Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Kindergarchy

I find it hard to believe that, when looking around my blog today, I never mentioned reading this great essay by Joseph Epstein on raising children. In describing his own upbringing several generations ago he details the huge differences in emphasis from his time to now and contrasts the results. Not merely a cranky "every generation is getting worse" eulogy but a recognizable story for anyone who has spent time around parents and their children in the past 20 years. Things have changed.

His opening paragraph:
In America we are currently living in a Kindergarchy, under rule by children. People who are raising, or have recently raised, or have even been around children a fair amount in recent years will, I think, immediately sense what I have in mind. Children have gone from background to foreground figures in domestic life, with more and more attention centered on them, their upbringing, their small accomplishments, their right relationship with parents and grandparents. For the past 30 years at least, we have been lavishing vast expense and anxiety on our children in ways that are unprecedented in American and in perhaps any other national life. Such has been the weight of all this concern about children that it has exercised a subtle but pervasive tyranny of its own. This is what I call Kindergarchy: dreary, boring, sadly misguided Kindergarchy.
Epstein writes about the "craze of attentiveness" that brings to mind C.S. Lewis's unforgettable portrait of a mother's egotistical, demanding, smothering love in The Great Divorce.

On parental attention: "My mother never read to me, and my father took me to no ballgames...When I began my modest athletic career, my parents never came to any of my games, and I should have been embarrassed had they done so. My parents never met any of my girlfriends in high school. No photographic or video record exists of my uneven progress through early life."

On college entry in the Kindergarchy: "getting into a good college is the child's return on his parents' immense psychological investment in him."

On ultimate results: "As a teacher at Northwestern University (not long retired), I found the students in my classes in no serious way I could discern much improved for all the intensity of home and classroom attention most of them received under the Kindergarchy."

On significance: "Despite what their parents had been telling them from the very outset of their lives, they were not significant. Significance has to be earned, and it is earned only through achievement."

Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing.

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