It appears to me that we, as a nation, may have a problem when the current crop of college students and those in our high schools and elementary schools assume the responsibility of running things.
I understand that mine is not a novel opinion. This is not an original theory which is being voiced for the first time. I am approaching 50 years of age and I distinctly remember many in my parents’ and grandparents’ generation bemoaning this same potential problem. The difference however, is the likelihood of such a worry actually coming to fruition. I believe that, unlike that of our forebears, my concern is both grounded in fact and by statistics.
As most of you know, I live in Boston, Massachusetts. This city has long been known as the Mecca of Education in the United States. The state boasts the best public and private elementary and secondary schools in the nation. There are over 120 colleges and universities in metropolitan Boston alone, including such diamonds as Harvard University, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Tufts University and Berklee College of Music. Fortune magazine has deemed Massachusetts to be “America’s Smartest State” with 16% of its population having advanced degrees and 61.8% having a college education. Also, the Science and Engineering Readiness Index (SERI) proclaimed Massachusetts as having the best primary education system in the nation (Math and Science) based on publicly available data, including Advanced Placement scores, National Assessment of Educational Progress reports, teacher certification requirements by state and physics class enrollment data.
Despite the educational acumen of my home state however, I have been witnessing a disturbing trend in the last number of years. Parents seem to be too involved in their children’s lives for far too long. I must admit that I have no children and therefore I may not be aware of the degree of a parent’s innate nurturing nature for his her/her children. I did however, have parents of my own and I witnessed the actions of my friends’ parents, so I am not completely ignorant of the sort of symbiotic relationship between parent and child. My childlessness has also provided me the opportunity to have a somewhat objective view of these relationships inasmuch as I am not a member of “the parent club”.
When I was growing up in the late 1960s and 1970s, my parents stressed the importance of both education and achievement. I was encouraged to do well in school and on the playing field. My parents provided assistance and guidance but they made sure that I was the major participant in those endeavors. They helped with my homework (if they could) when I was struggling and they cheered my team on during sporting events. They applauded my good grades and good games and they consoled me for lesser grades and less stellar physical prowess. In short, they provided the foundation upon which I personally would be responsible for building the finished structure which would become the adult me.
I do not believe that such is the common system of parenting today. It appears to me that today’s parents view the child as an extension of themselves rather than a separate and distinct being. Time and again I am astonished to witness the degree to which today’s parents inject themselves into their child’s endeavors to the extent that the parent seems to be living vicariously through the child and the child appears to be a hollow shell wholly dependent upon the parent to function.
Many of today’s parents seem to believe that they must make their child achieve. For example, I once worked at a law firm where one of the partners asked me to pick up a package at the office of a U.S. Senator. I asked if it had something to do with a certain project we were involved with. To my great surprise, I was told that it was actually a recommendation for the partner’s son to help him gain admittance to a very exclusive pre-school on Beacon Hill. I was informed that without such a pedigree, a child was unlikely to be admitted and that could spell catastrophe in later years for both the child and parents. Despite the absurdity of the whole thing, I often wondered just what the Senator wrote. Was it something like, “I have known little Billy for all 4 years of his life and find him to be dignified, stylish etc. etc.”
There have also been a number of occasions when my spouse and I have been stood-up by friends who, at the last moment, have cancelled plans with us because they must write their child’s school paper or construct his class project. I know parents who, when their child has been given a low grade, chastise the teacher rather than encourage their child to try harder or pay more attention in class. Today, parents arrange organized “play dates” for their children only with friends they approve rather than letting kids simply play with the other kids in the neighborhood regardless of their parents’ socio-economic status. I notice that on the rare occasion when children are actually playing outside at the park, there is a supervising group of parents on-watch stifling any chance that the children might actually behave like children by means of having the occasional scuffle and establishing the natural childhood pecking order. It seems that every youth sports team now has an individual coach (in the form of his parent) for each player.
Unfortunately, this super-parenting is not just limited to the child’s early and teen years. It carries into college as well. My spouse has worked at a Boston area university for over 25 years and I have been shocked to learn how parents today are involving themselves in their children’s higher education. I am told that parents accompany their children at college during the registration period to advocate for their admission to preferred classes. These parents also telephone professors and attempt to schedule office meetings with professors to discuss their grades.
My spouse also says that over the years there has been an ever-increasing lack of social skills amongst university students. The cafeterias are very quiet because rather than students discussing the day’s events with one another, the vast majority simply sit quietly texting and playing games on smart phones. The same silence and solitude permeates the hallways between classes. The students even avoid making eye contact when speaking with college faculty and staff.
All of this seems to be leading to a future society comprised of individuals who are incapable of making important decisions on their own and averse to personally communicating with either their peers or others. These young Americans have also been pampered to the extent that their grades and achievements are not actually their own. This does not bode well. Decision making and intra-personal communication are skills which a well-functioning society requires. Indeed, statistics are also beginning to illustrate our relative decline. The above referenced SERI study which proclaimed Massachusetts as having the best primary education system in the nation reveals some troubling data as well. The study stated that “the U.S. has lagged behind other countries in math and science. A 2009 study showed that American students ranked 25th among 34 countries, behind nations like China, Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong and Finland.” It even revealed that Massachusetts “would struggle to compete with countries like China or Singapore.”
I find all of this to be very troubling.
Please remember to click on the song link below to familiarize yourselves with the tune and to have more fun singing along with today’s song parody which was originally penned to describe the poorly educated Sarah Palin.
Wonderful World (Don’t Know Much) link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNO72aCnVr0
RIGHT WING WORLD (DON’T KNOW MUCH)
(sung to the Sam Cooke song “Wonderful World”)
Don’t know much about geography
Don’t know much ecology
Don’t know much about that climate change
Don’t know why voters think I am strange
But I do know I love my shoes
And I really love my beehive ‘do
What a right wing world this should be
Don’t have much of an education
I know a lot about procreation
Opposition should have no voice
Pregnant women should have no choice
Yes, I do practice “politics of hate”
And I love to equivocate
What a right wing world this should be
Now I don’t claim that I can see Russia
From my living room bay
And I do not star on “Thirty Rock”, baby
That’s the talented Tina Fey
Don’t know much about interviews
Don’t know many Supreme Court views
Can’t name any books that I’ve read
Sure glad Bristol and Levi aren’t wed
But I do know my time is due
And I’ll be there in 2-0-1-2
What a right wing world this will be
And I do know you’ll love Sarah P.
We’ll be a nation of Scientology
What a right wing world this will be