Because my inbox has been innundated with nudges to read Caitlyn Flanagan's article on Amy Chua's sensational book about Tiger Moms, I forced myself to stop playing Plants v. Zombies last night and read the damn thing. We of the blogosphere-types dealt with that book a few weeks ago; Tiger Moms are old news. Still, I was curious what Flanagan had to say.
After much rambling, Flanagan finally got to her point. The competition for the few slots in Ivy League schools that aren't being occupied by movie starlets and legacies is extremely tough, she writes. The only kids who are going to get that fat envelope from Harvard are those who have been driven relentlessly by obsessive parents. Kids who have had a more easy going childhood aren't going there.
Chua has accepted, in a way that the good mothers will not, that most children today can’t have it both ways: they can’t have a fun, low-stress childhood and also an Ivy League education. She understood early on—as the good mothers are about to learn, when the heartbreaking e-mails and letters from the top colleges go out this month—that life is a series of choices, each with its own rewards and consequences. In a sense, that is the most unpalatable message of her book, the one that has caused all the anguish: it’s an unwelcome reminder (how can we keep forgetting this?) that the world really doesn’t lie before us like a land of dreams. At best—at the very best—it can only offer us choices between two good things, and as we grasp at one, we lose the other forever.
Flanagan said there are trade-offs in life, and it's a bitter pill that uber-successful adults must choke down at some point.
She's perfectly right, you know.
Any kid with an IQ over 120 can go to Harvard provided the parents become drill sargents and social engineers. Steve and I long ago decided that it wasn't worth it.
There's not much difference in the outcomes of my friends who went to an Ivy League versus those that went to elite public schools or the not-quite Ivies, like Colgate or Oberlin or Kenyon. Everyone ended up in roughly the same upper middle class suburbs with professional jobs and Subarus in the driveway. Everybody is waiting on the same long lines at Disney and complaining about their long commutes to their ten hour jobs in the city.
So, if we all end up in the same place, why torture the kids like that? By nature, my kid is a slacker. He is perfectly capable of getting a 100% on every test, but he will work just hard enough to get a 93%. In the end, it's an A, so he'll knock off the studying when he gets to the 93% point and then pick up his DSI. I could get him to care about the difference between an 100% and 93%, but it would involve doing such violence to his personality that it isn't worth it.
We do set rules about the time spent playing video games and bedtime and all those good things that keep him from slipping from 93%'s down to 80%'s. We've started a Sunday afternoon writing club to plug the gaps in his education at his middle school, but I'm not running out and hiring a $100 per hour tutor. Trade-offs have been made.
Another trade-off has been actively on our minds this winter. Is it worth moving to a more affluent town with higher rated schools? Moving ten minutes away would give both of my boys more opportunities. But there's always a trade-offs in life. This trade off would mean buying a much smaller home that costs about $250,000 more than our current home. It would mean a 30 year mortgage, rather than a 15 year mortgage. It would mean not taking that vacation to Seattle and Vancouver this year. It would mean no vacations at all for many years. It would mean the boys would see less of their dad. Jonah wouldn't be able to go to the fancy camp in July, and Ian wouldn't be able to go to that world-class speech therapist that doesn't take health insurance.
Is it worth it? Is it worth it?