Monday, May 26, 2014

The Reflexivity of Concerted Cultivation: Or, Why Middle-Class Parents Build Junkyards for Their Kids to Play In

I have written several times about Annette Lareau's Unequal Childhoods, which compares the child-rearing styles of middle class vs. working class and poor parents.  Middle-class parents schedule and direct their children's many activities, creating a 'concert' of adults helping each of their children develop his or her talents.  Working-class and poor parents, by contrast, make sure their kids are physically cared for, then turn them loose to develop by 'natural growth'.

Tristan Bridges has an interesting blogpost on the new trend of 'adventure parks' for kids - fenced, lightly supervised yards full of junk that kids can play with in ways they choose.  This kind of park is not new - the famous documentary series "Seven Up" takes the group of seven year olds from different classes to an 'adventure park' in 1964.

Adventure parks are an attempt by middle-class, concerted cultivation parents to expand their children's talents by also having some of the creativity advantages of natural growth. Bridges happily terms this 'structured unstructured play' designed to create that seeming oxymoron, the concerted cultivation of natural growth.

I want to add one further step to this argument.  When my Centre College students read Unequal Childhoods, they recognize their own upbringing.  As they, and many thousands of other young people who have studied the pros and cons of concerted cultivation, reflect on their upbringing, they mostly appreciate the great advantages they have enjoyed.  But they see some disadvantages to being over-scheduled, not left to develop their imagination enough.  This information then feeds back into how they want to raise their own children. Thus, the sociological study of childhood creates a market for reflexive concerted cultivation, which is improved by incorporating the just criticism of Concerted Cultivation 1.0.

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