A while back I wrote about Parade’s use of the July Fourth celebration as a platform for worshipping celebrity culture. As I said then, it’s the “modus operandi” (the way it works) in the mass media.
This past Sunday, Parade once again reminded us to worship actors and entertainers, this time as part of the new rite of passage for American teens—going off to college.
The title of the article says it all: “Schools of the Rich and Famous.”
And who are these rich and famous? Of the 30 names mentioned, 27 are actors and entertainers, skewering young but ranging from Emma Watson to Joan Rivers. Two are titans of business, Warren Buffet and Steve Jobs. The other is a caterer turned home advice expert turned business titan and entertainer, Martha Stewart. There are no writers, scientists, explorers, astronauts, diplomats, inventors, community activists, physicians, politicians, elected or government officials, classical or jazz musicians; not even an athlete, which is truly weird.
Once again, Parade is telling us that the highest achievement is to be in front of a camera on TV or in the movies.
What’s truly hilarious is how the writer Rebecca Webber presents this list of where celebrities went to college: She gives us a multiple choice quiz. The subhead is “Test your knowledge of celebrities and their student days.” Celebrity trivia is not a body of knowledge, nor will accumulation of information about where celebrities went to college help anyone either to solve today’s pressing problems or to consider the wisdom of the ages. There is no knowledge involved or discussed in this article at all.
On the other hand, perhaps Webber thinks that taking her quiz will help the kids prepare for their standardized exams.
I think I’ll nominate Webber’s use of the word “knowledge” for a Ketchup award, which this blog will give at the end of the year to the most obnoxious and most absurd bending of language of the prior year. I call it the Ketchup Award in honor of the condiment that the Reagan administration declared a vegetable for the purpose of evaluating the nutritional value of the federal school lunch program.
Turning to another growing trend, The Sunday New York Times placed an article on the decision to hold a child back for a second year of kindergarten on the front page of the Sunday Styles section, right under its steamy coverage of the breakup of a billionaire’s marriage.
Now of course, certain children need to start late because of emotional problems or maybe they aren’t ready to learn how to read. But in many cases, as the Times reports, parents are holding back their children so that they will have an edge in sports and in the classroom.
It’s another trick of parents trying to give their kids a leg up instead of letting them stand on their own two feet. It works in sports, perhaps. But in the case of holding them back so they do better in school, it won’t work and in some cases it may backfire.
The hold-back trend had already taken hold when my son was getting ready to go to kindergarten. At that time, the cutoff for school had recently changed from December 31 to September 30, but every boy born after June 30 whom we knew in our large middle class circle of acquaintances was held back by their parents. And virtually all of them had some behavior problems in early grades. Hey, maybe they were bored. And years later, it turned out that a lot of the kids who started on time got into top-notch universities, even the youngest, while lots of the kids who started late ended up going to D list colleges. Now that’s strong evidence, but keep in mind that it’s all anecdotal, based only on my experience. So don’t put that much stock into it.
But think about this notion: if all parents or even a significant number held back their kids, then the advantage would be lost.
Parents who hold back their kids for sports should compute the statistical odds of their children becoming professional athletes: There are about 3,700 jobs a year in the four major sports, or about two-thousandths of one percent of the population of U.S. males. Then again, many athletes now come from other lands, so the odds are even worse. So, realistically athletics are fun only. Ask yourself, then, do you want your kids to start their careers or go to graduate school a year later for an edge in a fun activity?
Be that as it may, in most cases starting kids late, for either academic or athletic reasons, is just another way to extend childhood and another way for parents to interfere in the educational process to give their child an unfair, although in this case a dubious, advantage.