Freakonomics: What Makes a Prefect Parent?

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner is a book that’s been around for a while, but I figure if I’ve just gotten around to reading it there are plenty of others who haven’t read it either. I had heard the buzz about this book, but hadn’t really paid much attention to it until one of my fellow PTA uber-moms told me that the book says that being on the PTA is the most significant thing you can do to assure academic success for your children. Well, that got my attention. It turned out that her interpretation was a little bit self-serving, but it got me to read the book, and it is a great book, so I forgive her. If you haven’t read Freakonomics I highly recommend you pick it up. You could say Freakonomics is either a book that takes a unique look at the world through the eyes of an economist, or is a unique take on economics by using it to look at the world - depending on whether you are an economist or a civilian. If you are a parent, especially an obsessive, urban parent, you will be quite anxious to read the chapter entitled, "What Makes a Perfect Parent?"
The authors use the tools of economics to unequivocally determine what really makes a difference in parenting and what will have no effect. They look at children who perform well in school and compare their circumstances in all possibly related fields, like were they read to, were they spanked, were their parents divorced, did their mother stay home, etc. The things that end up being important might surprise you. For instance, reading to a child had no impact on their future success, but having a lot of books in the home did. That's because the conclusion they come to is that it's not what you do, but who you are. If you are a PTA-joining, book-owning, successful, educated person, then you are statistically more likely to have successful, educated children. So joining the PTA won't make your kids smarter, but if you are the type of person who would join the PTA, it's likely that your kids will do well in school. Freakonomics also touches on some of our other favorite topics, like baby naming trends and schools. The conclusion they come to in Freakonomics regarding school choice is that better schools don't make a difference. Children that were moved from bad schools to better schools did not do any better than children who didn't make the lottery. Again, their conclusion was that having the intent or the ambition to want a better school was a more important factor than what school they went to - it's who you are, not what you do. I can't decide if this information will soothe the mind of perfectionist parents who are currently trying to get every little detail of their kids' lives "right," make them even more crazy with the frustration that their efforts might not make any difference, or if they will just ignore it. I know, for me, that I will continue to think about schools, and look for the best ones for my kids, and work on the PTA, etc because that's just who I am, and as my three year old likes to say, "that what me do."
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