Middle-class parents make nurturing and educating their children a sacred mission, writes Kay Hymowitz in City Journal. By contrast, many working-class and poor parents believe in “natural growth.”
Natural-growth believers are fatalists; they do not see their role as shaping the environment so that Little Princes or Princesses will develop their minds and talents, because they assume that these will unfold as they will. As long as a parent provides love, food, and safety, she is doing her job.
. . . Talking or reading to a young child or taking him to the zoo are simply not cultural requirements.
Some low-income parents “locate community centers or church groups with after-school activities. More important, they organize the household around school activities and homework.”
DePaul University professor William A. Sampson sent trained observers into the homes of a number of poor black families in Evanston, Illinois—some with high-achieving children, some with low-achieving. Though the field workers didn’t go in knowing which children were which, they quickly found that the high achievers had parents who intuitively understood the Mission.
These parents, usually married couples, imposed routines that reinforced the message that school came first, before distractions like television, friends, or video games. In the homes of low achievers, mothers came home from work and either didn’t mention homework or quickly became distracted from the subject. Sampson’s book only describes school-age children, so we don’t know how these families differed when their children were infants or toddlers, but it’s a good bet that the parents of high achievers did not start showing an interest in learning only the day their kids started kindergarten. In the ways that matter for children, these are “middle-class, lower-class families,” Sampson explains in Black Student Achievement. “The neighborhood is not responsible for the difference. Neither is race. Neither is income.” No, only the parents.
I talked to a boy at Downtown College Prep who told me that his mother had found out that a youth center was opening, and had sent him there on the first day it opened to sign up for whatever there was to sign up for. He ended up in a leadership club, which he enjoyed, and on a soccer team, which he loved. Many of his old friends joined gangs and quit school. He made new friends on the soccer team and then at the charter high school; he was headed for college.