February 3rd, 2006

ozarque figure

Linguistics; pragmatics; mother/daughter communication; Tannen

loligo commented:
"I'd love to hear more about how your experience of mother-daughter communication is alien to the one Tannen describes."

First, the disclaimers. I know a great deal about being a mother and using language as a mother. Because I have an assortment of daughters and daughters-in-law, I know a lot about mother/daughter communication in that context, from firsthand personal experience. Because I've been a teacher at every level of the educational system, and have been counseling girls and women (and families) most of my life, I've had a very broad secondhand exposure to the mother/daughter communication of others. But my knowledge of communicating as a daughter, based on personal experience, is inadequate. My childhood was bizarre. Gothic. Right out of Edgar Allan Poe. The less said (or written) about most of it, the better, in my opinion. Let's just settle for my having stated that limitation in my expertise. Second, I haven't read the new book in which Tannen's mother/daughter communication model is presented -- only an excerpt chapter and some articles and reviews. That said, then, I'll try to respond to two aspects of the Tannen model that seem particularly alien to me.


1. In the book excerpt at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.phpstoryId=5170927&ft=1&f=1032 Tannen writes: "Many women develop the habit of telling their mothers about minor misfortunes because they treasure the metamessage of caring they know they will hear in response..."

Not in my world. The typical adult daughter in my world has as one of her primary mother/daughter communication goals not worrying her mother, especially about trivia. She is aware that she may from time to time badly need her mother's attention and expertise, even active help, with real and serious problems. She does not, therefore, tap into those resources for trivial matters. If one of my adult daughters ever called me to report a drop of blood from a hangnail I would be both startled and worried -- not worried about the hangnail, but worried about that daughter's mental condition. I trust my daughters to be competent and capable and able to deal with the minor problems that come their way in their lives; I also trust them to know that I am always ready to help in every way I possibly can when they're facing a problem that isn't minor. And I trust them to know the difference.

2. In "Oh, Mom. Oh, Honey. Why Do You Have to Say That?" [at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/21/AR2006012100092.html ], Tannen writes: "This I knew: Because a mother's opinion matters so much, she has enormous power. Her smallest comment -- or no comment at all, just a look -- can fill a daughter with hurt and consequently anger. But this I learned: Mothers, who have spent decades watching out for their children, often persist in commenting because they can't get their adult children to do what is (they believe) obviously right. Where the daughter sees power, the mother feels powerless."

Not in my world. I have not, in my lifetime, encountered more than two or three adult women who were so concerned about their mother's opinions that the mother's "smallest comment -- or no comment at all, just a look" could fill them with "hurt and consequently anger." And those two or three adult women I've known who did fit that description were women I was profoundly sorry for, because their desperate need for their mother's approval made their lives miserable. The typical adult woman in my world is aware of the areas in her life that her mother might disapprove of (her housekeeping, for example, or the way she dresses) and does what she can to avoid scenarios in which that disagreement might show itself -- but she doesn't worry about it. If her mother were to say "I really don't like your hair that way," the adult women I know would say "I'm sorry you don't like it, Mother," and go on about their business. And they would not feel either hurt or anger. If they happened to be burdened with a mother who kept saying that every time they met, the most likely result is that they would meet less often, because the daughter would find that tiresome. But hurt and anger? No. Especially as the mothers grow older, the adult daughters I know are prepared for their mothers to get a bit tiresome in their language behavior, and hurt and anger are not considered appropriate responses to that entirely normal development.

And then there's the mother who "persists in commenting" because she's trying to get her adult daughter to do something she believes is "obviously right." The impression I get from the limited portion of the new book that I've read -- and from mother/daughter anecdotes and dialogues in all of the other Tannen books, which I have read -- is that this is considered a likely language behavior when the mother doesn't approve of the daughter's hairdo or fingernail polish or the way the daughter folds her towels before putting them away.

Not in my world. Mothers I know might well "persist in commenting" about something important. If an adult daughter were becoming an alcoholic ... or failing to take a sick grandchild to a doctor ... or going dangerously into debt .... the mothers I know would approach their daughters and try to negotiate a change. But in the same way that daughters are careful not to waste their mothers' available "wisdom and help resources" on torn hangnails, mothers are aware that their adult daughters' tolerance for interference in their lives is limited -- and they don't waste it on things like hairdos and towels.

When my daughters ask me for advice, I provide it willingly and in whatever detail seems appropriate. Otherwise, unless the daughter is literally (as I perceive it) in danger or putting someone else in danger, I do my best to keep my opinions to myself. Should I slip, and fail to do that, I expect my daughters to have sense enough to be amused, rather than hurt or angry. I respect them as adult women, and I treat them accordingly.
ozarque figure

Something that really worries me about the economy....

A couple of days ago I heard a statistic on CNN that shocked me, but that doesn't seem to be getting a lot of attention in the discussions of the U.S. economy: According to the CNN journalist, one-third of the students in U.S. highschools now drop out before graduating.

I was stunned by that figure, and my initial reaction was that it could not possibly be accurate. I've been to Google trying to check it, and (as is usually the case), whether you call it accurate or not depends on your definitions. Do you count kids who drop out without graduating but go on to get their GEDs or not, for example? Different states are defining "dropouts" differently, because the amount of funding they get is affected by that definition, for example. But when you plow through enough reports, you get the feeling that if it's not actually one-third of all the students it's very close to that and it's definitely headed in that direction.

Which brings me to what really worries me: What's going to happen to all those kids, who are going to have the devil of a time getting any job at all?

We keep hearing about the economic mess we're facing because of the huge number of people in the U.S. who are just starting to retire and are going to live a lot longer than people used to live even a few decades ago. That's a genuine mess, and you know from previous posts in this journal that it's something I think we ought to start seriously planning for. But I'm not seeing anything about the mess that we're facing if one-third of our children can't be persuaded to get even a high school diploma. What are we going to do with them? How are they going to be provided for? What's going to happen if they are in direct competition with the elderly for the same resources?

I find lots of attention being given to raising the cursed test scores for the kids who are still in school, and we have the president warbling about putting 70,000 math and science teachers [which he will find I know not where, at any price] into the schools. But if there's any recognition of the economic problem the one-third dropout rate is going to cause for this country, or any plan for dealing with it, I'm not finding it.

Over to you....
ozarque figure

About that high school dropout rate...

dmnsqrl commented:
"Sadly, I'm not convinced this is actually an increase in the number of students who are not graduating from high school :/ ."

I agree that whatever the rate actually is, it may not be an increase. But the world these youngsters are dropping out into today has changed drastically.

When I was in high school there was abundant work available for people without high school diplomas .... lots of factory work, lots of manufacturing, lots of construction and agricultural jobs, lots of menial work in the healthcare industry, and so on. That's no longer true. Most of those jobs are either gone for good, or outsourced to another country.

Some of the commenters have suggested that the kids will all go work at fast food places or in the few other remaining minimum-wage job slots. Maybe. But they're going to be competing for those jobs with undocumented workers; they're going to be competing with the elderly who don't have enough retirement money to live on; they're going to be competing with the working homeless; and they're going to be competing with the people who can't find any other kind of work and those who are trying to work two or more of those jobs in an effort to earn something remotely like a decent living.

I don't see how we're going to deal with this.