July 26, 2005

"What’s Holding Black Kids Back?"

"What’s Holding Black Kids Back?" asks Kay S. Hymowitz in City Journal:

The difference between middle-class and low-income child rearing has been captured at its starkest—and most unsettling—by Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley in their 1995 book Meaningful Differences. As War on Poverty foot soldiers with a special interest in language development, Hart and Risley were troubled by the mediocre results of the curriculum they had helped design at the Turner House Preschool in a poor black Kansas City neighborhood. Comparing their subjects with those at a lab school for the children of University of Kansas professors, Hart and Risley found to their dismay that not only did the university kids know more words than the Turner kids, but they learned faster. The gap between upper- and lower-income kids, they concluded, “seemed unalterable by intervention by the time the children were 4 years old.”

Trying to understand why, their team set out to observe parents and children in their homes doing the things they ordinarily did—hanging out, talking, eating dinner, watching television. The results were mind-boggling: in the first years of life, the average number of words heard per hour was 2,150 for professors’ kids, 1,250 for working-class children, and 620 for children in welfare families.

But the problem went further. Welfare parents in the study didn’t just talk less; their talk was meaner and more distracted...

In middle-class families, the child’s development -- emotional, social, and (these days, above all) cognitiv -- takes center stage. It is the family’s raison d’être, its state religion. It’s the reason for that Mozart or Rafi tape in the morning and that bedtime story at night, for finding out all you can about a teacher in the fall and for Little League in the spring, for all the books, crib mobiles, trips to the museum, and limits on TV. It’s the reason, even, for careful family planning; fewer children, properly spaced, allow parents to focus ample attention on each one. Just about everything that defines middle-class parenting—talking to a child, asking questions, reasoning rather than spanking—consciously aims at education or child development.

But, of course, the current obsessiveness with managing their children's lives that affluent white parents display is a recent development. They sure weren't brought up that way. During the Baby Boom, their parents averaged four kids and didn't have time to drive them all over town. That's what bikes were for.

Moreover, parents may not have been as child-centric in aggregate either. My impression is that adults back then went to more cocktail parties, played more bridge, bowled more, and the like. In the seven years of playing baseball in local park leagues, I don't believe either of my parents ever went to one of my games. (They did that out of principle, objecting to parents who put too much pressure on their kids in sports.) Today, it's typical for both parents to go to every game.

Yet, the Baby Boom kids of well-to-do parents generally didn't turn out to be illiterate crack dealers. I wonder why ...

Perhaps the modern style will turn out to be better for kids. Or perhaps it will rob them of initiative. We shall see.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

No comments: