Mine!

A mother spoke of her concern about her daughter’s interactions with a visiting playmate. The play broke down because her child was upset each time the visitor wanted to play with something of hers. “No, mine,” her child protested when one of her toys was used by the other child. Mom was upset about what she saw as a problem with sharing and wondered how to handle such situations.

This question often comes up in pre-school groups when two children may get into an altercation over both wanting the same block or toy. Sometimes one child will take another’s toy and the teacher misses the victim’s protest. Later on, that child may express his anger by getting back at the aggressor, perhaps with a push that can seem unprovoked if one has not seen the earlier incident.

I remember observing in a group where the children were playing with an assortment of cars, trucks and animal figures. One little boy sitting at the edge of the group, would look around to make sure no one was watching and then take one of the objects from the pile and quickly put it on the floor behind him. He didn’t actually play with them – just seemed intent on collecting and saving them for himself.

Learning to share is a big developmental step, an aspect of social behavior that adults react to – perhaps over-react to – because it impacts on others and is therefore judged critically by adults as “not nice.” It is as though this behavior reflects poorly on the parents or other caregivers. With children entering groups at younger and younger ages, the expectation for sharing behavior often precedes the developmental ability for such behavior.

Sharing possessions involves the concept of yours/mine, you/me. In other words, it means awareness that one is a separate individual, not connected to someone else. Babies are not born with that awareness. Psychiatrist D. W. Winnicott is famously quoted for saying “there is no such thing as a baby.” This meant that an infant is connected to a mother/caregiver for survival. The human infant is unable to survive on its own.

As babies grow they increasingly become aware that they and a caregiver are not one and the same. This has been called a period of separation/individuation and is related to increasing independent functioning such as walking and verbal communication. This beginning independence is both exhilarating and scary. You can assert your own will but at the same time separation means to risk the loss of gratification that comes from mother or caregiver.

Possible anxiety about separation gets expressed in a variety of ways, one of which is connection to one’s possessions. Another child taking a toy to play with, evokes a sense of loss, which in a sense has nothing to do with the other child or the toy. Being reprimanded for “not sharing” exacerbates the situation and often provokes a more intense protest and upset.

Some cultures reject the idea of an investment in personal property and discourage the idea of “yours” and “mine.” That is not true of our society which values individualism but nevertheless considers generosity and a willingness to share as desirable traits and labels their absence as “selfishness.”

Awareness of the developmental meaning of a child’s cry of “mine,” gives us some ways of responding to the upset. You can prepare a child ahead of time for the reality that her friend may want to play with her things but also acknowledge that there are some things she may not want to share. Best to put those away in the closet before the other child’s arrival.

In teaching a child the value of sharing it helps to also appreciate the wish not to share – a wish shared by all one time or another.

Questions About Child Care

Observing a pre-school group of two-year-old’s, I saw a wonderful example of separation contagion. This refers to a group with one or two children who are having a particularly hard time separating from parent or care-giver. The crying and upset that ensues sets off a similar response in the other children until almost the entire group is coming apart.

The reason the upset behavior is catching is that many of the children are on the cusp of managing their own separation. Their own feelings about this are close enough to the surface to be triggered by the upset of others. Even when other children don’t break down in tears one can see their anxiety aroused by the behavior of the upset child. At times, another child will even offer comfort to the crying child with whom they feel identified.

The mother of a two year old told me of her own anxiety about enrolling her child in daycare after she had been previously cared for by a nanny. This raised the question of the merits or liabilities of group care vs. individual care for young children – a question of great concern in the years since increasing numbers of mothers of young children have entered the workplace.

This mother expressed her own misgivings despite the fact that her daughter seems to be doing well. The mom is surprised at how well the child seems to be able to accept the routines of the group and the role of the teacher although she worries that it is a long day for her. She seemed surprised to discover that the child can manage as well as she does despite the change this represents for her.

The fact that certain things are hard for a child doesn’t mean they are bad for them. A child’s protests may sound worry alarms for a parent but it is not the protests that are of concern but rather the way they are understood and responded to. In the group referred to, the teachers were able to offer support and comfort to individual children including retrieving the parent of the most upset child.

It is only in recent years that children have been placed in groups from such young ages. A sign in the doorway of a neighborhood building advertised “Pre-school Prep.” The idea seems to be that children have to be prepared to attend pre-school, once considered preparation for grade school. This is in keeping with the fact that once children are in groups, expectations begin to change for their behavior along with an earlier introduction of academics.

Yet children’s development has not changed, and if more children are to be cared for in groups, such groups must address their developmental needs. A large part of our societal resistance to dealing with the problem is the cherished belief that there is no solution that will or can duplicate the family life that existed in an older division of labor. But as in dealing with all the many societal changes that have taken place in modern times, we need to be creative in finding solutions that do not rest on the sacrifice of any one of the parties in basic human relationships.

Children need not only physical care but the attention of caring, interested adults who don’t necessarily have to be their parents. The cultural investment in one-to-one care, typically currently provided by those with the financial means, is not a solution for present day realities. Whether we call it early childhood education or day care, clearly we need to think in terms of some form of group care for children.

Achieving the desired quality of such care will take a major financial commitment which will require overcoming entrenched resistance to government support.

 

Advice Confusion

A mother of a two-year-old, pregnant with her second child, talked about the confusion caused by all the advice about child-rearing online and social media platforms. She wondered how one would know which advice is right for her own child. The question really should be, what do we know about where our child is developmentally and what he or she is capable of doing?

The answer is not always simple. Sometimes mothers try to answer it by looking at charts that tell you what children are supposed to be doing at different ages. Sometimes we compare our own children to others of the same age. This is not very helpful because not only is every child different, but one’s own child is a real child, not the hypothetical child in the advice.

Also, there are different aspects to development: physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and a range of development within each one. Children’s development often varies from one area to another. These various areas of development don’t all grow and develop evenly, or at the same pace. This can be confusing since steps in some things may not relate to where a child is in others.

We often find a child jumping ahead with many skills, such as learning letters or numbers, playing complicated games, having interesting conversations. Yet that same child may resist dressing herself, or start to act babyish, or continue to provoke a younger sibling. Also, children’s understanding of what we are asking of them is usually way ahead of their doing what we ask. That’s why when you ask him to “stop doing that”, it often does no good, even though he understands what you are asking.

Our children may show their ability to reason and yet seem unreasonable in their behavior. Aside from the fact that what seems reasonable to them may not seem reasonable to us, there are other factors that influence their behavior. One big one is impulse control. A child’s ability to control the expression of his feeling in behavior –not to strike out when angry, or to throw something when frustrated – often lags behind his understanding that he is not supposed to do that. Understanding and control are two different skills which may not be in synch with each other.

When we seem to be getting stuck on something we want a child to do, it is helpful to think first about whether the advice we get matches what we know about our own particular child. The mom referred to above was asking how one would know which is the right answer in choosing the right nursery school for her child.

The point is there is no right answer that fits everyone. In the case of nursery schools, my experience has been that when parents visit different schools and classrooms they seem to have a real sense of an environment that feels right for their child and one that doesn’t. The question to ask oneself is, do I see my child in this class with this teacher? Sometimes it is difficult to put into words what it is that makes on environment seem right and another wrong.

The problem really seems to lie in having to use one’s own judgement – the apprehension about making a mistake. Yes, mistakes will be made, but that is how we learn about our own children, their readiness to take certain steps and the difficulties they may be having changing their own behavior.

Just as our children will make mistakes in the process of learning, so will their parents. That’s how we both grow.

 

 

Accentuate the Positive

With all the recent new books and articles on education, the most interesting was called to my attention by my fourteen-year-old granddaughter. She reported proudly that her school is one of nine in the country that has signed on to a program called the Positivity Project. “The short story is, it is focused on building relationships across the school.”

Describing more about it, she said that it is a movement to counter the rise in narcissism and decline of empathy in our society. It was surprising to hear a young person talking about narcissism, bringing back thoughts of Christophe Lasch’s “Culture of Narcissism,” published in the late ‘70’s. Lasch saw the rise of pathological narcissism in such qualities as the fascination with fame and celebrity and the transitory quality of personal relationships.

Now, schools are trying to address this phenomenon by focusing on building relationships, student to student and student to teacher to cultivate an “other people matter” mindset. My granddaughter informant explained that everyone has 24 character strengths ranging from creativity to leadership. Each week the focus is on a different one, the idea being to find your own and work on the weakest to become a better person.

Last week in school they talked about curiosity, watched a video and discussed what it meant to be curious. Curiosity accomplishes many things – especially promoting learning, a “cool concept, especially with everything going on in the world.” Apparently, this discussion takes place in one class with a particular teacher. According to the website, teachers are trained to implement this program and when a school signs on they receive many materials for the purpose.

Another thing I was told is that everyone is too focused on achievement while having relationships is the most important thing to achieve. The idea is for students to spread this message by talking about it to each other. Obviously, they are trying to build interest and my granddaughter’s interest was captivated enough for her to volunteer to man a booth promoting the project at a community event. The ability to capture the interest of young people is a significant plus for this project.

Searching through the website, it was interesting to note that part of the interest in the development of relationships is not only to promote “health, happiness and resilience,” but also because of a connection to jobs of the future. Research is cited predicting the skills that will be of highest demands in the future are persuasion, negotiation and group dynamics, that is human interaction and nurturing.

The focus appears to be an intent to shift the focus from competitive achievement to humanistic values. While a noble goal, it would seem to require a more social foundation if it is meant to counteract the lack of opportunity that prevails for a part of the population and the pressure that exits on parents and thus students for the limited opportunities that exist for others.

My granddaughter’s response is that it the Project is still too limited and the students are not yet that into it. Her view is that the most important thing is to talk about and promote it, to point up the values in the various character traits, which can help people appreciate each other. To the degree that the Project accomplishes the goal of helping young people become aware of each other’s differences in a positive way it will be a major achievement.

What came to mind was the old Johnny Mercer song:
“Accentuate the positive,
Eliminate the negative,
Latch on to the affirmative,
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between.”

Seems like a good message.

Differences in Children – and Parents

Once the idea was that children are born as blank slates, written on by their parents – especially mothers – who were then responsible for who they became. In recent years, we have come to understand much more about the characteristics and abilities children arrive with in this world, and the role they play in the way parents and children interact with each other.

A psychiatrist who studied children, talked about seeing differences in newborn babies in hospital nurseries and spoke of the “executive baby” who already had the nurses doing her bidding. Children seem to be born with certain distinctive temperaments, or behavior styles which emerge in various ways early in life. Researchers have been interested in studying whether these characteristics carry over into adult life. There is some evidence that some of these differences are due to heredity.

Perhaps more interesting is the question of how these innate characteristics develop over time into distinctive individual personalities. This is where all that has been learned about development in recent years can give us some clues. We know that parents are not simply writing on a blank slate, as was once thought but that children are partners in their own development. Their native endowments elicit from parents and others certain responses. Their cries of hunger or pain bring the attention they need. Their smiles and other emerging skills cause others to react with pleasure and engage with them socially.

So it isn’t only that children react to their parent, it is also that parents react to their children. This interaction between them is possibly more significant than either of their personalities individually; yet their individual personalities have a big impact on the way they interact with each other. Parents react to their children, and children in turn react to their parents’ reaction.

In the interaction between them, there can also be a mismatch of personality, or behavioral styles. Parents often talk about children pushing their buttons. Sometimes this simply refers to children carrying things too far and provoking their parents. But in other situations, it may reflect an aspect of a child’s behavior that is particularly intolerable to his parent, whereas it might not have the same effect on someone else.

An example might be outgoing parents with a slow to warm up child who becomes clingy in social situations. For such parents, it might be particularly difficult to accept or tolerate their child’s different personal style. When a child begins to move out into a larger world, this behavioral style may be repeated with others, perhaps leading to his being excluded by peers, or fading into the background in school. This may serve to reinforce lack of confidence, and contribute to the ongoing development of a particular behavioral style. Parents worry about this and it may lead them to try to induce their child to behave differently.

Understanding how possible differences in style or temperament between our child and ourselves influence our child’s development, can be useful in thinking about conflicts that may be developing in the relationship. We need to consider whether a child’s behavior we are trying to change or that irritates us, is unacceptable in a larger sense, or simply runs counter to our own personality style. If we can accept the differences between us we can play an important role in helping a child be successful within his own style of behavior.

The saying is that “opposites attract”. But in the case of parents and children, opposites can distract from the positive impact we are capable of having on our child’s development.

 

 

They Learned It in School

As parents, we console ourselves with that idea when our children come home with behavior or language we don’t like. “They don’t hear or see that at home.” That is probably true because young children are absorbing everything new around them, and older kids imitate things that seem “cool”. We may find, however, that our children imitate certain things, but not others. The behaviors they copy may fit something they are struggling with developmentally. For example, a pre-teen who is not sure whether she or he is a teen-ager or a child, may copy inappropriate dress trying out all possibilities.

On the other hand, we may not realize that sometimes children are in fact, imitating us. The mother of a twenty-month-old boy, who is herself a teacher of young children, told me of her horror when she heard her child say, “Oh F—!” She told me that he said it in the tone of voice and in a situation in which one might use an expletive. Embarrassed, she confessed that he was imitating her and was horrified when he said this in her own father’s presence.

We can learn things we might not want to know about ourselves by listening to our children. Another mother told me of her chagrin at hearing her daughter talking to her doll saying, “Hurry, hurry, you have to get ready, we are going to be late.” She recognized the critical tone of voice and message as her own and it was a real eye- opener.

In the example of the little boy using an expletive, it seemed likely that he was unaware that the word he used is not socially acceptable but rather a simple expression of exasperation or frustration in certain situations. It was a good demonstration of how children imitate our behavior and mannerisms as they develop simply by learning from their environment.

Children’s horizons broaden once they are out in a larger social world and when in pre-school what may seem like spontaneous combustion is the emergence of bathroom language or “poop talk. Children at this age share a common interest in body functions and the process of toilet training puts the focus on one’s body and what comes out of it. The poop comes out of their bodies and as such has great value. Sometimes children may be reluctant to take that next step to more independent functioning that parting with diapers implies.

Toilet training involves mastering the control needed to meet adult requirements and establishing such control is hard work for children. What better outlet than to substitute words for the actual poop. Instead of the poop coming out of your body the words can come out of your mouth without control. Unhappily, the words seem just as unacceptable to mom and dad as does the poop in the pull-ups.

The interest in bathroom talk does fade out but interest in the body does not, and poop words often mutate into genital words. This may coincide with a time when there is greater awareness and interest in the difference between boys’ and girls’ bodies. Here, too, the use of words contributes to a sense of mastery and power. The shock value alone of the words can give a sense of power, and the talk seems to serve a useful purpose in helping children master other concerns they may have about their bodies and body functions.

The spontaneous reaction of parents when socially unacceptable language first appears makes it immediately clear to children that their parents disapprove. Only when it is turned into a big issue do children use it to bait their parents. You can let children know that you recognize how much they enjoy saying those words but other people don’t enjoy hearing them.

The most useful policy after that is to ignore the language and change the subject. Without the reaction, the provocation loses its appeal.

Confusing Behavior

A colleague asked if I would speak to a mother who had concerns about her three-year-old son and school. The school he was in last year was raising questions about his behavior and what an appropriate placement would be for the coming school year. She and her husband would be attending a conference with the director and she was hoping I could give her some direction on how to participate effectively in this meeting.

The family lives in a different location and so the request was for a telephone discussion. Not having met the parents or the boy, what I took from the conversation meant using my experience to read between the lines of what I was hearing. Although initially presented as a school issue, gradually what emerged was the mother’s own questions about her son’s behavior, namely his seeming disinterest in other children and detachment from the teachers as well as from various activities.

The mother reported that she is able to help him overcome these issues when he is with her and wondered if I could give her some tips on how to present to the school ways of effectively dealing with the child’s behavior. Listening to this mother, her underlying unspoken question was very familiar. She seemed to be really asking if the behavior indicated a significant problem requiring intervention of another kind or if he could be helped to function successfully in a mainstream setting.

This is a question that many educators and parents of young children confront at the start of the school years when children are required to function within a group setting and to respond to unfamiliar adults in authority. It is a question that has arisen with greater frequency in recent years as children enter school and various pre-school groups at younger and younger ages.

The problem arises because when children are in group settings, expectations for behavior begin to change even though development itself takes its usual course. Unrealistically, all children are expected to follow certain developmental norms at the same time. A degree of compliance is expected with little appreciation of individual differences. Not everyone is in the same place developmentally at the same time.

Along with earlier school entry, a great emphasis has been placed on early intervention. It is all to the good that various kinds of help are available when needed. The question becomes at what point is that both necessary and useful. Unfortunately, once that process begins a “more is better” approach seems to take hold without regard for what specifically might be most helpful.

The real problem is that in many situations it is difficult to determine if particular behavior in question signifies a developmental delay or deficit, or simply developmental unevenness in a given child. The difficulty for a parent is that there are pros and cons in courses of action to be considered. On the one hand, if a child can be helped to move forward in an area of difficulty with a specific intervention, such as language therapy, that would certainly be desirable.

On the other hand, it is also desirable for children to remain in regular classrooms with positive models of behavior if a child can be helped to function successfully at his or her own level in such a setting. In the example cited here, this mother was really hoping that the school the child was in would be able to accomplish that. Not knowing the child or school I could not answer that question.

The real question though, is one that is difficult to answer at these young ages for parents and teachers alike. Serious problems are more readily identifiable, but variations in individual behavior remains confusing requiring ongoing observation and evaluation.

Teachers can be most important in helping children with areas that are difficult for them if they do not demand compliance with what are really artificial norms. Some behavior is confusing even to “experts.”

More Thoughts on Education

Each week seems to bring new books and new thoughts about educational approaches and policy. This week I came across a review of a new book, “Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve,” by Lenora Chu. Chu, the mother of a three-year-old boy, grew up in Texas with Chinese immigrant parents, and her book points up cross cultural differences in child-rearing and education.

Presently living with her husband in Shanghai, they exerted considerable effort to have their son enrolled in an elite pre-school. From the first, however, the methods and approach of the school raised questions in their minds about their decision. The methods used included coercion, public competition with rankings posted for all skills and behavior, and threats of the police for not napping.

At the same time, they were impressed by their child’s rapidly developing self-sufficiency, sense of discipline, math and Chinese skills. He also was learning to navigate an obstacle-filled world and was figuring out how to work around strict rules, typical of life in China, much to his mother’s delight.

The author reflects upon her own teenage rebellion growing up with immigrant parents who demanded excellence and expected to largely control her decisions. She recognizes that she is trying to replicate her own educational and cultural experience but with the roles of her life reversed. Her son’s school is providing the parental expectations of her own life experience while she functions more like an American parent.

In examining the larger Chinese educational system Chu recognizes that the Chinese system is designed to weed out and filter students while the American goal is “No child left behind.” The American schools feel soft, with too strong an emphasis on individual desires to the detriment of weaker areas. This seemed particularly true in the teaching of math where Chinese students memorize what they have to before exploring more complex applications.

This book is reminiscent of, and raises similar questions as an earlier book by Amy Chua, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” although in that instance it was the mother who had the high expectations and strong methods, trying to counteract the “soft” schools. Her methods seemed coercive and punitive to many American mothers while at the same time admirable for the results.

Chua describes the Chinese model of parents as including coercive strictness, punishment and shaming. She describes Western parents as too anxious about their children’s self-esteem and too worried about how their children will feel if they fail at something. Chinese parents demand perfect grades because their children can get them, and if they don’t it is because they didn’t work hard enough.

The Chinese parents, believing they know what is best for their children, override all their children’s own desires and preferences. Lenora Chu, growing up an American girl, apparently rebelled against this kind of Chinese parenting yet in some measure is trying to provide it for her son in his school experience. Her conflict is not unlike that of many American parents who were not raised by Chinese parents.

The different cultural mind-sets lead Chua to be contemptuous of American parents’ concern for children’s self-esteem and feelings. These concerns reflect our values of individualism, self-expression, and the right to question authority. Yet they were not always incorporated into our child-rearing practices. Americans, too, once believed in parents as the authority, and used some of the same methods of enforcement. These beliefs gave way to new theories growing out of child development research.

Our problem now as American parents is that we want the Chinese results but without using their methods. One answer may be that in moving away from practices that damaged children in one way, we have given them the sort of control that creates other kinds of problems.

Perhaps it is this conflict between old ways and new ideas that we see reflected in the current writing about education and parenting.

Children’s Books for Children

The publication recently of “Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s literature as an Adult,” (Simon & Schuster) by Bruce Handy, undoubtedly provokes in parents memories of their own favorites as children as well as those they have enjoyed – or not enjoyed reading to their children. Children’s “read it again” is sometimes daunting the tenth or twentieth time around no matter how much you appreciate the book as an adult.

One of my own strongest memories is that of “The Little Engine That Could,” the theme sentence, “I think I can, I think I can,” becoming a mantra for my children – it felt like forever. On the other hand, many books for children seem as though they would be frightening, with violence, monsters and being lost in the forest. Yet children like them.

The psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim, writes about that in his book, “The Uses of Enchantment,” in which he points out that fairy tales help children work through real life problems such as separation anxiety and sibling rivalry. The extreme violence and ugly emotions in such stories can serve to distance what may be going on in a child’s mind anyway. A child’s fears and feelings are expressed in stories that are not real, and can give voice to those fears and feelings in ways that are safe.

Perhaps the writer for whom those ideas most resonated was Maurice Sendak. “Where the Wild Things Are,” a story about a young boy who, after dressing in his wolf costume, wreaks such havoc through his household that he is sent to bed without his supper. His bedroom undergoes a mysterious transformation into a jungle environment, and he winds up sailing to an island inhabited by malicious beasts known as the “Wild Things.” After successfully intimidating the creatures, Max is hailed as the king of the Wild Things. However, he starts to feel lonely and decides to return home, to the Wild Things’ dismay. Upon returning to his bedroom, Max discovers a hot supper waiting for him.

Young children are plagued by the wild things inside them – like no self-control, or an impulse to strike out, which get them into trouble. How wonderful to turn into a wolf who can master those wild things, but as a child it is reassuring to return home and find a hot supper waiting.

Sendak came to know Art Spiegelman, who created a cartoon story called Maus, about the Holocaust. The two of them decided to do a collaborative comic strip about the nature of children’s fears. In the strip Sendak tells Spiegelman how adults don’t get what children are all about. “Childhood is cannibals and psychotics vomiting in your mouth.” He goes on to say, “I knew terrible things but I wouldn’t let adults know I knew – it would scare them.”

Sendak, himself, is quoted as saying that his books are about “how children master various feelings – danger, boredom, fear, frustration, jealousy – and manage to come to grips with the realities of their lives.” Yet “Wild Things” was banned from libraries for several years after it was written.

Handy calls his book, “Wild Things,” yet in some ways, as parents we still unrealistically try to protect children from the wild things that are happening in real life.  We find it hard to talk about things that we find upsetting, or that we are afraid would upset our children. Even things like the departure of a caregiver, illness in the family or the coming birth of a sibling may be glossed over in the mistaken idea that not talking about something will make it alright.

Perhaps, rereading children’s books as adults, can give us a deeper understanding of some of the issues children struggle with as they develop.

Educational Solutions

As we approach the end of Summer and the start of school, it seems each week brings news of a new solution to problems in education. Over the past two decades various solutions have been set forth to deal with what appears to be the failure of our education system. In unacceptable numbers students have either failed to finish their education or have emerged unprepared in key subjects for either college or various kinds of employment.

Last week, attention was paid to students lack of writing ability with new methods proposed as a remedy. This past week we have heard about mastery based, or competency based learning as a solution to the growing number of students who are failing or behind expectations in various academic skills. This approach does away with traditional grading and appears to be highly individualized. It focuses on mastering a set of grade level skills in which students move to the next set of skills when they have demonstrated they are ready.

In theory students work at their own pace with ample time to practice for those who are struggling, while those who learn quickly can move ahead. They get feedback on skills they have learned and those they need to master. This approach appears to be getting wide currency – in some states voluntarily and in others through legislation.

The idea that students individually needed to show how and what they are learning before moving ahead is not new as a theory, but was not widely applied because it was so labor intensive for teachers. Now the use of the computer allows for special exercises and online lessons making the approach more manageable. The goal is to make students feel in charge of their own learning by putting the focus on individual growth and competence rather than achieving a specific grade.

The critics of this approach worry that the method is used to save costs since the use of computers may mean fewer teachers and larger classes. Some say the approach may improve math skills but is not likely to help students advance in the humanities. There has been resistance from teachers who feel more comfortable with existing approaches and find this method unworkable.

It is interesting that parents have also been resistive to the frequent progress reports detailing outcomes for individual subjects. They want the traditional grade reports that tell them concretely where their children stand. This is not surprising given the competition that exists for higher education and employment.

The conflict about using this approach has elements in common with that of how to teach students writing. The conflict in both seems to be between child based learning and more traditionally expected mastery of skills and facts. The new approaches in both involve giving students more agency rather than learning based on external requirements.

In some ways, the conflict between child based and authority based approaches appears periodically as a solution to whatever problems exist in education. It is reminiscent of the ‘50’s when the Russian success with Sputnik meant we were behind in math and science. This resulted in a focus on achievements in those areas which ultimately transformed the educational system in ways that still need to be untangled.

This also is characteristic of the conflict in approaches to child-rearing. Originally parent centered with clear lines of authority, the move was to child centered approaches which ultimately resulted in its extreme form, of children rather than parents, being in charge.

Apparently, change in moderation is difficult to achieve. Instead, the result seems to be a move from one extreme to another. Taking the best ideas from conflicting approaches may be the most desirable – but unfortunately – not the usual outcome.