kitchen table math, the sequel: from the annals of greatest hits: do not press send

Thursday, December 27, 2012

from the annals of greatest hits: do not press send

Thinking about schools and peers and parent-child attachments....I came across one of my favorite posts.


Auntie Ann said...

I've read that post several times, and we've passed it along to others too. A perfect distillation of the problem.

Catherine Johnson said...

It is, isn't it! Thanks so much for telling me ----

And of course now that C. is in college, it rings all the more true ----- NOT ONE MINUTE of all the Powerpointing C. did for so many years is useful now.

Just the opposite.

The Powerpoints, the "Exploratories," the interdisciplinary this, that and the others ---- NONE of it helps now.

Catherine Johnson said...

btw, I want to underline the Neufeld find --- "Hold Onto Your Kids" --- it is THE book.

It's the book that finally explains to me everything I was thinking and feeling during our years in public school.

I was just talking to Debbie, and I realized that Neufeld's book explains why I was always so intensely hostile to any hint of 'helicopter parent' talk.

I was hostile because when the school talked about helicopter parents it was undermining not just Ed's and my authority ---- but also our ***attachment,*** the bond between C. and his parents.

When school officials repeatedly raised the helicopter parent image, what they were saying was: Back out of your child's life ***and let your child's peers fill the void.

I'm thinking now that here in America the people who instinctively understand Neufeld's message --- "authoritative parents" --- have framed the issue in strictly terms of authority. That is the way Laurence Steinberg frames it ("authoritative" versus "authoritarian" versus "permissive") and that is certainly the way I always framed it.

Neufeld reframes the same data and the same situation in terms of attachment.

It is a revelation.

I now make the connection: undermine a parent's authority with his child, and you undermine the relationship, too.

Didn't I used to write about being 'the boss' of math??

I can't remember.

I'm pretty sure I used to say things like "I am the boss of math."

We may have had other 'boss of' formulations as well.

What those formulations said wasn't just that we would decide what our goals for C. were, not the school, but also that we -- not his peers -- would be the important people in his life.

ChemProf said...

Actually, I find I have to unteach the Powerpoint things they learned in high school. I do have my students give Powerpoint presentations -- it is after all a major way in which scientific results are shared -- but I have to teach them to limit the text on each slide and to eliminate all of the fancy transitions that make a presentation look "high schoolish" rather than professional.

It looks like an interesting book -- we have been talking about preschool options (including not) and some of the assumptions about preschool are basically about having kids attached to other kids as well. I think some of these cultural ideas are pretty deeply embedded and not considered too closely.

Catherine Johnson said...

ChemProf - I have got to send you Richard Hudson's fabulous little column on bullet points --- it is GREAT. (Checking to see if I've got your email - hang on - )

Catherine Johnson said...

I just emailed it to you (I can't link online for some reason - although I'll look into that again...)

I had been for some time noticing that I was using bullet points a LOT, and even using numbering a lot (as lawyers do, I think) ---- and meanwhile I had a kind of 'core' prejudice against Powerpoint thanks to all the years C. spent NOT learning Powerpoint while he produced one after another ....

And then I read Richard Hudson (UK linguist) on bullet points.


I now see contemporary prose as shifting in light of the 'discoveries' Powerpoint made (or made apparent).

Catherine Johnson said...

btw, one of Neufeld's essential points is that you don't need 'skills' in order to be a parent.

You need an attachment, and if you have the attachment your instincts will be correct.

It's when the parent-child attachment is challenged and replaced by a peer-to-peer attachment that instincts are useless.

I am almost positive he's right.

In fact, I've just been looking through Steinberg again, and I'm seeing (I think) that he takes 'youth culture' and 'peer power' for granted, as a natural aspect of development.

(I may be misrepresenting his work, but that's sure the feeling I get. He certainly devotes much of Beyond the Classroom to explaining that peers in high school are much more powerful than parents...)

I was looking at his section on the 'power of authoritative parenting,' which he opens with the conundrum of why, if all parents universally want their kids to do well in school, hardly any kids are actually doing well in school.

Why is that?

Steinberg chalks it up to a lack of "skills" in parents: "parenting skills" specifically.

We have decades of research on the "skills" it takes to parent well, but nobody reads it or pays any attention.

I feel almost certain that has to be wrong.

I am now thinking that if you find yourself needing "skills" (which I certainly did by the middle of C's 8th grade year), the problem isn't you and your knowledge of child development but the environment your child is in.

It takes skill to fight a bad environment.

Once C. enrolled in his Jesuit high school, I stopped needing skill.

Catherine Johnson said...

I should mention .... by the middle of C's 8th grade year, I think it was, we were having battles about math that were so loud and so protracted nobody was doing any actual math.

That was the Christmas, I think, when I discovered Karen Pryor's Don't Shoot the Dog. Talk about skill! Pryor is a behavior specialist and a famous trainer of dolphins and dogs.

I needed the skills she explains in her book to get my 8th grade son to learn math at home, from me.

And the reason I needed those skills was that he wasn't learning math at school.

Not that his Jesuit school fixed that situation, I am sorry to say.

That school did everything else right: everything.

So I lost the math wars here at home, but I did end up with a well-educated kid who is well on his way to being a Jesuit-style "man for others."

Catherine Johnson said...

some of the assumptions about preschool are basically about having kids attached to other kids as well


You will spend the next 20 years of your life hearing about the ALL IMPORTANT PEERS!!!!!!

Peers and peer-to-peer attachment are severely overrated.

Catherine Johnson said...

Trying to get a post up now, but in case I don't finish it: I just found the page in Steinberg's book where he says that kids raised by permissive parents are more oriented to peers than to ANY adult, including teachers.

Kids raised by authoritative parents, who do better on almost every measure, are less polished with their peers, and less oriented to their peers.

Steinberg makes that point in passing; he's really not focused on the centrality of attachment to the parent per se.

I think in a way Steinberg missed the 'essence' of what he was saying ---- (?)

If so, that would explain my disagreements with him on issues like parents having conflict with the school....a situation he strongly advises against, as I recall.

Or maybe he says you should never try to teach your child academic subjects at home .... 'let the school handle it' ----

I'll have to check.

In any event, I remember being taken aback that the psychologist who had done so much to explain 'authoritative parenting' to the world would tell parents to walk on eggs when it came to their childrens' schools.

Now, reading Neufeld, Steinberg's seeming inconsistency makes sense (at least from one perspective): Steinberg isn't talking about attachment first and foremost.

When a parent backs out of his child's school life and learning EVEN WHEN CLEAR PROBLEMS HAVE ARISEN IN THAT ARENA, the parent is almost by definition backing out of the relationship, or weakening the attachment.

Catherine Johnson said...

Here's another thing.

C. told me the other day that his closest friend at college "loves you."


"I always tell him about how you fought the school. He loves you!"

C. said that with relish.

I haven't fought a school on his behalf in 5 years (although I threatened to have a tete a tete with the Writing the Essay people...)

But that is what he remembers; my battles with the middle school are a highlight of his childhood, apparently.


Seriously, though, my battles with the middle school should be something he remembers with joy (although it surprised me that he did and does).

Mama bear protecting her cub is ***attachment.***

Anonymous said...

Good book.

One nice thing I can say about my son's high school happened last year when he fell apart grade-wise (He asked me to "back off" so I did.) It was a disaster for his transcripts. Disaster.

Anyway, after explaining to him that his future was too important to be left up to him, I quickly gathered tutors, counselors, a psychiatrist... I met with all of his teachers and took notes, and followed through with weekly emails.

Later when I met with the vice principal and his counselors to discuss his 504 plan (yes, I have yet another child with that teenage boy affliction--ADHD. Somehow I missed it with him since he was able to usually muscle through his classes.) I mentioned to them that I was sorry if I came across like some crazy helicopter parent, but he had left me no choice. The vice principal and the counselors gave each other a "look". She then said, "We wish we had a few more parents like you." They all nodded emphatically that they agreed with the "intervention" that I had taken.

I can't say tons of great things about his school, but that comment definitely surprised me in a good way.


Catherine Johnson said...




Catherine Johnson said...

Reading Neufeld, what I'm thinking now is that when schools undermine parents they very likely undermine themselves.

That was never the way I saw it .... I got wind that there was a fair amount of parent-undermining here (which we directly experienced at the middle school level) --- and I always saw it as the school adults substituting their authority for ours (regardless of what the motivations were).

Now I'm thinking that may not be possible at the K-12 level.

Undermine the parent-child bond and you undermine the teacher-child bond.

That's the way it looks to me-----

Catherine Johnson said...

Another thing about your story ---- the part about telling mom to 'back off' ----- right!!

We heard that all the time; we were supposed to back off ---- and I always thought that message was coming from the adults.

(Actually, I did have school adults talk about helicopter parents directly to me --- never about Ed and me, always about other parents. Administrators talking about other 'bad parents' was a very common practice around here.)

In any event, now of course I wonder how often the 'back off' message was coming from the peers.

Not the adults in the school.

Pretty often, I bet.

Very interesting.

TerriW said...

"But what about socialization??"

Pardon the homeschool humor.

But, seriously, I'm not on board with the type of socialization that the school system seems to promote -- not only creating a rift between parent and child, but also a rift between siblings.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I was told if his father and I just backed off he'd be fine. The thing is, I always backed off in the beginning, explaining that he was now in high school and he need to handle his own affairs. Then the progress report would come and the conferences would happen and it would turn out that he wasn't turning hardly anything in. So I'd have to start checking grades and questioning him. Usually that was enough to get him on track.

But the beginning of junior year he insisted that we were his problem, so we didn't check on him except to ask if he needed anything from us. The day before his grades came I asked him if there was anything he needed to tell me. "Nope, it's all good." It wasn't all good. We're talking Ds, as well as Cs.
Luckily for him, his ACT was high and most of his 14 AP tests were 4s or 5s. That has saved him with some of the these schools.

The funny thing is that some of them are inviting him into the honors college. Seriously?

I told him that some of these scholarships would require a 3.5 from him. He was all, "Oh sure, I can do that." Right, in what universe? The delusions of teenagers.

We're hopeful for him, but I'm trying to mentally prepare myself in case it doesn't work out. I've had at least 4 friends come and tell me about their good student kid who fell completely apart at college. I had no idea this happened so much.

So, we'll see. We have a little more time to prepare him and for him to mature, thank god.


ChemProf said...

I teach a math module in a summer bridge program for first generation college students. One of the days is devoted to teaching them how to calculate a GPA, and showing just how hard it is to come back from even a single bad semester. They are inevitably shocked.

Auntie Ann said...

Helicopter parenting: fighting your kids' battles for them.

Normal parenting: fighting battles on behalf of your kids.