Friday, March 22, 2019

Snowplow Parenting? Yep, that's a thing

As an educator and school administrator, I've been pretty attuned to the increasing messiness of the college application process. So, I'm not really shocked by the news of the Lori-Loughlin-Felicity-Huffman college admissions cheating scandal. Is it really any surprise that the system was vulnerable to rigging and manipulation by the wealthy and connected? We already know that standardized test scores are a better predictor of socioeconomic status than they are of college readiness, and we also know that tutors and test prep programs already skew the standardized test component in favor of the upper-middle and upper class families who can afford them. Once you add in the questionable industry of private college counselors for the application process, and it's a short leap to cheating on test scores or bribing sports programs and coaches into falsifying a student's application to get into the school of their dreams.

The really sad thing is that USC was not even the dream school for Lori Loughlin's daughter - she didn't actually want to go to college. So, the scandal is really all about the status for the parents, regardless of whether the kids knew or not. And I tend to believe they did.

Which leads to the stories of a few days ago in which a new parenting term has hit the lexicon -- snowplow parents. Snowplow parents are people who do everything they can to "clear the road" of any obstacles for their children. These choices in the parenting game are, of course, complicated in some ways because we all want what is best for our kids, and no one wants to see his child struggle in unnecessary ways. At the same time, most reasonable people understand that struggle and adversity are all part of growing up, and that often "what we obtain too cheaply, we esteem too lightly," or so noted Thomas Paine in The Crisis. When our children are very young, it is right to protect them from the harsh realities of the world -- even if we think it's fun to introduce them to death, destruction, and betrayal at an early age by showing them Disney movies. Beyond that minor indiscretion, we want their childhood to be relatively pleasant.

School complicates that.

Once kids are into the adolescent years, and the rules of competition and living by comparison come into play, we must begin to evaluate those "sink or swim moments," as our kids learn to take care of themselves. The snowplow parents, however, won't allow the sinking, and they mistakenly believe that preparing and smoothing out the road for the kid is more important than teaching the driving skills and coping strategies to prepare the kid for the occasionally harsh rules of the road. There are varying levels of snowplow behavior, with the Loughlin-Huffman version being the most insane. And, the scandal will perhaps provide a moment of reflection for many parents and kids .... and college admissions officers .... to reevaluate just what sort of Faustian system we may have set up.

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