Recently: The Kids are Not Okay, Childhood Roundup #1, Fertility Roundup #1 It seems like a good time to go over the interesting relevant stuff I’ve found since the last time I did one of these. Executive Summary and Table of Contents: Why Are the Kids are Not Okay
Conservatives often argue that the loss of traditional values, like faith, family and patriotism, deprives people's lives of meaning. They're half right. Those things can provide meaning, but living life, surviving and learning to thrive in the world can provide just as much meaning. The problem with our contemporary society is that we've removed a good deal of those pressures and replaced them with a bunch of mostly stupid, zero sum status games that are increasingly bereft of any meaning other than the preservation of power for the bureaucratic class.
Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the construction of modern childhood. Kids were once an integral part of household production; they worked on the farm, helped out in the store, or got outside jobs and brought their wages home. Eliminating the need for that sort of child labor is a net positive, but in some ways what we've replaced it with is worse. We've removed kids from real life, because real life is too risky, and tried to replicate real world learning and development through some bizarro facsimile of the real world. We've turned childhood into a two decade experience of unreality. Why would we expect them to come out of that mentally healthy?
The other ironic thing is that parents often go to great lengths to give their kids advantages in these stupid games, making themselves miserable in the process. But they also go to great lengths to try to hide this from their out of of some perverted notion of selflessness. Of course, kids pick up on their parents disposition, and while they don't exactly know what's wrong, they know enough to understand that their parents being miserable is in some way related to them.
Taxes strengthen your childcare arguments considerably, with parents spending after-tax wage income on mostly nondeductible (beyond a small amount) childcare expenses.
It's even more challenging for people employing nannies and babysitters because the cost of properly reporting and paying employer-side taxes is immense (we comply with the rules, yes it's expensive, and I acknowledge it's a privilege to be able to do so and to have a great/honest nanny).
And >75% of paid caregivers are used to being paid under the table so the incidence of the employee-side taxes often ends up on the employer anyway, because most household employees view their options, fairly, in after-tax terms. Without the implicit subsidy of the government currently condoning massive noncompliance by employers and employees alike in childcare, the entire market would grind to a halt.
Curious if you'll one day examine the (leftist, from what I have seen) backlash to hiring teenagers to work jobs. Example here: https://twitter.com/bern_identity/status/1645493732240949248
The timeline of the decline* doesn't match up with the depression/unhappiness rates exploding in 2011-12, but intuitively it seems that teenage jobs offer a combination of structure -- be here at 5, leave at 9 -- and freedom -- we're trusting you to run the register with only marginal supervision -- that is a major positive in the long run. Not to mention the classic "learning the value of a dollar, instilling a good work ethic" refrain that is also almost certainly true.
Brains finish developing around age 25. Spending 18-22 goofing around and doing more learning isn't the worst thing, leading into spending 23-25 as an "entry level position" somewhere.
What worries me even more than kids who default to resolving problems through physical violence...is kids who don't know how to resolve problems at all. Even "victim culture" complain-to-the-manager behaviour shows some spark of creativity, a working model of the (dysfunctional) world. Kids who lapse into learned helplessness and passivity, I almost wish they *would* lash out and punch someone. Better to vent frustration in such relatively-harmless ways than let it fester internally. Easier to control aggression with low-stakes practice. The same logic that makes martial arts valuable also applies to sports and genuine childhood play...giving people a sense of agency, of being embodied and Doing Things with one's own hands. Getting out of that headspace of permanent symbol manipulation.
Unfortunate that raising kids in the US has become such a mess. Not that it was ever easy, ask my parents, heh heh. I opted out mostly for income reasons but also I felt like I wasn't into the modern 110% parenting style (even if parents don't want that, it seems like it is forced on them).
My impression is that the "parents calling cops on other parents letting kids do normal stuff" issue is mostly a suburban thing. I would think parents in cities need lower levels of baseline anxiety just to live there, and thus are not likely to do that.
Germany's " increase in instruction hours" was due to a genius plan to stabilise our pension-system by more work-years: do away with last year, class 13, and instead study ALL the material of classes 11+12+13 now in just two years ("Abitur", your ticket for university).
That turned out fricking hard; students, parents and teachers hated it. In most "Länder"(states) it has by now been turned back. In my town only one (of 14 or so) senior high-schools still does the two-year-track. As much as I hated our K13, I had wished they had done away with the rubbish during class 7-10 to get it down to K12. - Agree with all takes, never seen kids this century without a parent at the playground. Visiting friends of my 8 year old son are often expected to call home after their 200 yard walk to our place (suburbia). My daughter (soon 6) hardly ever has friends visiting. I guess their parents would feel the need to be present all time then. My childhood was same place but very different.
I think "fighting at school" and the draconion penalties for physical violence now, are a bigger issue than almost anybody thinks.
I commented about this at ACX, a few months ago, in a nutshell:
- boys, esp 11-15, are going to fight
- My childhood experience was that those fights lasted about 30 seconds
- after a scuffle you were friends again. (Sitting in the hall outside the principal's office for an hr becomes a bonding experience, good school principals knew this....)
-- !!!! you learn that fighting is EXPENSIVE, punching somebody also hurts *your* hand, you take some damage no matter what. !!!!
- you also learn that if you insult or provoke people all the time, you will likely get punched in the mouth.
- boys learn this before they become men physically able to kill people.
I think these are all valuable lessons. The reaction from some at ACX surprised me. One commenter replied that I seem to have had a "violent and traumatic childhood" ? A few 45-second scuffles in 7th-9th grade is "violent and traumatic"? I would say, "completely normal, and healthy." The fact that very rational people now consider any physical violence to be anathema explains a lot. Never having been in a fight produces adults who don't understand violence at all, who think words or silence are violence, and who are helpless in the face of actual violence, criminal or political.
There is an analogy to the fact that children who grow up with guns, who learn how to shoot and handle firearms with responsible adults, are the least likely to go for "mass casualty" attacks. I would also opine that one reason military veterans are so conservative is because they have seen how effed-up the govt is, and also govt's incredible power to destroy things, and know govt action is a terrible answer to most things.
Also, w/r/t a fight clearing the air and being friends again, the modern alternative, call it "girl rules", is holding anger and grudges and crying and gossip and slander and insults and cliques and social exclusion and status and it never ends and just gets worse and look I am now describing the current political and cultural landscape.
Your comment regarding DeSantis potentially eliminating AP courses was misleading and lacked context. He is considering replacing College Board/AP with other providers of college level classroom material (and the possibility of receiving college credit after passing an exam) such as International Baccalaureate and Cambridge Assessment.
Jonathan Haidt's https://letgrow.org is worth sharing and boosting. It's here that I found out that my state, Texas, *does* now have a law protecting me from Child Services visit for letting my daughter out of my sight to play in the neighborhood.
This is excellent news and deserves celebration, and we would all do well to put energy into passing such laws across the remaining 46 or so states that need them.
"Freddie deBoar" -> "Freddie deBoer" :)
Thanks for the summary, lots of interesting things in here. The Alpha School seems like a great idea to me, I'd like to see that model spread quickly.
Broadly, do you think the problems you've highlighted here are the consequences of society adapting to a reduced birth rate? When our reproductive success depends on 1 or 2 children, it seems logical that this would lead to a reduced appetite for risk among parents, and for the kids to feel a greater sense of pressure to succeed. If you agree with this, do you see any obvious long-hanging fruit we change as a society to increase the perception of safety for parents?
On a related point, do you think most people who don't have kids because of the sacrifices required make the decision because the amount they're willing to sacrifice is lower than average, or because their expectations about how much they're required to sacrifice is higher than average? It seems from your post that you think it's the latter, but the former group could help shift norms here if they were convinced to just have kids.
On education, I've noticed before that my experience was very different from yours, but it always shocks me how little I recognise in your model. I'm from rural Scotland, and left school 10 years ago, but my memory is that primary school was almost entirely about genuine learning and that most kids seemed to enjoy it. In secondary school, things like relationships and avoiding being beaten up became more important, but learning definitely still happened. While I'll concede I was as square as a school pupil could be, I never got the sense that the school itself was cruel or particularly capricious. The senior teachers were too concerned with superficial things like school uniform, but broadly the classroom teachers were pretty reasonable. As long as you didn't throw stuff across the room or put other people's stuff in the Bunsen burner, they seemed fairly willing to give a bit of leeway. By the time I was 16 they treated us like human beings a lot of the time, especially if we showed the slightest interest in their subject. I think my school was fairly normal (probably top 25% in the country academically) so I'm curious whether you (and any readers) think my experience would be unusual in the US. Also providing a datapoint in favour of not burning the whole thing down.
Likewise on university, while I agree with your assessment of Michael Story's argument as a whole, I would like to protest slightly against the pure signalling model. While my family was privileged, and did instil in me many of the classically upper middle class behaviours associated with a university education, it was not until going there that I was able to find a community in which these traits could be expressed and developed fully. University was incredibly fulfilling for me socially, as I was surrounded by people with a range of backgrounds, beliefs and interests I couldn't possibly have encountered had I stayed at home. For students from elite circles or expensive fee-paying schools, university may have been a disappointment, but I found the chance to interact with such a variety of intelligent, interesting people massively stimulating. From a school where I could discuss ideas with at most 10 people, I was introduced to an entirely new social world. Tuition was free, so I would find it very difficult to assign a monetary value to the experience, but I can certainly say that I found undergrad a lot more valuable than the skills acquired in my subsequent, more focussed, graduate level studies. However, I do broadly agree with you about the value of just getting a job instead.
The Alpha School advertises $40k/year tuition. I would be curious to see a graph of how many pay actually what amount (the classic college problem of the people who want to be there subsidizing the people the school wants to be there and the list price being a poor representation of true cost).
Because otherwise $40k/year/pupil and just letting apps do the lecturing/testing sounds like a pretty good ROI and something that they should be scaling quickly.
I wonder how they compare to public school achievement when weighting by their family income demographics.
(I say this as a homeschooling parent who also leverages a lot of apps.)