Concerted Cultivation

20120204-193837.jpgIt transpires – from considerable research in the USA – that middle class parents’ relentless intervention in their children’s lives: through music lessons, cultural experiences, ferrying them hither and yon and pandering to their every whim, creates a strong ‘sense of entitlement’.

This much we know. But what is less obvious, when you’re getting some lip, is this fits them better for success in institutional settings – from school to the workplace.

So called ‘Concerted Cultivation‘ – aka the pandering, worrying, nurturing and relentless attempts to nurture ‘talent’, ‘gift’, ‘achievement’ and ‘aptitude’ in middle class children – makes them more than just a pain in their parents’ ass. It makes them a pain in everyone’s ass. And this is vital for success in school, university and work. Suitable stamping of feet gets you noticed.

Working class families use a different approach – equally well adapted and just as caring – but different in impact and outcome. Working families apparently favour the so called ‘natural growth‘ route. This encourages independent development, standing on your own two feet, fledging from the nest – and doing what you’re told.

This works well in getting kids into life and into work, but does less well in ensuring that institutions – schools notably, but also workplaces and other institutions – pay attention to them as individuals. This can increase the sense of alienation of working class kids from such institutions, which further exacerbates the effect and further favours the ‘Concertedly Cultivated’.

One very telling example of the difference is making – or not – strong eye contact. ‘Concerted Cultivation’ promotes it, ‘natural growth’ discourages it. If you’re wanting to get your way in public and private institutions, strong eye contact is a mark of confidence. If you’re walking the street in less affluent parts of town it looks dangerously like disrespect. And to a foreman or staff sergeant being looked squarely in the eye suggests confrontation or insubordination

‘Concerted Cultivation’ is much more resource intensive, and less ‘natural’. But, according to the American research, it does fits kids with the tools to be taken seriously by adults and institutions.

I would say my childhood was 50% ‘Concerted Cultivation’ and 50% ‘natural growth’. That would fit with my half and half social class as a child. It worked for me. But we’re ‘Concerted Cultivators’ now in our middle class milieu.

A whiff of science helps me keep up my enthusiasm for ferrying them to activities, downloading maths apps, humouring hissy fits and constantly keeping them busy. I have a pang of guilt at the advantage I’m giving them, but it’s concerted cultivation for my little flowers.

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