The No Child Left Behind education law has led to tremendous controversy among educators, and outright defiance by states that resent the federal government's intrusion into a traditionally local matter, particularly when it came in the form of an unfunded mandate that penalized underperformers by the withdrawal of federal funds. Carrots might have been accepted, but sticks are rarely popular (and may yet give rise to a constitutional challenge based on South Dakota v. Dole, if the DOE actually starts enforcing national standards instead of letting states set their own benchmarks of proficiency). The NYTimes magazine recently had an article that attempted an in-depth look at what researchers and teachers are doing to close the performance gap between black and white, poor and middle-class students. In the focus on the traditional racial divide, however, I wonder whether the researchers may have missed a useful resource: Asian and Eastern European immigrants' parenting, which has created enough overachieving students to constitute a cliche. These parents usually are like the middle-class parents in having at least a high school education and frequently more than that, as higher-than-average level of skills enables them to get work visas to the U.S. Yet the childrearing style described as typical of the low-income parent sounds a lot more like what I experienced growing up than does that of the middle-class parent:
The parents in these families engaged their children in conversations as equals, treating them like apprentice adults and encouraging them to ask questions, challenge assumptions and negotiate rules. They planned and scheduled countless activities to enhance their childrenís development -- piano lessons, soccer games, trips to the museum.Or is that I was raised "a generation or two ago" in sociology time? or that my parents were unsuccessful in their attempts to squelch the backtalk impulse? Considering that my parents had to blackmail me into literacy and that I revenged myself by becoming such a bibliomaniac that they had to ground me from reading by 7th grade, I may have just been an uncommonly bad kid.
The working-class and poor families Lareau studied did things differently. In fact, they raised their children the way most parents, even middle-class parents, did a generation or two ago. They allowed their children much more freedom to fill in their afternoons and weekends as they chose -- playing outside with cousins, inventing games, riding bikes with friends -- but much less freedom to talk back, question authority or haggle over rules and consequences. Children were instructed to defer to adults and treat them with respect.
Regardless, the charter school experiment is one area of education reform of which I tentatively approve, at least as it's being conducted in New York City, and I'm hoping to make legal assistance to the Harlem and Bronx charters -- one of which is profiled in the article -- a pro bono project for local law students who are looking for conservative-friendly opportunities. I couldn't get into Teach for America, but maybe I can help its alumni. And Yale's: "In Tollís own career, in fact, the goal of achieving equality came first, and the tool of education came later. When she was at Yale Law School, her plan was to become a civil rights lawyer, but she concluded that she could have more of an impact on the nationís inequities by founding a charter school."