The first study by Sabino Kornrich and Frank F. Furstenberg, “Investing in Children: Changes in Parental Spending on Children, 1972–2007,” found that spending on children grew over the past four decades and that it became more unequal. “Our findings also show that investment grew more unequal over the study period: parents near the top of the income distribution spent more in real dollars near the end of the 2000s than in the early 1970s, and the gap in spending between rich and poor grew.”
The rich are spending way more on their children's education than they did in the past. Rich parents are investing more than ever in tutors, after-school enrichment programs, camps, and private schools. The gap between them and their poorer peers grows every day.
But all that enrichment is making kids miserable. The intensive enrichment is coming out of parental anxiety, and the kids pick up those vibes. (I can't tell you how many of Jonahs' peers have serious anxiety problems.)
Research from Suniya S. Luthar, professor of psychology and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College finds that upper-middle class kids are reacting all this enrichment and pressure in unhealthy ways. She found high levels of substance use, depression and anxiety, particularly among the girls. They were more at-risk for these problems than inner-city kids.
Upper middle class kids are feeling the stress of their parents. The anxiety of falling out of the middle class. The backup plans for average middle class kids do not exist any more. There is the perception that there are fewer and fewer winners in this new economy. And kids and parents are freaking out.
The New York Times magazine profiledthe Avenues school in New York City. Avenues is a private school that was recently opened by the media and education entrepreneur H. Christopher Whittle; Alan Greenberg, a former publisher of Esquire magazine; and the former Yale president Benno C. Schmidt Jr. (and current chair of the Board of Trustees of CUNY colleges).
Working with $85 million in start up money and annual tuition payments of $43,000 per child, they are tapping the great minds to build the most perfect school ever. Sound good, doesn't it? Imagine having a blank check to create the perfect school. Imagine building your own team of fresh, energetic teachers and consultants from scratch. Sound good, right?
The problem with building a school that needs rich parents and their tuition payments is that you have to deal with the parents. You'll have to sell your program to them. Any education program would have to sound fun and new. So, you couldn't sell an old school program that had the kids read the classics and write, re-write, and re-write essays.
The school also has to deal with parental anxieties. There are meetings, after meetings.
And then there was the food committee. After the PowerPoint presentation concluded in the black-box theater, the questions started flying: Why so much bread? What was the policy on genetically modified organisms? Why no sushi? Nancy Schulman, the head of Avenues’ Early Learning Center, who was sitting among the parents that night, has a theory about the wealthy parents of young children. Privileged parents want to control everything in their kids’ lives. When the kids go to school, the parents can’t control what happens for eight long hours; hence, food. She dutifully worked with parents to implement many of their ideas, including more education about nutrition, and more snack time.
The article mocks the mission of the school, which seeks to provide the kids with humility. They want to promote humility, because elite colleges and businesses say that super rich kids coming out of New York City are too arrogant. Elite colleges are sick of them, and companies end up firing them. The idea of an exclusive, expensive, elite school creating committees trying to figure out how to make rich kids less arrogant is a little wonderful.
I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in a wealthy town. The professors lived on the same blocks with the cops. The lawyers, doctors, CEOs, and the occasional musician lived on the other side of town. So, I thought I knew rich people, until I moved to Manhattan and took my first job as an editorial assistant at major book publisher. While I entirely supported myself on my $15,500 salary (rent, food, entertainment, clothes), some of the other assistants were society page types whose daddies paid the rent on their midtown apartments. Their salary was pocket change that contributed towards their entertainment funds. One fellow assistant told me that she had never ridden on a subway before.
Walter Kirn has an amusing essay in the New Republic. He tells Susan Patton, the mom who told the Princeton girls to grab those Princeton guys quickly, that she shouldn't show her cards.
Almost as grateful, I wager, are the young fellows who read her letter in their college paper and suddenly ballooned in self-esteem as they realized just how much extra leverage they could exert in the campus dating scene. The Princeton Man is an opportunist, see, which is why he got into Princeton in the first place, why Mrs. Patton deems him a hot property, and why (bad news, you pretty, scheming sophomores in your fetching lacrosse shorts and black cardigans) he won’t be cornered. He won’t sell himself short. And herein lies Mrs. Patton’s great mistake, which I’ve waited for weeks now for someone to point out but knew, as a Princeton Man, that no one would, leaving to me the job of stating the obvious: You should have kept your investment letter private. If it’s women’s interests you truly wished to serve, you should have addressed them discreetly, girl to girl, not on the floor of the Ivy League Stock Exchange, which—don’t you know this?—still belongs to guys.
Sean F. Reardon has an excellent rundown of the research on the education gap between the rich, middle class, and the poor in Sunday's Times. We all know that kids from poor families have a huge disadvantage when they start school. They begin school behind their peers, and the gap between them and their wealthier peers grows over time.
These findings are sad, but nothing new. What is new is the growing research that finds that rich kids have huge advantages over middle class kids.
The most potent development over the past three decades is that the test scores of children from high-income families have increased very rapidly. Before 1980, affluent students had little advantage over middle-class students in academic performance; most of the socioeconomic disparity in academics was between the middle class and the poor. But the rich now outperform the middle class by as much as the middle class outperform the poor. Just as the incomes of the affluent have grown much more rapidly than those of the middle class over the last few decades, so, too, have most of the gains in educational success accrued to the children of the rich.
Reardon believes that the rich are able to do more with their kids, because they have more money than in the past. The rich are richer, so they are spending more money on tutors and fancy camps. They are also parenting differently.
High-income families are increasingly focusing their resources — their money, time and knowledge of what it takes to be successful in school — on their children’s cognitive development and educational success. They are doing this because educational success is much more important than it used to be, even for the rich.
Are rich parents really parenting differently or are middle class parents under so much economic pressure that they don't have time to parent like they did in the past? I need to poke around in the research a little more, but I am very interested in your impressions.
When Ian was five, his food sensitivites were pretty bad. He only ate certain foods. His gag reflex was so sensitive that I had to mop up vomit off the kitchen table a couple times a week. Lunchtime was particularly difficult, because he would only eat peanut butter sandwiches. However, I wasn't allowed to pack any nut products, even Nutella, for school lunch. There were too many kids in the cafeteria with severe peanut allergies.
I can't remember how we resolved this problem though I do remember lots of phone calls with the school. I think he ate his lunch by himself in the hallway for a few months, until I figured out another food that he could tolerate.
This was my only issue with the Peanut Police. In fact, I am very sympathetic to their needs, because my BFF has a daughter with extreme celiac disease. I know what one stray gluten can do her. My BFF has to educate teachers and other parents, because people are constantly handing her kid questionable snacks and treats. She has to pack alternative foods, whenever her daughter goes to a birthday party. She had to track ingredients in everything from medicine to condiments. It's a lot of work, which is very similar to the work that I've had to do with Ian.
I hesitate to point to the New Republic's article on day care in America, because so many of my friends have kids in day care right now. They worry enough as it is. But there is a huge difference between the places that serve middle-class communities and the day care that serve the poor.
Jonah spent some time at an unlicensed home-based day care, when he was little. Nine toddlers and babies in a window-less basement apartment with one non-English speaking babysitter. There were some days that I worried about his safety.
Melissa Harris-Perry's promotion TV spot is still getting lots of attention and push-back. Harris-Perry said that we haven't invested enough in education, because Americans view children as a private responsibility. Instead, the entire community should embrace the responsibility of raising children.
I happen to agree with her, so I really liked the ad.
Push-back is coming from people who fear the stupidity of the state. A sensible counter-point comes from Conor Friedersdorf.
A couple of years ago, Ian drew a cartoon of himself and Jonah wrestling. A profoundly stupid teacher thought that this cartoon showed Jonah abusing Ian. Meetings and lawyers. So, I am not unsympathetic to Friedersdorf.
But Harris-Perry isn't advocating for expanding the state's role in parenting. She's saying that the community needs to invest in kids by providing them with good schools and other opportunities.
Douthat begins by talking about a Princeton alum who told current students to hurry up and find a man, because they'll never find such a huge group of smart guys again.
Her betrayal consists of being gauche enough to acknowledge publicly a truth that everyone who’s come up through Ivy League culture knows intuitively — that elite universities are about connecting more than learning, that the social world matters far more than the classroom to undergraduates, and that rather than an escalator elevating the best and brightest from every walk of life, the meritocracy as we know it mostly works to perpetuate the existing upper class.
You know that assortive mating is one of the leading theories for the rise in autism rates. Just saying.
Douthat's article doesn't really go beyond a crack at Ivy League elites, but I'm going with that. That's enough for me.