Parents: Don't Be Boring, Relentless Teachers

No need to follow the stultifying advice from Parents magazine on how to "Supercharge Every Storytime."


It's snuggly time with your little one, who is not even in kindergarten yet. His little head rests against your shoulder as you open up a picture book. "See?" you say, pointing not to the furry bunny or diabolical cat or tree that keeps amputating herself. "These are the words on the page. This sentence has seven words. This dot is called a period, and it shows the end of a sentence."

At least, that's what you'd do if you followed the stultifying advice in a recent Parents magazine piece on how to "Supercharge Every Storytime." And that's what we're here to talk about today: parents who believe they must supercharge every story time, and all the rest of the time they spend with their kids as well.

These parents seem to believe that home must be just like school. And I'm not talking about homeschooling or COVID-19 remote learning. I'm talking about the way parents have started to think of themselves as actual teachers and their kids as students.

Haven't parents always taught their kids? Yes, of course, says anthropologist David Lancy, author of Raising Children: Surprising Insights From Other Cultures (Cambridge University Press). What's different today is that interactions at home are modeled on what goes on in the classroom, where an adult instructs and a student sits and (with any luck) soaks it up.

That is actually a pretty new teaching method, historically speaking. Until public schools became popular in the 19th century and then ubiquitous in the 20th, kids mostly learned what they needed to know by watching and imitating others. Their teachers were everywhere and everyone, including their friends and siblings. But once school-based education became the norm, we forgot that kids learn from other kids, from helping out, and from playing.

Even in the 1950s, when Lancy was growing up, school didn't play such a huge role in childrens' lives. Once the bell rang at 3 p.m., pupils could go off and not think about school until the next day. There wasn't much homework. And unless a kid was failing, parents weren't involved with it.

But in the last generation or two, Lancy observes, school has started seeping into the rest of kids' experiences. Instead of playing pickup games, they enroll in organized leagues coached—"taught"—by adults. Saturdays, too, are for professionalized activities. Most disturbingly, the new conventional wisdom holds that the parent-child relationship itself can be "optimized" if only the parent acts more like a teacher.

That's why Parents could publish a two-page piece on how to read to your kid—something most of us could probably have muddled through without instructions. "I'm a mom and a literacy specialist," the subtitle says, "and I'm here to share my secrets." That's the part parents don't know: how to read to their kids like a teacher. Thanks to articles like this one, and a million educational toys, and a mound of homework that parents are supposed to oversee from kindergarten through college, adults are getting the message that it's not enough to be a plain old parent.

"There's a cultural idea that that is how you should treat kids, and it's reinforced everywhere," says Dorsa Amir, a postdoc in evolutionary anthropology at Boston College. "It is really hard to make changes at the household level when there's an entire cultural apparatus suggesting something else."

Peter Gray, author of 2013's Free to Learn, calls this "a schoolish view of child development":  the notion that children learn and develop best when they are carefully taught by adults, and that whatever children do on their own—playing, watching, thinking, dreaming—is a waste of time because there's no one there to guide and perfect it.

Lancy, who has traveled the world studying how kids learn on their own, is now a granddad. His daughter, like everyone else, is buying brain-boosting toys for her toddler. She sits on the floor with the girl, says Lancy, "and she's telling her what the shapes are and demonstrating how they go in…"

This is not evil or cruel. It is simply what today's parents believe they must do: make every second into school. What's lost is the faith that our kids' innate curiosity is the greatest education engine ever.

NEXT: Can the Secretary of Education Really Wave a Magic Wand and Erase All Our Student Loans?

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  1. Experience is the best teacher. That’s why I don’t touch a hot stove, drink Tequila or stick in in crazy women.

    1. I tried to follow that advice, and I ended up sticking it in a bottle of tequila. I had to calm myself by reading several sections of the Internal Revenue code before I was able to take it out again.

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    2. “stick in in crazy women.”

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  2. Storytime had an educational purpose even before the modern age.

    “…and that, children, is why you must be good, or else the bogeyman [or Oliver Cromwell, if you’re Irish Catholic] will eat you. Now, sweet dreams!”

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  3. Look, goddammit, I spent 6 years in college to get this credential that says I’m an expert and you must have secret rituals and arcane mysteries to be an expert. How the hell am I going to make a living telling people what to do if what they’re doing is just commonsense shit that anybody can figure out how to do? No, we have to make this complicated, otherwise how can I be special and superior and an expert? You might as just well say I wasted my time getting a useless credential, and I refuse to accept that.

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    1. Yep

    2. One wonders how western civilization managed to conquer and control most of the known world at one point without an army of BA/BEd holders micromanaging everything.

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  5. Semi-feral children, often from low-functioning or dysfunctional parents, aren’t the best auto-didacts.

    The author perhaps hasn’t worked with children whose parents DON’T read to them, DON’T really talk to them, DON’T take them to parks or museums, DON’T encourage their interests or creativity, or DON’T uphold consistent behavioral expectations.

    1. I doubt those parents are hanging on Lenore Skenazy’s words or need to be reminded not to overschedule their kids.

    2. They’ve been given up on. We’re trying to create a new elite class here… this is just the long march on the institutions.

    3. So, since some children are neglected, all others must have every facet of their existence controlled?

      You’re a fucking idiot.

    4. Semi-feral children?? WTF are you talking about, you stupid bitch?

      Anyone who abuses or neglects their children THAT badly aren’t gonna give a FUCKING SHIT about some goddamn “storytime”, you mindless, harpy cunt. Go jump off a bridge.

  6. “Parents: Don’t Be Boring, Relentless Teachers”

    She demands, boringly and relentlessly.

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  7. And remember to begin with erotic novels.

    1. Nope start wit “It”

      1. Hook them early. Start with Atlas Shrugged.

        1. If you are trying to get them to go to sleep that would be a good one.

          I was really impressed. I had packed up a couple boxes of my childhood books that had been saved. They are mostly the Dr Seuss classics. So I opened them up and the second grader was so excited. She was taking toys off the shelf to make room for them.

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  9. What’s a “magazine”?
    Better advice: Don’t read something called “Parents”.
    Best advice: Don’t send your kids to school, ever.

    1. “Parents” is a “magazine” with 12 issues/year. Such high capacity magazines should only be available to the military.

    2. The only time I have ever laid eyes on a copy of “Parents” magazine was in the waiting room of my kids’ pediatrician. It was turgid nonsense 25 years ago, and has apparently only gotten worse.

  10. “Public education failed when they started teaching children what to think instead of how to think.” — Peter Hitchens.

  11. Parents have this notion that a college education will save their kids from falling back into the proletariat. But it’s getting more difficult each year just to get into college, much less be part of the meritocracy, much less the aristocracy or oligarchy.

    So they work their kids relentlessly and in the end they got a parks and rec degree or womyns studies degree and are working at a telemarketing company.

    1. Parents have this notion that a college education will save their kids from falling back into the proletariat. But it’s getting more difficult each year just to get into college, much less be part of the meritocracy, much less the aristocracy or oligarchy.

      Honestly, it’s not that difficult to get into college at all, and colleges are now trying to make it even easier by getting rid of the SAT and ACT as part of the admissions process. Roughly half of all incoming freshmen need remedial instruction because they can’t even do math or read at an 8th grade level. Colleges are a wide-open door because they need the tuition money from government-subsidized student loans to keep the lights on.

      Democratizing higher education ended up being a significant long-term mistake, because it created a class of bourgeoisie quasi-elites, without enough well-paying jobs for the elites to fill.

      And the thing is, it wasn’t done to make the populace more educated–it was done because in the early 20th century, people with college educations became white-collar professionals that tended to be far less unionized and politically radical than those in blue-collar industries like mining and manufacturing. The real elites were trying to create a more docile, easily controlled workforce, hence the increasingly autistic focus on “go to college!” that got drummed in to every kid’s head starting in elementary school, from the 1950s-onward, and the subsequent outsourcing of manufacturing jobs overseas.

  12. At the heart of the issue was giving politicians the job to be everyone’s Parents. If the end goal was to make everyone authoritarian politicians the end-goal succeeded in mountains.

    Problem is politicians don’t MAKE anything of value (except law & order); for the most part they just make social justice warriors, incompetency, prom kings, narcissists and Power Battles.

    The Plumbers should teach plumbers, the electrician should teach electricians, the tech industry should teach tech, the inventors should teach inventors………………….

    NOT Gov-God Politicians knows everything so should be in charge of teaching everything. Or having people deemed “teachers” because they went to Gov-God Politician school.

    1. “The Plumbers should teach plumbers, the electrician should teach electricians, the tech industry should teach tech, the inventors should teach inventors………………”

      Most industry or trades do not want to take over for the universities. They have training but Apple would much rather hire an MIT graduate than start from scratch.

      1. I’m sure if ‘industries and trade’ had the power of Gov-Guns to steal $30K per student; they’d find that incentive. Nothing corrupts a market like commie-money.

        1. They could do anything they want. They have more money than most governments.

          I think it was Amazon I saw a few years back had a shortage of entry level computer techs. So they started their own online school for low cost. Maybe a nine month part time course and a certificate some of the other biggies agreed to recognize. Don’t know how successful it was.

          The military will pay for your education for the same reasons. They want you. I have seen that plumbers unions have deals as well. Hospitals pay for nursing schools in some programs and so on.

          My wife was a teacher at one time. Her employer paid for her to get additional certification.

          People waste money sending their kids out of high school to sleep away camp colleges. Let them experience life for a couple years. Make some money, live at home and save up for a trip to Europe or something.

          One advantage of a conscript army like Israel has is they are more mature when they finish and know what they want.

  13. If parents love their children, they invest their love into them in every possible action. If they don’t, children could become neutral or even negative towards their parents. There are many styles of parenting, but “investing” love is the key.

    1. “they invest their love into them”

      Jesus Christ, you sick fuck.

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  16. parents have the responsibility to teach and care for their children. in India at this covid situation, people teach their children. when school are close

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  19. I’ll admit I needed this article, raising a pair of 2.5 year-old twins. It isn’t easy to go against the cultural force, though. Especially when you ARE a teacher, as I am. You definitely fear seeing your kids fall behind when everyone else is doing it. As the article says though it takes a leap of faith, not easy either.

  20. Teaching children is easy because children want to learn.

    I think they do need school of some kind but parents need to take a more active role. You can’t just assume that it ends there.

    I have the grandparent advantage. There are some things I want to teach them so I just incorporate that into everyday activities and fun time.

    Reading books to preschoolers is as old as the hills. Parents don’t need lessons in it they just need to do it.

  21. There is a true story about some researchers who went to a remote village in Africa. No electricity, schools or anything.

    They brought tablet computers they had programmed with educational games and so on. They locked the other features like the camera and controls. They set up a solar charging station and left them there for the children with no instruction or anything.

    When they got back several months later the children had not only mastered the games and educational material they had unlocked all of the other features.

    1. This is an obvious fiction—like ERB’s story of how Tarzan taught himself to read. You need background knowledge even to understand that there is a relationship between the SCS and the tablet computers, or that the TCs are things that one can turn on.

      Suppose you travelled back to 1930, and left a MacBook Air loaded with programs and an electric plug-in cord in Einstein’s house—do you really think that the keyboard would suffice to make him think that he had a computer in his hands? That he would see the button on the right of the uppermost row of keys as the way to turn it on? That, in fact, he would think it was something that one COULD turn on?

      1. Every parent knows this. Give your kiddo your iPhone or whatever when you upgrade. Watch what they do with it.

  22. Mostly parents suck as human beings at around the time they are parents.

  23. I am a father, not a “dad.” I am a grandfather, not a “granddad.” I am an adult, not a child, and definitely not a “kid.” Why do we adults write and speak, in the public square, as though we were children speaking to our parents in our backyards?

    I am black; I called my mother “mama,” I called my father “daddy.” My brother called our mother “ma,” he called our father “pop.” Why do we all talk like robots?

    When I was eleven years old (in 1968), I read James Fenimore Cooper’s The Deerslayer; when I did not know a word, I looked it up in my father’s two-volume Funk and Wagnall’s dictionary. But today? Everybody is mystified: How do we get “kids” to read? Every “expert” recommends “strategies” for this and that. Apparently everybody has forgotten that educated people don’t talk about “education” and how much they “love reading,” they don’t put posters up that read “READ,” they just naturally spend time reading and talking about things they’ve read or allude to characters in books.

    The Beaver read Ivanhoe when he was ten or eleven; Donna Stone read Waiting for Godot. People read books; they didn’t need PSAs.

    Let’s face it: all these experts are signs that the culture of reading is dead.

  24. Parents teach kids for a couple of reasons:
    1) They understand that public schools teach to the middle. If you want your kid to excel just letting your kid live up to the mediocre expectations of their school’s teachers will not create above-average kids.
    2) they want above-average kids because they want their kids to have a chance of going to a decent college. And once in college, they want their kid to have a decent chance of making it in the major of their choice. Many health profession grad schools require GPAs above 3.50 and that includes many tough Math, Chemistry and Biology courses.

    Some kids, left to their own devices, will thrive. It’s the liberal progressive romantic notion. That may have made sense on a farm or for a kid raised in a workshop, but for kids in our techno video game reality, left to their own devices means spending hours on end watching tik tok videos and grinding away on a video game soe they can upgrade their characters.

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