There seems to be a common idea that children are a means of reflecting prestige or shame on the parents – if little Timmy gets into Harvard, that means that you are the parents of the year; if he becomes a grocery bagger, assembly line worker or filling station counter guy, then you’ve “failed.”
Something is out of balance there; not every kid has the smarts to get into Harvard, and as long as your kid grows up to be kind, responsible and contributes to society, you did just fine. Pushing your kids as hard as I see lots of parents pushing theirs is not an expression of love, but of narcissism, I think. It’s not about whether little Timmy is happy and well-rounded, but about the amount of bragging you’re able to do at the next parents’ get-together.
That aside, there is another piece to this, I think; it used to be that you could make a decent living and raise kids on a working-class wage (meaning the kind of job that does not require college) but this is way less true than it used to be. This, combined with the shabby way our society treats poor people (I’ve heard Jay Leno use the appalling term “trailer trash” and get a laugh) means that fear plays a part in parents pushing their kids as well.