Making motherhood a career

Girls outperform boys in school; women are more likely to go to college and earn a degree. Men have been hit much harder by the recession and the changing economy. But a growing number of career women are choosing to make child-raising and home-making into a career, according to Emily Matchar’s Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity,

Disillusioned workers are “opting into a slower, more sustainable, and more self-sufficient lifestyle,”  writes Ann Friedman in a New Republic review.

The woman who leaves the public workplace is “the Brooklyn hipster who quit her PR job to sell hand-knitted scarves at craft fairs,” Matchar writes. “She’s the dreadlocked ‘radical homemaker’ who raises her own chickens to reduce her carbon footprint. She’s the thirty-one-year-old new mom who starts an artisan cupcake company from her home kitchen rather than return to her law firm. He’s the hard-driven Ivy Leaguer fleeing corporate life for a Vermont farm.”

Thanks to technology, the new homemaker can sell her crafts online and chronicle her quilting, baking and homeschooling projects online.

 “This lifestyle wouldn’t work if women were raising their perfect, happy, locavore children in the middle of the woods with no internet connection,” one professor tells Matchar.

From my point of view, the new homemakers are making their jobs a lot harder than they need to be. They grow their own vegetables, raise chickens and goats  (and slaughter their own meat!), weave, knit, quilt and sew and practice attachment parenting. Letting babies go diaperless is the latest fad. “Elimination communication” requires a a hyper-alert caregiver.

It’s hard to balance child-raising with a career in the U.S. But, women work less, earn less and are less likely to hold managerial and professional jobs in countries with family-friendly policies, writes Christina Hoff Sommers.

Sweden offers 16 months of paid parental leave, special protections for part-time workers, and state-subsidized preschools. Gender equality is government policy.

In a 2012 report, the World Economic Forum found that when it comes to closing the gender gap in “economic participation and opportunity,” the United States is ahead of not only Sweden but also Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Iceland, Germany, and the United Kingdom. . . .  Though the United States has fewer women in the workforce (68 percent compared to Sweden’s 77 percent), American women who choose to be employed are far more likely to work full-time and to hold high-level jobs as managers or professionals. They also own more businesses, launch more start start-ups, and more often work in traditionally male fields. As for breaking the glass ceiling in business, American women are well in the lead . . .

Mothers are much more likely than fathers to take long parental leaves and work part-time, according to a study by Cornell economists Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn.

. . . most seem to enjoy the flex-time arrangement (once known as the “mommy track”) and never find their way back to full-time or high-level employment.

Employers prefer to hire man, knowing they are less likely to take a long leave and then work part-time, add Blau and Kahn.

Swedish preschool bans ‘him’ and ‘her’

At a government-funded preschool in Stockholm, teachers avoid “him” and “her”, reports the New York Times. There are no “boys” and “girls,” only “friends.”

Masculine and feminine references are taboo, often replaced by the pronoun “hen,” an artificial and genderless word that most Swedes avoid but is popular in some gay and feminist circles.

In the little library, with its throw pillows where children sit to be read to, there are few classic fairy tales, like “Cinderella” or “Snow White,” with their heavy male and female stereotypes, but there are many stories that deal with single parents, adopted children or same-sex couples.

Girls are not urged to play with toy kitchens, and wooden or Lego blocks are not considered toys for boys. And when boys hurt themselves, teachers are taught to give them every bit as much comforting as they would girls. Everyone gets to play with dolls; most are anatomically correct, and some are also black.

Blurring gender lines will “theoretically, cement opportunities for both women and men,” Swedes believe. Or there could be some confused “friends” in the future.

Swedes crack down on good school food

At a school in Sweden, the cook has been told to stop baking fresh bread and serving a 15-vegetable buffet because her food is too good, reports The Local.

The municipality has ordered (Annika) Eriksson to bring it down a notch since other schools do not receive the same calibre of food – and that is “unfair.”

Moreover, the food on offer at the school doesn’t comply with the directives of a local healthy diet scheme which was initiated in 2011, according to the municipality.

“A menu has been developed… It is about making a collective effort on quality, to improve school meals overall and to try and ensure everyone does the same,” Katarina Lindberg, head of the unit responsible for the school diet scheme, told the local Falukuriren newspaper.

. . . “It has been claimed that we have been spoiled and that it’s about time we do as everyone else,” Eriksson said.

Since students’ tastes differ, they should have a choice of vegetables and  proteins such as chicken, shrimp, or beef patties, she argued. However, the school will cut the selection of vegetables in half and replace Eriksson’s handmade loafs with store-bought bread. Lowering the quality won’t save any money, Eriksson said.

Meanwhile, some U.S. districts are considering cafeteria “trash cams” to monitor how much food students are throwing away. Under new rules, students who take the school meal must take fruit and vegetables, but can’t be forced to eat them.

From Sweden to NY: Self-paced school

In a Kunskapsskolan Education (KED) school, middle-class Swedish children set their own curriculum and learn at their own pace. It’s the anti-KIPP, says Take Part. And it’s coming to the U.S.  A group of New Yorkers have applied to open a Manhattan charter middle school on the KED model, reports Insideschools.org, which notes, “The KED model aligns with the progressive educational practices used in many District 2 schools serving middle-class neighborhoods.”

KED promises personalized learning:

The steps and courses offer different kinds of lesson formats, such as lectures, workshops, seminars, laboratory experiments etc, which you and your personal tutor will put together in your weekly schedule. If you feel that any subject is particularly difficult, you can choose to devote more time in your personal schedule to teacher-led learning or independent studies in this subject.

New students set academic goals with the help of a tutor and their parents, KED says. The goals are used to create an educational plan with goals for each week and each term. The tutor monitors progress; parents follow online through a web portal that shows the student’s results and teachers’ comments.

KED is highly structured, says Claudia Hindo, who’s on the KED Manhattan board.

“Students, their parents, and their teachers set high achievement goals, measured by proficiency goals, and all students will be expected and supported in reaching and/or exceeding all NYC proficiency standards . . . Rather than ‘laissez-faire’ then, students are actually far better known to their teachers and it is impossible to fly beneath the radar. As proof of the system, Kunskapsskolan students consistently outperform their peer schools, year after year.”

The Manhattan charter will serve students with special needs, those who aren’t fluent in English and students from low-income families, Hindo asserts. “We are excited that data proves Kunskapsskolan’s educational model has been successful across a wide range of abilities and groups.”

It’s likely KED Manhattan will appeal to affluent, educated parents who see learn at your own pace as learn faster. But setting personal learning goals could work for a range of students, if they’re followed closely to ensure they’re meeting targets. I’d like to see a KED option.

Update: Here’s a link to a 2008 Economist story that compares KED schools to IKEA.

Sweden’s vouchers

Sweden gives all parents vouchers to use at public or private schools, explains Lance Izumi on the New York Times site.