It's probably wishful thinking, but I'm noticing something happening in the culture. Here are the dots, and here's how I connect them:
1. It's official: for a huge number of students, college is a waste of time. Not just because they could be out in the world, learning on the job. But because college is, in many many ways, an expensive, coddling resort. From Yahoo News:
A study of more than 2,300 undergraduates found 45 percent of students show no significant improvement in the key measures of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing by the end of their sophomore years.
Not much is asked of students, either. Half did not take a single course requiring 20 pages of writing during their prior semester, and one-third did not take a single course requiring even 40 pages of reading per week.
The findings are in a new book, "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses," by sociologists Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia.
2. Tough parents demand a lot from their kids, and the kids are grateful for it. In her now-famous WSJ piece, Why Chinese Mothers are Superior, Amy Chua lays it down:
In one study of 50 Western American mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, almost 70% of the Western mothers said either that "stressing academic success is not good for children" or that "parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun." By contrast, roughly 0% of the Chinese mothers felt the same way.
What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up.
So her kid must hate her, right? Not so fast. From the NYPost, Sophia Chua-Rubinfeld, her daugher, responds:
I admit it: Having you as a mother was no tea party. There were some play dates I wish I’d gone to and some piano camps I wish I’d skipped. But now that I’m 18 and about to leave the tiger den, I’m glad you and Daddy raised me the way you did.
I think #1 and #2 are related, in a very big way. Again, maybe wishful thinking, but I'm detecting in the first cracks in the 1950's and 1960's philosophy of child-raising and education. Children need to be praised. Everyone goes to college. The most important thing is to build up self-esteem. All of that nonsense seems to be under attack -- and thank God! -- as Americans face a more competitive and cutthroat world marketplace.
Leaving college with a degree in Sociology and $100,000 in debt no longer seems smart, let alone a birthright. Teachers' unions no longer have the moral high ground -- not even in Boston! -- and one of the most popular politicians in America has made teachers union bashing an indoor Olympic sport:
And then I re-watched this artifact from the 2008 campaign -- barely three years old -- and it somehow seems hilariously dated, like leisure suits and hippie chicks who say "groovy."
I connect the dots this way: the culture is turning away from soft. It's turning away from sociology degrees, feel-good parenting, sagging schools, and political daydreaming. It's turning back to toughness.
If I were running for president, I'd make note of that.