Paul Tough’s ideas have been discussed previously in Education: Success, Failure, and Character, and in Poverty and Stress: The Ability of Children to Learn.
Tough also described concerns on the part of some educators that the children of the most affluent might also be lacking in certain necessary non-cognitive skills due to deficiencies in their upbringing. Surprisingly, some of these deficiencies arise in ways remarkably similar to those experienced by the children of the very poor.
Tough describes extended interactions with the staff of Riverdale Country School located in a wealthy area on the fringe of New York City.
It is clear to the staff at schools like Riverdale that they are working for the parents of the students, not for a publicly determined school board. This arrangement can have deleterious consequences.
There seems to be more focus on producing children who will conform to expectations for the children of the wealthy rather than on producing children who will excel in any given way.
This is the way the meritocracy propagates itself. God help us!
This affluent milieu places great pressure on the children to avoid failure, and great pressure on the school staff to help them avoid failure. But isn’t the best lesson a child can learn that failure is something one can recover from and be able to keep trying? Isn’t that the way life works?
These pressures experienced by the children of the affluent are not without effect. Tough reports on the research of Suniya Luthar, a psychology professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College.
Luthar performed a comparison of affluent, white tenth-graders with a cohort of mostly black, low income urban tenth-graders.
In another study in which Luthar followed middle school students over a several year period she reported the following results.
There seem to be some similarities in the parenting patterns of the very wealthy and the very poor.
The issue of substance abuse has arisen in several contexts of late. The use of addictive amphetamines as study aids is said to be prevalent at elite high schools and colleges. The use of addictive prescription pain killers as a means of escaping the tensions and disappointments of real life is also becoming more common.
Poverty can certainly be devastating for a young child. It is somewhat startling to learn that affluence can also be devastating for a child.
Perhaps some good old fashioned income redistribution would deliver each from their demons.