KQED had a great segment on this morning (10.27.08) about the statistic Bob Schieffer quoted moderating the last presidential debate. This statistic totally refutes the notion that throwing money at our failing educational system will make our kids smarter. Now, how you empirically measure how smart a populace is obviously raises heated debates, but if the same metrics are applied to student bodies globally, and our student population consistently falls below the rest of the developed world, and some of the developing world, and we are spending more per student than any other country in the world, what the hell is the real problem?
Culture? Yeah, I’d say culture. While we are not the most socially liberal society in the World, we are the most lenient on our youth. Think about other cultures and societies. How many of them freely allow their children to explore who they are in the means that we allow our children to explore? How many children in other societies would you ever witness openly questioning their parents, or worse yet back-talking their parents without receiving severe retribution, which would actually be sanctioned by anyone who witnessed it?
We are way too easy on our kids, and that is for what we are paying the price. This has nothing to do with media, or the Internet, or too much sugar in the diet. This is parenting 101. And this is also why I think some more uptight areas of the country currently do better academically than California.
The greatest cultural difference I’ve found in the past three years in moving from New England to California is in the average amount of academic expectations parents have for their children. Around the Boston metropolitan area, in the New York Tri-state area, parental expectations are high, very high. Does this create other problems? Absolutely. Are the hyperboles of parents fighting to get their children into the right pre-school, and the subsequent pressures on children overwhelming? Of course. But there is a price for any decision we make.
The decision in California for being more relaxed, for simply relegating ourselves to saying everything is “all good,” is that the children here are going to fall behind the rest of the country, and the rest of the world academically.
Children do not come out of the womb hard-wired with cultural norms and expectations parents are the teachers of these norms, which children then manipulate and make their own as they mature through the teen years. So if during the young formative years, if parents put little or no expectations on a child’s behavior, what do you think the results are going to be? Sure there are some kids who are going to be hard-wired for over-achieving, but that is not the norm.
Maybe this is OK, letting the natural course of nature sort out who succeeds academically, and who does not, but in my opinion child development is nature AND nurture, and without the nurture (which means more than just hugs and affirmations) children learn no sense of boundaries, or desire for exceeding personal expectations and setting lofty goals.
Our problems have nothing to do with Congress, or budgets, or No Child Left Behind. Our country, in worrying about everyone’s feelings, has forgotten that parenting means some times telling our children “no,” and “try harder.”