Tag Archives: competitive parenting

Workbooks: Turning parental panic into profit

The commodification of parental panic.
The commodification of parental panic.

Who remembers doing work books at home when they were children?
Not me. My childhood was one of benign neglect in which I was left to my own devices in the back garden for most of the summer holidays.
Look how far we’ve come. This is a just a small section of the vast selection of workbooks on sale today at my local WH Smiths.
This dizzying array is graphic evidence that parents no longer feel secure enough to leave education to schools.
Once carefree, school holidays have now become catch-up sessions where children are made to work through volumes of exercises and tests to ‘get ahead.’
Even when children manage to get through their homework during the week, they are presented with still more work in the form of these books which enable parents to play ‘teacher’.
The problem is that when everyone else’s children are doing workbooks as well behind closed doors, there’s no advantage to be gained.
So what happens? Suspecting that everyone else is doing the same, modern parents work their children STILL harder to make sure they are the ones pressing home the advantage.
But while there is no advantage to be gained, there is a huge cost to our children’s childhoods. Our homes become bootcamps.
With the UK languishing on the PISA league tables, some may say that what this country needs is not LESS pushy parenting – but MORE.
But there is also an uncomfortable truth lurking here.
The children of the most over-invested, over-ambitious generation of parents in history – the ones who buy these workbooks – are being educated alongside those from some of the most under-invested and economically deprived families – and treated by governments as if there is a one-size-fits-all solution.
At the same time as our newspapers obsess about the latest antics of the most extreme tiger parents, there are also shock-horror headlines about children turning up at nurseries barely able to speak, huge swathes of six-year-olds unable to read basic words, and school-leavers still not meeting the standards of Maths and English required by employers.
The underlying reasons for this low achievement are often that these children are products of extreme poverty, teenage pregnancies, households in which English is not yet spoken or chaotic family backgrounds. In these homes, it is not improving comprehension skills that is the priority for parents. It’s putting food on the table.
But the measures introduced to catch the so-called ‘tail’ – like nappy curriculums, early nursery school starts and SATS throughout primary – also end up over-heating children who have been over-cooked from the start.
At one end of the scale, high-stakes testing is turbo-charging an elite class of alpha children who have been on the hamster wheel from the moment of birth.
At the other, it is alienating a generation of children who have been branded as failures early on because they never got the same level of parental investment.
Because children see the world in black and white terms, it feels like a case of all-or-nothing. They don’t have the experience to know there is a middle ground, so they give up.
The result is a two-tier education system with a huge achievement gap through which more children are falling all the time.