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Archive for the ‘Hyperparenting’ Category

The McTutor World is on the rise. Private tutoring is growing by leaps and bounds and it’s now the fastest growing segment of Canadian K-12 education. Since the financial meltdown of 2008, the tutoring business has rebounded, particularly in major Canadian cities and the burgeoning suburbs. From 2010 to 2013, Kumon Math centre enrollment in Canada rose by 23% and is now averaging 5 % growth a year. It’s estimated that one in three city parents in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary now hire private tutors for their kids.

PrivateTutorsSylvanMy recent radio interviews on CBC Radio Drive Home shows (September 4-5, 2014) focused on the trend and tackled the bigger question of why today’s parents are turning increasingly to after-school tutors to supplement the regular school program. That’s a question that begs for a more thorough, in-depth explanation.

The expansion of private tutoring is driven by a combination of factors. The world is changing and, for good or ill, we now inhabit an increasingly competitive global world. International student testing is one symptom and so are provincial testing programs — and parents are better informed than ever before on where students and schools rank in terms of student achievement.  While high school graduation rates are rising, student performance indicators are either flat-lined or declining, especially in Atlantic Canada. In most Canadian provinces, university educated parents also have higher expectations for their children and the entire public education system is geared more to university preparation than to employability skills.

System issues play a critical role in convincing parents to turn to tutors. Promoting “Success for All” has come to signify a decline in standards and the entrenchment of “social promotion” reflected in student reports overflowing with edu-babble about “learning outcomes” but saying little about the pupils themselves.  When parents see their kids struggling to read and unable to perform simple calculations, reassurances that “everything is fine” raises more red flags.

New elementary school curricula in Literacy and Mathematics only compound the problem —and both “Discovery Math” and “Whole Language” reading approaches now face a groundswell of parental dissent, especially in Manitoba, Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario.  It’s no accident that the private tutors provide early reading instruction utilizing systematic phonics and most teach Math using traditional numbers based methods.

The tutoring business is definitely market-driven and more sensitive to public demand and expectations. Canadian academic researchers Scott Davies and Janice Aurini have shown the dramatic shift, starting in the mid-1990s, toward the franchising of private tutoring. Up until then, tutoring was mostly a “cottage industry” run in homes and local libraries, mainly serving high schoolers, and focusing on homework completion and test/exam preparation. With the entry of franchises like Sylvan Learning, Oxford Learning, and Kumon, tutoring evolved into private “learning centres” in cities and the affluent suburbs.  The new tutoring centres, typically compact 1,200 sq. ft spaces in shopping plazas, offered initial learning level assessments, study skills programs, Math skills instruction, career planning, and even high school and university admissions testing preparation.

Hiring private tutors can be costly, but parents today are determined to come to the rescue of their struggling kids or to give the motivated child an extra edge.  Today it’s gone far beyond introducing your child to reading with “Fun with Phonics” and some Walmart stores even stock John Mighton’s tutoring books for the JUMP Math program. An initial assessment costs $99 to $125 and can be irresistable after reading those jargon-filled, mark-less reports. For a full tutoring program, two nights a week, the costs can easily reach $2,o00 to $3,000 a school year.  Once enrolled, parents are far more likely to look to private independent schools, a more expensive option, but one that can make after-school family life a lot simpler and less hectic.

The tutoring explosion is putting real pressure on today’s public schools. Operating from 8:30 am until 3:00 pm, with “bankers’ hours,” regular schools are doing their best to cope with the new demands and competition, in the form of virtual learning and after-hours tutoring programs.  Parents are expecting more and, like Netflicks, on demand!  That  is likely to be at the centre of a much larger public conversation about the future of traditional, bricks and mortar, limited hours schooling.

What explains the phenomenal growth of private tutoring?  With public schools closing at 3:00 pm, will today’s parents turn increasingly to online, virtual education to plug the holes and address the skills deficit?  How will we insure that access to private tutors does not further deepen the educational inequities already present in Canada and the United States? Will the “Shadow Education” system expand to the point that public schools are forced to respond to the competition?  

 

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Anxiety and the jitters are winning the Back-to-School internal tug-of-war with excitement and exhilaration.  Today’s schoolkids are full of worries, feeling threatened by cyberbullying and being diagnosed with new forms of childhood and teen anxiety and depression. “Typical” Parents are hovering in helicopter formations waiting for schools to open, and a few are fretting about, and envious of,  Finnish education.  Pencil, pen and paper teachers wedded to chalkboards are quietly derided as throwbacks for resisting mobile learning devices and shunning the latest Apps.  While all of this is a gross distortion of reality, it does reflect the impressions and perceptions conveyed in Back-to-school media reports, including the recent series of articles featured in Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail.

BacktoSchoolHigh anxiety clearly consumed Canadian news columnist Elizabeth Renzetti.  In “Back-to School Stress,” The Globe and Mail, 31 August 2013, she grabs our attention with this lead: “The week before school begins is often filled with a special anxiety.  Every night is dominated by the hour of the wolf, the sleepless time of dread: What will class be like this year? Pass or fail? How to keep up? When it’s all over will there be any jobs left that don’t require a polyester uniform?”  That’s just the pretext for apiece about Amanda Ripley’s new book, The Smartest Kids in the World.  Reading it will only generate more worries about why our kids are falling behind those in Finland in the international race to the top.

One Back-to School news story produced by CTV News, aired on September 4, 2012, is back and posted on “Back-to-School” section of The Globe and Mail website.  The news clip, “Nerves and Excitement on the First Day of School,” is enough to rattle even the most seasoned parent and educator.  It focused on the first anxious day for kIndergarten kids at Carlton Village School in Toronto and was followed by a Metro Toronto Police news story warning parents about the child safety dangers of dropping-off their kids at school.

Letting your kids walk to school is now a practice that can produce deep parental angst.  “Just as exciting as your kid going to first grade is your kid walking to first grade,” advises Lenore Skenazy, author of Free Range Kids, a daring mother who achieved infamy by allowing her 9-year-old son ride the New York subway on his own.  She recently told The Globe and Mail that “letting go of the leash” can be liberating for today’s helicopter parents.  “It’s only in this moment in time that we are paralyzed with fear about what’s normally a lovely part of childhood.”

Today’s parents are bombarded and innundated by professional experts and well-intentioned elementary school educators dispensing advice.   THe videos posted on The Globe and Mail website tell the story.  The titles speak for themselves:  “Why jittery kids feel stressed this time of year.“Getting gadget ready for school.”  “Is your kid a picky eater? Try packing these lunches.”   My favourite recent advice piece, Kate Carraway’s “A letter for your locker,” is an aunt’s idea of what it takes to survive and thrive in the veritable jungle of the Middle School. It ends with this honey-coated line: “I want you to have an incredible life, but more than that, I know you will.”

Even today’s teachers are feeling the pressure.  For educators, trying to keep pace with technology is daunting. After all iPads have only been on the market since April 2010, and now they are the all-in-one device that is insinuating itself into every corner of daily life, including the schools.  Social media inspired educators like Thomas Whitby, founder of #edchat, are a constant reminder of how much more teachers could be doing to integrate technology into teaching and professional learning.  Shutting the classroom door and carrying on the usual “chalktalk” routine are getting harder when your SMART Phone Twitter feed contains a stream of links to pieces like those aggregated on  Edutopia.

SchholKidsatDesksFew education observers or policy analysts dig a little deeper trying to fathom and explain why going back to school has become such a source of  ‘over-the-top’ anxieties for kids, parents, and teachers. Buried in those Back-to-School stories is one that does, a September 2012  interview with Zander Sherman, author of The Curiosity of School. In that interview with Chris Berube, Sherman argues the changes in the nature of The School are the source of the problem.

School is something you dread when it’s associated with unpleasant experiences.  In Sherman’s words: “Schools have historically turned out citizens and voters, today, though, you could say we’re focused on human resources – schools have become standardized, and that’s because it makes for a good labour pool, it’s convenient for the economy.”

What’s gone wrong? Education should be about instilling a sense of wonder and a love of learning,”   Without the capacity to instill that curiosity,  Sherman points out that schools can have a deadening effect on children and teachers. Going to school should be like going to the gym for personal fitness — an experience people actually look forward to.

What’s the real cause of Back-to-School stress for students, parents and teachers?  To what extent do professional experts and well-intentioned educators contribute to the hype and apprehensions?  Do schoolchildren today dread school anymore than their parents — or grandparents?  How legitimate is Zander Sherman’s claim that changes in The School itself are heightening the natural anxieties?

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Joel Bakan, author of the 2004 best seller The Corporation, has returned with a controversial sequel entitled Childhood Under Siege: How Big Business Targets Children . His earlier book was also turned into an award winning documentary film that exposed the insidious evils of corporate influence in our everyday lives. If the modern corporation was human, Bakan claimed, it would be a certifiable psychopath. In Childhood Under Siege, he attempts to extend his now familiar thesis into the realm of childhood. http://www.5min.com/Video/Joel-Bakan-Talks-About-Childhood-Under-Siege-517127244

    As a committed social progressive, Bakan claims to have been called into action to protect our kids from the faceless, soul-less, rapacious corporation.      Since its publication, the book has attracted mostly favourable attention, particularly on CBC Radio and TV, where the Michigan-born UBC law professor is often treated as a popular media personality.

Today’s Canadian parents and families may not be so quick to swallow Bakan’s sweeping interpretation of their situation. When looking for guidance, they are more likely to find the answers in Carl Honore’s more compelling 2008 book Under Pressure: How the Epidemic of Hyper-Parenting is Endangering Childhood.  It covers the same territory, offering a far more complex, multi-layered analysis and reaching radically different conclusions. http://www.carlhonore.com/?page_id=5

In Childhood Under Siege, parents and children are depicted as innocents who represent easy prey for the corporation. From the outset, Bakan comes-off as a rather naive and protective parent who is startled to discover that his 11-year-old son’s “really cool” Internet games site is a gateway to such appalling “kiddie” fare as “Whack Your Soul Mate” and “Boneless Girl.” That horrible revelation, according to the author, is really what prompted him to resume his war against corporate influence in North American life.

Bakan goes on to chronicle how “big business” targets and exploits children in a multitude of subtle and under-handed ways. It has happened, he claims, because of government’s failure to intervene, allowing child protection laws to erode and giving free reign to corporations and their heartless, money-driven “marketers.”

For today’s kids, Balkan shows that it’s a dangerous world out there. Spending hours and hours online exposes them to cyberworlds and social media which feed teenage narcissism and promote deranged, highly competitive and unhealthy values. Relentlessly targeted by red haired clowns (McDonalds) and hipster icons (Starbucks), they come to pester their parents for fast food, junk snacks, and sugary, high voltage drinks.

Sections of the book do deliver a profoundly important message. Bakan is at his best when exposing what is termed “Big Pharma.” Here his overarching thesis hits closer to the mark. In many cases, big pharmaceutical companies have not only smothered negative scientific studies, but also co-opted medical professionals to create a popular culture where drugs solve everything –and where kids actually label themselves “ADHD” before being seen by a doctor.

Balkan’s litany of sins perpetuated by big businesses knows few limits. It’s the corporations that pollute the child’s playroom environment with toxins, turn a blind eye to noxious gases, exploit child labour, and promote “market-driven” reforms in public education.

In taking a big scope, Bakan covers much territory and his sweeping analysis tends to reflect a clear presentist bias. Paying more attention to the history of childhood would have yielded deeper insights into the cyclical pattern of exaggerated parental worries, including the supposed corrupting influence of such blights as 19th century “dime novels,” The Simpsons, and South Park.

Though the book tends to focus on the United States, Balkan tries to demonstrate that Canadian children are also being victimized in similar fashion. He knows the law and effectively documents the holes in child protection laws in Canada as in the U.S. Raising red flags about creeping corporate influence in Canadian public education through privately-managed charter schools, standardized testing, and rampant commercialization simply does not wash.

Thoughtful critics have already begun to dismiss Childhood Under Siege as a sincere, well-intended book which falls short of expectations. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/books/childhood-under-siege-how-big-business-targets-children-by-joel-bakan/article2143228/  While The Corporation was very convincing in exposing the extent of corporate influence, the sequel runs aground in the complex, multi-faceted realm of childhood, parenting, and family life.

Parents play a much bigger role than Bakan ever acknowledges and, truth be told, “hyper-parenting” is threatening to produce a generation of “coddled kids.” Today’s kids teenagers are also mighty savvy when it comes to “The Pester Factor,” bugging their harried parents into buying the latest version of every consumer item.

The author shows a surprisingly naive faith in the capacity of government to safeguard our children. Looking to government to solve most matters, as Bakan does, will find little resonance with those who are already sceptical of the friendly state. After all, as German sociologist Max Weber once warned us, “parcelling out-of-the soul” is common to all bureaucracies, public as well as private.

Why is Bakan’s Childhood Under Siege being hailed as “an important book” for parents and policy-makers? How well founded are the scare stories aimed at exposing the supposed evils of corporate influence in Canadian public education? Who is really under siege — kids, parents, or the family? What’s the primary source of the problem – rampant materialism, big business influences, the decline of family values, or the stressful pace of life?

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“She’s had a ball collecting tiaras and applying fake eyelashes. But six-year old Eden Wood is ready to embrace new challenges—like promoting her own showgirl action figure.” So wrote William Lee Adams in a recent TIME NewsFeed story read around the world. http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/07/14/eden-wood-six-year-old-beauty-queen-retires-from-pageant-circuit/

The winner of more than 300 beauty pageant titles, Eden Wood shot to national prominence on the hit TLC television series Toddlers & Tiaras, which follows the nation’s tiniest pageant contestants through a haze of spray tans and rhinestones. Speaking to Good Morning America on July 13, 2011, Eden’s mother-manager Mickie Wood said that putting down the crown and scepter will give Eden time to explore other ventures. As she says: “I think she’s following in the footsteps of some pretty big people who have done pageants, like Oprah Winfrey.”

But unlike Oprah—who won Miss Black Tennessee at the age of 18—Eden is building an empire without knowing how to write or do math calculations. Her range of merchandise already includes a rather mature-looking Eden showgirl action figure, the “Eden Wood Princess Canopy Bed Collection” and a memoir entitled “From Cradle to Crown” (available for just $15 plus shipping and handling on Eden’s official web site).

Watching the TV series “Toddlers & Tiaras” is enough to make your stomach churn. http://tlc.discovery.com/videos/toddlers-tiaras-i-want-the-crown.html Today, as North American parents age themselves down with lotions and potions and childish fashion, according to Hannah Sung in The Globe and Mail, ” we also age our children up.” Witness those children’s beauty pageants, the likes of which are the topic of many provocative documentaries and the basis for reality television show Toddlers & Tiaras. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/fashion-and-beauty/hannah-sung/all-mixed-up-why-are-we-dressing-like-kids/article1930289/

In journalist Peggy Orenstein’s book Cinderella Ate My Daughter, an examination of “girlie-girl” culture, Orenstein states that, “the identical midriff-baring crop top is sold to 8-year-olds, 18-year-olds and 48-year-olds.” She cites the rise in appearance-altering surgery for American children under the age of 18 (in 2008, it was almost twice as many as a decade earlier) and the 12,000 Botox injections administered in 2009 to children ages 13 to 19 and concludes that in the end, “[it] means girls are now simultaneously getting older younger and staying younger older.”

Critics of Toddlers & Tiaras find the TLC cable program to be “the most disgusting show on television.” http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/sfmoms/detail?entry_id=43981 It has spawned “Cancel Toddlers & Tiaras” Facebook pages and sparked protests over the past three years, all to no avail. Some 5,000 Australians signed petitions in a failed attempt to bar Eden Wood from entering their country in late July 2011. Child psychologist Collett Smart went head-to-head with Mickie Wood on a current affairs show, Today Tonightt, but the six-year-old’s mother was undeterred.

The TV show continues to air despite the concerted efforts of parent groups to raise public awareness about the sexualization of girls. According to some reports, over 100,00 American children partiipate in these girls beauty pageants each year. Yet concerned parents are beginning to understand the emotional, psychological, and physical harm a young girl is exposed to when she is sexualized. As the 2007 American Psychological Association’s task force report showed us, early sexualization can lead to self-esteem issues, depression, eating disorders, and early promiscuity.

Women’s Rights advocacy groups are outraged by the show. “Toddlers & Tiaras is a petri dish of sexualization,” Care 2 declared. “Little girls are taught, often times forced by their domineering mothers, to act coquettishly, learn suggestive dance routines, wear sexualized costumes and bathing suits, endure hours of hair and make-up, and are even put on restrictive diets in order to lose weight for competition. This is perverse. While TLC continues to air “Toddlers & Tiaras,” the network becomes an agent of this sexualization.” http://www.care2.com/causes/profiting-from-sexualized-children-an-open-letter-to-toddlers-tiaras.html#ixzz1TR7HJtBi

The TLC cable TV show “Toddlers & Tiaras” has stirred up quite a controversy and that raging debate begs a few critical questions. Should we be taking shows like “Toddlers & Tiaras” seriously? Who in their right mind would be influenced by such trashy television, except the foolish and impressionable? Will the show set back the cause of advancing womanhood or encourage more hyperparenting? And why do networks like TLC keep renewing such shows?

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We live in a high pressure world.  Our work day now extends beyond normal hours, thanks to longer hours at the bank, the grocery store, and the fitness centre.  The Blackberry has invaded every aspect of our daily lives, blurring the lines between business and pleasure.  Growing numbers of Canadians admit to working virtually around the clock. We’re more stressed, less rested and have less time to devote to our kids.  Welcome to life in the early 21st century.

This is not just another rant, but rather a quick synthesis of the results of the Canadian Index of Wellbeing Report, released June 15, 2010, and aptly entitled Caught in the Time Crunch: Time Use, Leisure and Culture in Canada. It’s also a report that captured headlines across Canada — and left many Canadians nodding in agreement that the time has come to assess the total impact on our families as well as our general wellbeing.

The Toronto Globe and Mail (June 15, 2010) provided a succinct summary of the key findings:

  • The 24 Hour Work Day: Twenty-five per cent of Canadians are working around the clock;
  • The Generational Squeeze: One in four of us cares for an elderly dependent and one in five is responsible for both a child and a senior;
  • Busy Kids: Two-thirds of teens spend  over 2 hours daily in front of screens; more than 80% of 6 to 9 year-olds are taking part in an organized activity programs;
  • Shrinking Leisure Time: More time working means less time for social activities; only 5 % find time for arts and culture activities, fewer than ever visit national parks.

The Time Crunch means that work-life is taking over our lives, cutting deeply into time spent with family, refreshing our minds, and exercising our bodies.  We are clearly being driven by the pace set by our globalized, technologically advanced world.

The pressures felt by today’s families, parents, and children were starkly revealed in Carl Honore’s profoundly important 2008 book Under Pressure: How the Epidemic of Hyper-Parenting is Endangering Childhood. The root of the problem, according to Honore, lay in “our culture of speed, efficiency and success at all costs.”  It had created a new phenomenon called “hyper-parenting” which was “pushing children and their parents to the brink.”

The CBC-TV Doc Zone program, Hyper Parents & Coddled Kids (2010), drove the message home: What began as sheltering children from a dangerous world and preventing those “skinned knees” was producing a generation of “coddled kids” unable or unwilling to function on their own.

The spectre of “hyper-parenting” crept up on us slowly. We just wanted what was best for our kids and now nothing is too good for them.

What’s causing families to be so under pressure?  What’s the impact on well-meaning parents ?  Are today’s  parents giving children a leg-up in life?  Or are we  creating problems that will last a lifetime?  Let’s hear from you.

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