Eighteen months into my job as the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department, a foreign-policy dream job that traces its origins back to George Kennan, I found myself in New York, at the United Nations’ annual assemblage of every foreign minister and head of state in the world. On a Wednesday evening, President and Mrs. Obama hosted a glamorous reception at the American Museum of Natural History. I sipped champagne, greeted foreign dignitaries, and mingled. But I could not stop thinking about my 14-year-old son, who had started eighth grade three weeks earlier and was already resuming what had become his pattern of skipping homework, disrupting classes, failing math, and tuning out any adult who tried to reach him. Over the summer, we had barely spoken to each other—or, more accurately, he had barely spoken to me. And the previous spring I had received several urgent phone calls—invariably on the day of an important meeting—that required me to take the first train from Washington, D.C., where I worked, back to Princeton, New Jersey, where he lived. My husband, who has always done everything possible to support my career, took care of him and his 12-year-old brother during the week; outside of those midweek emergencies, I came home only on weekends.Anne-Marie Slaughter is talking about a phenomenon I never see addressed in popular articles about "balancing work and family": the teen years are the hard ones. Or can be. When I was young the feminist model was: stay home for 3 or 4 months while you're nursing, then go back to work. The demanding years were assumed to be a child's pre-school years; once the child reached school age, you were 'done,' in a sense. It made sense to work outside the home at that point.
Last spring, I flew to Oxford to give a public lecture. At the request of a young Rhodes Scholar I know, I’d agreed to talk to the Rhodes community about “work-family balance.” ... What poured out of me was a set of very frank reflections on how unexpectedly hard it was to do the kind of job I wanted to do as a high government official and be the kind of parent I wanted to be, at a demanding time for my children (even though my husband, an academic, was willing to take on the lion’s share of parenting for the two years I was in Washington). I concluded by saying that my time in office had convinced me that further government service would be very unlikely while my sons were still at home.
Why Women Still Can't Have It All
by Anne-Marie SlaughterAtlantic Monthy | July-August 2012
That always struck me as wrong, even before I had kids. My question was always: so when your child turns 13 and goes sprong, where are you? Not that all children go sprong at age 13. C. didn't, and thank God for that. Nevertheless, plenty of kids do go sprong, and if you have more than one child, that would seem to raise the odds of your someday being the parent of a teenage kid who has come unglued.
So I like the fact that this high profile woman has actually spoken, out loud, about what happens to a high profile career when a teenager is in distress.
That said, I was struck by the list of problems Ms. Slaughter's son is having:
- skipping homework
- disrupting classes
- failing math
- tuning out adults who try to reach him
You can see this easily if you imagine a 14-year old student who has no parents, or, alternatively, has parents who are dysfunctional. When that student skips homework, disrupts classes, fails math, and tunes out helpful adults, who deals with it?
The school. At least, it's the school that is going to have to deal with the problems if they're to be dealt with at all. There's no one else. And, over the past ten years, some schools have come to see things just this way.
But word hasn't reached the leafy suburbs (Slaughter teaches at Princeton and presumably sends her boys to Princeton public schools.) Nominally high-performing schools believe it is up to parents to solve school problems. More accurately, nominally high-performing schools believe students don't actually have school problems. Students have student problems, which stem from the student's upbringing and genes and have nothing to do with the school one way or another. *
The problem with this philosophy is that parents can't solve school problems from home, no matter how engaged and well educated and emotionally stable they are themselves. Most obviously, parents can't fix disruptive classroom behavior from home. And while in theory a parent can make sure homework gets done, in practice it's not easy and in some cases it's not possible. (I've seen the not possible scenario firsthand.) Typically, parents have no idea what the homework assignments are or when they're due (echalk notwithstanding), and a parent who has no expertise in a subject can't tell whether her child actually did his or her homework property, or just wrote something down on paper.
As to math, teaching math has got to be the school's job, period. It doesn't matter what emotional problems a student is having; the school has to teach math to struggling students, too.
Affluent schools won't be good schools until they ask themselves Richard DuFour's question: "What will we do when students aren't learning?"Ask, and answer.
the leafy suburbs: School Reform Moves to the Suburbs by Mike Petrilli
* True of the bullying issue, too. Bullying is something kids do, and parents are responsible for kids, so parents need to stop their kids being bullies. Not sure what this means for parents of the child being bullied, of course.