Friday, June 10, 2011

Unequal Childhoods - Class, Race and Family Life

Good morning from Tokyo!

For some reason, I got up extra early this morning which is very different from yesterday, when I could barely drag myself out of bed! I'm not sure if it is jet lag, because it was inconsistent.

It was too early for breakfast so I spent the next hour or so lying in bed, thinking and reflecting. I thought about the book I had finished yesterday,

Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life

and how it clashes with a previous book I read

Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn--and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less

and also how is it relevant to these books that I also read The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (Third Edition)

and The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had

which was the root of my Education section on

Baby ballet - a recent phenomenon. 

In short, Annette Lareau, author of unequal childhoods concluded that children whose schedules are jam-packed with activities have a brighter future than those just 'left to their own devices' to grow up naturally in society today.

DESPITE the observations that the privileged children seem to be more self-centered, entitled and mean (to their siblings). AND also that they spend more time questioning and challenging authority (parents, teachers etc) and the tremendous economic burdens and time constraints their classes and grueling schedule is placed on their family, namely parents.

Why? It is because employers view a child learning and benefiting more from soccer practice than watching two hours of television (just to summarize).

The book is not quite what I expected. It is essentially a study of about eighty families from a variety of economic background from the poor, working class and middle class. Annette basically describes the house, the home, income, how the kids and family spent their time, school, relationships between the school, church, siblings and parents, teachers, peers, neighbours etc etc. So I've pretty much spent most of my time reading about how families live with a couple of comparisions at each concluding paragraph. The real juice is probably the last chapter; chapter 12 "The Power of Limits of Social Class" where it concludes the study and findings.

To me, the most interesting part of the book is its statement that up until recently ... well, the period after 1920 was a dramatic decline in the economic contribution of children. In the past, children were seen as someone who contributes to the family in terms of work for example, farm hands, flower picking, tag tying, baby sitting. In colonial America, a boy of 6 and 7 was expected to move out of his parents home to live with a skilled craftsman as an apprentice (like in Great Expectations).

Children working in the garden.

She writes (shortened): appears that it was for only a relatively brief historical period that children were granted long stretches of leisure time with unstructured play. In the period after world war 2, children were permitted to play for hours on end. Other than going to church, few organized activities children participated began at a later age than is typical today. The "institutionalization of children's leisure" and the rise of concerted cultivation more generally are recently developments"

Hmmm.... my conclusion?

I'm generally a big fan of education. Though that is a recent statement for me because I've only changed my view of education about maybe 2-5 years ago. While I was in the education system, I was more interested in other intelligences and felt that academia was too rigid, recognizes only 2-3 out of the 10-15 types of intelligences and stifles creativity. I never believed in papers (read certificates) as well though I have some (haha).

After reading the book, I would say my education style - or the approach I was brought up in - was definitely poor or working class. I was left to my own devices and allowed to play as much as I wanted all the time. However, I was also privileged enough to attend ballet, piano, art, swimming classes though I never took them seriously. My mother had never withheld books from me. I was a bookworm. I believe in my time, a child's life was not as serious as it is now.

Personally, I felt my real education began too late. I would think that maybe it started when I was about 17-19? But I only stepped it up maybe a year or two ago. I constantly find myself playing the game of catch up.

Though I don't have children yet, I was reading these books for work and interest trying to figure out why people I admire behave the way they well as writing for

I think, exposure and environment and positivity and having role models are some of the most important in raising a child and anyone can make it work within whatever economic budget. Of course, it will be easier with a larger budget. However, I do not believe in jam packing schedules that makes the child dependent on being spoon-fed and easily bored requiring the parent to entertain or conjure some activity for him. Of course, this is a very watered down version of my opinion because it would be a couple of pages if I wrote completely what I thought.

Hmmm. Thanks for your company on this blogpost. I think it's time to drag Colin out of bed for breakfast.


  1. I had a little of both. Wish I would have had a bit more structure. Its my theory that many children grow up by "accident" This is to say that they are not actively prepared for life by their parents (with special classes in arts, literature, skills, attention or detail to their education, no training in etiquette, attention to their appearance, grooming,etc) They have no one looking out for them to truly prepare them to be and develop their own person, their talents, or their identity. When they grow up, they spend much time following others and going down wrong paths, doing everything by trial and error.
    I read your article and I thought it was great. I think children require structure when they are young and exposure to the things they take interest in and seem to excel at. Parents have a large responsibility to lead their children wisely, but not be over bearing or tyrannical in their efforts. Children who have no structure I find have little sense of self, no pride in a special skill, no knoweldge of manners and etiquette, poor grooming, etc Later in life, if they never learn to pursue such knoweldge out their own decision, they will fall behind better prepared counterparts if they aren't already.

    Children cannot be left to their own devices initally. They will waste time and make poor decisions due to ignorance and lack of foresight. However, parents need not try to decide every detail of what the child should pursue and should only be persistant with things that are necessary: grooming, etiquette, education. Unfourtunately, a concern for this is not present in the mentaility of modern culture, being marginalized to certain groups who use this training and set of protocol to distinguish between elite and non elite. Elegance and class are actually sort of qualitaive traits now.

  2. Mine had a balance. Light structure. My parents made sure to supply me with cooking lessons, piano lessons, dance lessons, and the best schools, and also with books. They made sure that I accompanied them when they traveled. However, they also gave me some room to discover myself. Enough structure so that I would not wander down a dark path yet enough freedom to be my own person. I've found that it is more common in central Asian cultures to smother your children with so much structure and no time to breathe. Jacqueline Kennedy had a balance - she went to the best schools (boarding schools for women and then Vassar College), had ballet lessons and more, yet she also had much time for leisurely reading. My parents (and Jackie's as well) believed that with no structure, a child can easily collapse yet with structure that is too strict, a child's mind cannot be rested enough to perform to the best of its ability. Many families believe that it is better to be truly accomplished at 5 things than to have a very shallow knowledge of 10 things. ♥ Nina

  3. Perhaps it's good to lead children in certain directions without dragging them by the hair.

  4. I'm another who doesn't believe its healthy for a child's time to be scheduled from dawn to dusk. The urge to explore and express themselves comes naturally to most children. It doesn't need prompting. They don't need to be "taught" how to do it. The two are instinctual. While there's certainly nothing wrong with lessons in music, dance and athletics, you're not a bad parent if your child isn't interested in them or it's simply not economically possible.

    I encouraged books and group activities (like Brownies etc..) for my children as my parents did with me. Their time was not one exhausting scramble from one lesson to the next. This seems to be the current method of parenting; paying for then passing on your child to someone else for educating and amusing. Frankly it baffles me. If your not raising your child, just who is?

    Both of my children did just fine without that and have grown up to be intelligent, creative, compassionate people.

  5. I meant, Jacqueline Kennedy had *equestrian lessons (not sure if she had ballet lessons or not)

  6. You wrote "of the 10-15 intelligences" - I thought this was quite interesting and would like to know more about this. Would you be so kind to suggest a book, or some research that you've done on the topic? Thank you.

  7. Regarding the different types of intelligences, I cannot remember the multiple books I was reading at the library but after a quick amazon search, these books looked familiar.



    Good luck! They are interesting reads. It shows how people are more intelligent than their IQ states. For instance, ballet dancers, athletes (with body control and sensitivity)- people who are show extraordinary spatial intelligence, and of course how emotionally intelligence, EQ one of the more popular type of intelligence we hear about these days.