Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Parenting: Just don't screw it up

The studies in Freakonomics had a decidedly anti- bias in parenting. They used the term "obsessive parenting," which I found to be quite inadvisable since it betrayed their bias before they even started laying out the data; they could just have easily said "parenting-focused" and not lost any meaning. But then again, they were probably deliberately tweaking our noses, since it sells more books.

I still find myself somewhat confused by the data. After using such a loaded term I thought they would come loaded for bear, as Pinker did, to show how much parenting didn't matter. But their most solid data concerned the correlation between poor, single parents and high-crime outcomes with their children, so much so that they could attribute much of the drop in crime in the 1990's to the legalization of abortion. They seemed to be quite keen on pointing out that unwanted children were more likely to be be neglected or abused, and of course it makes sense that those kids would be more likely to be criminals, right?

But then they turn right around and start discounting every other influence of parental behavior. They were quite sad to confess that Head Start was ineffective, but they blamed it on the poor education and scant attention of poorly-paid Head Start teachers (i.e. the surrogate parent.) So, does that mean that good schools matter? Well, maybe . . . they cite one study that says schools choice makes no difference in outcomes (bad obsessive parents, BAD!) but then turn right around and try to explain the black-white performance disparity on bad "black" schools. (And, interestingly, what makes those schools bad is, essentially, an environment of insecurity: gang violence, drug dealers, etc.)

To their credit, the authors do a very good job of distinguishing between correlation and causation, and make it clear that it's virtually impossible to distinguish the two in some circumstances. But while kicking around in Correlation Land, they seem to make a big deal about examining some correlations without addressing others. Blacks entering school perform just as well as whites when entering school when you control for socioeconomic factors -- so hooray! we don't need to be racists when we confront racial disparities. But wait a minute . . . why do we have such a strong correlation between race and poverty? Oooo . . . let's not go there. No, wait a minute! It's the schools, bad schools, yessiree. And the schools are bad because of the crime. And the crime is bad because of single-parent families that don't value education. But just remember, parenting doesn't matter . . . as long as you get married, love your children, encourage them in their schoolwork, don't neglect them, make them feel secure . . . nope, parenting doesn't matter at all. W . . . T . . . F.

It occurred to me, reading all this, that an excellent control for the socioeconomic factors would be lottery winners. The profound majority of lottery players are very poor, so I imagine that most of the lottery winners would be very poor, too. So how much do their outcomes change when they suddenly (and arbitrarily) have lots of cash?



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