kitchen table math, the sequel: Eureka

Friday, July 11, 2008

Eureka

Ed had a blinding revelation yesterday morning.

I'd gotten out Laurence Steinberg's Beyond the Classroom, which I hadn't looked at in several years, and was reading his descriptions of authoritative versus permissive parents of teens. That section hadn't left much of an impression on me 4 years ago. More on that anon.


Authoritative parents are:
  • High on warmth and acceptance
  • High on firmness: Parents who are high on this dimension have clearly articulated the rules that the child is expected to follow, and they make demands on the child to behave in a mature and responsible fashion. Children raised in this way know what their parents expect of them and know that there are consequences for violating their expectations. (p. 107)
  • High on "autonomy support": Parents who are high in support for psychological autonomy solicit their child’s opinions, encourage their child to express himself or herself, and, in adolescence, enjoy watching their child develop into a separate and autonomous individual. Children who grow up with parents who are high in autonomy support feel that self-expression is a valued trait, that their parents’ love and respect for them is not contingent on their having the same opinions and ideas as their parents, and that it is important for a person to speak up for what he or she believes. (p. 107)

Permissive parents are:
  • High on warmth & acceptance
  • Low on firmness
  • High on autonomy support

When you put these things together you get a familiar pattern.
Permissive parents ... view their main responsibility as [1] making sure that their child is happy and that his or her needs are gratified.... [P]ermissive parents believe that children are basically good, and that parents should support children in their natural inclinations. Permissive parents are not there to control the child, but to [2] facilitate growth by staying out of the way as much as possible. In fact, these parents [3] worry about the risk of excessive control—that the child’s creativity, curiosity, and inquisitiveness will be stifled by too much emphasis on authority. The acknowledge that children can make bad choices, but [4] they believe that the beneficial learning that takes place as a result of making mistakes outweighs the negative consequences of these errors. [numbers added] (p. 113)

Ed listened to that paragraph and said, "That's the schools."

It is.

Permissive parenting = discovery learning in the home.

The permissive parent focuses on emotion, facilitates growth by staying out of the way, frowns on parent "over-involvement," and believes that children need to make their own decisions and discover the consequences. This includes decisions about whether to drink, use drugs, and do homework.

The authoritative parent thinks all of this is hooey.
The authoritative parent thinks all of this is hooey because the authoritative parent believes in instruction. The authoritative parent is a natural-born instructivist; he (or she) possesses knowledge he intends to spend his parenting years conveying to his children.

What the authoritative parent does not believe in is allowing his child to learn hard lessons via trial and error (hands-on!). You will never hear an authoritative parent suggest that it's good for children to be allowed to make bad decisions so they can discover that bad decisions are bad by living with the results.

This is why the reading wars and the math wars and the edu-wars in general are about so much "more" than just a reading war or a math war or an edu-war in general. The schools are in loco parentis, but the parenting "style" in so many of them is wildly wrong for authoritative parents (not to mention authoritarian parents, but that's another story). If you're an authoritative parent sending a child to a school led by permissive and/or authoritarian educators -- we've experienced both -- you're going to feel that not only is your child being badly taught, he's being badly parented, too.

Meanwhile, permissive white parents* believe the same things progressive educators do:
  • Learning is personal and emotional
  • Learning is "growth"
  • Learning is natural; the grownup's role is to facilitate by staying out of the way
  • Parental over-involvement is common and destructive
  • Parents shouldn't run interference with the school on their children's behalf; parents should allow their children to "self-advocate"
And so on.

There's no way to reconcile these positions. Authoritative parents want authoritative teachers. Permissive parents want progressive educators. Never the twain shall meet.

Of course, given the reality of the standards movement and No Child Left Behind, it seems likely that neither group is getting what they want.


It's not relative....
Since the late 1950s, literally hundreds of studies have been conducted that examine acceptance, firmness, and autonomy support and their consequences for the child’s development. The gist of these studies has been remarkably consistent: children develop in more healthy ways when their parents are relatively more accepting, relatively firmer, and relatively more supportive of the child’s developing sense of autonomy.

[snip]

The consistency with which findings on the benefits to children of acceptance, firmness, and autonomy support have appeared in research studies is really quite remarkable, especially since scientists have used all sorts of methods and sources of information. More important, the consistency of this research argues against the widely held notion that good parenting is all relative. In the past four decades of concerted, scientific study, no research has ever suggested that children fare better when their parents are aloof than when they are accepting, when their parents are lenient rather than firm, or when their parents are psychologically controlling rather than supportive of their psychological autonomy. p. 106-110

Instructivist parents
…teenagers who had been raised in authoritative homes—homes in which parents are accepting, firm, and supportive of their child’s psychological autonomy—fare significantly better than their peers from other types of households. Psychologically, authoritatively reared adolescents are more confident, more poised, more persistent, more self-reliant, and more responsible. They are less likely to use or abuse drugs or alcohol, and less likely to be involved in delinquency or in more minor forms of misbehavior, such as cheating on school tests or cutting classes. Adolescents from authoritative homes report less anxiety, less depression, and fewer psychosomatic problems, such as insomnia or problems controlling their appetite. And not surprisingly, adolescents from authoritative homes do best in school, as measured by their grades, their attitudes toward schoolwork, and the time they invest in their studies. (p. 116-117)

*see In Low-Income Schools, Parents Want Teachers Who Teach
Romancing the Child by E.D. Hirsch


in which I swear off permissive parenting


29 comments:

SteveH said...

That's why KTM talks about so much more than math. It's low versus high expectations, by definition.

So again, why is the education world dominated by progressive thought? Why do they believe it is their right to force their opinions on everyone else? Are they incapable of seeing it as opinion, or worse, just plain wrong?


"There's no way to reconcile these positions."

They don't care. They are in charge. Large school districts could easily offer separate math tracks based on Singapore Math. It will never happen.

Parentalcation said...

I am old school by necessity. We are very firm on standards and expections, but that is the only way a family of 7 can function efficiently.

Catherine Johnson said...

Hi Rory!

I've thought about that.

How are very-small families affecting peoples upbringing?

I read an interesting article about China's one-child family during my 4-hour wait at the CVS....the policy wasn't just about population control. The thinking was also that the country would be able to execute a gigantic leap up the educational ladder with one-child families that would pour all of their time and attention into that child's education.

I gather that worked, though there is a very large job shortage for so many highly educated workers.

Catherine Johnson said...

They don't care. They are in charge. Large school districts could easily offer separate math tracks based on Singapore Math.

We could, too. Won't happen. Let's hear it for Project Lead the Way!!!

I wasn't thinking about individual school districts, actually, but about education politics.

Catherine Johnson said...

It's helpful, to me, to have this framework, though.

When you know that permissive parents believe that kids should learn from experience, which means allowing them to make very bad decisions....that's good to know.

Steinberg also says that no parent of a teen can compete with peers, which means that if you are an authoritative parent you want your kids going to school with other kids who have authoritative parents.

Permissive parents -- and I know this from experience -- don't generally think it's a good idea to enforce homework in high school. They see that as being over-involved and as undermining a teen's independence. They also believe that the teen will learn from making the bad decision not to do homework and turn in assignments. In other words, it's not that they think it's OK not to do homework; permissive parents have the same values and goals for their kids as authoritative parents.

Permissive & authoritative parents split over the means to achieve those goals. A permissive parent thinks that the proper way to handle a teen who isn't doing homework is to respect that decision and allow him to experience the negative consequences.

I've had parents tell me the same thing about drugs. The teen has to make his own decision about drug use and live with it.

If you have a lot of permissive parents in a high school you're going to have a lot of teens making bad decisions setting the peer culture.

One other thing: Steinberg says that permissive parenting produces teens who are even more oriented to their peers than kids from authoritative families. Teens raised by permissive parents are intensely focused on other teens, and are not particularly influenceable by adults including teachers.

I'm curious to know whether these kids tend to be socially dominant in high school cultures. Given how strongly oriented to their peers these kids are, and how self-confident they are, I think it's a possibility.

Catherine Johnson said...

Interestingly, Steinberg says that authoritative parents often do what they can to pick the peers. They'll change schools or even move to a new neighborhood in order to get the peers they hope will "work" for their kids.

Ben Calvin said...

....which means that if you are an authoritative parent you want your kids going to school with other kids who have authoritative parents.

Couldn't describe my opinion any better.

Catherine Johnson said...

Why do they believe it is their right to force their opinions on everyone else?

You know -- I have a provisional answer to this.

I re-read Hirsch's Romancing the Child yesterday.

Hirsch explains that Romanticism was a form of religion. I'll get some of that essay posted. Hirsch says that progressive ed is a form of religion and, as such, can't be empirically validated by scientific research, the laws of logic, etc.

I believe this argument, and have for some time. I remember Ed once coming home from a board meeting saying that constructivism is a religion. When I protested, saying that "real" religion is nothing like what you see going on in school districts across the country, he said, "It's a false religion."

That may have been the evening when Ed said to one of the administrators, "I've been a disciplinary specialist for 25 years" and she said, "Have you ever wondered whether that's your problem?"

(And, yes, I know I tell that story a lot -- I do it on purpose!)

Anyway, I think that constructivism is a religion, the problem being that it is not recognized as a religion by its adherents. That's why they're happy to impose their beliefs on the rest of us -- they don't recognize that their beliefs are beliefs.

Ed schools really are a "thoughtworld," which is what religion was in the Middle Ages. The existence of God was obvious.

Traditional religions are completely different today. No matter how religious you are, you can't not be aware that other people don't share your beliefs.

No matter how religious you are, you can't not be aware that your beliefs are beliefs.

This is why secular religions are so dangerous. Adherents of secular religions do not think they are following a religion. They think they are bearers of truth.

Thus they do not recognize religious freedom; they do not think that other people are entitled to believe what they choose to believe.

This is one of the reasons I strongly support traditional religions.

Human beings are wired for religion. Period. Religious belief is not going away.

That being the case, what form of religion best serves our country: traditional religions or the new secular faiths?

I vote for the traditional faiths. These religions have been around for a very long time, and have acquired some wisdom about the relationship between conviction and freedom. I think that's probably true of Islam in its mainstream forms, too, although I don't know much about the religion.

I'm "pro-religion" for other reasons, too, but even if I were an atheist I would support traditional religions over secular ones.

After the board meeting that night, Ed said that that the true believers running the district are on a Civilizing Mission.

Of course they're going to impose their beliefs on us.

We are godless heathens.

Catherine Johnson said...

Ben -- The funny thing is, I didn't come to this perception until after we made the decision to change schools. Looking back, though, I realize that concern about peers had been affecting both of us for quite some time.

Ed, in fact, had been saying that he liked schools in which the kids wear uniforms, that he'd walked past one of the private schools in Manhattan where all the kids were wearing uniforms and were looking and acting serious...

I think I finally put my finger on it yesterday.

There are a huge number of authoritative parents here. Huge. As a direct result, there are also a huge number of very well put together kids. C. has a terrific set of friends; these are kids we're going to make sure he stays friends with (as long as they all want to stay friends, obviously).

So why am I concerned about peers?

I realized yesterday that I'm concerned about peers because we also have a significant number of permissive parents -- and because I get the sense that it's those kids who are setting the tone at the high school.

I don't know that's the case, but that's the vibe I get.

I can't tell you how many times I've been told that the high school administration values the social over the academic.

My guess is that when you have a large group of permissively raised, very well-heeled teens attending a high school that values the social over the academic, it's the permissively raised kids who are going to be running the show.

btw, our high school is quite small. There are about 150 kids per class and they've all known each other since they were 3.

My sense is that this makes the socially dominant group REALLY dominant. It's nothing like a big school where you have different groups that peripherally interact.

Tracy W said...

I hate to say this, but in these things it's important to consider other options. Perhaps "authoritatively reared adolescents are more confident, more poised, more persistent, more self-reliant, and more responsible." not because of their parents' parenting style directly, but because they are genetically descended from parents who are mature enough to adopt an authorative parenting style.

LynnG said...

Maybe we need a twin study for that! Is it nature or nurture?

Almost certainly, a combination of the two. I have some very small sets of data to work with (I personally know 3 families with more than 4 kids -- and no, none of them are Catholic :) ) The large families differ from Rory's experience as I think the parents just kind of "gave up." It was too hard to maintain the firmness, so they went permissive. But I don't think any started out that way. I'll bet there is a fuzzy line between permissive and authoritative that many families try to straddle.

For years I was told that I was much to rigid in my parenting style (by my mostly permissive inlaws, who are also educators -- it all comes together now). I tried to be more permissive, despite the angst it gave me. Eventually, I returned to my natural inclinations and we are all much happier that I don't act quite so schizophrenic.

School choice would solve so many of these issues. The authoritative parents could have their structured schools and the permissive parents could have their discovery schools.

Catherine Johnson said...

I haven't seen a difference in maturity....

Permissive parenting is a pretty well-worked out philosophy, I'd say.

The Hirsch essay was terrifically helpful to me in terms of understanding some of the more subtle aspects.

For instance, I didn't realize that there's a difference in core beliefs or assumptions about morality. Permissive/Romantic parents believe children are innately good; classicist parents believe children learn to be good.

Apparently this goes back to the doctrine of original sin. The belief system of "Classicist parents" is related to original sin, regardless of whether we believe in the religious doctrine or not.

Another thing: there are a gazillion books on parenting that advocate permissive parenting.

This is another irony: permissive parents who defer to the authority of professionals telling them to raise their children permissively end up not being authoritative themselves.

Catherine Johnson said...

Another thing: what I see as "instruction," progressive educators & probably most permissive parents see as "over involvement" and "helicopter parenting."

I agree with this to a degree: I see a laissez faire philosophy of letting teens make mistakes and then discover the consequences as under-protective.

Catherine Johnson said...

There's definitely a big group of parents who are permissive because they've given up or don't know how to be authoritative (Steinberg mentions this).

That's a BIG problem with Andrew: we've given up, or had.

This summer we're getting back on the straight and narrow -- his behavior has GOT to get under control.

It's amazing how well the clickers work----but I'm not going to be able to do this using only positive reinforcement. I just don't have the know-how.

So we're using clicks as secondary positive reinforcers & time-outs in his room as negative reinforcements & punishments.

The room time-outs are complicated, though, because while it's aversive for Andrew to be put in his room, his room is also somewhat soothing and organizing...

Nevertheless, I had wanted to figure out a way to stick with positives but I would need a professional to teach me how.

Catherine Johnson said...

He says that most or all parents do all three forms of parenting at different times.

Where you see the defining difference is when the two systems come into conflict -- which one do you choose?

I've seen that with various friends. When the issue of teen drinking came up, they had a conflict between authoritative parenting (teen drinking not allowed) and permissive parenting (teen drinking allowed with parents keeping an eye on it).

My permissive-parent friends started out trying to be authoritative on this issue, and then switched to permissive.

Catherine Johnson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Catherine Johnson said...

School choice would solve so many of these issues. The authoritative parents could have their structured schools and the permissive parents could have their discovery schools.

I'm right there with you.

Authoritative parents just aren't happy in constructivist/authoritarian schools. (So far, in my experience, constructivism and some kind of authoritarianism go together...though it's possible that's unique to our situation)

Everyone would be radically happier if the parenting styles matched the educational styles.

Catherine Johnson said...

Not to belabor the point, but this is why I have no interest in "reforming" the schools to look the way I want them to look.

I love the fact that C. will be wearing a coat jacket & tie to school.

Many parents would not love that---and that's great! Square pegs are never happy in round holes & vice versa. School takes up your kid's entire childhood. Nobody can survive an environmental mismatch of that magnitude for 20 years.

Ben Calvin said...

apparently this goes back to the doctrine of original sin.

I have a thought on this. To me original sin is a way of explaining that the world is not, and will never be, perfect, no matter what we do or do not do.

While we have the ability via abstract thought to conceive of the perfect or the absolute, that perfection does not exist in the world.

The Romantics, however, hold nature to be that perfection. Hence the conflict with the Classical concept.

LynnG said...

Sometimes kids exist in a state of agreement with their parents. They don't always have to be rebelling to be happy. Sometimes kids have goals for their own future. This may or may not have anything to do with "pleasing" you.

I imagine on some level, C. is frustrated with the irrationality of his day to day school experiences. Some kids just can't tolerate high levels of irrational, inexplicable behavior. Maybe he's one of them.

LynnG said...

I spent last week conspiring with my sister to convince her daughter (my niece) to switch high schools. My niece finally found a nice group of friends and she wants to stay put. Last winter/spring she was flailing in the social realm. The academics were horrible and she agreed to switch schools. Now she's been accepted to a far better public magnet, but she's made friends since she applied and she's scared of starting over.

The whole family (her uncles and grandparents included) are trying to convince her to make the switch. The magnet school she's been accepted to is so rigorous, about 50% of the students graduate with full tuition scholarships to college. Her current high school sends almost no one to good 4 year colleges, and none on academic scholarships.

The lowest moment came when my brother looked at our niece and said, "You don't want to go to a crappy high school."

That's all he had to say on the subject. I guess we are all pretty authoritative on my side of the family.

ElizabethB said...

Having moved 5 times in the last 7 years, I can say I've seen a lot of different school districts and parenting styles.

In the Northern VA area, it's rare for kids to do chores, and you don't want to be around many of the children, they are so spoiled and whiny. You can't even say the word spanking in public.

In the South, people still expect kids to say to adults, including their parents, "Yes, sir," and "Yes, Ma'am." You can say the word spanking in public. Most of the public schools here in the Little Rock area have uniforms. While children are still children and have their moments, most in the South are pleasant to be around and treat adults with respect.

We lean towards the authoritative side, but do believe in letting children learn from small mistakes, especially when they're young. For example, they can go somewhere without coats or without eating a suggested snack before we go out, when they get cold or hungry, I say, "hmm, that's too bad. Maybe next time you should bring your coat/have a snack." They don't get to run amok in the parking lot or anything too dangerous, however! (It's a myth that you get pneumonia from not wearing a coat.)

Most military folks are not permissive, and they also are very easy to convince about sight words and other progressive nonsense, probably because of both their parenting/thinking style and having seen different quality schools through moving. (You aren't going to find a lot of military folks who don't believe in a chain of command and authority!) I have only found one military parent I couldn't convince that sight words were bad--she worked in a progressive school as a sub and had been propagandized too much. She wouldn't even listen to my arguments.

We probably look strict to our friends in Northern VA and a tad permissive to our friends in the South!

Catherine Johnson said...

NOTE -- I've just moved this comment down:


For years I was told that I was much to rigid in my parenting style (by my mostly permissive inlaws, who are also educators -- it all comes together now).

Oh, that's funny!

Yeah, this way of looking at things is terrifically helpful.

Of course everyone has his funky mixture...the mom of one of C's friends is quite upset that we're changing schools & has been lobbying for us to reverse course.

She herself is strongly authoritative; her husband may actually be authoritarian, overall (leans that way, at least).

The other day she told me, "C. wants to please you." She said this meaningfully, as if it were a bad thing & rendered the school decision artificial and false.

Of course, I think it's a very good thing for a teen to have some wish to please his folks, seeing as how the peers are pretty much running the show at this point.

It was interesting, though, because in fact we've talked to quite a few parents who wanted to take their kids out of the district but the kids refused to leave their friends.

C. has terrific friends - so why is he willing to leave?

I asked him about it, and he didn't have much to say. This was one of those "Don't bug your kids about their feelings" moments.

He expresses so much joy and excitement over the new school that I simply can't believe that the sole reason he's willing to go is to please me -- particularly not seeing as how his dad really didn't want him to go to a Catholic school (though he's thrilled now that he's gotten used to the idea).

When the topic of changing schools came up we asked C. and he said he wanted to change -- we were both surprised to hear this, and realized we'd missed some things that were going on in the school socially (not having to do with friends --- other things). He spent lots of time on the computer Googling schools, telling us about them, having me look up the web site, etc

So...I assume he wants to please us and he wants to go to the new school.

But it's an interesting question how I would have felt about the whole thing if he didn't want to go.

Funny story: one friend of ours really wanted to pull her child out of the district, but he didn't want to go. The two of them argued all the way to one of the interviews; then, when they got there, the admissions officer said, "Now you can come in and tell me wonderful things about your child."

Catherine Johnson said...

I have a thought on this. To me original sin is a way of explaining that the world is not, and will never be, perfect, no matter what we do or do not do.

Without knowing anything about intellectual history (obviously, it's time), I agree with this.

Ed and I were talking about the authoritative/permissive distinction in the car just now; he was making a psychoanalytic case that permissive parenting is, or can be, about parents rationalizing an upsetting situation (i.e. teen kids drinking & partying, etc.)

I said permissive parenting may be be about rationalizing a bad situation in some cases (or about being overwhelmed in others, as Lynn mentioned), but that it's also a coherent philosophy of parenting.

Ed thought about it & said, "If you believe that people are inherently good, then it probably follows that a good person will learn the right lessons from bad decisions."

That made a lot of sense to me. Since I don't see kids as inherently good (or inherently smart--haha) I have NO confidence a kid will learn the appropriate lesson from making bad decisions. As a matter of fact, I feel quite confident that many, many kids & adults learn exactly the wrong lessons from making mistakes. I know I've done so in some areas.

The "perfection hypothesis" is interesting, because in fact I don't see perfection as possible. I see life as a permanent effort to behave oneself, which, for a free lance writer, it is. I could use a little more externally-imposed structure in my life...

It's true that if you don't see perfection as possible, you also aren't going to feel confident that a teen will right himself after living with the consequences of a bad decision.

One last thing: I see humans as having a number of built-in emotions and impulses, good and bad. I also think morality has some basis in the brain, though I'd have to look up the research on this, which I don't recall well at the moment.

I'm probably close to the classic idea that humans have conflicting impulses that have to be managed.

I can't say that I have a position on learning from experience, other than to believe that you need to be able to learn from experience.

Some of you probably remember that great lesson the legendary professor at Columbia med school used to drill into his genius students:

If what you're doing isn't working, try something else.

Catherine Johnson said...

Sometimes kids exist in a state of agreement with their parents. They don't always have to be rebelling to be happy.

Apparently that's the norm. I think Steinberg says this & quite a few other researchers have found the same thing.

From what I gather, it's intense orientation to peers over parents that's normal, not rebellion.

Separation & autonomy don't require rebellion ----

Catherine Johnson said...

Some of the reason C. is drawn to the new school has to do with a camp counselor he had at tennis camp, who also went there. C. really liked him & looked up to him.

Plus Christian had two friends who went to this school. That's one of the interesting things about the change: he had some knowledge of and interest in the school before we did.

I doubt we'll ever know why, exactly, he was so amenable to the change, but if I had to guess I'd say Christian had something to do with it. Not on purpose, but by virtue of being here every day, and basically being C's big brother. The new school has more black & Hispanic kids & it's located in a neighborhood more like where Christian grew up; plus Christian's mom wanted C. to go there. The new school has Christian's seal of approval. (I wish Christian had gone to Catholic schools ---- )

I believe there are only 3 kids leaving the school next fall (a few others tried, but got wait-listed at schools they applied to).

One of those 3 is going to the private school her big sister went to.

As strange as it seems, there's a way in which C. is actually going to a school that's "familiar" to him...

Catherine Johnson said...

Last winter/spring she was flailing in the social realm. The academics were horrible and she agreed to switch schools.

I remember!


...she's made friends since she applied and she's scared of starting over....

The magnet school she's been accepted to is so rigorous, about 50% of the students graduate with full tuition scholarships to college. Her current high school sends almost no one to good 4 year colleges, and none on academic scholarships.



oh, no ---- what a scene

a couple of parents here have told us similar stories, although a portion of kids here always get into good schools.

The lowest moment came when my brother looked at our niece and said, "You don't want to go to a crappy high school."

That's all he had to say on the subject. I guess we are all pretty authoritative on my side of the family.


I'll say!

That's a great story in terms of C. & what's going on. The acorn doesn't fall far from the tree.

I hope you guys can talk her into making the move.

Catherine Johnson said...

Most military folks are not permissive

I'm laughing!

I sure hope not ----- !

I don't think authoritative parents have a particular position on letting their kids learn from mistakes per se.

Where I think you'll see authoritative parents invariably parting ways with permissive parents would be on kids making their own decisions on homework, drinking, drugs, etc.

Catherine Johnson said...

Coming back to this thread 2 and a half years later...

I don't think I included a distinction within authoritative parenting that it took me awhile to understand.

Authoritative parents support their children's autonomy of thought, not behavior.

The children of authoritative parents are free to think whatever they want to think and to develop their own philosophy.

They are not free to act however they wish to act.

That is a critical distinction, I think.

This is why an authoritative parent is comfortable saying, "You don't have to like math, you just have to learn it."

In my own case, I would **prefer** that my child like math for pragmatic reasons. He's more likely to continue taking math or math-related courses after high school if he likes the subject.

But if he doesn't like math, that doesn't change our expectation of what math he should be learning in high school and how well he should be learning it.