Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Natural Growth Childrearing is Like Having Cats

My students always learn from Annette Lareau's excellent study, Unequal Childhoods, about the difference in the way middle-class parents typically raise their children, compared to the way working-class and poor parents typically raise their children.

Middle-class parents use what Lareau calls "concerted cultivation" - marshaling their own resources, and that of many other teachers, coaches, tutors, and others to cultivate the talents of each of their children.  This is the typical upbringing of Centre students.

Lareau found that poorer parents use what she called "natural growth" parenting.  Good parents make sure their kids are fed, clothed, sheltered, and loved - and make them go to school, as the law requires.  They depend on the school to do the teaching, since the teacher are the professionals.  When kids come home, they are free to choose how to spend their time, either in the house or out of it.

My children were raised in the way typical of my class - concerted cultivation, but not over-the-top.  I realized as I was letting the cats out after feeding them this morning that I raise my cats by natural growth.  Once they mastered the litter box, I have not worked much on developing their skills.  They are free to come and go.  I feed them, get their necessary shots, and pet them sometimes.

My students also learn from Edin and Kefalas' excellent study Promises I Can Keep, about teen welfare mothers.  For Centre students, it is a through-the-lookingglass experience to read about teenagers who think raising a child at their age - with no husband, no job, and no real plan - is a sensible thing to do.  The difference, they come to see, is that the women in Promises I Can Keep are using a natural growth standard of what being a good mother would be, whereas my students are using a concerted cultivation standard.

At the same time, many of these same students, especially the young women soon after they graduate from Centre, will casually take on the care of a cat.  Because for cats, they find the natural growth standard is sufficient.

Monday, May 04, 2015

The Railroads Won the Civil War

I have long puzzled over how the Republican Party, which was born as the progressive do-gooder party, became the party of corporate interests.  I had vaguely thought the shift might have happened with Taft.

The more I think about the origins of the party, though, the more I think the corporate interest was there from the beginning. And today it came to me:

The railroads won the Civil War.

Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves.

Robert Todd Lincoln, business leader and Republican power broker, was general counsel, and later president, of the Pullman Palace Car Company.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Hunger Games for Universities


Mark Chelgren, a Tea Party Republican state senator in Iowa, proposed a bill that would, among other things, do the following:

(2) The names of the five professors who rank lowest on their institution’s evaluation for the semester, but who scored above the minimum threshold of performance, shall be published on the institution’s internet site and the student body shall be offered an opportunity to vote on the question of whether any of the five professors will be retained as employees of the institution. The employment of the professor receiving the fewest votes approving retention shall be terminated by the institution regardless of tenure status or contract.

The bill is really breathtaking in its peculiar view of what professors - or any kind of professionals - do, and how they should be judged. It is a kind of cut-throat competition that would make for poisonous relations among any staff.  This was the principle governing co-working relations at Enron, which led them to try to outdo one another in ruthlessness toward customers.

One blog commentator, tmareace, wrote "How about doing the same for the legislators in the state?"

The good news is that, as far as I can tell, this bill went nowhere, to the credit of the Iowa legislature.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Would Government-Provided Birth Control Be Fair, Because Voluntary? How About Government-Provided Guns?

My students have been reading Cahn and Carbone's Red Families vs. Blue Families. As the name suggests, the authors contrast the vision of family life of conservative and liberal ideologies, and actual practice.  The short version of the difference:

Blue families promote marital delay, birth control, equality in marriage, and higher education.

Red families promote early marriage, sex control, complementarity in sex roles, and conservative religion.

I asked the students to try to come up with several policies that would justly serve a nation with both kinds of families.  Some of the students are liberals and some are conservatives, but all are students at a selective college, most of whom are planning on careers for men and women, as well as marriage and children. Some are, therefore, 'red' in their ideology, but tilt 'blue' in their practice.

Which led quite a few, on both sides of the spectrum, to want the government to make birth control widely available to everyone.  They reasoned that this was a fair policy to both views; the government was not promoting birth control, as blues would like, but simply making it available.

It occurred to me that a good parallel would be to have the government make guns widely available to everyone.  Would this constitute a fair policy to both views, or would the government be promoting gun ownership, as reds would like?


Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Yes, "We" Can Still Handle Marriage, As We Always Have



A friend asked me to comment on this article, in which the author, Anthony D'Ambrosio, claims that "marriage doesn't work today" and that "we" (young people) can't handle it.

I don't think this young man understands marriage very well.  

He thinks sex is the most important aspect. He imagines that couples in the past did not struggle with financial problems together. After his divorce, he is hoping for "true love" which somehow counteracts all the problems that he mentions.  

And he does not even consider the core task of marriage from time immemorial: raising children.  

I don't think the problem is his generation, or today's technological distractions, or even student debt. Plenty of young people make excellent marriages in the customary way. They work out a way to deal with these challenges together. 

Marriage is a way for two people to mature together - which makes everything else possible.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Manspreading in Public, Womanspreading in Private

"Manspreading" is the tendency of some men to spread out and take extra space in public - on a subway bench, for example.  This is a real phenomenon, and the public-awareness campaign to encourage men to be more restrained is sensible.

Less noted is what I think should be called "Womanspreading" - the tendency of some women to take extra space when sharing a bed.  A humorous representation of the phenomenon is here:


I think there is a parallel phenomenon of "mansplaining" in a public setting, and "womansplaining" in a private one.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Spreading Democracy vs. Spreading Capitalism

There is a great divide in American foreign policy since World War II.

Some want to spread democracy.  Some want to spread capitalism.

Realizing this clarifies to me much of what has been muddy in why some of our interventions have been for good, and others for ill.