Investing in Children

If we can’t persuade policy makers to invest in young children on ethical and moral grounds, perhaps economic analysis will be more persuasive. The Rand Corporation has recently released a new report, The Economics of Early Childhood Policy, in which they point out that

A growing body of program evaluations shows that investments in early childhood programs can generate government savings by, for example, reducing the need to provide social services later in life or by improving individuals’ earnings, which then generates more tax revenue.

Might such analysis have potential for moving us away from the “fix it after it’s broken” policies that are at the core of No Child Left Behind?

Raising Wealthy Children

While it’s relatively easy to find critiques of child-rearing in low-income families in popular media and academic circles, it’s relatively rare to find any critique of the ways in which children are raised within wealthy families.

Thus, I was intrigued by this short piece from American Public Radio’s Marketplace show that speaks to the challenges of talking with wealthy children about family finances. Apparently, many families find these conversations awkward, so often simply avoid them. From a transcript of the broadcast:

The thing is, the majority of parents in the survey said being open with their children about finances was important. But more than half have never discussed the responsibility that comes with family wealth.

One parent who doesn’t talk much about money with her kids is Lucy. She didn’t want her last name used.

Lucy: Well, I just don’t like to be very public with finances.

Lucy has two kids, 18 and 20. The family is worth more than $50 million from when her husband’s telecommunications company went public. But she says her kids learn by example, because the family doesn’t live extravagantly.

Lucy: Well, that’s a little bit not true. We do have probably a few more houses than we can properly deal with but . . .

Cole: How many is a few more than you can deal with?

Lucy: Well let’s see, we have . . . five houses, I guess, effectively.

The children of parents who lose track of how many houses they actually own are likely not going to be found in public school classrooms. They are beyond the reach of policies of income-based integration of public schools, of public school curriculum about social class, of public deliberation about the declining affordability of higher education.

In public schools, we are educating poor and working-class children whose work lives, whose access to public resources, whose access to health care and quality education for their own children will be shaped by those who have grown up in families where no one talks about how owning five homes is, in fact, extravagant.

Certainly, at least in public schools, we can — and must — talk about this?

Teaching Hungry Kids

Over at the Education Policy Blog, Aaron Shutz has posted a powerful piece on childhood, hunger and learning, asking how much difference pedagogy might make when children have too little food, poor vision, and inadequate health care.

No Child Left Behind? When baby formula has to be put behind locked doors at the drug store and schools are sending home crackers over the weekend so that kids have something to eat between school lunches?

How did learning come to be defined as only a problem of pedagogy?

The Costs of Being Upper Middle Class

I want to read more about this researcher’s work, but this newspaper article on relatively high levels of distress among affluent youth caught my eye.

The researcher, Suniya Luthar, says that

upper-middle-class adolescents reported far more incidents of substance abuse, anxiety and depression than those in inner cities and the general American teen population.

She tells the reporter that it has been hard to find funding for her research, because few people think that the problems of rich kids are worth studying.

Ellen Brantlinger made similar points in her poignant case studies of “the winners” in high school who fared less well as young adults in Dividing Classes.

There are at least two things at work here that intrigue me:

First is the tendency of the press and academic community to local psycho-social problems primarily within “at risk” kids in poor and working class homes, in spite of how often studies like this show otherwise.

But second, is that the “problems of rich kids” are part of the story of how class works in America. We talk too little about the ways in which intensified competition for too few opportunities affect kids trying just to get in the game, but we’ve hardly talked at all about the costs for kids trying to hold their places there.

We can’t understand class without understanding both.

I wrote in a an article a few years ago about how seldom educational researchers “study up” to the upper-middle classes or the wealthy.

In part, I suspect, the children of powerful families are more protected from the scrutiny of researchers than are kids in poor and working class schools.

But I wonder, also, whether we’ve even been interested in what we might find there beyond the high test scores? Even as we insist that test scores can’t capture the full educational experiences of kids on the margins, do we have a lot more to learn about what lurks beneath the accomplishments of the poster children of achievement in upper-middle class schools?