There is no ‘Word Gap’ (Too bad that we created so many bad policies based on this study)

Back in the 1990s, a team of researchers spent two and a half years visiting the homes of close to four dozen families with young children, starting when the kids were 7 months old. Equipped with tape recorders and notebooks, the researchers—led by two Kansas psychologists named Betty Hart and Todd Risley—spent an hour per week in each home, recording every word a child’s primary caregiver said to the child during the sessions. After transcribing each conversation and then analyzing the exchanges as a whole, the researchers (who have both since passed away) discovered major differences in the number of words spoken in middle-class families and in lower-income ones.

The result of their research was a landmark study published in 1995, which maintained that a typical child whose parents are highly educated and working professionals is exposed to roughly 1,540 more spoken words per hour than a typical child on welfare. Over time, they concluded, this word gap snowballs so much that by age 4, children in rich families have been exposed to 32 million more words than children in poorer ones.

The study was a sensation, with the media and policymakers fixating on the so-called “word gap” as a key source of longer-term academic disparities between poor and rich kids. It was immediately embraced by academic researchers, and was cited in more than 7,000 academic publications. It influenced welfare initiatives, government pilot programs, and grant campaigns. The Obama administration championed efforts to close the “word gap,” organizing a campaign to raise awareness of the issue and to encourage parents to talk more to their children.

Now, a new study has failed to replicate Hart and Risley’s findings, further complicating the legacy of this body of research and renewing a long-standing debate among researchers about just how large disparities of language and vocabulary are among different social classes—and how much those differences matter, if at all.

More here

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More on Social Skills

Last night, on the way back from a Mother’s Day celebration at my brother’s house, we had to have a serious talk with Ian about the “Five Deadly Words” — ugly, stupid/dumb, old, smelly, and fat. He can’t address people (or their dogs) with those words. He wanted to know if they were curse words. We told him that these words were as hurtful as curses, and he should never use them.

Social rules have to be concretely explained to Ian. One we establish a rule, then he’s good to go, but he needs them to survive social situations. He doesn’t naturally know that you can’t say “Good-bye Old Woman” to someone when he doesn’t know her name. We explained to him that people love their dogs as much as their children, so those words apply to people’s pets as well.

Over the years, we’ve had to set this rule plus dozens more to help Ian navigate the outside world. I’m writing up these rules this week.

Have you had to directly instruct your children or your family members about social or conversational skills? Tell me about it.

 

The Trifecta — Teenagers, Social Media, and Bullying

Last week, while the town watched the champion football team stomp on the opposing team, a group of kids on an adjacent field engaged in a less civilized battle. I only know the story in very broad sketches that have been whispered by parents on text messages and on parents’ Facebook group. A girl was involved. Naked pictures of her distributed. Racial slangs. Boys defending honor. Long years of grievances. One kid in the hospital with a fractured skull.

While this fight with the skull stomping was going on, a group of kids watched. And filmed the whole thing with their cellphones. And put it on Snapchat.

Jonah, away at college, saw the footage. I heard about it five days later on Facebook, when parents began yelling, demanding blood.

Last night, I went to the school board meeting as usual. Typically, I’m the only person in the audience. I find these meetings useful for work purposes. Last night, there was a crowd, news vehicles, and parents holding up signs. They came out to the microphone and brought up images of Sandy Hook and Las Vegas shootings. Hysteria. It was a lynch mob.

It’s a well heeled suburb outside of New York City. People work in law and in finance. They come here for the schools and the trees and the walkable downtown and the quick commute to downtown Manhattan. A fight where a skull gets cracked just doesn’t happen here. People are very freaked out.

The school doesn’t want to get involved, because the incident happened after school hours. It’s not their business. But the parents want them to get involved. At least, they want to hear a strong statement or platitutdes about the evils of bullying.

I think that the school district should bring in someone to talk to parents about finstagrams and snapchat. Images and words that go out on the Internet through these social media forums will never been seen by future employers, and the kids know that. They absolutely do. Can law enforcement find it? Not sure. It might be good to have someone from law enforcement talk to both parents and kids about these forms of social media and what the kids are putting on there. Most parents have no idea. Some school administrators would be surprised at what their own kids are putting out there.

Also, I’m not entirely sure that the kids who were video taping the incident were doing it in a voyeuristic sort of way. It wasn’t a Kitty Geneovese thing. It’s a generational thing. They feel they are doing a public service by video taping events. That’s what everyone does when they attend a protest. They also probably rationally figured it was a bad idea to get in the middle of two kids beating each other senseless.
Anyhow, tensions are pretty high around here. Very glad to just being parenting one very quirky kid who will never ever understand or participate in this sort behavior.

Modern Madness

I went to a community presentation last night about “mindful parenting”. (Combine two trendy words and make a better trendy word!) The speaker began with information about how stress was bad for you. (Shocking, I know.) She included lots of big words about brain parts. (It’s science, I tell you!) Then she gave lots of tips and tricks for calming down (deep breathing, being grateful) for people whose lives are nutso, but don’t want to make any serious changes in their lives. She posted lots of pictures of the book that she was selling and her website where she was selling other stuff. She’s paid to give a talk and then uses the talk to make more money.

It’s a good gig. I want in.

But I suppose people are looking for answers in a world where 31-year olds work themselves to death.

We’ve kept our marbles by arranging the family with one real job and one flex job. For years, our parenting responsibilities were so extreme that it wasn’t possible to manage everything with two real jobs. Maybe if we had a full time housekeeper/babysitter, we could have done it. Things are getting easier now, but we’re still not ready for me to get a real job with a real commute. Ian needs someone to take him to all of his therapy, band practices, and doctor appointments. And his bus didn’t show up twice this week, so I made the 1-1/2 hour round trip with him. We can handle emergencies with the flex job.

But this system doesn’t work for a lot of families. So, they are breathing and looking for quick fixes.

Suburban Elegy

Yesterday afternoon was my first block of free time in weeks, so I brushed off the dust of Hillbilly Elegy, which has been sitting in my pile of books-that-should-be-read for months. I read it in one big gulp; it was that good. As soon as Jonah wakes up, I’m going to demand that he reads it.

The memoir is about one kid who managed to escape the culture of poverty thanks to luck, the Marines, and his Mamaw, who saved him from his own bad decisions and his mom’s bad decisions. He talks about the positive aspects of the Appalachian, Scot-Irish culture – loyal, family oriented – as well as the bat-shit crazy parts of the lifestyle, which has resulted in generations of poverty and misery.

I read the book from the comfort of our Crate and Barrel armchair that swivels, so I can put my feet up on the large picture window. I glanced up from the book from time to time to watch the women speed walking in their $100 running pants and the teenagers zooming by in their graduation-gift Cameros. It’s a world apart from the J.D. Vance’s Middletown, Ohio.

Yet, it’s not.

People fuck up here, too. In between the speed walking and the calorie counting on iPhone apps, there is a whole lot of wine drinking, which is somehow a more socially acceptable form of addiction than weed. There are teenagers who screw up in exactly the same ways as teenagers in every other community across the country. There are dubious debts, like second mortgages to pay for private colleges that aren’t worth the $300,000 price tag.

And while our community doesn’t have the divorce rates and rotating boyfriends that plague other parts of the country, we’re the only family that I know that actually eats dinner together every night. Kids spend long periods of time by themselves or with nannies that have no authority to reel them in. Kids work very hard at times, especially in the highly regimented sports programs and tutoring worlds, but other times, they are supremely lazy. They have no expectations for home chores or sibling babysitting. Even though they all go to college, the parents and consultants micomanage the process for them.

There have been lots of recent studies (too lazy to find the link right now) that show that the wealthier families are spending more on educational programs for their children than ever before. And that’s all true. But in between those scheduled activities, there is a parenting vacuum. Parents set up the activities and even drive them from place to place, but don’t talk with their kids or guide them or yell at them when they screw up.

My parents, who were the first generation college attenders and who came from very rough family lives themselves, are appauled at the bad habits that they see around them in their own UMC town and in ours. Entitlement is its own evil culture. Wealth can protect people from bad habits for a short time, but it’s not fool proof.

The Timer Went Off

Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors; How a Filibuster Works; Hard Work Matters More than Brains

Jonah’s college acceptance letter has triggered the reality that he’s going to be gone in six months. I have six months left to parent, before he’s gone. He’ll be on his own. And there’s so much left to teach him.

Why Smart Girls Are Better Than Cheerleaders; Why You Should Never Rinse Pasta After You Finish Boiling It

There’s still so much that he doesn’t know, and I don’t have much time. The ten minute drive to his high school is the only time where he’s captive, strapped in the car, forced to listen. I babble using the morning news as the entry into topics that we never talked about before. I have to give him a crash course on life. How did I forget to teach him the difference between the House and the Senate?

The House Writes the Budget Because the Founders Thought that the Branch That Was Closest to the People Should Have the Most Say Over Money and Taxes

Yes, he’ll have to figure out a lot of this on his own, but I could have taught him this earlier. I wasted time. We were too caught up in the details of life — the homework and the soccer practice. And then his friends and cellphone shouted me out.

Your Great-great Grandfather Was a Famous Oboist; Was Napolean Really Short?; Never Put a Red Sweatshirt in the Washing Machine With White Undershirts

He’s undercooked. How is going to fare on a college campus that first semester without this information? This is what happens when a neurotic parent and former college professor starts to panic. She lectures.