Structure and freedom for kids

Washington Post education columnist Jay Mathews discusses some findings in Michael Petrilli’s book The Diverse Schools Dilemma; namely, that middle class and working class parents tend to have different parenting styles that impact education:

A middle-class, college-educated parent of any ethnicity is likely to be like me: Overscheduling children’s free time but preferring innovative instruction and informal discipline at school.

The research Petrilli cites says working-class and poor parents of any race are more likely to let their children amuse themselves as they see fit once their homework is done but tend to prefer schools with traditional teaching styles and strong discipline.

He cites the work of University of Pennsylvania sociologist Annette Lareau. She and her team closely tracked 12 families of different racial and class backgrounds. They found the center of life in middle-class families was the calendar, with what Lareau said were “scheduled, paid, and organized activities for children . . . in the two-inch-square open spaces beneath each day of the month.” But despite the forced march to improvement that characterized their children’s free time, those parents tolerated a lot of back-talk and often negotiated with children about what they wanted to do. They preferred teachers who did not give orders but encouraged creativity..

Working-class and poor parents, researchers found, left their children on their own on weekends and summer days but were more likely to set strict behavior rules. Those parents tended to like teachers who were tough and structured.

As a nation, we have been arguing for many generations about the best parenting styles. Those of us who prefer lots of scheduled activities but not much discipline should remember that many members of the revered Greatest Generation who won World War II were raised the way many low-income children are brought up today. . . .

Do loose school lessons teach more than structured ones? Does regular weekend soccer practice do more for our children’s character than roaming around with their friends? I don’t know. The research doesn’t say.

If middle class and low-income parents have different methods with their kids and different expectations for their schools, how do principals and teachers serve both populations?

via Do rich and poor parenting styles matter? – Class Struggle – The Washington Post.

So when middle class teachers go with a “creative” free-form approach to teaching, working class kids end up with no structure, either at school or in their free time.  Perhaps home-schooled middle-class kids tend to do so well because both their schooling and their free time are highly structured.  If this breakdown is correct, poorer kids would do really well if they only had more structure in their schooling.

As I recall, though we were middle class, my school was highly structured and my free time was my own.  That may have more to do with “greatest generation” parenting, times gone by, and local culture.  I think it’s good to give children some space for freedom and for pursuing things they enjoy on their own, rather than scheduling every minute with sports and self-improvement lessons.

Do you think this holds true?  Can you make a case for one of these parenting/educational styles over the others?  Are there other possibilities?

Shopping as ritual

John Hearn recalls shopping as a child in a family that didn’t have all that much money.  He reflects on what shopping has become today and reminds us of the true meaning of shopping:

We shopped rarely and with forethought and together. Shopping was a social ritual, a group activity that followed a set procedure. After the tax refund check arrived, usually in late March, when the cold ocean winds still swept the hills south of Boston, my mother gathered the four of us for our biannual trek uptown. Each of her three boys would get a pair of trousers, summer sneakers and a Red Sox cap, all at least a size too big, to better accommodate growth spurts. She feared the prospect of a child who had outgrown clothes that could not be easily replaced. “Don’t be so full of yourself,” she would admonish, after I complained that the new pants bunched up or the inexpensive sneakers turned skyward at the toes. “Do you really think everyone is looking at you?” . . . .

At Christmas, we received things we needed: socks and underwear, a sweater to grow into. When Frankie got a paper route and hired me as his helper, we would put aside money so we could buy gifts for our parents. The Friday before Christmas, after delivering the last of the newspapers, we’d walk by the shops, assuring each other that we’d find perfect presents, ones they needed and wanted too. But they needed everything, and what they may have wanted we couldn’t afford and they never would have mentioned anyway. . . .

I hated shopping. It was an activity filled with anxiety and embarrassment and guilt. It required that I deny myself: that I sit down, don’t fidget, listen, stop complaining, say thank you, shut up, don’t interrupt, stop staring at my brother, walk in the freezing cold and subdue the desire stimulated by the new and shiny to the modest reality defined by my meager paper-route profits. As an adult, though, I understand that neither the quantity nor the quality of the gifts really mattered. It was those social rituals I reluctantly shared with my family that remain a fundamental source of meaning. Shopping was all about the social processes that, like a shared meal or religious service, reminded us that we were together, as a family and congregation and neighborhood. We were embedded in a web of interdependence, a reality greater than ourselves, one in which we had to sacrifice our individual whims and desires.

via When shopping was a family ritual – The Washington Post.

Rules for Thanksgiving

Timothy R. Smith, a 26-year-old single guy, says that he is in the position this year of having to prepare a Thanksgiving Dinner for himself and a bunch of his friends.  He reports his relief at coming across Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well by food critic Sam Sifton, which gives step-by-step instructions on how to do everything.  From Smith’s review of the book:

Sifton sets down rules that must be followed to guarantee success. Some of those bylaws seem to turn the tastemaker into a taskmaster, but that lends the book a certain charm.

For instance, one should always carve the turkey in the kitchen, not at the table; a first course should never precede the turkey — serve the whole meal at once; do not cook anything out of season; begin serving libations once guests arrive; and salad is always an unwelcome guest. He eschews marshmallows in any form at the Thanksgiving table, whether on sweet potatoes or dessert.

The glue of the meal is cranberry sauce and gravy. “Debate that all you like,” Sifton declares. “But they tie every element on the plate together.” And dessert should be the meal’s blissful, final amphetamine. “A proper Thanksgiving should close out with a blast of warm, gooey flavor — a burst of sugar that can give a guest just enough energy to make it from table to couch, the holiday’s final resting place.” Dessert must be a simple American classic, preferably apple or pumpkin pie with a breast of whipped cream. He disapproves of tartlets or parfaits and any form of innovative pastry.

Above all, Thanksgiving must be traditional, Sifton argues.

via Sam Sifton helps novice holiday chefs in ‘Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well’ – The Washington Post.

I would add that the final point about tradition has to trump all other rules, including that idiosyncratic rejection of marshmallows.  He has a point about salads in the sense of green leafy healthy salads–unless one comes in under the tradition rule–though salads containing Jello and/or Cool Whip are permitted, especially if it’s never eaten except at Thanksgiving.

This made me think of other Thanksgiving rules:

(1)  To determine how big of a turkey you need to buy, count the number of guests and estimate how many portions each is likely to eat.  Then buy the biggest turkey you can find.

You need a gigantic turkey in order to create the impression of abundance, which, in turn, makes people feel a jolt of thankfulness.  Also, you want lots and lots of leftovers, enough to replay the feast until the Jello and Cool Whip salads run out, and, above all, to have turkey sandwiches throughout the holiday weekend and as long after that as possible.

Recipe for turkey sandwiches:  Get two pieces of soft, airy, pillowy white bread of the kind people who are serious about food scorn.  (You may have to get on E-bay to get some Wonderbread [current bid for a loaf:  $25]).  Lubricate one side of both slices with a thick layer of mayonnaise.  Pile high with turkey.  Than add a thick layer of salt, not as seasoning but as an ingredient.  Top with the other piece of bread.  Eat with potato chips.  The culinary principle is that it’s all white.  You may, however, eat it with a sweet pickle on the side.

(2)  Whether or not people like a dish has nothing to do with whether it should be served at Thanksgiving.  Foods sanctioned by ancient use must still be served, even if no one currently likes them.  New foods may be introduced, as long as the old foods are included.  If, however, a dish has been served for two successive Thanksgivings, it has become traditional and must be served from then on.

(3)  Tradition resets with the beginning of a new family.  Thus, newly married couples having their own Thanksgiving Dinner for the first time are entitled to start their own traditions, as long as they maintain some thread of continuity with the traditions of each person’s childhood.  The husband and the wife should each choose one or more dish they always had when they were growing up.  The criteria is, “It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without it.”  In this way, two families come together into a new family.  Newly-married couples are free to add any foods they choose.  But if it is served for two successive years, rule #2 applies.

(4)  Thanksgiving is about gratitude, so no fighting or sniping is allowed on Thanksgiving.  That can wait until the rest of the weekend.  Thanksgiving customs and observances should all provoke a response of thankfulness.  That applies to these rules themselves.  We are thankful not just for the food and the abundance and the material blessings they represent.  We are also thankful for our families, here and stretching back through time, for the memories, for what it was like to be a child and to grow up, for our history–personal and corporate and national–and for our culture, from the little community of our family to the local and regional and national cultures that we are part of.   We are thankful for the continuities, the social order and our place in it, as well as the uniqueness of everyone at the table.  And we are thankful for our senses and for so many sensory pleasures and so many good gifts, all of which we receive from the hand of God.

That’s how we do it in the Veith household, since time immemorial.  I hasten to add that since tradition trumps EVERYTHING, you and your family may do things differently.  So what are some of your rules for Thanksgiving?

May I? or Can I?

In discussing the legal debate over gay marriage, Michael W. Hannon cites an important, but generally ignored distinction:

Think back to the embarrassing and obnoxious response your teacher used to give when a student would ask, “Can I go to the bathroom?” “I don’t know,” she would say, “Can you?” The child’s mistake lay in confusing “Can I?”—an interrogative dealing with possibility—with “May I?”—which pertains rather to permissibility. Instead of asking whether he was allowed to go to the bathroom, the confused pupil accidentally asked if he was capable of that feat at all. Yet childhood errors have a way of coming back to haunt us, and that is precisely what has happened in the debate over redefining marriage.

Olson, Boies, and their allies have systematically confused a debate about metaphysical possibility with one about political permissibility. They are arguing that our government ought to let same-sex couples marry, and they are convinced that their opponents are arguing over the same point, just on the other side of the issue.

But that is a gross mischaracterization of the disagreement. For our position is not that the government should refuse to let such couples marry, but rather that the government is utterly impotent with regard to this question. Our response to same-sex couples desirous of marriage is not “You may not,” but rather, “You cannot.” We do not seek to bar anyone from marriage; we just believe marriage is a union that is necessarily and by its very nature heterosexual. Maybe we are right, or maybe Olson and Boies are. But regardless, the question to be settled in this debate is not whether to bring a latent potency into actuality, but whether there is in fact any potency present in the first place.

Framing the issue as a “May I?” dispute allows the superlawyers their stirring rhetoric about prejudice and civil rights. But, more perniciously, this mischaracterization also allows them to conceal the circularity of their argument for those discrimination claims.

Boies and Olson’s underlying judgment is that, because same-sex couples could get married if only the government would let them, marriage is therefore not necessarily a heterosexual institution. And at that point, the pair understandably concludes that there remains no principled reason to oppose the legal redefinition of marriage, since they have established that sexual difference has no bearing on the nature of marriage at all. In Yoshino’s words, they think that, shorn of any principled objections, the adversaries to their policy must be motivated merely by “pride, prejudice, and fear.”

But their argument presumes exactly what it was meant to prove. If you begin by saying that it is within the government’s power to extend marriage to same-sex couples, then of course sexual difference is not an essential feature of marriage. If you frame this as a “May I?” disagreement, then you necessarily treat the “Can I?” question as already settled. But that line of thinking fatally begs the question, because the “Can I?” question is not settled at all.

For if those of us who oppose the legal enshrinement of so-called “same-sex marriage” are correct, then the government can no more make same-sex couples married than it can make pi equal to three. In other words, no judicial or legislative fiat can make two men married if marriage is by its very nature heterosexual. And since that is the true point of contention in this debate, presuming that the government has the power to extend marriage to same-sex couples cannot serve as the starting point for discussion.

via The Abolition of Man-and-Woman: On Marriage, Grammar, and Legal Strategy | Public Discourse.

Military families

One of my former students married another former student who has become an officer in the U.S. Army.  She reports that the military has cut out the customary mid-deployment leave in which servicemen and women could spend some time with their families.  Here is a story about the change as it affects the National Guard.   This has gotten little attention in the media, so she has launched an effort to raise awareness of the issue, along with an online petition in support of military families.  Here is her statement:

 For Father’s Day this year, many deployed dads got the opposite of a present. They were told that the traditional two weeks of mid-deployment R&R that soldiers are given to see their families has been cut. Doing away with mid-deployment R&R is a devastating policy change that has affected practically all Army soldiers.

On the FAQs section of the Army.mil site, this is said about R&R: “The program provides respite from the stresses associated with the combat mission . . . this is seen as an investment in the well being of our forces that will improve mission performance.”

But unfortunately, this vital investment is no longer made. All soldiers and families have suffered from the cutting of the R&R program, but National Guard and Reserves soldiers are especially hard hit. Along with spending an entire nine months outside of the country, Guard and Reserve soldiers also must spend several months before that on full time, seven day a week mobilization orders, normally away from family. Twelve plus months is too long a time to work 24/7 for seven days a week. As the Army.mil site said, soldiers need R&R for morale. Military families also need R&R for family time.

Even with the R&R program, eleven years of back to back deployments have taken their toll. The PTSD rates among soldiers are ever increasing and this PTSD heightens the strain on marriages that are often already stretched to the breaking point by so many deployments. Military children also do their share of suffering when dad, and now increasingly mom as well, is never home.

Making life even harder on military families is a travesty. It is not right to try to balance the budget on the backs of military families. Sign the petition and ask your Senators, Congressmen, and the President to bring back our troops’ much-deserved R&R. http://www.petition2congress.com/8229/bring-back-military-rr/

How Christians can live in a non-Christian culture

Yesterday we discussed a post from my colleague Mark Mitchell:  The Culture of Hospitality | Front Porch Republic.  I’d like to focus on one line that he cites from the Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus written in the 2nd century A.D. (or maybe even earlier).  It describes how the very earliest Christians lived in the Roman Empire:

“they marry, as do all [others]; they beget children but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed.”

Isn’t this the same thing Christians are called to do today against the same cultural pressures?  Get married; back then even the Roman pagans did this, and that might change.  But whatever happens, Christians will still practice marriage and cultivate families.  Beget children and do not destroy them; that is,  don’t get abortions. Don’t have “a common bed”; that is, don’t be sexually promiscuous.  But do have “a common table”; that is, be hospitable to all, inviting even non-believers into your home so as to get to know them and so they can get to know you and your faith.

Keeping these simple distinctives, Christians would eventually win over the Roman empire.  Maybe if we did the same things, Christians might eventually win over the American empire.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X