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Parenting for the Elite

June 28, 2012

The title of this post is that of a Forbes article by Helaine Olen, an article, a portion of which contrasted child rearing in the Amazon with that in the United States… and article that recalled the movie Babies and the first section of Herrnstein’s controversial article on intelligence that appeared decades ago.

I watched the movie Babies  a few weeks ago. It is an unscripted documentary that follows the live of four children in the first years of their life: a child in the African plains; a child in Mongolia; a child in Tokyo; and a child in San Francisco. The movie shows how these babies are nurtured by their parents, the food they eat, their daily routines, and their first steps in the world— literally and figuratively.

I read the Herrnstein article, that dealt with the role genetics plays in IQ, when it first came out and recall that one point Herrnstein made about intelligence at the outset of the article was completely lost in the ensuing debate. He noted that a Native American’s definition of “intelligence” would involve a completely different set of skills than OUR definition of intelligence. Visual acuity, tracking animals, and recalling lengthy stories passed on from generation to generation would be valued more highly than the manipulation of symbols that is our basis for measuring “intelligence”.

Olen’s article focuses on the issue of parental expectations. Is it more important to do chores around the house or to get high grades in school and build a resume that will get you into an elite college? The article implies that there are two tiers of parenting occurring in this country: the “elite” tier to prepare students for the meritocracy and the “survival” tier for those kids who are not guided at all by their parents.

(We are in) a world of parenting, if not for the one percent, maybe the five to ten percent. It is the world written about by Chris Hayes in Twilight of the Elites, where children are prepped to be members of the meritocracy, that benign sounding name for the ruling classes, which has gone from instrument of democratization to self-perpetuating mechanism within a generation. And the meritocracy, in this view, is no benevolent mechanism but, rather, a place where arrogance and belief in one’s own basic goodness allows people to indulge in all sorts of bad behavior, since, after all, they are an elite and whatever they do is right and correct. It’s all about me.

It’s clearly NOT the world of the Amazon, Africa, or Mongolia… nor is it a world that values the skills needed by the Native Americans.

Olen concludes her article with this paragraph:

Our parenting reflects both our society and what we want for our children. And in the world of upper class parenting, we’re looking to perpetuate the elite. Let the peons go pick up the socks – even if they are the parents… Whatever we are doing with our children, raising citizens who can participate in a democracy is not it.


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