Helicopter Parents….Part 2

HELICOPTER PARENTS….PART 2….In response to my post this morning about the Wall Street Journal’s discovery of “helicopter parents,” I got an email that I thought was good enough to post in its entirety. I can’t personally vouch for or against anything my untenured and therefore anonymous correspondent says, but it’s certainly entertaining. Enjoy.


The WSJ is not “on” to something. It’s late to the damn party. For a few years now I’ve been teaching freshman comp and assorted other undergraduate English courses to students at [an expensive private university in the heartland] which basically means the students all started studying for college entrance exams in kindergarten, they’re all pre-law or pre-med in their freshman year, and they come from fantastically affluent families (or else families that have decided Little Ian and Laura are worth bankrupting the family for a lifetime) who believe that their $45,000 a year entitles them and their students to set the pedagogical agenda.

We will ignore, for the moment, the myriad ways this tendency is reinforced by the deans offices (increasingly run by platoons of “student affairs” staff whose expertise seems to have derived from a mishmash of self-actualizing pop-psych, teen-marketing ala “Ms Magazine” and a firm belief that watching reruns of Full House will explain the pre-history of today’s college students). Instead, let’s focus on Parents Weekend, when instructors like me can expect nattering, officious parents to pop in to my classroom unannounced, sit in the front row (often in front of their children) and assert their parently prerogatives to participate.

For tenured faculty, this experience can be a source of great fun. One professor in my department couldn’t wait for parents to visit his class on religion and literature, in which he invited them to engage him in questions of faith and scriptural “truth.” He didn’t consider himself to have done any good if at least a few parents didn’t leave red-faced and even more certain that the academy was under the sway of atheists and intellectual profligates.

For the rest of us, though, parents weekend can inaugurate a hellish semester. On the basis of having “met” me, some parents often then feel empowered to call the director of freshman writing or the chair of the dept throughout the rest of the semester (and, naturally, once grades have been turned in) to challenge pretty much any aspect of the course that Ian and Laura have found objectionable, “unfair” (this usually involves unquantifiables like what “good writing” is) or just unduly difficult. After all, undergraduate degrees are means, not ends, you know, and I really need a good grade in this course if I’m going to get that internship or study-abroad fellowship or acceptance to law school.

I could go on but I think I detest the bitterness and cynicism this brings out in me more than I actually detest these meddling parents and their student-children, still firmly attached at the teat.

Upshot: I don’t think I’d call this a trend, because though the bad moments leave their imprimatur on your memory, they are far outnumbered (if not always outweighed) by the classes and semesters that go ok. But if mistakenly trendifying something that’s probably more accurately described as an annoying symptom of contemporary American social and culture life is what it takes to shame people into removing themselves to a more appropriate distance from their children’s education, I’m willing to pay that price.