Friday, September 4, 2009

The Price of Privilege – Part 1 of 4

This summer our faculty and staff read The Price of Privilege by Madeline Levine with the hopes of extending our understanding of diversity—socioeconomic diversity—and how it affects our students, their families, us, and our surrounding communities.

I would like to share what I gleaned from my reading with you in several posts. There are four parts to the book, so this and the next three posts will encapsulate my thoughts and impressions.


Levine takes the reader into her therapy sessions with young people. One statistic after another give insight into this world of children and families of privilege. Some disturbing and others interesting, here are a few from part one:

  • Adolescent suicide today has quadrupled since 1950.
  • In addition to income, factors such as literacy, political freedom, and civil rights all influence a person’s happiness, what researchers often call “well-being.”
  • Studies show that approximately 50% of happiness is inherited, leaving 50% to be determined by parenting, life experiences, and luck.
  • Affluent parents hesitate to seek professional help more than other groups of parents.
  • Materialism is a value system that emphasizes wealth, status, image, and material consumption and is found among people in all socioeconomic groups. Liking stuff isn’t the problem; liking stuff more than people is. We want to avoid training our children to believe that it is external rewards that are responsible for personal happiness.
  • Two factors repeatedly emerge as contributing to high levels of emotional problems. The first is achievement pressure and the second is isolation from parents.
  • Study after study shows that teens want more, not less, time with their parents.
  • There is an inverse relationship between income and closeness to parents. Lower-socioeconomic kids are far more likely to report feeling close to their parents than kids from high socioeconomic homes.
Always looking at the student’s construction of “sense of self” as a measuring stick, Levine describes the privileged student as indulged, coddled, pressured, and micromanaged, and paints the at-risk child environment as empty refrigerator, unforgiving circumstances, metal detectors in their schools, killings in their neighborhoods. If you want a closer look into the world of at-risk children, read "In Prisoners' Wake, A Tide of Troubled Kids" from the July 5, Sunday Times.

Levine points out that increases in material wealth do not translate into advantages in emotional health. And, “Anxiety, depression, somatic complaints, thought problems, attention problems, and rule breaking can be 2 to 5 times more prevalent among private high school juniors and seniors than among the general population of high school juniors and seniors.”

Probably the two most salient points/suggestions I take away from this section of the book is 1) “Perhaps the single most important ritual a family can observe is having dinner together.” And 2) [Children] need to see that their parents value effort, curiosity, and intellectual courage.” On the latter point, read Carol Dweck’s work in my July 10, 2008 post.

Please feel free to comment on what you read, especially if you have read the book.

The green highlights throughout the four posts represent comments made in the book that are akin to the Montessori philosophy and the red highlights are not akin to the Montessori philosophy.


Anonymous said...

Dear Dane,

Thank you for recommending this book. Our family will transition from Rivendell to BHMS this Fall and despite a busy schedule I took the time to read this book. Wow! Levine's message is quite sobering. In the back of my mind I have felt a need to control the materialism that pervades our society and the impact it has (and will have) on our family. We are at least 3-4 years from 'tween' time but it seems now is the best time to take her advice. In some ways I feel as though we have been given a 'green light' to say 'no' more often and to set firm limitations. I hate to see the temporary unhappiness, but as Levine points out citing case after case that the alternative can be devastating.

Thank you for recommending this book. I will make time to read other recommendations.

Looking forward to 9/10/09.
MaryAnn Cassidy
mom to Erin Westlund (BHMS K Fall 09)
Liam (MMCL)

Carolyn said...

Thank you for a wonderful post! I live in the San Francisco and in Palo Alto, 25 miles from SF, three teenagers between the ages of 17 and 13 have committed suicide by throwing themselves under the commuter train. I hope many faculties and parents will read this book and do more than discuss it. I hope communities will take an honest look at the intensity of the expectations we have for our kids.