Thursday, April 16, 2009

Hard vs. Soft Individualism

Today I've been looking at American Individualisms: Child Rearing and Social Class in Three Neighborhoods, by Adrie Kussero.

She believes there's more than one variety
of individualism in U.S. society.

The author studied pre-school practics in 3 different neighborhoods in New York City in the early nineties: one rich, one full of cops and firefighters, one full of gangs and the poor.

As she sees it, the upper middle class parents favors "soft individualism." Children are little flowers, who must be encouraged to open up.

The less "privileged" parents favor "hard individualism." Children are future fighters, who must learn to keep their defenses up.

The author, although somewhat guilt-obsessed over her own high-end upbringing, is a sharp-eyed observer.

She describes how the teachers at the tough schools make no attempt to hide their negative emotions. They show anger, they ridicule, they induce shame, they show disappointment. But at the ritzy school:
Parkside teachers' efforts to be postivie, warm, chipper, and what struck me as immensely enthusiastic were so pronounced that the teachers sometimes seemed like actresses in a play. I remember returning from these Parkside days feeling exahusted because of the amount of exaggerated facial posturing, verbal praise, and enthusiasm I felt I was required to show in relation to almost any aspect of the children.
When she got home from the tough schools, where she didn't feel required to play-act this way, she felt fine.

You can't be relaxed
if you're constantly taxed
with the need to appear
a picture of cheer.

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