Tuesday, May 10, 2011

New Bedtime Routines

Cathleen McCaffery
Blog Post #4

            I stumbled upon this article and at first expected it to be a sort of feminist manifesto about working mothers and new parenting arrangements. However, it turned out to be quite the opposite, although written by an upper class parent, a newspaper editor, it chronicles her life of working night shift until 4 am yet still taking the time to make breakfast and engage in school related activities with and for her daughter. Her husband, Brian, is merely a background character, praised for the quality time he spends with their daughter. This got me thinking and wondering how difficult it must actually be, but how easy and pleasant she make it sounds. Taking your daughter to school with bags under your eyes and four hours of sleep? This sounds awful. And I have to think, what effect does this really have on their daughter, Eloise? Being handed over between parents on a crowded subway and having a mother who is drained and exhausted yet overachieving does not sound like a recipe for a stable childhood yet Lisa Belkin, mother and author, make this life sound enjoyable and desirable. She attempts to be a stay at home mother, with a typical domestic role yet their life is anything but the typical Western ideal/stereotype.
            In “What No Bedtime Story Means: Narrative Skills at Home and School,” Shirley Brice Heath describes mainstream and non-mainstream ways that children learn through books, school, and home environments. American schools and teachers expect parents to teach their children in “mainstream” or “school-oriented” ways, giving their children “specific ways of taking from books that seem natural in school and in numerous institutional settings,” these mainstream ways of learning behaviors surrounding literacy “exist in societies around the world that rely on formal education systems to prepare children for participation in settings involving literacy.” Heath focuses on the dichotomy between parents who raise their children in non-mainstream way versus these school-oriented parents I previously described. She states that neither one proves more or less effective, just different, but that expectations of teachers, schools, and broader society might hinder the progress of non-mainstream children despite their equal (or higher) levels of ability to succeed.
Heath regards the bedtime story as an essential component of mainstream literary education for children with school-oriented parents. Lisa Belkin could be categorized in this label, as a highly educated and successful newspaper editor. However this comes at quite a cost for her family, and most importantly her daughter, Eloise. Does reading a bedtime story outweigh the fact that her mother is exhausted and drained? In single parent households, this must work in a similar fashion, even if a parent has time to read their children a bedtime story, this often times comes with a price. Heath states that the reading of a bedtime story trains children, cognitively, in a way to prepare for America methods of teaching once they enter school. However, other factors must be considered here, if focusing on children’s ability to succeed academically, such as parental attachment, behavior, anxiety etc….. Heath does focus on some of the negative aspects of rigorously focusing preschool aged children on books and book learning. She states that, “any initiation of a literacy event by a preschooler makes an interruption, an untruth, a diverting of attention from the matter at hand (whether it be an uneaten plate of food, a messy room, or an avoidance of going to bed) acceptable.” This is extremely problematic, as learning these other behaviors, I would argue are equally as important to becoming a successful member of society. Children who learn in non-mainstream ways, Heath states, are more likely to master these other behaviors. And how can value be placed on one versus the other? Is it better to be able to use book knowledge or be polite? Is it better to be able to narrate a story or eat dinner and clean your room? These are all necessary behaviors children must learn in order to be successful, well mannered and educated adults. However, schools place emphasis on these mainstream behaviors, disregarding children who learn in non-mainstream ways and allowing them to fall behind, academically, just because they were socialized differently at home.
Although the article “Mothers on the Nigh Shift,” does not track Eloise’s progress in preschool etc… it presents a unique scenario in which two school-oriented parents are raising their child in a unique way. Although Lisa says she maintains an active role in Eloise’s academic life, it is doubtful that Eloise does not notice her mother’s working hours, tiredness etc… With sleep deprivation comes many negative things, such as a short temper, lack of focus etc…. So although Eloise is probably read bedtime stories I have to wonder what other roles she is learning to inhabit through her parents’ behaviors. Will she resent her mother for being away? Will she think it is odd that her parents do not spend time together even though they are married? With new family structures, parents are moving beyond mainstream and non-mainstream styles of parenting and many are falling into a gray area in between. From an outside perspective, Lisa and Brian, Eloise’s parents, would probably be categorized as mainstream but with a closer look, they straddle an odd line and the effects of this method/arrangement are not exactly foreseeable. 

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