Saturday, May 9, 2009

Concerted Cultivation

Good morning.  Claudia here, coming to you from Harvestwood Court, where we take Sleep in Saturday seriously.  

Tomorrow is Mother's Day and while I could fill today's post with all sorts of creative gift ideas, that is what most of last week was about (topped off with a final surge of creative ideas by our very own Peggy).  Instead, today I am going to share a parenting idea with you and then let you tell me what you think. 

The concept is Concerted Cultivation.  Here's a short story to put it in context.

About a month ago Matthew came home from his Pre-K class complaining that his teacher never calls his name to do art.  All the other kids got to make bumble bees except for him.  Translated (by a mom who spends much of her day working with college-aged kids who have a completely external locus of control)...  "Poor me. I am a victim.  Everyone is out to get me.  Poor pathetic me."

Immediately I asked Matthew if he told Ms. Latrice he wanted to do art or, in fact, if he asked her why it seems his name never got called to go to the art table.  "No" to both, he replied.  We spent the next fifteen minutes talking about what he might say to Ms. Latrice at school the next morning.  We talked about how he might tell Ms. Latrice he was feeling left out without accusing her of being mean.  In fact, by the end of the conversation we decided the best approach might be simply asking Ms. Latrice how she decides which kids in class get to do art and when.  

The next morning in the car I reminded Matthew of our plan to talk to Ms. Latrice.  He was getting cold feet and tried to convince me that I should talk to her for him.  I assured him he could do it and then we walked through the conversation one more time.  Once in the classroom, I held Matthew's hand as we walked up to the teacher and then I set the stage by telling her that Matthew had something he wanted to ask.  Sure he hemmed and hawed a little bit, but in the end he successfully spit out the question.

Ms. Latrice, like the pro that she is, immediately got on eye level with Matthew and quickly explained, because the art project was elaborate and required lots of help by the teacher and the teaching assistant, that she was calling students to the art table by rows.  He was in row four and she simply hadn't gotten there yet.  She thanked him for asking and finished off the conversation with a big hug.  Matthew skipped off with a smile on his face, proud of what he did, and more confident about his place in the classroom.  Maybe on that day Matthew learned that advocating for himself does not have to be scary and we can do it in such a way that people don't feel defensive or affronted.

That sort of interaction, according to Malcolm Gladwell's most recent book, Outliers, is called Concerted Cultivation and that practice, over time, can put children at a real advantage.  Concerted Cultivation can come in a lot of forms.  It can be coaching children through an interaction like the one described above or it it can be observing your child's innate interests and skills and then intentionally creating opportunities for them to engage with them.  Either way, this attempt to actively assess a child's talents and opinions exposes them to a constantly shifting set of experiences.  They learn teamwork, how to cope in highly structured settings, and how to interact comfortably with adults and to speak up when necessary.

Sometimes just assigning a name to an experience or set of circumstances allows us to talk about something, that earlier might have seemed too abstract or nebulous.  Using the phrase, "Concerted Cultivation," I can think of all sorts of situations growing up where my parents were trying to cultivate - in a concerted way - the interests, skills, and opinions of my sisters and me.  Here's one.  Before my sisters began high school at the High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan, my mother registered them for a summer-long experience exposing them to unique locations and experiences throughout the city. This did two things.  First, it built confidence in my sisters that they could maneuver city streets on their own and second, it gave them appreciation for the endless opportunities to which they would now have access.  

Here's a small example of where they might have missed an opportunity to cultivate.  I was a shy child who loved to fly low on the radar.  The less attention I drew to myself the better.  Consequently, when we ate a restaurants, I was always too shy to ask for a doggie bag.  In fact, I would beg my parents not to ask for a doggie bag, because even that was too embarrassing for me.  While my parents wouldn't abide by my "No Doggie Bag" rule, they never forced me to cultivate the skills/confidence necessary to speak up for myself and request a doggie bag just because, yes... I had the nerve to want to bring my leftovers home!  Of course, in the end, maturation took care of my "bone to pick" with doggie bags (puns are the lowest form of humor), but maybe some opportunity was lost to build my assertiveness at an earlier age.

So, now that we have this shared language of "concerted cultivation," tell me what you think.  Do you agree?  What examples might you have of doing it well or of lost opportunities?  Can you reflect on examples of how your parents might have done this (or not)?  This year we will celebrate Mother's Day by rolling up our sleeves and getting into the trenches of parenting.  Tell me your thoughts about "concerted cultivation."


Peggy said...

Hello All- Claudia, you've used some big college words there, but I will try and relate without bringing Webster down off the shelf.

For myself... I really don't remember being parented before the age of 19... selective memory... but as a parent what I am doing now, I will gladly sputter a few thoughts...

My kids almost 14 and 16... first time~ for doctor appointments, hairstylist, services at the store... While I'm standing there, I prompt them what to say.. "Hi, I'm bubba I have a 2:00 ortho appointment". Next time, I talk about in the car what I expect them to do and say when they walk in, and let them in ahead of me and address the receptionist... I stand way back... they look at me I look away... but I have my children do the entire greeting etc... themselves (they stutter and stammer but have to go through it, cuz I won't help). Then when re-scheduling I prompt them, but they ultimately need to decide how and when to make the next appointment or ask me if this will work for my schedule. Making them accoutable for their actions....

We do this in a restaurant too... before, they were afraid to order their own food, or ask what an item was on the menu.... so now we discuss before teh waiter comes back.. and have taught them to speak up to the waiter and ask their own questions and order their own food. And taught them how to be polite to anyone serving them. (now only if they could do this at home, I'd love the tip!)

There's more, but here are a few examples of what we have started to do to cultivate my teenagers, who will be an intergral part of society real soon!

Cheryl said...

I love Peggy!

Concerted Cultivation... do I think my parents practiced it... absolutely not. Hey, we were just living day by day, getting through it.

I think Andy and I have recognized that Drew has athletic ability and JB has a creative side but I think there is more to this cultivating like Peggy is saying... I've said before that my main goal is to raise independent, caring and secure men that won't need too many hours of therapy blaming us for all their problems.

Claudia said...

Peggy... great examples of cultivating your children in a concerted kind of way.

The premise of Gladwell's book is that Outliers (people believed to be exceptionally gifted ie. Bill Gates) are not simply prodigies. Life circumstances and environment plays a TREMENDOUS role in the success of what we simply chalk up to "genius."

Interestingly, he illustrates how socioeconomic conditions play a massive role in this. Middle class to upper class families are in a better position to "cultivate" the types of behaviors Peggy is discussing whereas poorer families resort to "accomplishment of natural growth." This would be described more as... taking care of your children, but to let them grow and develop on their own.

So yes, is Bill Gates extremely intelligent and deserved of what he has earned? Yes. But, his success cannot completely be explained by his innate talent and skills. He grew up in a family, at a period of time, and with access to the resources that allowed him to cultivate his interests. AND, his parents helped along the way.

Fascinating book. I highly recommend. I have only tipped the iceberg with today's post.

P.S. Peggy it seems you did JUST fine with the college words and no dictionary. Give yourself credit. You are a natural.. maybe even an outlier!

Heather said...

I think my Mom is a great example of the fact that you don't have to be middle or upper class to engage your children in "concerted cultivation". My Mom was fabulous at this...if we didn't know how to spell a word or the definition she would simply refer us to the encyclopedias on shelf. When we came home to complain of teachers she would NEVER come to school or call school to take up for us (and if she did we never knew) but would ask us what the problem was, what we had done to contribute to the problem and what we could do to correct the problem.
I see the two ends of the spectrum in my office everyday...the students whose parents call my office in an effort to get their precious child out of trouble for the mistakes they made and the parents who call to get just enough information to force their child to own up to their actions.

I'm not sure I've done much concerted cultivation with Lily just yet though I think I try when it comes to having her make choices about "milk or water" "blue or pink" I think even taking ownership in these little choices at this age makes her more inclined to voice her opinion at a later age....

Thanks for the thoughts Claudia.

Katie K said...

I think my parents did a good job of concerted cultivation with myself and my brothers when it came to our talents. They always pushed us to be out there and making the best for ourselves. For my older brother, this was pushing him to stick with baseball and keep up a very complicated schedule between work, being a student, and playing on a select baseball team. They cultivated his talent because of this.

For me, they cultivated my talents by pushing me to compete in speech competitions each year, to lead retreat after retreat during high school, and to take a leadership role among a group I was involved with during high school. They knew I was not the most athletic or musically talented, but I was good with people and in helping others.

We were not always cultivated in our assertiveness. I remember years of having my mom order for me. I remember having my mom make phone calls for me because I wasn't assertive enough to do it for myself. Luckily, phone calls is an area in which I was pushed out of my comfort zone during college and so I developed that skill, but I did it late in my "childhood".

I'm back to checking out RAs and maybe, just maybe I'll start getting serious about this packing thing! I said, maybe!

Happy Graduation day to Cassie P!!!!

Katie K said...

PS. I bought this book for a friend of mine back in March after hearing about it from CKB. She recently finished it and I'll be getting it from her when I get to Louisville early next week. I'm excited for it to be my first summer read!

Anonymous said...

We do things like this all the time, many specifics have been covered by the other great parents and kids here. For instance, once you're headed towards middle school - you start getting a say at the doctor's office. By the time you're in high school, you get to do it all, I'm just along with the save your @ss veto power. This let my daughter get to ask about routine vaccinations versus the freebies and find out how to get informed consent. (I'd already gone over with her that it was going to sound like, aka NO vaccinations are "bad" or "worthless." Gave her the skills to get the info to decide if the extras were right for her.)

Happy Mother's Day to all! (And big hugs to those who are sitting around with a broken heart today...)