Monday, October 17, 2005

Parenting by Fear

Last night, Za and I watched an old episode of The Sopranos. Anthony Jr. is pushing the limits of authority with Carmela and Tony is trying to both help Carmela parent, but also keep A.J.'s love. Anyway, halfway through the episode, Carmela and Tony are meeting with A.J.'s guidance counselor about college admissions. It comes out in the discussion that A.J. was diagnosed with ADD awhile ago. A.J. didn't know this and says "if I am learning disabled, I get unlimited time on my SATs."

I looked at Za and then said, "this is the generation and population of students I am teaching." Their well-too-do parents invest as many resources as possible to ensure they can get into a good college. They find loopholes to be able to score better on the SAT or get out of the 2 year language requirement. The pressure to get their children into a good college begins in kindergarten, or even earlier. Every one of their chidlren's co-curricular activities is chosen to improve their college application. If they have hours upon hours of community service, it is not necessarily reflective of their character; it reflects their desire to get an edge over other students.

The next scene, we discover that two students have just died on their way to school. Tony's reaction to this is to go out and buy for A.J. a brand new SUV, fully loaded with safety devices.

The impulse in both of these cases is good. Who can fault a parent's wish to make their children safe and successful.

Nonetheless, the effect of this style of parenting--what my colleague refers to as "helicopter parents" because they hover--is it produces students who often have the pure joy of learning (for the sake of learning) knocked out of them. They are motivated and parented by fear: fear they won't get into a good college, fear that they will not get a good job, fear that they will be harmed without a big steel framed car, fear that they will be socially awkward if they don't get involved in mainstream civic opportunities, fear that their brain chemistry might put them at a disadvantage in college admissions, ad nauseum.

I geniunely worry about many of my students who, like A.J., have been raised with this attitude toward education. Education is a ticket to further safety. Success is money. Money gives you the ability to build fortresses that keep out all the danger and threats of a increasingly hostile world.

It is really no surprise that this is not a generation of students who protest the war, nor building a new counter culture.