Thursday, April 11, 2013

Φ is a bad upper-class parent . . .

Returning again to the Education Next article from last post, there were a number of things that jumped out at me.  For instance, this description of parenting styles:

The cultural differences between the newcomers and the old-timers in gentrifying neighborhoods can be easily, though inadequately, summarized: white, upper-middle-class families prefer a progressive and discursive style of interaction with their children, both at home and in school, and lower-income, nonwhite families prefer a traditional or authoritarian style of interaction with their children in these same venues. Annette Lareau’s book, Unequal Childhoods, delves deeply into these contrasting styles and how they play out over a lifetime. In my research on school choice, one cultural disparity came up repeatedly as a reason for why white parents leave the schools they are trying to integrate. They were put off by near-constant yelling—from principals, teachers, school aides, and nonwhite parents who come to drop off and pick up their kids. The white parents were surprised to discover that not only is the authoritarian end of the schooling spectrum alive, which would be tolerable if not ideal, but also that their gentrifying neighborhood schools exhibit what these parents perceive to be an extreme and outdated education environment, characterized by strict discipline with yelling adults.

Avery (pseudonyms are used for all of my interviewees), a white mom who was clearly resigned to the pervasiveness of this norm at her newly integrating school, explained that she was leaving “primarily because of the discipline issues. I figured the older, the higher up you got, the more effect there would be on him. I didn’t know enough about the upper-grade teachers to automatically be comfortable, because I know there were some yellers in the bunch. And I didn’t want him to get a yeller. It’s a crapshoot every year who you’re going to get.”

Amber was “appalled” by what she “saw in the hallways and in the cafeteria with the way some of the teachers would speak to students.” She remembers many teachers “screaming at the students,” and quickly concluded that “the pre-K was fine, but there was no way she was going to see the kindergarten year of that school.”

Erich used the word “insanity” to express his disdain for the yelling and strictness norm, which he attributed primarily to the administration: “There was just a lot of yelling in the halls, a lot of screaming at the kids. If the kids were acting up they would be punished by not allowing them to go to recess. You need to give them more recess time if they are acting up! Punishing the whole class if one kid is acting up is insanity to me.”

Cindy’s son “hated” school, and she attributed it to a classroom that “was kind of disorganized. There was a lot of yelling and there was no standard of discipline in place.” Clearly trained in diplomatic speak, Cindy expanded on how the yelling drove her out of the school: “I do think it is a little strange when you’re walking down the halls of the school and you hear teachers shouting and screaming ‘shut up’ at the kids. That is not a good thing. Our kids get yelled at enough at home, but to have to go to school and get yelled at too, it is not a good thing. So, I just wanted out of the school at that point.”

Meredith was not just concerned about “the policing of kids” and the impact this was having on her own children, she was especially aggrieved by the way the yelling seemed to target the young black boys in the school. She described a scene in which the black boys were “being treated like prisoners, lined up against the wall, like they’re being incarcerated already!” She was clearly pained recalling this story: “It was so tragic, so, so tragic. You know I was so aware of my own privilege in the situation, knowing I could pull my kids out at any time. And there are some parents for whom this is their chance!”

Lisbeth was equally horrified by the way the school aides’ yelling always seemed to hone in on the black boys, and she told her principal, “They would never dare speak that way to my children. They speak that way to the black boys. So not only is it horrible for everybody, but they’re reinforcing a stereotype that black boys can be spoken to in a way that white boys and white girls are not spoken to.”

A couple of things here.  First, it does not seem to occur to any of these parents (although it occurs to the writer; more on this in a bit) that perhaps the authoritarian style might be necessary given the characteristics of the population the school serves.

But second . . . really, none of these people ever yell at their kids?  I mean, I attended a variety of public schools in my youth, urban, suburban, and rural.  And yelling was a regular feature, particularly, though not exclusively, from the male teachers.  I suspect I would be disconcerted to witness yelling at my children’s lily-white little school, but if I did, I would make a point of warning my children, “it better not be you upsetting your teacher like that!”

I’m a yeller.  I would characterize it as “speaking forcefully,” but my children call it yelling.  I don’t start off yelling.  But when the “discursive style of interaction” fails, as it often does, I escalate as necessary.  My prejudice is that parents who claim to “never yell” have naturally better behaved children than we do . . . at least so far.  But I will also allow that “naturally better behaved” is disproportionately likely to occur among upper middle class Whites than poor Blacks.

In Other People’s Children, Lisa Delpit explores the dissimilar styles of communication exhibited by people from different racial and class backgrounds, and how these differences might have a negative impact on learning. For example, Delpit sees a problem when a typical white, middle-class teacher uses a passive communication style with her low-income black students, such as asking them to take their seats instead of telling them to take their seats. She argues that this passive communication style is confusing because of low-income black children’s expectations of how authority figures should act, and this mismatch hinders their academic progress. She asserts that white, liberal educators who value student-centered pedagogy and soft, conversant, negotiated power end up alienating and confusing children who are used to explicit instructions and assertive, strong authority figures, a parenting style more common in the black community. My research suggests that this cultural mismatch also appears to work the other way. The teachers in predominantly poor, minority schools, who are reportedly mostly black and have adopted the more teacher-centered, authoritarian style of instruction that they view as appropriate for their students, are turning off white, upper-middle-class parents who want school climates similar to their own progressive homes, where problems are discussed. The “yelling” described by my interviewees could simply be a misperception of Delpit’s described assertiveness. What they think of as “yelling” might just be a firmness and directness that these parents are not used to, that is not part of their culture. Regardless, it hampers integration, because the white, upper-middle-class parents who send their children to schools in their gentrifying neighborhood do not want them spoken to in that way, whatever its label, and they often reconsider their schooling decision.

Okay, but the fact is that I remember being annoyed, as my own children now claim to be annoyed, when my parents ask them to do things in a manner that falsely indicates to them that they have a choice as to whether they must do the thing or not.  I remember distinctly telling my mother, when I was home from boarding school on break, “Look, if I must go to the Wednesday night prayer meeting, then tell me to go to the Wednesday night prayer meeting!  Because if you’re asking me to go, then my answer is that the Tuesday night Bible study is enough mid-week religiosity to get me through to Sunday.  So don’t lecture me about it anymore!”

And now, my older daughter calls me out on my own lecturing, to often humorous effect.

6 comments:

Dexter said...

a progressive and discursive style of interaction with their children

What inna hell is that? Is that where you're completely ineffectual and the kids learn to ignore you?

The white parents were surprised to discover that not only is the authoritarian end of the schooling spectrum alive... characterized by strict discipline with yelling adults.

In fact, if you have to yell at the kid, your authority is weak. My kids do what I say even without yelling. (Yeah, the oldest one is seven, so maybe things will change when they get older.) And yes, I do give orders a lot of the time rather than trying to "reason" with them (i.e., begging and pleading as I see liberal parents do).

Punishing the whole class if one kid is acting up is insanity to me.”

Heh heh this person has never seen Full Metal Jacket.

Our kids get yelled at enough at home, but to have to go to school and get yelled at too, it is not a good thing.

Wait, I thought you had a progressive and discursive style of interaction with your children?

she was especially aggrieved by the way the yelling seemed to target the young black boys in the school.

It's almost like the teachers know which kids are the problem!

They would never dare speak that way to my children. They speak that way to the black boys.

Do your children misbehave? No? Then they don't need to be yelled at. Black boys, on the other hand...

She asserts that white, liberal educators who value student-centered pedagogy and soft, conversant, negotiated power end up alienating and confusing children who are used to explicit instructions and assertive, strong authority figures, a parenting style more common in the black community.

soft, conversant, negotiated power = i.e., feminine, weak

assertive, strong authority figures = i.e., masculine

school climates similar to their own progressive homes, where problems are discussed

Problems are discussed... bah! In my house, problems are solved -- by doing what I say.

I admit I had to break myself of the habit of "asking" kids to do things -- but there's really no point in asking a toddler to do things, since you're going to get a tantrum whether you ask or order, heh heh.

newrebeluniv said...

So many stereotypes. Even teh eevidence of her own eyes doesn't break through the indoctrination shell.

They would too dare to speak to her kids that way. Teachers in those schools are bullies. They were raised by bullies to be bullies. And the only people they can bully are other people's children and taking pay from other people's money. The only people they wouldn't dare speak to that way are people who are bigger, stronger, and more politically powerful than they are. Those teachers stop yelling as soon as those black children catch up to them in height and the power shifts in their favor.

This is what happens when you let stupid people raise your kids because you are too busy.

heresolong said...

I have yelled, as a teacher. It wasn't effective. I have asked the students to do things. They argued with me. Now I don't yell and I don't ask. I tell them what to do, if they don't do it, there are consequences. Yelling is not a consequence, it's an annoyance to everyone.

trumwill said...

If any teachers truly yelled at us going through, I can't remember it. It's the sort of thing that would have caused a stir. I'm excluding yells that are required to be heard over a talking class, of course.

I aim for the middle ground in between yelling and "opening a dialogue."

cephalus said...

My prejudice is that parents who claim to “never yell” have naturally better behaved children than we do . . . at least so far.

That's not fortuitous. They don't yell, because they don't have to; they're already in control. You people who have to raise children in the modern world have my sympathy, but also a large measure of contempt, for you have let your authority be usurped.

I raised three children, of whom I'm very proud. Our relations are still excellent. None of them would claim to have been abused. They all learned the rules early: if you scream, the house better be on fire. The response to misbehaviour was consistent: "Take up the position". Misbehaviour was rare.

Likewise, at school, my teachers never shouted. They applied the stick whenever necessary, and just as often when not necessary, just as a reminder.

You'll probably consider me a Neanderthal. Well, you don't know the half. But I'm not the one having trouble raising children.

cephalus said...

Dexter said:
... there's really no point in asking a toddler to do things, since you're going to get a tantrum whether you ask or order, heh heh.

OK, I'm going to tell you a story, which you may regard as a parable if it suits you. I don't live in any jurisdiction where it could matter, and my children are too old to take them away from me, anyway.

My first child, a daughter, was all of ten days old when she got her first spanking.

She was crying. Yes, babies cry. My wife had fed her, burped her, changed her, cuddled her, checked her for irritations, problems, whatever. In those days we used the old-fashioned towelling diapers. She confirmed that she hadn't accidentally run her through with the safety pin. All was in order, and still the baby cried. Eventually, the two of them were crying together.

I took the baby from her, turned her over and gave her a pat on the rear. Not hard enough to injure, barely hard enough to be felt through the diaper. As my wife told me afterward, she thought, "Great. Now he's done it. Now she'll never stop crying".

The result was dramatic. She gasped once, and stopped crying instantly. In seconds, and I mean a very few seconds, she was fast asleep.

You can't reason with them, when they can't even talk yet. But they're not stupid. You can communicate with them. From then on, and until she could respond to speech, the same principle applied. If we'd exhausted all the reasons we could think of for her crying, a quick pat on the back, very low down, would settle it. If she was just being naughty, it stopped at once. But if she had a reason to cry, she would fly into a rage and throw a tantrum. Then we knew to keep on looking for the reason - and there always was a reason. My little girl, even at that age, had a strong sense of justice.

Different modes of communication are appropriate at various stages of a child's development. Trying to reason with a toddler is a fool's errand.