Saturday, April 18, 2009

The F Word

Passed on to me about a student's little brother:

After giving Mom her Mother's Day gifts...
Evan: Don't you think you need to say the "f" word?
Mom: ...Um...what?
Evan: "Fank you?"

Friday, April 17, 2009

Sports are McDonaldized Cultivation

Annette Lareau, in Unequal Childhoods, compares the child rearing style of middle class and working class parents. She found that working class parents tend to make sure their kids are fed, clothed, housed, and made to go to school. After that, they can choose what to do. Lareau calls this the "natural growth" method of child rearing. Middle class parents, by contrast, tend to get their kids into all kinds of organized activities to develop each child's talents. Lareau calls this "concerted cultivation."

Centre College students are overwhelmingly the product of concerted cultivation. Indeed, the whole elite college track is driven by kids who try to do very well at a wide range of formal activities, and the parents who pay, drive, comfort, and push them through all those activities.

Of all the types of concerted cultivation, sports were the most common among my students. In part this reflects what the kids are interested in, and what the parents are interested in. Sports are also pursued because they are the easiest to arrange. The standard sports are already understood and organized in most places. The infrastructure is there. Moreover, sports teams are an efficient way to get kids in a structured activity that will develop their talents. Sports produce highly calculable results to tell exactly how well your talent cultivation is going. Sports have predictable seasons, schedules, rules, outcomes, and progressions. And sports allow you to control the risks you face through safety technology, and control the time you spend through a dozen forms of clocking.

These four elements - efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control through technology - are the four marks of what George Ritzer calls "McDonaldization." They are the tools through which a formerly disorganized and organic activity - in this case, physical play - can be rationalized. Rationalization is the master principle of modernity, says Max Weber. It is a core idea of sociology.

Sports are the most McDonaldized form of concerted cultivation.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Rich and Social Problems

People from all social classes produce social problems.

Still, most of the social problems - crime, addiction, delinquency, family disorder - are caused by the poorer half of the population.

I think it is true that people in the poorer half of the population are more disordered and problem causing. One big reason for this is that leading a disordered and problem-causing life tends to leave you poor, no matter how you started out.

There is another reason that the rich create fewer social problems. The rich can use money to treat their personal problems and to compensate for the consequences of their personal problems. The rich can use money to keep their personal problems from becoming social problems.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Paying Taxes Is Patriotic

Today is Tax Day.

This is the day when all Americans should celebrate the services that we have hired the government to provide. I have already eaten food that was safe and regulated, sit in a house that was built to code, use electric appliances built to standard, and wear clothes made cheaper by trade agreements. Soon I will walk down city sidewalks, cross a state highway, past dormitories built with government-backed bonds, to teach students who can be at Centre College because of their federal loans.

But before I go to work, I will put up the flag and thank all those who served in our armed forces to keep me and my family free to enjoy all of this and much more.

Paying taxes is a patriotic duty that I can do with a grateful heart.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Smart One and the Other

I have been reading student journals from my family class. We discussed birth order and sibling competition this time. We studied Frank Sulloway's theory that children are in a Darwinian competition for parental attention. They have to differentiate themselves from their siblings. The first-borns get first choice, so they tend to try to monopolize the things that the parents value. My students are overwhelmingly first-borns or only children. Since Centre is a highly academic place, we tend to get first-borns who emphasized academic learning.

I have also been hearing about the niches chosen by the later-born children. I knew many of the options - sports, art, music, religion, service, or sheer rebellion.

Listening to the women, though, I have heard several times that sisters sometimes differentiate into "the smart one" and "the pretty one."

This made me wonder what the male equivalent would be. The closest I can get is "the smart one" and "the funny one." But the parallel is not as common or exact.

So far this is just an educated guess.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Kentucky 25

Today is my 49th birthday. I had previously asked readers to suggest 50 things that every Kentuckian should do or see by 50. I thank you for the many excellent suggestions I received.

Today I am going to post the top 25 suggestions. In the course of the year I will add another 25, based on what people suggest and what I learn about in my travels. I am going to try to do them all before this day next year.

I picked the top ten based on intrinsic excellence and national or world impact as a symbol of Kentucky. This means there has to be some horses, bourbon, coal, and basketball. There should also be some tobacco, but I do not have an excellent nominee for that category.

Kentucky Derby
Mammoth Cave
UK basketball game at Rupp Arena
Maker’s Mark factory
Lincoln Shrine
Fort Knox - Patton Museum
Louisville Slugger Museum
Red River Gorge & Natural Bridge
Abbey of Gethsemani
Van Lear coal museum (& Loretta Lynn) [or something like this]

The next ten are places are perhaps a step down, but big in Kentucky:

My Old Kentucky Home
Moonbow at Cumberland Falls
Museum of the American Quilters Society
Southeast Christian
Creation Museum
Berea College
Cane Ridge revival site
Ashland - Henry Clay's home

I will round out this first list with five food suggestions.

Hot Brown at the Brown Hotel
Kentucky Fried Chicken at the (reproduced) original store in Corbin
Ale-8-One at the plant in Winchester
Moonlite Bar-B-Q in Owensboro
Miguel’s Pizza at Natural Bridge

I have also had suggestions for five or ten great Kentucky texts to read, a category I am mulling. I will revisit these ideas, and your other suggestions, in future posts.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter

The Gruntleds enjoyed the Easter service of First Presbyterian Church, Nashville today. It was solid, well done, and completely traditional -- just what we went there for. Seeing an Easter service full of Southern Presbyterians is the most reliable way that I can think of to find the core of the American bourgeoisie at its best. Go stewardship! Go inner-worldly asceticism!