Jewish World Review Feb. 23, 2004 / 1 Adar, 5764

Joanne Jacobs

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Consumer Reports

Over-Praised New Yorkers; Under-Educated Hawaiians; Mothers and Nannies | In a very funny New York Observer piece, Alexandra Wolfe argues that upper-middle-class American kids suffer from Too Much Positive Reinforcement. Mommy and Daddy lavish children with unearned praise, leaving young people out of touch with reality. You're not special, after all.

After decades of upper-middle-class parenting designed to shield Junior from all possible failure, and from any honest judgment of his talents, it's no wonder we need television shows like American Idol and its fellow showcase for TMPR victims, The Apprentice. These shows are delivering the spanking -- sorry, the time-out -- that our culture of bloated self-evaluation is subconsciously craving. Their success signals that we may be reaching the end of a long national delusion. There is simply not room enough at the top these days for everyone raised to believe they belong there -- and, deep down, we all know it.

...We've become so inured to the idea that a person's self-assessment need not be changed by a little thing like repeated and utter failure that no one was the least surprised when Joe Lieberman took so long to throw in the towel. Before New Hampshire, he said, "The people of New Hampshire put me in the ring, and that's where we're going to stay." Jon Stewart on The Daily Show put it best: "When did our elections become the Special Olympics? You're not all winners. Not everybody gets a hug. You guys got crushed."

Wolfe focuses on wealthy Manhattanites -- the parents who spend $5,000 on a coach to get their kindergartner into a $26,000-a-year private school -- but the problem of overly entitled children is much broader. Look at all the students who complain they have to pass a test of ninth grade reading and math skills to fulfill their college dreams.

Some day I'll write a book titled "Everything I Know About Parenting I Learned from Mick Jagger". You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometimes you might find you get what you need.

Students learn more from teachers who are tough graders than from easy graders, says an Education Next article on "The Gentleman's A."

Mothers and Nannies

In an interview, Caitlin Flanagan talks about her Atlantic article, "How Serfdom Saved the Women's Movement." It's about the relationship between professional women and immigrant nannies.

Raising a small child is so intimate, and the care itself produces a bond of tremendous intensity. Again, that's what's so morally vexing about this: professional-class women are buying this love when they need it, as though it were a commodity, and then firing the nanny when they don't need her service, her love, any more — how can that be right?

Flanagan urges "maternal feminists" to learn from Christian fundamentalists.

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The crux of their argument is that mothering — as opposed to fathering, or parenting, or care giving — is something unique, and of inestimable value. That the bond between a mother and her children is different from any other kind of human bond, and that it should be revered and respected. You won't get an argument from me about that. But the second that one implies that — in part owing to this unique and sacred bond — the hard work of raising children belongs more to women than to men, these same women start squealing like stuck pigs. They can't have it both ways: either mothers are uniquely designed for the care and protection of children, or they aren't. End of story.

Ironically, the people in this country who most revere that mother-and-child bond are fundamentalist Christians, who make huge sacrifices so that moms can stay home with their children.

Flanagan, who writes from home, hired a nanny to help care for her twin sons. But she felt guilty about it.

Aloha Literacy

Amritas demolishes the argument that Hawaiian schools aren't really underachieving because island children can't be expected to read, write and calculate like the haoles. Amritas, a linguistics professor, writes (sarcastically):

I feel really sorry for the pigment-deprived creatures who only think they have 'achieved'. You think you're so hot with your 1600 SATs and straight 5s on your AP (Advanced Placement) exams? You are NATING by our infinitely more rigorous, paraliterate Loko standards! Can you haole elites spray graffiti designs in seconds before da polis can catch you and judge you by alien laws!? Can you negotiate an ays (crystal meth) deal in fluent Pijin? Ay no tingk so (I don't think so)!

If Hawaiian children are content to be isolated from American culture and poor for the rest of their lives, then English literacy doesn't matter. But ay no tingk so.

Peter at EyelineMatch also argues that Hawaiians can learn about things they don't see.

I grew up at the foot of a tropical mountain range in a yard filled with hibiscus and guava trees; I still managed to conceptualize what life in Norway might have been like. The Commonwealth of Virginia was a quarter-globe away; I still managed to become acquainted with the ideas of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Most of da time bumbye I wen' talk all kine funny pidgin stuffs li' dat, bully; I still managed to read (and enjoy) Shakespeare. Get the point? The notion that a local kid couldn't possibly conceive of concepts like "nightgown" or a "meadow" is not merely condescending, it's downright loony...The notion that a Kalihi teenager is incapable of conceptualizing math problems unless they're set using "plate lunches" instead of integers is, in my estimation, somewhat evil.

What he said.

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JWR contributor Joanne Jacobs, a former Knight-Ridder columnist and San Jose Mercury News editorial writer, blogs daily at She is currently finishing a book, Start-Up High, about a San Jose charter school. Comment by clicking here.

02/17/04: Under the skin; don't call them 'gifties'; a piece of sheepskin; parent participation — or else
02/09/04: The Limits of Discovery Learning; science lite; not just a buzzword; fish, unfried
02/02/04: Flight from excellence; the look that screams; show them the money
01/26/04: It's the Parents, Stupid
01/20/04: High School Blahs, Naked Math, Boys in Trouble
12/22/03: Saving the teacher, skipping a grade, paying for AP tests, laptops don't boost scores
12/15/03: Missing Columbine; tuned out; kindergarten kamikazes; Suffer the Little Children; ungot greats; dangerous rhymes
12/08/03: Desensitizing students to f-word; Like a Rock; Unmannered; Cool Christians on Campus
11/24/03: Integrating lunch; peewee athletes; The Promise
11/17/03: School Principals Gone Wild; School vs. Bloggers; A Is For Absent
11/10/03: Feeling history; no-sided history; passing on a record; winning respect; bright flight
11/03/03: Super Pay for Super Teachers?; ‘Failing’ Teachers; Dissect the Bunny; Yuck
10/27/03: Parent, teachers, parents as teachers; cramming in education; out of control
10/21/03: Go, Samaritan; 2 + 2 = ?; Majoring in Middle-class Status
10/14/03: To Gag a Mockingbird; saying 'hate' is hate speech; protest school
10/08/03: No Homework Overload; Self-centered Social Studies; The Boy Code; Codswallop; College 101: Don't Jump Out of Your Bunk Bed
09/29/03: Flunking mom; classroom classics; ritalin gag rule; lousy children
09/22/03: Order, disorder
09/08/03: No Child Left Behind: A Primer
08/29/03: The Decline and Fall of Social Studies
08/18/03: F is for valedictorian
08/14/03: Start-up success
08/11/03: Subliterate Superintendent
08/04/03: Alternative High School
07/28/03: Out of the System
07/21/03: Too Snobby for Shop
07/14/03: Be very afraid
07/09/03: Know-nothing nonsense
06/30/03: Affirmative action reactions
06/23/03: Overdressed Students, Underdressed Teachers, Dressed-down Exams
06/16/03: Paper 'Is-ness,' Excluding Awards, New Racial Consciousness and Politics
06/09/03: Racist math, red tape for charters, potty reading
06/02/03: Teacher Pay, Illiteracy , No Republicans Allowed
05/27/03: Research papers, athletics, reading
05/19/03: Soft America, plagiarism, Minutemen and Jets
05/12/03: Demographics, nerves, valedictorian, vouchers
05/05/03: Gender Bias, Banned Words, Helen of Troy
04/28/03: Tests, home-schooling, self-esteem
04/25/03: Lessons, American Pride, Iraqi Schools
04/14/03: Iraqi Textbooks and the English language
03/31/03:Teachers, hugging, text messaging
04/07/03: War talk at school
03/24/03: Watching the war
03/10/03: Classroom chaos
03/03/03: Teaching tales
02/24/03: Segregation stories
02/18/03: Writing Essays, America, Beyond Bert and Ernie
02/13/03: Size matters
02/10/03: Parental homework, cheaters and memoirs
02/03/03: Diplomas, academics, preschools and Ritalin
01/27/03: Head Start, Social Studies, Marx, Africa and Math
01/22/03: Teachers as targets
01/13/03: Big Bully's Feelings
01/06/03: School of 60's Whining and Communal Destruction
12/23/02: Teaching in
12/16/02: Chocolate city?
12/10/02: Mandatory Victimhood --- and when cleaning up a school is 'racist'
11/25/02: Multi-colored math, sensitive science
11/20/02: How to leave no child behind
11/18/02: The tummy track
11/11/02: Dysfunctional documents?
11/04/02: Why go to college? Why test schools?
10/28/02: Pride goeth before an F
10/21/02: Diversity adversity
10/14/02: Bad hat day
10/07/02: Inflated sense of worth
09/30/02: The Royal road to knowledge
09/24/02: Sierra's Club
09/20/02: Stupidity Watch
09/03/02: First, win the war
08/26/02: Out of their field, out of their minds?
08/20/02: Fun with failure

© 2003, Joanne Jacobs