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?
- The tiger parents gave up their children’s freedom and free time for the sake of their “success” in graduate school and beyond.
- The unschoolers gave up their adherence to mainstream educational expectations to allow their children immediate happiness and, they hoped, the ability to maintain their passion for learning long-term.
- The NFL father mandated a path for his son in the hopes that the discipline would allow his child to beat the odds and make it farther in life than he (the father) did.
- The pageant mother took liberties with her children’s happiness (they resisted the pageant preparation) and health (she used candy as a drug to energize and control them) to prepare them for a world where beauty queens get ahead.
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.