What do parents want? It depends

Parenting styles vary by education and social class, writes Jay Mathews in the Washington Post. Does it matter? Mathews has been reading Michael Petrilli’s new book, The Diverse Schools Dilemma, which cites the research.

A middle-class, college-educated parent of any ethnicity is likely to be like me: Overscheduling children’s free time but preferring innovative instruction and informal discipline at school.

. . . working-class and poor parents of any race are more likely to let their children amuse themselves as they see fit once their homework is done but tend to prefer schools with traditional teaching styles and strong discipline.

University of Pennsylvania sociologist Annette Lareau found “the center of life in middle-class families was the calendar” listing “scheduled, paid, and organized activities for children.”

But despite the forced march to improvement that characterized their children’s free time, those parents tolerated a lot of back-talk and often negotiated with children about what they wanted to do. They preferred teachers who did not give orders but encouraged creativity..

Working-class and poor parents, researchers found, left their children on their own on weekends and summer days but were more likely to set strict behavior rules. Those parents tended to like teachers who were tough and structured.

Middle-class parents think parenting is very important: It’s their job to cultivate their children’s “talents, opinions and skills,” Lareau writes. She contrasts “concerted cultivation” with “natural growth” parenting. Low-income and working-class parents think children develop naturally, if parents provide “comfort, food, shelter, and other basic support.”

Diverse schools face a challenge: If middle class and low-income parents have different expectations, what should principals and teachers do?

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