Liberalism and cultural disadvantage

by Chris Bertram on May 9, 2006

Since Harry recommended Annette Lareau’s Unequal Childhoods I’ve been doing a good deal of thinking about it and related issues. Two questions seem particularly pertinent to me: first, I think that Lareau’s demonstration that different parenting values and styles impact on children’s life chances has implications for the way in which political philosophers view the social world since it suggests that social outcomes are not just the result of the the “basic structure” of society, but also of ingrained habits and dispositions that are reproduced from one generation to another. Second, I think that fact, if true, poses a problem to liberals in that state action to overcome disadvantage-reproducing “habitus” requires the state to take a stand on the relative value of different conceptions of the good.

The basic structure problem—at least for Rawlsians—is that either we judge that such patterns of shared behavioural disposition are part of the basic structure of society or we don’t. If we do, then that commits us to an expansive notion of basic structure that goes well beyond anything that could plausibly be thought to be a social institution. The “basic structure” would then refer just to those features of society that individuals simply have to take as given and which are important in the explanation of social outcomes. But that expansive specification of basic structure is contrary to the idea that a Rawlsian well-ordered society is one where social outcomes are the semi-automatic consequences of the operation of pure procedural justice. On that restricted notion, the basic structure consists only of the public rules and procedures constitutive of social institutions, rules and procedures that specify (ex ante) rewards and costs for actions, choices of jobs etc. The restricted conception of basic structure cannot simply be abandoned by Rawlsians in favour of the more expansive one, because it has an important role to play in deflecting the Hayekian critique of social justice and showing that distributive justice and the rule of law are compatible.

The conception of the good problem is that liberals should not endorse state action that appears to make perfectionist judgements about how people live their lives, about the superiority of pushpin to poetry (or vice versa). The middle-class ethic of “concerted cultivation” seems to be more effective that the working-class “natural growth” model in producing people who compete effectively on the market and within institutions. But to endorse that ethic by promoting it or by discouraging its rival would be to make an invidious judgement about the comparative moral value of the different ethi. There are some awkward problems here that arise from the fact that the respective parenting styles, whilst part of parent’s conception of the good, are not (yet) the product of reflective endorsement by the children whose chances they affect. Nevertheless, I’m pretty uncomfortable with the idea that the state should tell people that it is good to raise their kids with one of these styles rather than another, especially if the one that tends to confer advantage also fosters traits of character—the whiny sense of middle-class entitlement—that would be inimical to the operation of a just society. (Just to clarify that last point: of course it is legitimate for the state to tell parents to treat their children in particular ways (avoiding cruelty, ensuring their children get their vaccinations, are properly educated) but both of these parenting styles strike me as falling within a range that liberals should find acceptable.)

[BTW, Harry tells me that Matthew Clayton’s new book Justice and Legitimacy in Upbringing (and—more informative—UK Amazon link ) is very good on the conception-of-the-good issues. I haven’t read it, but knowing Matthew and believing Harry, I expect that’s right]

{ 87 comments }

1

Matt 05.09.06 at 11:35 am

While I’m a huge fan of Lareau and her work, and think that it’s very important for philosophers to take account of this sort of thing, I would hesitate to draw too stong of conclusions about the subject of justice from it. For one thing, the fact that a certain type of parenting seems to set up peole for doing well in manifestly unjust system we have doesn’t, of course, mean that this same sort of parenting would be beneficial under a more just system. I must say that I hope the same patern would not exist since I find the middle-class highly structured childhood pretty unpleasent (even if the idea of talking to kids, reasoning with them, expecting them to take part in things, etc. is good.) I don’t think Chris is making this mistake, but it is a potential mistake to think that since one sort of parenting seems to be a big advantage (in some ways) in our unjust system we should focus on things like parenting rather than changing the basic structure, since we don’t know that the same results would obtain in a more just society, and have some reason to doubt it.

2

Chris Bertram 05.09.06 at 11:45 am

Matt wrote:

it is a potential mistake to think that since one sort of parenting seems to be a big advantage (in some ways) in our unjust system we should focus on things like parenting rather than changing the basic structure.

1. I completely agree that with a different basic structure (and more equal rewards) then different parenting styles would have a different impact on differential success.

2. What we should focus on (on one construal of what you intended) is a tactical issue.

3. It surely isn’t a matter of focusing on cultural determinants of disadvantage _rather than_ the basic structure, since we all agree that the basic structure has a massive impact on distributive outcomes. But if the basic structure significantly underdetermines the range of possible outcomes, we maybe ought to look at other factors too (including these ones).

3

Brett Bellmore 05.09.06 at 11:47 am

” But to endorse that ethic by promoting it or by discouraging its rival would be to make an invidious judgement…”

It certainly would be to make a judgement, but hardly an “invidious” one.

And that should be “attempting to show that distributive justice and the rule of law are compatible.”

Since, in fact, they aren’t.

4

harry b 05.09.06 at 12:13 pm

The way I have thought about the conception of the good problem is as follows. First, it seems to me that parents do have an obligation to promote
their children’s interests adequately, and that the state has an obligation at least to facilitate their doing so. This makes things complicated, because it really might be that in our social order there is a real trade off between the goods parents secure for children in their childhood through the accomplishment of natural growth approach (ANG) and thir long term prospects.

But (and this is matt’s point, I guess) there is no reason for the state to treat the reward structure which makes it the case that great rewards go to children raised a particular way as beyond revision. As Lareau claims, it’s
only in combination with the external reward structure that the different styles have the effects they do. We can change the reward structure without commenting on the parenting styles, and thus alter the pay-offs. Of course
we don’t know what the effects of this would be on the childrearing stategies people would adopt, but we do know it would affect the long term
prospects of the kids. It would also, within a particular generation, reduce the opportunities for neighbourhood segregation, so that children currently reared in neighbourhoods where all other children are reared the same way
might end up mixing with differently-reared kids, and of course, parents would mingle more too with, presumably, mutual influence on their
strategies. Anyway, the problems you outline seem to me to constitute (yet another) a case
for more equal outcomes.

Second thing: I think I am much more perfectionistic than you want to be about parenting and childrearing. I think we have to be, in fact, in order to generate the right kinds of argument for the government acting to secure the family as an institution, but that’s an aside. It seems to me, though. that if we take a straightforwardly perfectionist look at the childrearing strategies in question, it would just
be wrong to say that one was clearly better than the other; or, rather, that CC is superior to ANG. There’s lots of good realised in ANG, and lots of bad in CC. So I’m more worried about that than about the liberal constraints on the state recommending ways of parenting to parents.

A final comment. In a very brief passage in Class and Schools Richard Rothstein comments that, perhaps, reading to your kids only benefits them cognitively if you like doing it (suggesting, ie, that it is your conveying of your attitude to the reading, and not the reading itself, that is producing that benefit). If so, adopting CC when it goes against ones own grain, may not help produce the competitive advantage Lareau identifies; that would make it all the more complicated from a policy perspective.

5

dipnut 05.09.06 at 12:38 pm

I’ve long been bemused by the socialist assumption that formal institutions determine all social outcomes. It is obvious that family and cultural influences, which operate outside of any formal setting, are of major if not primary importance.

So it’s nice to see a socialist acknowledge this, even though it inevitably leads toward the blood-chilling proposition that family and cultural life should be formalized, standardized and regulated by the state. How annoying that the main objection to this general course is that it involves “making a judgement”.

Here’s a judgement for you: some cultures are rotten, and civilization would be better off without them. But that is not the business of the state. (And how exactly is “the state” a moral actor? Who is the state?) Since we all live in the same real world, there’s no reason why the rotten cultures can’t be eliminated over time by natural competition.

Of course, for this to happen, it’s important to speak openly about the relative (dis)advantages of different cultures, so that individuals can make informed choices. Socialists don’t like this. Respect for all cultures is of paramount importance (though of course culture doesn’t matter in the least)! Let us maximize cultural diversity, yet ensure social justice by all having the exact same experience of life!

Guh.

[CB: I’ve disemvowelled the completely trollish stuff from you below. Suffice to say that you haven’t read the book and so your comment here is completely irrelevant to the discussion. Nobody said anything about “respect for all cultures” or maximizing “cultural diversity”.]

6

joe o 05.09.06 at 12:44 pm

I think you are underestimating how new the middle class parenting style that Lareau describes is. It isn’t a matter of “ingrained habits and dispositions that are reproduced from one generation to another”. Lareau states that none of the middle class parents in her study were raised under the “concerted cultivation” parenting style. It is something that people just made up.

7

dipnut 05.09.06 at 12:51 pm

<>W cn chng th rwrd strctr wtht cmmntng n th prntng styls, nd ths ltr th py-ffs.

S, f rjct dcmlsm nd rs my chldrn bs svntn, w cn jggr th systm s tht wn’t b dsdvntg fr thm?

‘ll gt n t rght wy.

8

cd 05.09.06 at 12:54 pm

Interesting question and discussion so far.

I’m a bit unclear regarding what it would be for the state to take a stand on parenting styles–a law requiring parents to submit proof that they have enrolled their kids in an extracurricular activity (dance lessons, karate, etc.)? a law requiring 20 minutes of parent/child reading time per day?

I’d agree those would be bad laws, but not because such laws illegitimately take a stand on perfectionistic values. Rather aren’t they bad for being intrusive, for violating some sort of privacy right?

I suppose one might say anti-perfectionism and respect for privacy amount to the same thing, that what is at stake here is the privacy to form and pursue one’s conception of the good. Perhaps. But suppose the state were only to mount a persuasive campaign in favor of reading to your kids, listening to them, reasoning with them, exposing them to various activities etc. Say, posters hung in schools and libraries recommending these things, state-funded billboards and TV ads stressing the importance of reading to your kids, etc. I take it Chris would view that as perfectionistic, but it doesn’t seem to me to violate privacy. So perhaps respect for privacy and anti-perfectionism can come apart.

Moreover, should we be so quick to label such a state campaign perfectionistic? After all, it could be justified with reference to political values such as equal opportunity, reducing material inequality, etc. It needn’t be justified with reference to claims about which lifestyle imbues life with more meaning, etc. So is it really fitting to condemn such a campaign as perfectionistic? (We might condemn it as inefficient–will it really work?–but that is another matter.)

9

zdenek 05.09.06 at 12:54 pm

I think a distinction needs to be made between lifestyles that promote or fail to promote full development of moral personality ( so that the child can develop her own meaninglul conception of good ) on one hand and endorsing/priviledging a specific conception of good. One is not in any obvious way doing the latter when one is doing the former.

If this is right then Rawlsian might have following responce to the difficulty Chris is worried about : interfering in parenting styles is justified to the extent that ( and only to the extent that )one is only aiming at ensuring that the child is given an opportunity to develop fully her moral personality but not the sort of lifestyle choice the person would make themselves when their moral personality is fully developped. The latter is left up to each individual. You are saying to the parents look I am not here to tell you what is good but only to help you to help your child to figure out for herself what is good.

If this works Rawlsian gets involved but is not being inconsistent because he is not promoting a specific conception of good over others.

10

harry b 05.09.06 at 12:55 pm

I don’t even think they made it up, joe; it is a response to all sorts of societal changes that make it harder for people to secure certain kinds of goods (short term and long term) for their kids with an ANG parenting style and long hours of work; and then harder for other people with shorter hours of work to secure the same things (I can let my kid play in the neighbourhood, but there’s no-one there for her to play with, they’re all off at “activities” or in after school; so I have to enroll her in the same things if she’s going to see other kids at all).

11

Slocum 05.09.06 at 12:56 pm

But (and this is matt’s point, I guess) there is no reason for the state to treat the reward structure which makes it the case that great rewards go to children raised a particular way as beyond revision. As Lareau claims, it’s only in combination with the external reward structure that the different styles have the effects they do. We can change the reward structure without commenting on the parenting styles, and thus alter the pay-offs.

We can alter the reward structure so that hardworking, studious kids who (who have parents who strongly encourage such behavior) are not ‘unfairly’ advantaged over ‘free range’ kids who are much less studious (and who have parents who encourage — or at least permit — such behavior)?

OK — how?

And while you’re at it — would you claim that it would also be possible to ‘alter the reward structure’ so that kids who have had 10 years of musical training by age 14 have no advantage over ‘natural growth’ kids who have little or none when it comes to earning a living as a musician? How about the same question with respect to, say, tennis — could we ‘alter the reward structure’ so that Maria Sharapova has no advantage over a ‘natural growth’ kid of the same age who has hardly ever picked up a racquet?

If the idea of ‘altering the reward structure’ is ridiculous in the cases of music and sports (and it clearly is) — why is it any more sensible in the case of academic pursuits?

12

harry b 05.09.06 at 1:02 pm

slocum

did you read the book? You haven’t captured the difference between CC and ANG at all. And, as joe o says, CC is new; most of us over 40 were raised in some version of ANG.

Sports change their reward structures all the time. Music…I didn’t really know there was a competitive aspect to that.

Altering the tax/benefit structure would be one way of altering the reward structure. You know, like Bush did with his tax cuts.

13

dipnut 05.09.06 at 1:03 pm

<>f th d f ‘ltrng th rwrd strctr’ s rdcls n th css f msc nd sprts (nd t clrly s)—why s t ny mr snsbl n th cs f cdmc prsts?

Wh sd nythng bt cdmc prsts? ‘m thnkng bt crmnl prsts, myslf. Clrly, t ccmdt th smll-bt-vtl gngstr cltr, w shld lmnt ths tdtd ntn f crmnl jstc nd hv th stt rwrd cltrlly-stblshd bhvrs sch s drg-dlng, rp nd sslt.

14

Commenterlein 05.09.06 at 1:08 pm

“For one thing, the fact that a certain type of parenting seems to set up peole for doing well in manifestly unjust system we have doesn’t, of course, mean that this same sort of parenting would be beneficial under a more just system.”

I am a little surprised by this statement, but I may simply not understand it correctly. My prediction would be that under a more just system, in the sense of being more meritocratic, the advantages to raising a kid using “concerted cultivation” would increase. Empirical evidence to that effect seems to be amply supplied by Korea, Japan, and the former Eastern Bloc countries pre-1989.

15

Matt 05.09.06 at 1:09 pm

Chris,
In your #3 above, what sorts of things do you have in mind? I’m just not at all sure what the state can do about, say, the internal life of a family, beyond certain limits of the sort gestured at by zedenek above, that wouldn’t be a pretty massive violation of the priority of the right to the good of the sort any liberal ought to worry about, let alone someone (such as myself) who accepts political liberalism. When I read some people who talk this way (G.A. Cohen, for one) it seems clear that their views are fundamentally non-liberal. That by itself isn’t an argument against them, of course, but if you think some version of liberalism is right then there will be pretty serious limits on the types of action that can be taken.

16

Chris Bertram 05.09.06 at 1:17 pm

Matt, I guess I had in mind the kinds of things mentioned by cd in comment above. But I’m not coming at the issue with solutions all pre-prepared.

17

SeanD 05.09.06 at 1:27 pm

I think Matt’s right on to invoke the priority of the right over the good. It seems to me that, for Rawls anyway, legitimacy-considerations (aka neutrality with respect to conceptions of the good) are prior to (that is, trump) justice-consideration (aka fair equality of opportunity). Thus, if parenting styles are a major determiner of life-chances, and there’s nothing to be done about those that can be justified in public reason, then there’s nothing that can be done, politically speaking, about this determiner of life chances at all. I don’t see an interal inconistency here- this may just be case in which a comprehensive doctrine with substantial egalitarian elements needs to accomodate to pluralism and adjust the demands it makes as to state action. Unfortunate, perhaps, but, it seems to me, more than acceptable as trade-off if this is the price of a ‘realistic utopia’.

I’m not sure, however, that this is a bullet that needs to be bitten, insofar as policy goes- shouldn’t there be ways to order to (institutional) basic structure so as to reduce the impact of these differences in background when chilren reach adulthood, or to reduce the socio-economic inequalities that (I presume, I haven’t read the book) tend to produce the disparity in parenting styles?

18

Slocum 05.09.06 at 1:34 pm

did you read the book? You haven’t captured the difference between CC and ANG at all. And, as joe o says, CC is new; most of us over 40 were raised in some version of ANG.

I believe I’ve captured the difference. CC means ‘professional’ kids sports with travel teams and paid coaches. It means serious after school study in foreign languages and culture (my kids friends variously attend Chinese school, Korean school, Hebrew school, Islamic school, and Greek school). It means music training. Art classes. Foreign travel. Hired tutors. SAT prep classes. And, yes, I know that middle class families were somewhat less intense about these things a generation ago, BUT that does not mean that a kid who did all these things 25 years ago would not have had an advantage — clearly he or she would have. And it really hasn’t changed all that much. Watch ‘Risky Business’ again sometime (which, believe it or not, is now nearly 25 years old).

Sports change their reward structures all the time.

They do? In a way that would tend to favor ANG kids over CC kids?

Music…I didn’t really know there was a competitive aspect to that.

How do you think orchestras select musicians?

Altering the tax/benefit structure would be one way of altering the reward structure. You know, like Bush did with his tax cuts.

That might reduce the reward differential to CC vs ANG kids, but it wouldn’t change the direction. ANG kids would still be disadvantaged–just not quite as severely. But that would still leave the dilemma of trying to be non-judgemental about a parenting style that leaves kid at a clear disadvantage.

19

joe o 05.09.06 at 1:36 pm

If your parents use “concerted cultivation”, this means your parents are middle class and know enough to follow the current middle class habitus. These are advantages independent of any benefits of “concerted cultivation”.

And I really do think that the advantages to “concerted cultivation” are unproven. “Concerted cultivation” is oriented to things that really are peripheral to modern society. Soccer, art, ballet. It is a type of parental display.

Elite colleges may like the “concerted cultivation” ethos, but this is a by-product of the elite colleges efforts to keep out asians who traditionally tend to emphasise school work rather than extra-curicular activities.

20

Sebastian Holsclaw 05.09.06 at 1:44 pm

“Sports change their reward structures all the time. Music…I didn’t really know there was a competitive aspect to that.”

Sports may change their reward structures, but I can’t think of a time where they did so to make it less competitive (in the sense that being really good at it wouldn’t count as much). They might tinker with which aspects of good are emphasized (I’m thinking especially of tennis and golf here) but in neither case do the changes make it likely that child who rarely plays would be as well off as a child who had focused on it for a decade.

I’m surprised you aren’t aware of the competitive aspect of music. Being good at most instruments requires a fair amount of practice commitment which competitively sets you apart from those who don’t. There are very very few positions available and the competition for them is intense. I really can’t imagine a way to set up a society where this practice doesn’t count. Even in a world where fidelity to the written specifications is not as highly valued (jazz for instance), technical skill as gained through practice is very important. I’m not sure what a society that didn’t value becoming good at things would look like.

As for what to do about it….I’m not sure how to convince people about the utility of long term time commitment to gaining skills. (I’m the wrong person to ask, I get bored far too quickly).

21

Chris Bertram 05.09.06 at 1:51 pm

Before we get diverted too far from the track, I’d like to note that I don’t think it a central part of the Lareau thesis that extra piano practice gives you a competitive advantage. Far more important I think was that middle-class kids were equipped with a set of negotiating skills (and a sense of entitlement) that would enable them to make institutions suit their needs (and get professionals to be suitably responsive).

22

catherine liu 05.09.06 at 1:51 pm

From a historical point of view, the school was seen as in instrument of institutionalizing and perfecting American democracy (Horace Mann). This fell apart by the end of the 19th century as immigrants flooded the school system and the American elite turned the school into a site of assimilationism and vocationalism. Social Work was also invented around this time — an interventionist attitude began to develop as WASPS tried to inculcate Southern and Eastern European immigrant (Irish as well) with the practices of abstinence and frugality.

So Lareau’s study (which I haven’t read) suggests for Harry that a different kind of state interventionism may be called for on the level of “parenting.” Unfortunately, this smacks of Fabianism and the worst kind of progressive modernization.

23

dipnut 05.09.06 at 2:01 pm

I’ve disemvowelled the completely trollish stuff from you below.

Fair enough, though you might have done better to explain exactly where I went wrong. My comments were in good faith. And I thought the first one was rather funny. Decimalism! Woot!

So, to be plain: suppose we accept this idea that we can engineer formal institutions to level out the outcomes from different kinds of upbringing. From there, you can reach some ridiculous conclusions without crossing any bright line in principle.

Another way of saying the same thing: there are some qualities of the individual which are necessary for success within any non-ridiculous basic structure; and some of these qualities derive from the individual’s upbringing, outside the context of any formal institution.

Successful individuals will have curiosity, literacy, a work ethic, a basic understanding of civics, personal integrity, familiarity with decimal notation, etc. Some cultures (or, if you prefer, family backgrounds) actively stifle one or more of these qualities, to such an extent that no reasonable state effort can instill these qualities despite the culture. It is silly to suppose we can engineer the basic structure so such stifled individuals can succeed.

24

Tim 05.09.06 at 2:02 pm

The problem that this sort of research points out is that looking at looking at structures and institutions only gets you so far. A more effective model (at least for a lot of purposes) for how societies perpetuate themselves is that of inheritance: what do you get from your parents. Money, of course, and real property, but life skills (the ability to sit and work hard at something all day, and get a long-term reward–which is what all these activities actually teach kids) are what we get from our parents. Any notion of equality has to confront the fact that parents want what’s best for their children, and work hard to get it. At its best, this means working to make the world a better place for all children. (At its worst, of course, is nasty pointless competition.)

I would argue that parents who are giving their kids these skills are, at their best, creating social capital; they are making it possible for the next generation to live better by raising the children who will be the next generation’s cancer researchers, novelists, and philosophers (who will come up with better solutions to these problems, and the other problems we leave them with, than we have).

Part of my argument here comes from a real inability on my part to see structures without the people who perpetuate them (and the processes by which they do so) — maybe it’s that I’m a historian and not a philosopher!

25

Slocum 05.09.06 at 2:03 pm

Far more important I think was that middle-class kids were equipped with a set of negotiating skills (and a sense of entitlement) that would enable them to make institutions suit their needs (and get professionals to be suitably responsive).

Yes, and they are also used to being talked to like adults, having partental decisions explained to them, and having their opinions listened to and valued. But, again, how could government ‘change the reward structure’ so that negotiating skills, critical thinking skills, and self confidence would not confer advantages?

26

harry b 05.09.06 at 2:11 pm

Oh, sorry, you meant music as a profession. Sure. That’s not why my kid plays the piano.

27

harry b 05.09.06 at 2:29 pm

Successful individuals will have curiosity, literacy, a work ethic, a basic understanding of civics, personal integrity, familiarity with decimal notation, etc. Some cultures (or, if you prefer, family backgrounds) actively stifle one or more of these qualities, to such an extent that no reasonable state effort can instill these qualities despite the culture. It is silly to suppose we can engineer the basic structure so such stifled individuals can succeed

This all seems right to me (right down to the final sentence, though I might quibble with the bit about decmialisation if I were confident there were comletely duodecimal societies). There’s no sense in which ANG stifles those qualities, from my reading of Lareau, or, to be honest, that CC enhances them. The two styles differ in many ways, and one creates a greater sense of entitlement, a greater level of confidence in dealing with adults, and instills habits (shaking hands, looking people in the eye) which advantage children (in the long run) relative to others, but without instilling the virtues you describe. Chris’s point about the restricted basic structure is actually quite important here. It is the ethos, not the restricted basic structure, which values a sense of entitlement and the willingness to take advanatge of others, for example; an ethos which valued modesty and honesty-even-when-dishonesty-would-pay-off would have a different utlimate reward structure.

Now, it also seems right to me that some features of CC are bound to benefit kids in the long run, and would do so even if we flattened the formal reward structure completely (because informal rewards are valuable); eg “being talked to like adults, having parental decisions explained to them, and having their opinions listened to and valued” (slocum #27). Maybe this is a good test; if a particular feature of upbringing would bring informal rewards regardless of the structure of the formal reward system, that constsitutes a very good reason to promote it widely (at the very least through the mechanisms mentioned by cd #8). I’m thinking on my feet here; what do you think (CB or anyone else)?

Catherine: I don’t understand your criticism, its too cryptic. Could you explain in more detail? (I’m thinking about all this stuff all the time, and want to get my bearings).

28

marcel 05.09.06 at 2:37 pm

joe (#19): Is (explicitly or implicitly) capping the number of kids of Asian ancestry (AA) common anywhere but the west coast? I would be surprised if elite colleges used a CC ethos for this purpose. For one thing, would it be an effective filtering device? Arguing from anecdotes based on my limited experience:

1) When I was a kid, it seemed to me that kids of AA were disproportionately represented among good musicians.

2) My daughter was recruited for soccer at an elite college, along with 6 other girls her year. Two of the 3 best players (none my daughter) in her class are of AA, one of immigrant parents, the other of native born (at least one side, anyway).

3) Next year’s (co?) captain of the Yale women’s soccer team is of AA. I saw her play as a freshman, and she was dominant back then.

Don’t under-estimate how much CC goes on outside of the white middle class.

29

Chris Bertram 05.09.06 at 2:47 pm

I think Tim is right to say that philosophers have been a little fixated on structures rather than the behaviour of their reproducers … that’s what this post is partly about.

Anyway, I’m struck by the following comfortable assumption on the part of many commenters: that the middle-class parents are imbuing their kids with genuinely valuable attributes and the working class parents are not, and that the consequent way things work out is (a) functional and (b) meritocratic.

What little I know of Bourdieu’s thinking about the reproduction of advantage across generations (and I do know very little indeed) suggests that we ought to be a little suspicious of this exercise in sociodicy. We certainly ought to ask ourselves how far the attributes that are passed on might simply be social markers that are recognized by others (of similar background) and taken to be proxies for genuine ability. IIRC Bourdieu has some example of the kind of writing style favoured by the French elite, which both has this signalling property and is taken as a proxy, with the effect that working-class students who write differently face class barriers.

Slocum asks:

Yes, and they are also used to being talked to like adults, having partental decisions explained to them, and having their opinions listened to and valued. But, again, how could government ‘change the reward structure’ so that negotiating skills, critical thinking skills, and self confidence would not confer advantages?

The comment on the reward structure is a little confused. (Hypothetically, changes the reward structure to strict equality would ensure that no advantage was conferred!) But I take it that outward self-confidence and easy articulacy confers more of an advantage if jobs are typically awarded using a face-to-face interview than they might be using some other selection method and that some other method might be better if interviewing generates too many false-positives (because interviewers take surface articulacy as a proxy for genuine ability).

30

dipnut 05.09.06 at 3:02 pm

There’s no sense in which ANG stifles those qualities, from my reading of Lareau, or, to be honest, that CC enhances them.

Oh, so that’s what we’re talking about. (In the frame of reference of my earlier comments, there’s no difference between CC and ANG; both are good enough.)

At a glance, it seems to me the ANG kids are better off than the CC kids, though they may not enjoy the “better outcomes”. I suggest that one result of the difference between ANG and CC child-rearing, is a qualitative difference in what the resulting adult wants from life.

Does Lareau have anything to say about that?

31

harry b 05.09.06 at 3:13 pm

dipnut — not eactly about what you mention, but Lareau is quite good on the fact that different goods are produced by each strategy; but she doesn’t parse it out in any detail. One of the things she does say is that when the ANG kids have the CC lifestyle described to them they rect with pity for the CC kids. I agree with you that there are important respects in which the ANG kids seem better off; they get along much better with their siblings, have more time with their extended families (and their immediate families) and they have much more tim to themselves (and with other kids) without direct adulkt supervision (adults are around, watching over them, but not micromanaging what they are doing with every second of their lives). The book is about 9 and 10 year olds. One thing I think I said in the thread where I recommended the book is that as I found myself adopting more of the ANG features for my own children (in particular, refraining from micromanaging their relationship with each other).

One thing that occurs to me is that we might (stylistically) distinguish the benefits-in-childhood from the benefits-in-adulthood of the strategies. The ANG approach as described in the book seems to produce more benefits-in-childhood, but in combination with the social structure seems to make it harder for those children to get at certain important benefits-in-adulthood than the CC approach.

32

guest 05.09.06 at 3:35 pm

“because interviewers take surface articulacy as a proxy for genuine ability”

“Surface articulacy?” The ability to explain oneself is absolutely crucial in almost any business environment. It’s not a proxy for genuine ability; it is genuine ability.

33

Ben Nelson 05.09.06 at 3:53 pm

I don’t sympathize. People want to do well when they have the liberty to do what they want and are shown proof of this or that consequence. You don’t need state enforcement in the dimension of family, you need to produce a good economy with fair work weeks etc to optimize liberty.

34

Tim 05.09.06 at 3:54 pm

Some quick thoughts on the question of sociodicy:

Isn’t ‘merit’ defined by society? And isn’t that ok? The next question is, who is society?

The right has a definition of merit which is pretty broad: if you can convince someone in the market to buy what you’re selling, you’re successful–and this has the very strong virtue of not requiring a state definition of merit.

I should correct that: it’s not a broad definition (one that’s acceptable to a lot of people), it’s an open definition: each person can support what she sees as having worth.

The left, I think, struggles with this more (“from each according to his ability”)–because the idea of a state defining merit rightly makes us queasy.

I think that a progressive yet Burkean solution has got to be the way to go: the state can say, “listen, we’re not going to overturn social relations this election cycle, but we know that we can make some incremental improvements to everybody’s life by encouraging these sorts of behavior….”

Just like, as a parent, I can inculcate in my daughter the skills I think she’ll need and a sense of responsibility to use her talents, while making sure she has fun growing up (and also working for social change in general!).

35

djw 05.09.06 at 4:04 pm

One of the things she does say is that when the ANG kids have the CC lifestyle described to them they rect with pity for the CC kids.

No kidding. I haven’t read the book so I don’t have a sense of quite what my ANG disadvantage is, and I do have some unfortunate slacker tendencies I’d prefer to do away with (dissertation? what dissertation?), but it’s hard for me to imagine the lesser success or income or whatever else I’m losing out on would be worth it to be one of those kids. When I think about the qualities that I, and to some extent others seem to like about me it’s hard to imagine how they would have developed with a CC childhood. Here I go valuing qualities not well captured by the distributive paradigm. Corrupted by too much Iris Young.

Setting aside me personal preferences, there’s a sort of perfectionist vs. neutralist dynamic here that seems overstated. For those of us who acknowledge that neither brand of liberalism ought to always trump the other, shouldn’t we acknowledge that there are a set of cases in which brutal, violent state intervention is warranted (child abuse), a set of cases in which no state intervention whatsoever is warranted (say, church attendence), and a messy middle in which there is a real trade-off between the values of perfectionism and neutrality. In the third category of cases, perhaps we should stop worrying so much about determining *when* state interference is acceptable and start worrying about *what kind* of state interference is acceptable. Soft paternalism, voluntary educational programs, etc. are more broadly permissible than than various hard paternalisms. All non-ideologues agree with this already and it almost seems silly stating something so obvious, but it does seem all too absent from this–and many other perfectionist/neutralist debates.

36

djw 05.09.06 at 4:07 pm

The second half of my above comment really just verbosely replicates Tim’s plea for progressive Burkean pragmatist tinkering–cross-posted.

37

Tracy W 05.09.06 at 4:08 pm

…requires the state to take a stand on the relative value of different conceptions of the good.

You appear to be missing a step. How likely is it that whatever stand the state winds up taking will have anything to do with your conception of the relative value of the good?

If this was adopted in NZ, I think there’s a fair chance the state would create a list of things that are good that are so vague it would cover pretty much everything, and who knows what would be implemented on the ground?

One can think of governments that would come up with a very restrictive, illiberal list too.

38

Brett Bellmore 05.09.06 at 4:19 pm

“But, again, how could government ‘change the reward structure’ so that negotiating skills, critical thinking skills, and self confidence would not confer advantages?”

By forcing people with good critical thinking skills to wear headphones that play loud, distracting noises into their ears? The notion that “fairness” could somehow require erasing the advantages deriving from a good upbringing and talent is the stuff of Harrison Bergeron. This thread is a reminder that egalitarianism doesn’t need all that much reducto to become absurd.

39

djw 05.09.06 at 4:19 pm

That’s a point for neutralism that certainly ought to be considered when weighing perfectionism against neutralism, Tracy. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking it ought to be dispositive. The form of argument that goes “we shouldn’t do this justice-promoting thing because some future bad or misguided people might use this as a pretense to do something injustice-promoting thing” could a) be used against any state action imaginable in some form, and b) overlooks the real possibility that people who want to use the state to do bad things will, when in power, quite possibly find another pretext to do those bad things they want to do.

40

djw 05.09.06 at 4:24 pm

Bellmore: finding new ways to repeat the claim that Nozickian liberalism and Harrison Bergeron dystopias are the only imaginable outcomes must be a diverting hobby, but I can’t imagine anyone not already predisposed to that strange view will find it any more compelling in you keep repeating it.

41

marcel 05.09.06 at 4:39 pm

de Long links to a WaPo piece on the close friendship between JKGalbraith and AMSchlesinger Jr. One bit that caught my attention with regard to this post was

Cambridge in the ’50s was a wonderfully social place. Not to mention well lubricated. Galbraith and Schlesinger were both regulars at a Sunday evening cocktail hour at the home of …

I cannot imagine this nowadays. Very junior faculty are generally too busy doing research or trying to recuperate from the past week/prepare for the coming week to do this. And that’s before they have children. Once children are on the scene, (or at least once the first is more than about 15 months) this falls by the wayside for 10-15 years because Sunday evening becomes a time either to get the household ready for the coming week or to recover from the day’s routine of soccer/baseball/basketball/(fill in the sport of your choice).

I imagine that feminism (that bane of gracious living for the male of the species) has also had its impact on this score.

42

joe o 05.09.06 at 4:45 pm

There is such a weird lottery ticket like aspect to all of these soccer, art, piano and ballet lessons. If these lessons were taken mainly by kids of low SES, they would be seen as the sideshows that they are. These are not the workplace skills of the 21st century. And, they are a circuitous route to some conjectured but unproven interview confidence.

43

sara 05.09.06 at 6:33 pm

I haven’t read Lareau, but are we certain that CC is going to reproduce a liberal upper middle class? Or will it reproduce a conservative or libertarian one? Kids herded through countless extracurriculars as well as the usual grade and SAT pressure may well rebel, not only spending the first three years of college getting wasted, but deciding that they don’t want the nanny state, at any price.

The forced activities create hostility: I spent years listening to my sisters play the piano allegro fortissimo (regardless of the piece) because they wanted to get practice over with. Sounded like machine-gun fire. I got out of it only because I am partly deaf and completely tone-deaf to music.

44

Teddy 05.09.06 at 7:08 pm

Chris speaks about Lareau’s demonstration that different parenting values and styles impact on children’s life chances.
There is no demonstration here. It is just a methodologically suspect attempt to get a causal conclusion by conducting “intensive observation.” For some healthy scepticism I recommend Judith R. Harris’ beautiful book The Nurture Assumption, in which she marshalls impressive empirical evidence that parenting styles do not impact children’s life chances at all.

45

sara 05.09.06 at 7:12 pm

PS on the piano: I wear hearing aids, which amplify loud and high notes. Sorry if this wasn’t clear.

46

Slocum 05.09.06 at 8:02 pm

joe o: There is such a weird lottery ticket like aspect to all of these soccer, art, piano and ballet lessons. If these lessons were taken mainly by kids of low SES, they would be seen as the sideshows that they are. These are not the workplace skills of the 21st century.

Some people disagree rather pointedly with that assessment. For example:

http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2006/04/the_best_senten.html
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0060186321/103-9417949-1087814?v=glance&n=283155

teddy: For some healthy scepticism I recommend Judith R. Harris’ beautiful book The Nurture Assumption, in which she marshalls impressive empirical evidence that parenting styles do not impact children’s life chances at all.

But Harris does not argue that there is nothing at all that parents can do that will affect their kids’ life chances. For one thing, she definitely recognizes the power of peers. And one could argue that a large part of what CC parents are doing is selecting their kids’ peers–by the choice of neighborhood, school, and by the various scheduled after-school and weekend activites.

And it would be bizarre in the extreme to suggest that parental training has no effect on their offspring’s chances (think of the fathers of Tiger Woods and Maria Sharapova who put golf clubs and tennis racquets into the hands of their toddlers). And it’s pretty obvious that children have a much better than random chance of entering (and succeeding in) their parents’ professions.

harry b: One of the things she does say is that when the ANG kids have the CC lifestyle described to them they rect with pity for the CC kids.

Well, yes, and kids who’d never gone to school would likely react with horror to the idea of those millions of poor kids who spend 180+ days a year stuck inside sitting at a desk (and more hours besides studying at home). But most people don’t accept that as a compelling argument against mandatory schooling.

One of the ways to look at CC parenting is that they have extended and supplemented the education model, adding more of what American public schools are currently rather poor at (physical education, music, art, foreign languages, and even math).

47

harry b 05.09.06 at 8:07 pm

A crucial assumption of Harris’s book is that parents are trying to reproduce their own traits in their kids. Drop that assumption and the book is less interesting. Also, her book is mainly about the conferring of personality traits not of advantage. Her own theory (which she offers only as a conjecture, but elaborates in detail) is that communities of parents influence the traits and dispositions of communities of children; I’d like to have seen Lareau discuss this, because it doesn’t seem (to me) so at odds with her own approach as the structure of her book (individual kids in individual chapters) might make it seem. So, I’m very impressed with the Harris in some ways, but don’t quite know how to take it as an intervention in this debate. teddy — having read Harris you should read Lareau (you know, if you have time etc) and think about each in the lgiht of the other.

teddy and CB — teddy is right that it is not a demonstration, and that is not what it claims to be (at least I don’t think it is). It illustrates and makes vivid a set of conjectured causal claims. But the Rothstein conjecture I referred to in my first comment, if made more confidently and broadly, would imply that what she observes is, in fact, epiphenomenal.

48

John Quiggin 05.09.06 at 8:10 pm

All of this is about equality of opportunity, and reinforces the point that it can’t be sustained in the presence of gross inequality of outcomes.

If working class jobs generated middle-class incomes, as they did in the US for some decades, then inheritance of middle-class cultural capital wouldn’t be such a problem.

49

vivian 05.09.06 at 8:15 pm

re 28

“…and one creates a greater sense of entitlement, a greater level of confidence in dealing with adults, and instills habits (shaking hands, looking people in the eye) which advantage children (in the long run) relative to others, but without instilling the virtues you describe.”

These habits are the ones that the Bangladeshi microcreditors require, and that Nussbaum (and co) find so inspiring. Confidence can be instilled in part through practicing things like eye contact, firm handshakes and the like. It doesn’t have to be done by pushy parents, but can be learned later on. Think of job retraining schemes, or career counselors in college giving practice interviews, etc. Seems like a society could decide that such skills were valuable and start encouraging them through schools but especially targeting the ANR kids – vocational programs, scouts, whatever. The goal would be to teach skills useful to all (commnunication, presence, self-respect) not to signal chosenness.

A Question: There should be more than two child-rearing strategies in the US: how do the church-centered families (where childhood is monitored and micromanaged, but with different activities and standards of success)? Does it vary by the ‘ism of the church, or race/income? Do they have completely new approaches or what?

50

Thomas 05.09.06 at 8:46 pm

John Q, are you saying that having a middle income causes one to parent in a particular way? That is, the traits aren’t associated with earning a middle income, but are caused by it, such that if we made more people middle class, we’d cause more of it.

51

Teddy 05.09.06 at 8:49 pm

Harris actually got the idea of writing the book from the surprising failure of the behavior genetic research to find any impact of shared family influences on children’s psychology. To give just one striking example, biologically unrelated children that are adopted and raised in the same family show virtually zero correlation in IQ, personality traits etc. in adulthood. This robust empirical result should give us pause when trying to infer hastily the causal impact of parenting styles. Harry B, what is your take on the relevance of behavior genetics for these issues?

52

Tracy W 05.09.06 at 8:56 pm

But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking it ought to be dispositive. The form of argument that goes “we shouldn’t do this justice-promoting thing because some future bad or misguided people might use this as a pretense to do something injustice-promoting thing”

I think it is a very serious concern when the goverment starts picking relative goods. It’s not just a concern about future governments, it’s a concern about how governments now would go about choosing which relative good to provide. At least any proponent of a course of action should consider what incentives are on a particular government to chose a particular relative good.

And I am not so much concerned about bad people deliberately trying to install particular conceptions – Robert Mugabe shows a bad person can ride over any particular protections, let alone needing an excuse – as normal people trying to implement a rather vague conception. I don’t see what mechanism would lead the NZ government to pick a conception of the relative good that Chris would be comfortable with.

53

cw 05.09.06 at 9:45 pm

You are all only talking about parenting effecting children in the later years as far a social skills, attitudes, and extra-curiccular oportunities, but there is a more basic and perhaps profound advantage beyone the ability to shake someones hand.

It is absoloutly undisputible that poor kids start school intellectually less prepared that middle-class kids (trying to phrase that accurately). There are some studies that claim to show that the way you intereact with your infant effects brain development. Basically, they say that the more you hold, talk to, read to, and play with you child the “better” the brain develops in terms of language and thinking ability. Even if this is not true, there is little doubt that reading and speaking and teaching your young child is going to preapred them better for school than if you do nothing. And schools today start much earlier with the academics than they used to. Kindergartners are expected to learn to read and a lot more. And it is also indisputible that kids who start “behind” remains behind. They never catch up. So either way the CC style of parenting young children creates an permanent advatage. The CC style is even a more important question if when you consider the possible effects on brain development.

54

LogicGuru 05.09.06 at 10:51 pm

Is it CC that improves kids’ life prospects or having upper middle class parents who, as it happens, practice CC child rearing?

Having been an only child, brought up CC myself–music lessons, art lessons, constant supervision and adult conversation, I determined that my kids would have Tom Sawyer childhoods–no organized activities, minimal supervision, lots of chance to run with the pack of neighborhood kids to orient them to peers rather than adults, encouragement to be tough and self-reliant, benign neglect. It seemed to me that organized activities were nothing more than a poor second best for kids who didn’t have siblings or friends, and didn’t have the chance to play in the street. It didn’t make any difference–they’re on their way to upper middle class lives.

The real test case for liberals are parenting programs that unquestionably put kids at a competitive disadvantage in the larger society–like Amish parenting. Pulling kids out of school at 8th grade graduation clearly disadvantages them. Yoder was wrong, the state should intervene. But I’m not a perfectionist–or a Rawlsean: just a Utilitarian who thinks it’s good to see to it that everyone has the widest possible scope for desire satisfaction.

55

'As you know' Bob 05.09.06 at 11:56 pm

guest, #32: “Surface articulacy?” The ability to explain oneself is absolutely crucial in almost any business environment. It’s not a proxy for genuine ability; it is genuine ability.

Well, yes, ‘articulacy’ is definitely A skill, but you’ve been fooled if you haven’t recognized people (ESPECIALLY in a “business environment”) who possess a glib gift of gab, but who possess essentially NO other talent.

“Surface articulacy” may arguably be a necessary ability, perhaps, but it is in itself certainly not a sufficient ability. I’ve met plenty of people for whom a “surface articulacy” has certainly been a proxy for actual ability.

They tend to do quite well in a business environment.

56

abb1 05.10.06 at 1:27 am

What, no one is going to bring up Steven Pinker and his insistence that upbringing has exactly zero effect on child’s future? C’mon, dish it out.

57

Chris Bertram 05.10.06 at 1:52 am

Um, they have abb1, since Pinker just gets it from Harris.

btw, I’ve read Harris and was impressed at the time. But I’m not at all sure how we should map Harris’s research (personality) onto Lareau’s (cultivation of “habitus”).

58

abb1 05.10.06 at 2:07 am

Ah, that’s right. Stupid. Sorry.

59

Teddy 05.10.06 at 2:10 am

Um, they have abb1, since Pinker just gets it from Harris.

Um, no. Pinker and Harris both get the theory of zero family influence from behavior genetics research.

60

Chris Bertram 05.10.06 at 2:22 am

That’s as maybe, but _The Blank Slate_ references Harris extensively.

61

a 05.10.06 at 2:28 am

“I’ve met plenty of people for whom a “surface articulacy” has certainly been a proxy for actual ability.

They tend to do quite well in a business environment.”

You are claiming that “surface articulacy” helps you do quite well in a business environment, but still it is not “actual ability”. Hmmm…

62

Chris Bertram 05.10.06 at 2:33 am

You are claiming that “surface articulacy” helps you do quite well in a business environment, but still it is not “actual ability”. Hmmm…

I think the claim is that a talent for bullshit can help your career in a business environment (or in politics for that matter), but that no-one would knowingly select someone as their CEO (or in most other roles) whose only talent was for bullshit (spin doctors on the other hand …).

63

Bruce Baugh 05.10.06 at 3:38 am

I have something of a concern about “sense of entitlement”, because I grew up around enough rich familities to see that it was often a substitute for “reason to feel capable”. See the presidency for a particularly vivid example. Feeling confident that one can get a reasonably fair hearing because one knows how to speak the languages of power isn’t at all the same thing as expecting that power will come your way.

64

abb1 05.10.06 at 3:56 am

…but that no-one would knowingly select someone as their CEO (or in most other roles) whose only talent was for bullshit (spin doctors on the other hand …)

Sure they do. CEO is a salesman, the job is somewhat similar to a used car salesman. This is especially obvious when they go to the “road show” to do the IPO – I witnessed this a couple of times, this is salesmanship in its most pure form. Billshitting Wallstreet analysts as well. This is, indeed, the most important part of the job.

65

Chris 05.10.06 at 5:44 am

What do you mean exactly by “whiny” sense of middle-class entitlement? How outrageous is it for those whose taxes pay for the shining institutions of the state to feel “entitled” to the services they purport to provide?

66

Avery 05.10.06 at 5:47 am

One thing that occurs to me is that we might (stylistically) distinguish the benefits-in-childhood from the benefits-in-adulthood of the strategies (Harry B #31).
This is a very valuable distinction. Joel Feinberg pioneered discussion of a “child’s right to an open future”. The idea is that (arguably, debatably) children have a “right-in-trust” against their parents and/or larger society to ensure that the children become adults who are capable of autonomously choosing a conception of the good. (It’s crucial that the “open future” is a meta-good — it doesn’t compete with income or happiness but structures and orders those goods within a life of the person’s own authorship.)
It strikes me — not having read Lareau, but now being very interested — that part of what’s at stake is that CC is inferior to ANG with respect to both benefits-in-childhood (for reasons mentioned above), and benefits-in-adulthood, precisely because the CC kids grow up to be people who lack an “open future” in Feinberg’s sense. Their sense of entitlement and striving — not to mention their normative peer group of “high achievers” — make them unable in some sense to become authors of their own lives to the degree required by the right to an open future.
One egalitarian critique may then be that we’ve set up a society where, due to socioeconomic stratification, the economy rewards behavior and character that are worse for us and for our kids; in childhood, CC kids do worse in a standard sense; in adulthood they do worse in a meta-sense explained by the lack of a right to an open future.
I’m not sure the critique is correct, and I may have overstated it, but it seems like a real possibility. (If you will, call this the “problem of evil” to counter the “sociodicy” of CC.)

67

a 05.10.06 at 6:05 am

“I think the claim is that a talent for bullshit can help your career in a business environment (or in politics for that matter), but that no-one would knowingly select someone as their CEO (or in most other roles) whose only talent was for bullshit (spin doctors on the other hand …).”

First, of course, that was not the claim at all, and you do yourself no credit by so patently distorting the discussion. The claim was that being articulate was not an actual ability, even though it obviously helps in a business environment. That claim is false – ariculacy *is* indeed a very important ability,in all walks of life and certainly in business. If Middle Class children are in fact being raised with this ability, then they are being better prepared for life and for business.

68

Chris Bertram 05.10.06 at 6:19 am

a – No sense in getting overpedantic here. The point was about people who have the gift of the gab and not much else. Sure they have a real ability, as do con-artists and hucksters. But a key part of that ability consists in persuading others that they have other talents that they actually lack. If I brought my kids up to be good liars then it might be true that “they are being better prepared for life and for business”, but I take it that wouldn’t be an example of good parenting.

69

abb1 05.10.06 at 6:44 am

Salesmanship. Con-artists and hucksters are people who use their salesmanship skills in an illegal manner. Salesmanship is a very important skill in the contemporary western life, hard to overrate…

70

a 05.10.06 at 7:09 am

Chris – You seem to be guily of several confusions: articulacy is not the same as lying; the Middle Class is not educating its young to be liars (or at least I don’t think so).

“But a key part of that ability consists in persuading others that they have other talents that they actually lack.” It’s not a “key” part. One can certainly use articulacy in this way, but there are many talents which can be used with ill effect. So what?

71

paul 05.10.06 at 8:33 am

Am I wrong in thinking that there’s a basic assumption here that income is a suitable measure for “success”?

72

Chris Bertram 05.10.06 at 8:54 am

a – you seem to be guilty of several confusions. (1) articulacy simpliciter was never up for discussion but rather “surface articulacy” (scroll up for original context) i.e. the _mere_ gift of the gab; (2) I didn’t say that articulacy was the same as lying, I merely questioned your suggestion in #67 about skills that prepare children for life and business.

73

harry b 05.10.06 at 9:16 am

paul,

I’m not sure that you are wrong, but you’re not exactly right. All sorts of goods come packaged together in our society; income, status, interesting jobs, health insurance (in the US), and, if Michael Marmot’s The Status Syndrome is right, longevity and good health. So what the CC parents are doing is preparing their children better for the competition for those goods, which is, within a generation at least, largely positional. But it is also the case that (as both CB and I keep implying) if you measured success in terms of moral character, for example, there’s no reason at all to suppose that the CC parents are preparing their kids for success in that sense, and some reason to suppose they are doing worse.

74

Slocum 05.10.06 at 11:03 am

All sorts of goods come packaged together in our society; income, status, interesting jobs, health insurance (in the US), and, if Michael Marmot’s The Status Syndrome is right, longevity and good health. So what the CC parents are doing is preparing their children better for the competition for those goods…

But government policy did not create and has a very limited capacity to change this situation. Keep in mind that ‘The Status Syndrome’ compared the health and longevity of varying grades of British civil servants (all of whom had at least decent wages, high levels of job security, and obviously government-provided health care).

What would a society have to look like where there was no positive correlation between income, status, interesting work, and autonomy (supposedly the critical factor in ‘the status syndrome’)?

But it is also the case that (as both CB and I keep implying) if you measured success in terms of moral character, for example, there’s no reason at all to suppose that the CC parents are preparing their kids for success in that sense, and some reason to suppose they are doing worse.

I’m also skeptical that the ANG pattern of allowing kids long stretches of time hanging around in groups without adult supervision is a spur to moral development. These groups, after all, are not exactly known for being kind, gentle, democratic, and egalitarian.

75

a 05.10.06 at 11:25 am

“articulacy simpliciter was never up for discussion but rather “surface articulacy” (scroll up for original context) i.e. the mere gift of the gab”

Oh I get it. Similarly virtue simpliciter is not a virtue, since if one has no brain, then one is not able to make any moral evaluations. And in general for X simpliciter. So you have managed to provide a context in which what you have said is not patently false – bravo! – but only at the expense of making it so contentless it has no relevance to anything.

Again, the Middle Class is apparently able to impart articulacy to its children. This is a virtue. It helps them later in life and in business, as well it should.

76

Chris Bertram 05.10.06 at 12:19 pm

Andrew, I didn’t “provide a context”, I referred you to the _original context_ of my remark so as better to help you understand it. Articulacy that helps a person to convey their meaning and to communicate with their fellows is indeed to be prized; surface polish that conveys a false impression of underlying ability is not. OK?

77

SamChevre 05.10.06 at 12:57 pm

Maybe I’m missing something obvious–but wouldn’t “income” and “status” be definitionally tied tightly if income is defined carefully (“one’s ability to command resources” or something like that)? It seems like income measures the resources one can use, and status the resources one can provide–is there any way of separating the two.

78

joe o 05.10.06 at 3:45 pm

Teddy is right that Lareau doesn’t deal with the challenge provided by Harris’s book. She just assumes that the middle class child raising techniques she sees has positive effects.

This chart of the earnings of south korean adoptees versus biological offspring starkly shows the issue. Parents don’t tranfer the ability to make money to adoptees. I don’t think it is because they don’t want to. I think it is because Harris is right.

>A crucial assumption of Harris’s book is that parents are trying to reproduce their own traits in their kids.

Ask Spencer whether parents try to reproduce their own traits in their kids.

Lareau points out in a vivid way things about modern child raising that I haven’t realized before:

– middle class parents have obvious favorites; working class and poor parents don’t
– middle class kids say that they are bored; working class and poor kids don’t
– middle class kids are whinny; working class and poor kids aren’t
– working class and poor kids value and play with relatives especially cousins; middle class kids don’t

Lareau is definitely worth reading, but read Harris first.

79

Tracy W 05.10.06 at 4:26 pm

66 – The idea is that (arguably, debatably) children have a “right-in-trust” against their parents and/or larger society to ensure that the children become adults who are capable of autonomously choosing a conception of the good.

Their sense of entitlement and striving—not to mention their normative peer group of “high achievers”—make them unable in some sense to become authors of their own lives to the degree required by the right to an open future.

In what sense? As compared to what?

As compared to kids who are not expected to achieve, where the highest opening in life for a girl is to become a bank teller at a bank, where you might be expected to drop out of school at 14 to work on the family farm? (Drawing examples from my own family’s history). How does the ANG style lead to children who have more of an ability to autonomously choose a conception of the good? This is the first time I think I’ve heard the argument that education (in the form of music lessons, after-school tutoring, etc) and encouraging your kids to have their own opinions reduces a person’s ability to become authors of their own lives.

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clew 05.10.06 at 9:26 pm

“What would a society have to look like where there was no positive correlation between income, status, interesting work, and autonomy (supposedly the critical factor in ‘the status syndrome’)?”

Well, it could have a lot of small farmers who owned their land. Plenty of autonomy, some interest, income & status generally low.

(Unintentional humor in following tracy w’s family memory; although, thinking of people I know who quit school for farm or fishery or forest, there are some who don’t regret it. Not a majority, though.)

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abb1 05.11.06 at 12:43 am

…a lot of small farmers…

or watch-makers.

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Avery 05.11.06 at 6:38 am

(#79): As compared to kids who are not expected to achieve, where the highest opening in life for a girl is to become a bank teller at a bank, where you might be expected to drop out of school at 14 to work on the family farm?
My point was intended as informing a structural critique of stratified societies. If you assume the stratification as natural or inevitable, then the critique would not get off the ground (without romanticizing the proletariat, which is not my intent). But the real question is whether other institutions would be possible that did not punish people for having traits that, taken on their own, seem to be sources of or constituents of a good life. I base this on things that, particularly, Harry and Chris have been saying throughout this thread.
This is the first time I think I’ve heard the argument that education (in the form of music lessons, after-school tutoring, etc) and encouraging your kids to have their own opinions reduces a person’s ability to become authors of their own lives.
It’s a conjecture: if “CC” kids become status-driven high achievers in our society, then they will tend automatically and heteronomously to endorse the society’s values because they are highly rewarded for talking, dressing, thinking, earning, living, and spending like all their high-achieving peers. They will be professors or lawyers or doctors or civil servants or whatever. They will be authors of their lives in a “first-level” sense — choosing whether to go to law school or med school, and whether to drive the BMW or the Hummer — but not be authors of their lives in a “meta” sense captured by the idea of a right to an open future. Rewarding people handsomely for being like everyone else is one mechanism for ensuring that they are like everyone else.

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Tim 05.11.06 at 8:33 am

Harry’s comment, I think, brings us back to Chris’s original post, with a bit of a twist:
“All sorts of goods come packaged together in our society; income, status, interesting jobs, health insurance … longevity and good health. … But it is also the case that (as both CB and I keep implying) if you measured success in terms of moral character, for example…”

This thread is an argument about what is the good life, and several interlocutors and I think that,m as far as defining the good life goes, we’d rather have the state focus on equality (of outcomes, yes!) in observable goods like income, wealth, and health, rather than trying to come up with some definition of moral, mental, or spiritual excellence (that way lies theocracy!).

And it is a fact that income and wealth give individuals certain very important positive freedoms: at a most basic level, they eliminate the need to steal, cheat, or prostitute oneself (in any number of senses) in order to make a living.

At a higher level, they provide the leisure time needed to pursue things like literature, art, and philosophy (not to mention supporting universities and similar institutions with their voluntary contributions or taces).

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blah 05.11.06 at 3:03 pm

Interesting discussion.

But I do wonder if the supposed virtues of the CC model of parenting aren’t being overstated. How would you empirically verify whether CC partenting results in greater confidence, articulateness, etc. etc. I certainly wouldn’t trust one person’s close observation to validate this hypothesis.

I also wonder whether the distinction between CC and ANG isn’t itself being drawn too sharply. Surely parenting styles fall along a spectrum and there are lots of parents falling in the middle.

From my own observations, there are plenty of children who are allowed to run wild so to speak yet excel at organized sports or other sorts of extracaricular activities. On the other hand, there are plenty of kids who are closely monitored by the parents and yet do not excel at much or even do very much.

In short, the distinction is exaccerated.

Finally, I wonder whether many of you aren’t understated the potential advantages of a ANG parenting style. It certainly seems plausible to me that children raised in this fashion will have advantages in leadership skills, innovation, creativity, etc., while the CC kids made be disadvanted in that respect, since they are basically being raised as followers.

There is a lot to be said for the meritocracy of the wild pack of kids – physical skill, wit, humor, articulacy are all advantages for making it to the head of the pack.

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Tracy W 05.11.06 at 8:07 pm

They will be authors of their lives in a “first-level” sense—choosing whether to go to law school or med school, and whether to drive the BMW or the Hummer—but not be authors of their lives in a “meta” sense captured by the idea of a right to an open future.

And ANG kids will somehow be more authors of their lives in a “meta” sense?

I am considering my friends from uni, and some of them have made choices other than ones between law school and med school and the BMW and the Hummer. Eg I have a friend who obtained the engineering degree and now spends her time working on temp admin jobs one after another while saving money for travel. I have another friend who obtained the science degree and now charges around the country on various animal-saving jobs. I have a friend with the B.Com who spent a year living with a tribe in a remote Amazonian area (he wasn’t studying them in any formal sense, just hanging out). I have a friend who quit the corporate accountant job to live in a small town and raise children. I have lost track of a university mate who went to Africa to build appliances suitable for use in deeply rural environments (presumably email wasn’t high on his list of priorities). A schoolmate was off to try and become a ballerina, a cousin quit a $90,000/year job to teach primary school.

As for me – I don’t know what a Hummer is, but I have owned a BMW. It cost a grand total of 440 pounds. :) I decided I prefer Toyotas.

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Tracy W 05.11.06 at 8:10 pm

the CC kids made be disadvanted in that respect, since they are basically being raised as followers.

No. Leadership skills is a looked-for skill by employers.

>i>There is a lot to be said for the meritocracy of the wild pack of kids – physical skill, wit, humor, articulacy are all advantages for making it to the head of the pack.

I went to a primary school from not the best social area. Physical skill meant bullying. Wit, humor, articulacy meant verbal bullying. Meritocracy yes. A lot to be said for it? Well, it does make me appreciate adulthood a lot more.

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blah 05.11.06 at 10:12 pm

Top executive positions are filled with bullies. There are definite advantages.

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