $50k/yr) in the top of the affordability rankings.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:48 PM on September 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


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