How Parents Make A Difference — Both the Good and the Bad

Megan and I are totally on the same wave length right now. She has a column on parenting in Bloomberg. There’s a lot in there, so I’m going to decline to sum it up. Let me just jot down my own thoughts.

Parents, especially in wealthy communities, are raising children in an entirely different way than parents in other communities. Kids are groomed, supervised, tutored, medicated, and honed. Their time is micro-managed by parents. The free-range kids are news only because they are the freaks.

These momagers mean well. Their motives are good. They want to care for their children. They keep an eye on education bureaucrats and local government officials. The schools and town politics work well for a reason — people are keeping an eye on them.

However, it also creates inequities. The intensive efforts of these well-meaning parents have intensified that gap between managed kids and kids without the new momagers. The wealthy parents who opted out their children out of the standardized tests may have harmed the accountability of schools in poorer areas.

Megan writes, “Still, the net effect is a system in which affluent parents nominally support equality of opportunity while practically doing much to make it less likely. And because they are rarely personally acquainted with many children outside of their socioeconomic group, their views on what would benefit those kids are bound to be impoverished.”

 

Related: How the rich get their kids into the ivies.

Two Different Childhoods

Frank Bruni has a column in the Times this week about kids in well-heeled community, who are plain miserable. Some are so miserable that they commit suicide.

The stress level in our own community is no secret. The PTA has a health and wellness committee, which is specificially aimed at keeping kids from mental health disasters. Friends send me newspaper links to a local girl who jumped off a building during her freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania. Kids do have a lot of pressure.

I go to bed every night before my son finishes his homework. Now, my son is a world class procrastinator, but his late nights can’t be blamed on poor work habits. It’s pretty common around here. The kids go to school for seven hours, then they have two to three hours of sports or theater, and then they have four to five hours of homework. It’s a lot.

They are keeping track of their activities for college applications. They are taking the SATs and the ACTs. They have parents who making sure that they do all those things. (I still haven’t figured out the ACTs yet.)

A certain amount of the backlash to standardized testing comes from the fact that the kids simply can’t take one more stress event in their lives.

Kids in these communities are having an entirely different life experience than kids in inner city or even in middle class suburbs outside the coastal communities. It makes it really hard to make education policy for schools or any social policies, when these populations are so different. Some kids need a break. Others need a shove. My kid probably needs a little of both.

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Alright, I’m goofing off today. So, let me give you another anecdote about stress on kids around here.

At this week’s PTA meeting, the school guidance counselor told us that the latest trend in college admissions was long waiting lists. Kids are applying to 15 to 20 colleges. Colleges are receiving way more applications than spots, but they don’t actually know which kids are really interested. So, colleges have super long waiting lists. Some kids don’t know which school they’ll go to until a few months before September.

To get off the waiting list, the guidance officer said that it was very important to demonstrate interest in the school by asking for information and going on the tours. You want to get on the school’s radar. One parent said that you should make a reference to the school in the essay. At my niece’s high school, her guidance office provided her with a list of “tips and tricks” for attending college fairs. One tip was to bring ready-made labels with her name, address, and e-mail address, so she could quickly stick it on information cards at the college tables. This way the school could document that she “showed interest” in the school.

 

 

Family and Food

Extended family gatherings mean excessive amounts of food. That’s the way we roll. In the past three weeks, we’ve had a birthday party, a cousins’ dinner for the New York City gang, Palm Sunday dinner, a cousins’ outing in West Palm Beach, and Easter dinner. Some events were photographed for posterity. Other events will be remembered only by the fat on my ass that must be worked off at the next spin class.

Expelliarmus

We spent two days at Universal Studios in Orlando last week. It’s like Disney World, just on a smaller scale. They have the same, over-the-top, complete commitment to the vision. When you’re on Diagon Alley, even the ATM machine looks like it belongs at Hogswarts. Their 50’s inspired hotel, Cabana Bay, had old cartoons on large screen TVs, mid-century chairs, curved lines, and bright colors. It’s all fake, but it’s perfectly fake.

 

Students and Standardized Tests

Exact figures aside, the students themselves have been largely responsible for the opt-out surge—the rallying among adults is just part of the picture. As kids saw their peers get permission to opt out of the exam, many of them urged their parents to exempt them, too. After all, how many children actually want to take an exam—particularly one that doesn’t leave a mark on their report cards? And when the choice is between algebra questions and a few extra hours of sleep, predicting how students will respond is a no-brainer. Even my kid was in on the action.

Indeed, my 15-year-old son used every weapon in his teenage arsenal—eye rolls, deep sighs, guilt-tripping, and even logic—to pressure my husband and me to write a letter to the school opting him out of the test. None of his friends were taking it, he reasoned; it wouldn’t be fair if he had to stress out about boring math problems while his friends were eating bagels in town—and gleefully texting him about their fun morning. His classmates, he added, would be better prepared for their afternoon exams or classwork (which actually count) because they would be well-rested and have two extra hours to prepare for them. He rightfully pointed out that the PARCC was not required for graduation.

While my son did ultimately take the PARCC exam, other students were more successful in pressuring their parents. Many of the students who couldn’t get  waivers took to Twitter to express their annoyance, tweeting things like, “PARCC spelled backwards is CCRAP.” Some reportedly filled in their answer sheets with gibberish. Though the opt-out campaign began as a parent protest, in some ways it developed into a student-led movement.

More here

Finally, Some Down Time

This spring was one of the busiest on record here at Apt. 11D.

Spring. Well, maybe we can’t officially call the season “spring”, yet. It’s more like extended winter. I think we should call this frigid April, “sprinter.” I should NOT be shivering outside during the second week of April. I refuse to wear my winter coat on principle, so I’m running from the car to the store in a spring sweater and scarf .

This weather is especially annoying, because I just came back from Florida with a sunburn on my shoulders. Now, I have to re-pack up the tank tops and bathing suits in the plastic storage tubs from Home Depot. I can’t imagine using them again for weeks to come.

Planning this trip was one of the many things on my desk this spring-less spring. Along with the travel folder of plane flight and hotel information, there are piles of summer camp pamphlets, rough drafts of education articles, and information from house painters. Honestly, it was medically necessary to walk away from the blog for a while. I was starting to lose my marbles.

The Atlantic just published an article I did about standardized tests. It’s 99% descriptive, so I don’t predict much heat from it. Still, I keep clicking on twitter to see if people are cursing me out.

Because I’m at the computer obsessively monitoring reaction to my article, I think I’ll blog for the rest of the afternoon. I wonder if I still have readers, after my abrupt departure last month. Curious.

SL 655

I’m in charge of Palm Sunday dinner tomorrow. I’ll be making a potato dish, asparagus, and lamb. This roasted lamb recipe is pretty easy.

A perfect Saturday morning. Coffee and egg sandwiches from the deli. Curled up with the style mag.

Badass alert. A 2-year old Indian girl breaks national archery record.

Great essay by Philip Gourevitch in the New Yorker about the German plane crash.

Before the Boys Come Home

Hi, gang. Just finished writing an article. It’s all printed out, sitting patiently on the white tiled kitchen counter for Steve’s edits.  In the few minutes before the boys come home, I thought I would briefly check in.

I rather abruptly changed my work routines in the past month, and I’m still not quite sure what I’m supposed to do. Things will fall into place eventually, I know. We’re going away next week to Florida and I’m hoping that I will find clarity in the silicon streets of Diagon Alley.

This will be my third article in five weeks. The trouble with being a workaholic is that there isn’t too much real living that happens. I’ve been writing serious stuff all day, so I can’t muster a political post right now. In short, not much to blog about. So, once I plug in Steve’s edits, I solemnly swear that I will be properly silly for a couple of weeks.

The Last Drunk at the Party

I’ve written at least one blog post nearly every weekday since July 2003. Twelve years. That’s crazy, right?

Blogging has been very, very good to me. I learned how to write quickly for an online audience about topics that they found interesting. I met a lot of really cool people who offered a joke, an insight, and a kind word.

The conversation between bloggers ended five years ago. Traffic patterns changed. People moved to other ventures. Nearly all of the original bloggers dropped out. I kept at it,  mostly because I enjoyed the conversation with my readers, and I liked having control over my ideas and words. Even with the changing online landscape, there was always a reason to go to the computer after the kids got on the bus and write.

I must end Apt. 11D as we know it. The mashup of personal and professional and political. The daily posts. The link-fests. I can’t do it anymore.

Twelve years of daily blog posts with tons of images and graphics creates a mammoth problem. My current serving company can’t manage it. Cleaning up this mess would cost some serious money.

I don’t have enough time to blog properly. My days are getting eaten up with professional writing and local organizing. I’m so overbooked that I’m making mistakes. I’m missing meetings, not returning e-mail messages, and not even doing a great job with blogging. I have to reduce my responsibilities.

So, I’m leaving. I’m the last drunk at the party, who wanted the fun to keep going on and on. But someone turned off the tunes and put on the bright lights. It’s time to grab my purse and get on the subway.

Here’s the plan. I’m not going to dump the website. I want to preserve the historical record. I might come back every couple of weeks to add a personal post about food and kids, because that makes me happy. If you want a ping when I write something, sign up for a subscription (sidebar bottom).

I will set up a professional website at some point. I’m not sure if it will include a blog.

I’m on Twitter and Facebook. Follow me there.

I’ll miss everyone terribly, especially the regular commenters. We’ve been together for a long time, and our little community is the smartest, funniest, kindest group of people ever. I’m sure that I’ll have the DTs from blog withdrawal for a very long time. I hope that we all find each other in some other corner of the Internet or in real life.

Lots of love. Laura