Posts tagged ‘parenting’

March 11, 2013

Good Morning

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My little one on the map we helped paint at Hampden Elementary/Middle School last May.

“I’m so angry, I’m so angry,” I say at breakfast, my calm affect completely at odds with anger as I gently close up the Velcro on my 3-year-old son’s little sneakers.

“Why are you angry?” asks my husband.

“Because the world doesn’t look the way it should,” I say.

“Then let’s make it into a different world,” says my son.

And I give him a big fat kiss on his little round cheek.

Then let’s make it into a different world.

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March 18, 2012

If You Give a Kid a Cupcake, or Is Baltimore the New Brooklyn?

Yes, moms and dads, I was thinking of this book when I wrote this post!

The New York Times reported on March 16 on the cupcake wars at a Brooklyn public school. There’s some class conflict stirring up in the gentrifying neighborhood of Sunset Park, where the median income has gone from the mid-$30Ks to around $60K in the last decade. Other neighborhood schools in Brooklyn have similar stories, with some P.T.A.s running auctions that bring in thousands of dollars. Inequality is no good for community relations, even inside public schools. (The idea that P.T.A.s have to raise that kind of money at all is another issue.)

A few months ago on this blog I mentioned a book that changed my thinking about starting a charter school – sociologist Judith de Sena’s Gentrification and Inequality in Brooklyn. In it she reveals some bitterness about the new middle class’ rejection of neighborhood public schools in Greenpoint in favor of charters. What she seems not to appreciate is the resistance of longtime immigrant and working class communities to gentrifiers. The reasons to resist are many, not least of which is the rising costs of living that the gentry bring in their wake. An important site of resistance is the neighborhood public school, over which the old guard may not be eager to relinquish its hold.

The same dynamics are at work in Hampden, the Baltimore neighborhood where I live. The divide between old Hampden and new Hampden is so clear that it pretty much goes unmentioned. Old timers drink at Zissimo’s. Newcomers drink at Golden West, or Holy Frijoles, or 13.5% Wine Bar. Old timers buy coffee at Royal Farms or 7-11. Newcomers buy it at Common Ground or Spro. (There is no Starbucks here. The newcomers value local over corporate enterprise.) Old timers send their children to the local public school or the Catholic school a few blocks away. Newcomers? Historically, they move or pony up for private school. These days, they attempt to start charter schools or enter the charter school lottery. Now a growing group is doing what my husband and I are doing – work to make the neighborhood public school a top choice for every family zoned for it.

About a year ago I sat down on my couch and drew up a mission for an organization that was already beginning to take shape on its own. I called it Wham!, an abbreviated mash-up of Wyman Park and Hampden, two neighborhoods with lots of newcomer parents of infants and toddlers. Our first event was a playground clean-up with the principal. We’ve become regular contributors to our community organizations’ respective newsletters on the school’s behalf. We’ve connected with current parents at the school and catalyzed a move to get every conceivable volunteer opportunity at Hampden Elementary/Middle School #55 loaded up on the Baltimore City Public Schools website. We raised some cash by running a booth at Hampdenfest. We’re putting it toward painting a gigantic U.S. map on the school playground in May. The principal has dubbed us the Pre-P.T.O.

I get lots of “good for yous” and “more power to you” when I talk to people about Wham! It’s encouraging. But we all know that what’s going on in Brooklyn right now presages the kind of friction that could be stirred up here.

We know you can’t make a cupcake without breaking some eggs. If we do this right, though, we might just get some sprinkles to go with it.

March 5, 2012

Washington Post Opinion: French Parents are “Superior” Because of Government Support

Remember three weeks ago when I theorized that social supports for the middle class might help explain American parents’ so-called “inferiority”? Brigid Schulte, a Washington Post staff writer and a New America Foundation fellow, gives the theory some substance, here. (Thanks to my friend Giuliana for tipping me off.)

…if French parents are calmer and more confident, it’s not just because their parenting standards aren’t as intense. Another reason is on the corner: In France, that’s where you find the crèche, a government-subsidized child-care center where virtually everyone, after a four- to five-month, state-subsidized, paid parental leave, sends their children — working and at-home mothers alike.

In contrast, the United States is one of only three countries in the world, along with Swaziland and Papua New Guinea, that have no federal paid parental leave policy. After President Richard Nixon vetoed the Comprehensive Childcare Act of 1971, which promised to ensure quality, affordable child care, American parents were left to fend for themselves. In a country that pays its child-care workers less than its janitors, that is a time-consuming, expensive and often fraught search. Child-care costs, which consumed 2 percent of the average family budget in the 1960s, now take up 17 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, second only to a mortgage or rent.

Thoughts?

February 18, 2012

Three Pro-Public School Posts to Make You Smile


A parent-artist painted this mural in my neighborhood public school. What have you done for your public school lately?

“If progressives want to improve schools, we shouldn’t empty them out. We ought to flood them with our kids, and then debate vociferously what they ought to be doing.”

These are the concluding lines of Dana Goldstein’s inspection of the progressive credentials of politically liberal homeschoolers in Slate (Liberals, Don’t Homeschool Your Kids, February 16, 2012). While there’s a lot to argue about in that piece, right now I’m content to praise it for promoting public schooling as a political virtue. Which it is.

Here are two more pro-public school pieces that brought a smile to my face this week:

I also like this last one, though only tenuously connected to schooling, because it recognizes a trend that will only help neighborhood public schools thrive (with your help, of course):

Happy reading! And if you live in Baltimore, register to volunteer in a Baltimore City Public School today!


February 8, 2012

Four Hyperactive Parenting Trends and the Fight of the Shrinking Middle Class

Buy this book.

More and more parents of at-least-modest means are taking their children’s education into their own hands. Without further ado, four trends:

1. Homeschooling (a.k.a. “DIY Education”)

In Why Urban, Educated Parents Are Turning to DIY Education (Newsweek/Daily Beast, January 30, 2012), education writer Linda Perlstein interviews homeschooling moms – only moms – who answer the “why” of the article’s title in highly personal ways. None talks about finances. Linda (I know Linda, or I’d call her Perlstein) mentions that some homeschooling parents work full-time or take on part-time gigs. But I have a hunch you’ve got to have a pretty conventional family dynamic – married, with male parent winning the bread – to pull this off. Maybe I’m wrong. But someone needs to pay for health insurance, cover the mortgage and clothes and food, maybe make a car payment and put some money away for college.

What about household finances? Securing high-quality childcare and school options, especially if a couple has more than one child, often costs more than a second income could bring in. That has to be a factor – at least one among the many others – in a middle class family’s decision to homeschool. Now, I know there are stay-at-home dads. But why is it so often the moms who are staying home? Could the choice be more forced – not only by finance, but also by persistent gender discrimination in the workplace – than we’d like to think? The labor market still favors men. So it would make sense to wonder whether homeschooling moms are giving anything up by becoming their children’s educators. Professors Cynthia S. Levine and Nicole Stephens at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern have been looking into it. They published an article this summer called “Opting Out or Denying Discrimination? How the Framework of Free Choice in American Society Influences Perceptions of Gender Inequality.” (Read the press release.)

2. Co-operative and Community Supported Education

Did you catch mom Soni Sangha’s The Pre-K Underground (New York Times, December 16, 2011) on illegal parent co-ops in New York City? This is what it looks like when middle class parents are forced to get creative because the public schools can’t offer them what they need and private school tuition is impossibly out of reach.

I would also lump into this category of “trend” community-supported education. In “Can a Community Support Education?” (Cooperative Catalyst, January 29, 2012), Donna Mikkelsen introduces a private, community-based school called The Garden Road School, which she founded. The school’s story sounds very much like that of a private school in Baltimore called The Greenmount School, and I’m sure there are others like it in cities across the country. These schools are started by parents and represent an affordable independent school option for parents who want an alternative to both the high-anxiety world of upper-crust prep schools – with the endless homework and drive to perform – and the welfare-state interventions of soul-crushing testing dished up by the public schools.

3. Neighborhood School Renaissances

Jacqueline Edelberg and Susan Kurland’s How to Walk to School: A Blueprint for a Neighborhood School Renaissance (Rowman and Littlefield Education, 2009) is an account of the transformation of a public school in Chicago called Nettlehorst. The book includes a foreword by Arne Duncan and a short essay by Rahm Emanuel. It’s a story of what can happen when the grit of mostly not-full-time-employed urban gentry moms meets the unstoppable force of a principal extremely open to change.

I credit Edelberg’s book talk of January 19, 2011 at the Enoch Pratt Library with reigniting my passion for working with my neighborhood public school. A number of parent groups in Baltimore are hopping on this train. I think it’s fantastic and – like all the other tactics listed here – fraught with complexity. Freelance writer Amy Landsman interviewed me and several other parents for “School Choice: Options for City Parents” (Baltimore’s Child, October 2011) at the request of the editors there, one of whom is my neighbor. The article also features Judy Chung O’Brien, president of the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance and a mom at a traditional public school called Federal Hill Prep. Parents are organizing themselves around schools in Charles Village, Hampden, Bolton Hill. Speaking for myself, if I didn’t feel some serious financial pressure to make my neighborhood public school work for my family this blog wouldn’t exist and I wouldn’t have founded a parent group. It’s more complicated than that, sure. But why not admit money is a driver? A savvy District could do great things for schools now that the housing market downturn will force middle class families with young children to stay in Baltimore City.

4. Parent-Spawned Charter Schools

It’s impossible to talk about charter schools in Baltimore without talking about Bobbi Macdonald and City Neighbors. (In fact, the day after I wrote this sentence, yet another post came out singing its praises.) City Neighbors Public Charter School, which now has two campuses and a high school, has become a shining utopia in what is otherwise painted as an apocalyptic public school landscape. It’s worth remembering that what spawned its founding wasn’t just love but money, or lack of it. The City Paper piece reported by Anna Ditkoff (Late StartBaltimore City Paper, May 12, 2004) starts where the school did, with Macdonald’s wish to find a great school for her eldest daughter. When she couldn’t find one that she loved – and could afford – she started her own, with public funds and pro bono legal services from DLA Piper.

City Neighbors is not the only parent-founded charter school in Baltimore. As far as I know, Patterson Park Charter School, Southwest Baltimore Charter School, Montessori Public Charter School, and Roots & Branches have similar stories, as does the charter-school-in-progress Creative City. The Green School was founded by teachers and a strong cohort of parents. Midtown Academy predates the charter law but is now a charter school, and it includes many parents on its board. I have met parents from every one of these schools. I know some of them very well. We all agree that the charter school model is not an unqualified good – just like every other approach on this list. Though I think the charter school trend represents a social and political menace that none of the others do. (Read this blog.)

What’s It All Mean?

These “trends” – or maybe it would be better to call them “tactics” –  are each a kind of reaction to anxiety among parents who aren’t poor enough to benefit from social services nor rich enough to sniff at the cost of child care and excellent schools. We are the monkeys in the middle. We are often outsiders, new to the communities in which we live, wary of membership in the traditional institutions that used to offer middle class families support. For those of us doing well, affordable childcare and free public schooling add immeasurably to our quality of life. For those not doing as well as our parents did, the anxiety of our kids’ slipping further downward in the class ranks is too much to bear. So we are taking up arms – some alone, some together. We are not going down without a fight.

If I didn’t have a full-time job – a job I truly love, but also very much need – I would write a book.

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February 6, 2012

Why American Parents Are Inferior

It’s remarkable how social supports for the middle class are shrugged off in this new article in the Wall Street Journal about middle class parenting anxiety in America and what dumb Americans can learn from the French. (“Why French Parents Are Superior” by Pamela Druckerman, author of Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, to be published Tuesday by the Penguin Press.)

Isn’t class anxiety precisely the reason we middle class Americans coddle our kids? My theory: We know how hard it will be to do better for our children than our parents did for us, so we give them whatever they want and let them drive us insane in the process. The author seems to think the cure is to use a firmer tone. I think the cure is a spoonful of socialism. (Though we won’t be reading about that in the Wall Street Journal. Sacre bleu!)

On a related theme, I’m cooking up a new post about four trends in American parenting and the struggles of the shrinking middle class. Subscribe to stay tuned.

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