Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Case of the Terrifying Mother

Last week we had an interesting and terrifying visitor. She is the mother of a senior in our program and she came to our office to demand that her son, a junior, be admitted to our cohorts. First, she asked why no one had recruited him for the program, to which we replied that we advertised all around the school last spring and it was up to the students to take the initiative to apply. At this point she replied that she was taking the initiative on behalf of her son now- that he is a Native American with two siblings who went through the program and that he must be accepted right away.

I'll be the first to admit that I don't always handle conflict well- emotional break downs? suicide attempts? love issues? I'm all over those- but being yelled at... not my cup of tea. My "fight or flight" instinct kicked in and I went with the "flight," immediately referring her to my supervisor and sending him a panicking e-mail (sorry, Ben!). This seemed to sedate the mother enough to leave us alone, but not without taking my business card first- now I'm screening all of my calls.

Colin was able to catch up with the student in question and found out that he had no interest in applying or joining the program. We also looked up his grades and found out that his gpa is a 1.4, well below our requirements for applicants (2.0 or higher).

When the mother finally left the office, we were so shaken that we cowered under our desks in the fetal position. See Victoria below:

While this was a kind of hilarious office story that hopefully amused you, dear reader, it points to a bigger issue of a parent's dreams for her child and her child's goals for himself. It was heartbreaking to hear how desperately this mother wanted her son in our program, wanted him to graduate high school and attend a four year college just like his sisters only to find out that the son seems to want none of that for himself. The story became even more heartbreaking when we learned that the oldest son of the family had been killed serving in the US military in Iraq and knowing that many of the hopes and expectations of this family ride on this son's shoulders now.

So often in my studies of Education in college I thought and wrote about parent involvement being key to student success. I even wrote one paper about how parent involvement/motivation/presence is one of the key issues facing our educational system today. This encounter, however, proved my entire theory wrong. Here, the parents were incredibly invested in their children's education and success, despite their low income and minority status- but it was, most likely, the son's lack of motivation which will lead to his lack of educational attainment.


  1. I would be interested to know what you thought of that Tiger Mother article/excerpt that came out about a week and a half ago (here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704111504576059713528698754.html if you missed it).

    I do believe that parents' involvement is necessary, but where do we draw the line?


  2. I also wanted to get your opinion on the "Emerging Adults" NYT magazine article from a while back (I think it was relevant to one of your posts from a few weeks ago). On the one hand, it seems to be not an inaccurate assessment of some subsets of our generation, but on the other, the psychologist-wannabe part of me says, If it's not necessary for everyone, it's not a stage of development.

    I don't know what my point is, exactly, except maybe that being privileged sometimes makes me uncomfortable.

    (It's here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/22/magazine/22Adulthood-t.html?_r=3&pagewanted=1 if you didn't see it.)


  3. Hey Michelle,

    I read the articles- here are my really poorly formed thoughts:

    Tiger Mother: Oy, is it bad that I kind of find this terrifying? hm- I mean on one hand, if my students had parents like this, they certainly wouldn't be in my program- they wouldn't need it! However, it seems SO stifling, and very likely to lead to students being really good at things they hate. meh- I don't feel good about it, then again, I'm a westerner, so I would think that, right?

    Emerging Adults... hmmm. I mean, obviously I'm feeling like I'm going through that stage of development. And, it's kind of relieving to hear that I am potentially not a failure for not having my life together. But I do agree that it is a situation of the privileged western population. Does that make it not a stage of development? I'm not sure. I feel like it's kind of naive to think that all stages of development can/should be consistent across all people in all situations in all places- don't environment and personal situations play a really big role in them?

    thoughts thoughts.

    thanks for reading!