Friday, May 27, 2005

Good parents? Bad parents? Schools?

Okay, sorry, ANOTHER post about the last chapter of Freakonomics. The last, I think.

A major component of the last chapter is commentary on the power (or lack of power) of parenting. Thanks to a huge stockpile of data, the authors gleaned several very interesting facts relating verbal/mathematical test scores and parents.

It appears that what parents DO doesn't have a whole lot of affect. It's what parents ARE that seems to have the most effect. For example: reading to your children doesn't affect their test scores, but being the sort of person who has a lot of books in your house DOES.

Unfortunately, there are two HIDEOUS flaws in this study.

The first is a lack of shown data. SHOW ME THE DATA. Otherwise, I can't trust anything you say. I can SAY that my years of study have made it obvious that monkeys can fly out of my butt, but I'm LYING.

The second flaw - and, if anything, the more important of the two - is the measurement of 'parental success'. Verbal and math test scores are the measurement.

I understand you were constrained by the available data. But I don't care much about test scores. I've known a lot of TOTAL LOSERS who scored very well, and several top-flight geniuses and leaders who scored badly. I'll leave you guessing as to which category I fell into.

Okay, with the flaws made clear, let me address the results. I agree with the results. They match my experiences.

ENVIRONMENT MATTERS MORE THAN PARENTAL ACTIVITY. Your parents are, of course, part of your environment - but not as large a part as they like to think, at least not for people who attend public schools. I know a good chunk of homeschooled students, and I get the impression that their environments revolve significantly more around their parents.

WHO the parents are is important. For example, wealthier parents tend to have kids who tend to be wealthy, EVEN IF THEY DON'T GIVE THEIR KIDS THEIR FORTUNE. This is probably because wealthy kids tend to have the 'best toys' in comparison to other kids. They dress nicer, they have more stuff, they always buy their lunch. They are in a position of power throughout their interactions with other kids. They grow up being in a position of power, and they continue that habit for their whole life.

Similarly, a parent who is well-educated, even if they are not rich, tends to have children who are well-educated. Some people say this is because the parents educate the kids. I say it's because the kids 'inherit' a lust for education - whether this is genetic or resonant memetics. The difference is subtle: parents who don't have a strong backbone on education probably can't get their kids excited about education, EVEN IF THEY TRY. Again, it's a comparative thing, not an absolute.

I admit I have no data to support this. I wish I did, but SOMEBODY didn't POST any.

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