LIKE MANY children around the age of two, Madison has decided not to do what her mother wants. She will not speak above a whisper. She does not want to read “Big Red Barn”. She will not identify her colours or her shapes, even though she knows them. So, for half an hour, her mother patiently cajoles, persuades, distracts and redirects. “You want me to read to you? What kind of sound does the cow make? Are you going to sing? What’s this?”
It would be a familiar scene in a pushy, upper-middle-class home. But this is a working-class black family in a poor district of Long Island, east of New York City. The careful cultivation of Madison reflects a change in her household. Her mother, Joy, says that she did little to prepare her two older children for school, assuming that they would be taught everything they needed to know. She is determined not to make the same mistake again.
Across the rich world, working-class parents have reached the same conclusion. They expect more of their children than in the past, and treat them differently. Gradually, they have adopted child-raising habits normally associated with middle-class parents. That largely unheralded change has probably mitigated the harm done to poorer children by covid-19 and the school closures it prompted. Unfortunately, some damage has been done anyway.