Just finished reading an insightful book, "Freakonomics," by Seven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. It covers a wide range of topics from an economist researcher's point of view, like why drug dealers live with their mothers, and what influences parents really have on their children.
As a parent and a teacher, I was especially interested in the latter of those topics. Levitt and Dubner's conclusions were that parents' influences on children were substantial, but almost entirely determined before the child is born. They have a list of matters and doesn't factors.
Matters: The child has highly educated parents.
Doesn't: The child regularly watches TV at home.
Matters: The child's parents have high income.
Doesn't: The child's mother didn't work between birth and kindergarten.
Matters: The child's parents speak English in the home.
Doesn't: The child's parents regularly take him to museums.
Matters: The child's mother was 30 or older at time of the child's birth.
Doesn't: The child attended Head Start.
Matters: The child's parents are involved in the PTA.
Doesn't: The child is regularly spanked at home.
One factor he does not discuss is the effect of diet or eating habits on children. That is one significant area where I believe parents have an important impact on children's childrens' lives. Problem is that I'm not sure any more after reading this book. Could be that from a researcher's viewpoint that there is no relation. I'll have to continue to raise mine based on my judgement, though.
One other topic in the book that I have discussed with some colleagues is that of incentives. I think the authors would argue that people do everything that they do for incentives, and that they vary greatly from person to person and from situation to situation. This made me consider the kinds of incentives that my students have to attend my classes, or not, which is too often the case recently. To be entertained may certainly be a kind of incentive, but if learning is not much fun, then my students are disappointed. Aside from offering cash rewards, I am at a loss for finding sure-fire incentives. I thought of playing on their sense of responsibility and organizing group-centered activities. I'm not sure what to change that will provide the necessary incentives, but I'm going to have to do something.