The children of the meritocracy are bathed in conditional love, writes David Brooks in the New York Times.
Parents unconsciously shape their smiles and frowns to steer their children toward behavior they think will lead to achievement.
. . . Children in such families come to feel that childhood is a performance — on the athletic field, in school and beyond. They come to feel that love is not something that they deserve because of who they intrinsically are but is something they have to earn.
. . . These parents unconsciously regard their children as an arts project and insist their children go to colleges and have jobs that will give the parents status and pleasure — that will validate their effectiveness as dads and moms.
Meritocratic parents “use love as a tool to exercise control.”
High expectations are to blame for a wave of suicides at Palo Alto High School, suggests Motoko Rich, also in the New York Times. Paly is my daughter’s alma mater.
“Across the street to the west, Stanford University beckons as the platonic ideal,” she writes. “To the east, across a bike trail, are the railroad tracks where three boys from the school district have killed themselves this year.”
This is Palo Alto’s second suicide cluster. “Five students or recent graduates of the district’s other high school, Gunn High School, killed themselves beginning in 2009.”
There are now guards posted at the railroad tracks, but they can’t be everywhere.
Parents say, “All I care about is that you’re happy,” said Madeline Levine, a local psychologist. “The kid walks in the door and the first question is, ‘How did you do on the math test?’ ”
I want you to be happy — at Stanford, Yale or MIT.
In high-achieving communities, children believe “that only the best will do — in grades, test scores, sports, art, college,” said Denise Pope, an education expert at Stanford. “In everything.” It’s Stanford or flipping burgers at McDonald’s.
“It’s awfully hard to be the best here, given the curve” is the line that resonates the most with my daughter, she wrote on Facebook. “Yes, growing up in Palo Alto, I felt pressure to succeed. But I am also grateful that I learned, very early on, that it was ok not to be the best.”