ethnographic datum re Jewish parenting strategies

Eve Pinsker (U56728@UICVM.BITNET)
Sun, 20 Nov 1994 13:23:17 CST

To contribute an ethnographic datum to the earlier discussion on Jewish
parenting strategies and *smart*ness: Yesterday I had a conversation with my
mother (yes, she identifies herself as Jewish and is considered such by others;
I won't go into an interactional analysis of her/our ethnicity, suffice it to
say that "it's a shame for the neighbors" is a meaningful utterance). She said
that she found the movie Forrest Gump (which I haven't seen myself)
"disgusting." Main reason it was "disgusting" and thoroughly repelled her:
Forrest Gump is retarded, but he went to college and graduated. Both she and
my father found the movie a very "bitter" (their term) commentary on American
society; they said they felt it was very "bitter and black humor."
They talked with horror of Gump's getting an athletic scholarship,
despite having to be told not to run out of the field with the ball. They
didn't explicity say that this has to do with social mobility, but I think that
has to do with why they thought this was a very negative picture of American
society -- they were pretty explicit about finding the idea of someone
labeled with an IQ of 75 (they mentioned that the movie gave his IQ score)
going to college and graduating very offensive. In their view of the way
things should be *smart* people go to college, if they're able to (by the
way, my father did not go to college, and it's something that my mother still
holds against my grandmother [something of a moot point, since the latter died
about 20 years ago] he came back from w.w. II, before he was
married, and had to support his mother and younger sister, while the latter was
going to college). And going to college, and getting advanced degrees, is
supposed to lead to a respected and secure, financially and otherwise, position
in American society. And most importantly, if your children do this, it gives
you "naches" and you have something to say when your relatives ask you how your
children are doing, preferably something that makes your children look more
successful than theirs. Also your children are supposed to be more successful
than you are; "success" measured not as a simple refection of income, prestige
of occupation also factors in there, and happiness does too, somewhere.
My parents are not *stupid*, they know, at this point,
that it doesn't always work out that way (although for my brother, a Ph.D. in
physics doing fusion research for a private company with gov't contracts, it
pretty much has; but if the Republicans cut fusion research . . .). But if it
doesn't work out, that's an indictment of American society, not of the strategy
of producing *smart* offspring who go to college, etc.
Final datum: My mother keeps a copy of my brother's dissertation
(hardbound of course) on the marble coffeetable in the living room, which is
where guests normally go when they enter the house. Clearly it is not there to
be read, it is there as an index of my brother's success, and my parents' in
producing him. (yes, I assume that mine will eventually go there too, and in
fact one of the reasons I'm doing it is so they can put it there).
I am curious: is putting dissertations on coffeetables a common Gentile
practice? Somehow I do not think so. There are also certainly Jews who would
consider this declasse, probably those from families who have been here for
more generations (my mother is first generation born here) and interact
socially with wealthy Episcopalians and people of similar social standing and
display upper-class, WASPy and reserved type patterns of social interaction.
Eve Pinsker