Friday, May 06, 2005

Concerted Cultivation or Accomplishment of Natural Growth

by Anne Zelenka
We could have called this blog Cultivation and Natural Growth but that doesn't sound quite as yummy as Chocolate and Peanut Butter. It would, however, represent our two approaches to parenting. I am more the Concerted Cultivation mom: my older children are enrolled in a private Montessori school, they have a busy schedule of after-school activities, and I feel guilty when I don't entertain and cater to them. Marjorie, on the other hand, believes firmly in the power of children to accomplish their own natural growth given an enriching and loving environment. Because of this philosophical belief, she's chosen unschooling for her children's education.

These two approaches are outlined in the book Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race and Family Life by Annette Lareau reviewed by Elizabeth of Half-Changed World. Lareau associates the "accomplishment of natural growth" approach with poor and working class families and the "concerted cultivation" with middle class families, but I'm sure there are many exceptions, as in Marjorie's case.

The ideal might be a combination of these two approaches, mixed with a third, one I will call the "employee development" approach. In that approach, children are treated as part of the economic unit that is the family, working together for a happy and healthy life. There is something other than sitting in front of the TV all the time (something that Lareau noted in some "natural growth" families but not by any means an intrinsic element of that approach) and sitting in the car on the way to karate, speech therapy, or music lessons all the time ("concerted cultivation"). That's where children work alongside their parents in doing the work of the household. I haven't gotten my children anywhere near as involved in chores as I would like, but every time I do, it's been worth the hassle.

Yesterday I had just finished attending speech therapy with four-year-old Anna when it was time to take Henry to karate. I grabbed my keys and headed out the door. "Mommy, wait!" Anna cried, "I have to be your helper!" The week prior, I had taken her with me to the grocery store while Henry was at karate. A diligent and sociable girl, Anna loved the chance to be alone with me and feel productive. So we had a practical and pleasant mother-daughter outing while Henry kicked and yelled "chum-be!" to his karate-mates.


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