June 15, 2007
Silly Snark at the NYT: Is it Dangerous or Laudable to Treat American Children as Deities?
Posted by Christine Hurt

Flying to Seattle yesterday, I had some uninterrupted time to read the NYT in one sitting.  this made for some interesting comparisons among stories.  In one article, a reporter gratuitously questions the propensity for parents in the U.S. to make their children feel important; in two others, entrepreneurship and precocious behavior of U.S. youth are praised.  Disconnect?

In the Section A article that I read, In a City of Power Brokers, a Young Visitor Who is Truly Worshipped, told the story of a ten-year-old girl from Nepal who is currently visiting Washington D.C.  This girl is one of a handful of girls in her country who are regarded as having a goddess residing inside them.  Because they are goddesses, these girls are worshipped and prayed to by people in their country.  Upon reaching puberty, the goddess is said to leave the girl and she retires with a small pension, free to marry, etc.  That interesting topic aside, I was most struck by this gratuitous aside from the author of the article in describing the girl's visit to a local elementary school:  "The children in Blake Yedwab’s third-grade class thought it would be cool to be a god or goddess, though some might argue that American children have already been elevated to that status."   Because the author moves back quickly to the main story, I was left to make the conclusion that "some might argue" meant "this reporter would argue."  That seems like unnecessary snark to me.

Then, in other sections of the NYT, two articles seemed to provide a counterargument for the "some" who "might argue" against the desirability of treating an American child like "a god or goddess."  First, from Tyler Cowen, Loose Reins on U.S. Teenagers Can Create Trouble or Entrepreneurs, giving some interesting explanations as to why "the United States was unusual among developed countries in having a higher business start-up rate among its 18- to 24-year-olds than its 35- to 44-year-olds."  Second, Unwelcome at Home, Student Play is a Hit in New York tells the story of current high school students in Connecticut who wrote, directed and acted in an original play based on blogposts and letters of Iraqi soldiers.  This play was banned by their school, but played to three sold out or almost sold out crowds off-Broadway.  Yes, in this country we may focus on the individual; and yes, parents in more recent generations have given kids more power in the family and devote more resources to their development in other areas.  And, as Tyler points out, our school system leaves a lot of time in the day for independent projects and extracurricular activities.  This may mean that we are grooming megalomaniacs with enough time on their hands to become mass murderers.  Or, we may be giving children the confidence and the tools to take an active role in the world around them.

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