"Intensive parenting expectations continue well after children leave infancy. Young children are encouraged to participate in costly club sports, and parents to give up their free time to support them. These activities take time and money, two resources working people lack.
This proliferation of organized activities represents a form of improvement: a child’s free time is now completely subsumed by Bildung. And the ability to provide these opportunities to kids is portrayed as a reflection of a family’s morality, not their economic situation. Just as Victorian women had to learn to play the piano and speak Italian — showing off a refinement unavailable to the other levels of society — modern kids play soccer, learn Mandarin, and volunteer at a local charity.
But the capstone of the modern quest for Bildung is surely the college application process. There is no good nineteenth-century analogue for this ridiculous new ritual, although Dickens would’ve been perfectly able to satirize its inherent absurdity: Millions act as if a system weighted very heavily toward privilege is in fact some kind of meritocracy, and that a person’s worth can be judged by the prestige of the school where they have been accepted."