I swore I would never teach at a boys’ school. I went to a boys’ school in the 1970s. I had been at a liberal co-ed school in Australia and was put in a lower ability class on my return to New Zealand. My experience shaped my attitude to teaching. I would hate my students to regard me as I regard some of those who taught me.
Most of the Polynesian guys in my form were culled by School Certificate. They were first generation Kiwis. There were factory jobs available. They were good guys but didn’t realise the education game that was being played. No one had taught them that. I remember a brutal game of league before they were nagged and cajoled into a classroom to sit School Cert Economics. Most left the exam early. This education apartheid likely resulted in a lifetime of economic apartheid. This is still a huge factor in our schooling system.
In recent years I asked my father why I went to that school. He was an educationalist himself. He replied, “because it was the local school”. Uber-parenting is a recent term.
Every generation bemoans the generations that follow. This dates back to the Ancient Greeks. If this was true then we have had several millennia of human physical, spiritual and mental decline. I doubt that. I suspect it is more cyclical in nature. That some generations have it tough and gain resilience as a result. Others become soft and lack coping strategies. They develop an unfortunate sense of entitlement.
But life doesn’t work that way. Tragedy in literature is designed to teach us this. That life has some very hard edges that no one avoids. Fairness can mean little.
My parents were shaped by the Great Depression and Second World War. They knew genuine hardship. My mother was raised in a tent in the Woodhill forest during the Great Depression. She hoarded canned food until her death. My father remembers being awoken in the middle of the night as a young boy. He had to ride his horse across the family farm to awake his uncle. His father had died. Their generation knew real hardship. They were resilient as a result.
Few living Kiwis have experienced war, pandemics or real economic deprivation. We have been the lucky generations. We have been living in the best of times in human history in this country.
Real challenges shape character. I suspect my generation, labelled the baby boomers, are often smug and unwittingly self-congratulatory. We rate ourselves for our material affluence and success in life. The reality is we are hugely fortunate. Fortunate in the country we were born in. Fortunate in the period in which we were born. This is not to deny individual hard work, talent and achievement. It is more to recognise dumb luck. Consider the likely life experience of a child born in the Congo in the 1960s to a child born in New Zealand at the same time. The lottery of birth is huge in its material effects.
We talk about teaching our young people resilience. Yet real resilience is shaped by real hardship. Parents understandably want the best for their children. Our society has become more competitive and polarised in recent decades. Middle class parents want their children to have the extra edge. People in developed economies are having fewer children and are more affluent. For this reason they are pouring more time, energy and money into ensuring their children succeed.
The irony in uber parenting is that children are not learning resilience. Uber parenting can circumvent many of the hardships of youth. Yet hardships shape and provide character and resilience. Uber parenting can be counter productive by creating a sense of entitlement.
I have taught some wonderful young people over the years. I don’t despair about this younger generation. But I suspect they are going to be tested as their immediate elders were not. We have had a very fortunate, unique and settled period in our history. It may have created a lack of resilience and sense of entitlement in all of us. It has also eroded our sense of social cohesion.
Peter Lyons teaches Economics at Saint Peter’s College and has written several Economics texts.