Marina Koestler Ruben

Blog Posts: November 2011

Extreme Parenting with Lisa Ling

Last night I paid our cable company to reinstate our access to the Oprah Winfrey Network just long enough to watch Our America with Lisa Ling, which was doing an episode about "Extreme Parenting."  Ling interviewed four families: wealthy "tiger" parents who pay $40,000/year/child for a year-round high-pressure school, unschoolers who allow their four children to learn through self-motivated pursuits and field trips, a father focused on his high schooler's NFL prospects, and the pageant-minded mother of two toddlers.

It was frustrating to see the show try to generalize about multiple educational philosophies over the course of only one hour (minus the time spent on commercials), especially given the small sample size.  It was hard for Ling to provide a balanced view of the four approaches in such a limited time.

Ultimately, all four parenting methods seemed to raise one question: What are you willing to have your children sacrifice to ensure their well-being?

While I bristled at some of what the tiger parents did, I felt that their methods could still lead to children with basically sound values.  But I found the pageant family's approach very troubling.  It saddened me to see them putting a spray tan on a crying toddler and popping what looked like Sweet Tarts into their daughter's mouth to help her stay "wild" enough to attract the judges' attention.  The parent of a slightly older (elementary school-age) pageant participant seemed to be pouring an energy drink between her painted lips.  It was heartening to see a commercial that indicated there will be follow-up with the pageant family next week and that the mother may be giving up the entire endeavor.

I don't think there's just one right approach to parenting or to education, but I do think that every family can strive for the same outcome, which is to have children who approach their family's educational philosophy feeling enthusiastic, engaged, and appreciative--and who feel that it's leading them toward a desirable outcome, whatever that may be.  Based on the show's brief exploration of these four families, my impression was that the unschoolers and the footballer were the children who best met these criteria.  Again, that doesn't necessarily mean these families are following the ideal system for their own children or anyone else's--just that they must be somewhat in tune with their own children's needs, which is a valuable goal.

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Q&As from Parents at St. Patrick's in DC

Thanks so much to St. Patrick's Episcopal Day School (K-8, DC) for the well-organized book event yesterday!  A great group of parents packed into a classroom to hear my presentation about tutoring, and they asked smart questions.  I'd like to adapt parts of the Q&A here, for everyone's benefit:

Q: How do I encourage a distractable student to stay on task when I'm out of the room?

A: Ask your child how long a particular task should take.  Then set a timer and challenge your child to see whether he can finish by the time it goes off.  You can set your own alarm and check back at intervals (and at the end of the time) to see if the time pressure has helped your child stay focused.  This can also help your child develop time management skills and a more accurate sense of how long particular tasks take.

Q: My child works too quickly.  How do I teach him/her to slow down and check his/her work?

A:  If your child consistently rushes--for example, when working on math problems--ask him to talk you through the process of completing a problem.  As you do it, model the pace that you think is appropriate.  Then ask him to teach you how to check your work.  Do so slowly and deliberately, doing the process while speaking the language that you want your child to be using in his head while reviewing.  It can be hard to TELL a child how to slow down, but he may change his speed if you SHOW him how you'd do it.

Q: When my child reads a book that I haven't read, what's a productive way to engage him/her in conversation about it?

A: You can certainly try, "Tell me about your book," but if you want to get more specific with your questions, allowing your child to think about the reading in a new way, you can attempt these as well: "Would you recommend this book to me?  To students of a certain age or interest?  Why?"  "Who's the main character and what does he/she want?"  "Is there something that's standing in that character's way?"  "Did you think this author has a particular way of writing?" OR "Do you think you could identify this author by his/her writing?  Is there something unique about it?"  Asking more directed questions will allow your child to create focused responses, which will be a useful skill to have when responding to writing prompts or just trying to make a concise point in conversation.


I ran out of time at the event, so I didn't get to recommend two other ideas for reading matter.  One is the book I recently raved about, Guerrilla Learning.  The other is The Teacher's Calendar, an annual publication that lists each day's historical, literary, and cultural anniversaries.  It's a good resource for parents and children, providing fodder for interesting, timely, and educational conversations.  Enjoy! Read Full Post.