Teaching My Baby To Read

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Education Begets Education

I found this paper on the floor of my six year old son Bruce’s room today, and at once recognized my husband’s handwriting. Clearly this was the debris of a “teachable moment” they had shared between the two of them.

As a wife and mother, it really made me happy to find this, but as a former teacher it made me sad as well. Here right before me was an example of the Haves and Have-Nots, of education begetting education, and of some kids (like my own children) being set up for future success while other kids are lucky if their dads come home at all. My husband is a Stanford educated engineer, and my children are going to get a myriad of mini-math lessons across the span of their childhood that other children will not receive.

When I was little, my dad (an English major from a state university), never talked to me about math, but you better believe he taught me how to write when I was in high school! I never turned in any essay that I hadn’t revised at least four or five times with my dad’s guidance in writing, and my mom’s help with spelling.

Even at the time, I could see a great disparity between the levels of help students were getting in my own circle of friends. Some of my friends from blue collar families weren’t getting any help at all, while other kids were even luckier than me because they were also getting help in math. I still remember being shocked when I heard my friend K’s dad quiz her about her pre-calculus class. Her dad was a captain in the Coast Guard and was fully capable of keeping up with K in math, whereas my parents were not.

When I was at Stanford I did know several people who were “Legacy” students, meaning they were the children or grandchildren of Stanford alumni. To the uninitiated, Legacy status seems really unfair because it does, supposedly, give you a slight advantage into getting into a university. But I never once met a Stanford Legacy student who wasn’t brilliant and highly educated.  In fact, they very often seemed a lot smarter than I did.

Now it is pretty clear to me why this was the case. Education begets education. Those kids had 18 years of “teachable moments” from some of the smartest people in the country. They probably had parents who could help them in English, Math, Science, French, and nailing the SAT.  Their families probably had dinner time conversations that made the ordinary discourse of the rest of us seem phlegmatic.

It’s not fair that some kids have educational advantages and some do not.  That’s why parents from all backgrounds need to rise to the occasion. Teach your children what you know and are good at. Then seek out help to do the rest. That’s the lesson my dad taught me every time he turned off a football game, slashed through my latest essay with his revisions, and then handed it over to my mom to double check our spelling.


  1. Well said. This post made me glad that I’m able to have those moments with my kids. 🙂 BTW — the Primary Mathematics 1A afterschooling is going great over the last few days. The tears have stopped — yay!

  2. Claire H. says:

    Both my grandfathers grew up with parents who had little money or formal education, but who placed great value on learning. Apparently my paternal great-grandfather was known in his neighborhood for his ability to recite Shakespeare, Yeats, and other poetry from memory in his Irish brogue. My great-grandparents passed their love of learning on to my grandfathers, one of whom got his J.D. and the other a PhD. from Harvard. So while parental income and formal education certainly helps, even those without those advantages can still help their children succeed in school.

    • jenbrdsly says:

      I think what you are brilliantly describing Claire is the so-called “outlier effect”. You and I certainly worked our butts off to get into Stanford, but we didn’t do it all on our own. It took several generations valuing education to get to that point. My great-grandfather was a Russo-German-American who had a third grade education, and yet he valued education so much that he served on the school board in Russell, Kansas and sent three of his nine kids to college.

      Americans have a choice about how they spend their time and money, no matter how much or how little they have of either. You can spend your brain cells memorizing Shakespeare and Yeats, or you can memorize the latest stats on American Idol. You can take your kids hiking and to the library on the weekend, or you can spend it playing Xbox. You can save $100 a month for your kids to go to college someday, or you can have an IPhone.

      Sorry, now I’m on a rant! What bugs me is that society is always dumping their issues on public schools and saying “Do a better job with our kids.” Well yes, certainly public schools could and should be doing a better job. But education starts at home. Parents of all incomes and educational backgrounds could really make a difference if they were willing to step up to the plate, and had more guidance about what they could do to help.

  3. jengod says:

    I think about this all the time. There’s a great deal more to inheritance than money: Some families are able to create and transfer an accumulation of knowledge, experience, success and values.

  4. Amber says:

    This is definitely true! People who value education (formal or not) are more likely to pass that along to their children.

    Very cool lesson your husband showed Bruce, by the way. 🙂

  5. Trish says:

    Yes, and coming from a family that provided nothing leaves me with tears that it could have turned out so differently.

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