Friday, 21 January 2011

Why Not 'Let' A Child 'Try' School ... if the child wants to?

Because, in my opinion, school is not benign. School are actively damaging, particularly (but not solely) to self-esteem and natural confidence in the intrinsic rewards of learning.

If I could accompany my kids to school the whole time they were 'trying' it, I think it might be possible at all to have them experience that in a way that was neutral or even educational. But left alone in that overwhelmingly persistent and pervasively indoctrinated system... particularly at a time when they're going through major brain development and having a hard time even driving their usual lives with balance and ease. 

Going into that system alone might make it so that some of what happens there is handled beautifully --a direct conflict, say. But then there is All Of The Rest. Most of which is never handled, never addressed and is very rapidly seen as 'normal.' Or perhaps 'inevitable.'


  • The seat-to-seat nastiness that the teacher sees but doesn't address (because, really, who has time, and they're sitting quietly). 
  • Or all of what the teacher doesn't see. 
  • There is the teacher-down bullying that is directed at the kids the teacher doesn't like (which is no biggie for the kids who are likeable...unless they're sensitive to the struggles of others).
  • There is the casual and ongoing violence in the halls and grounds. 
  • The tremendous energy of resistance to the system itself that is sometimes just 'forgetting' and inertia, but is often outright rebellion --where does that observation go? 
  • The basic lack of civility which (it has been my observation) homeschoolers are used to and expect --how to handle that, how to see it without it affecting the collective of 'this is how I behave in the world' a child's already gained. 
  • What to do about the errors in the textbook the teacher is marking based on the incorrect answer key? 
  • How to approach the subject that's being taught by the teacher who doesn't understand it or visibly dislikes it?
  • What about the clowning, distractions and utter disrespect for the teacher --notably more pronounced when teachers are insecure or incompetent? Do we sit quietly while the struggling teacher is being tormented? Do we laugh? Do we try to moderate it? Model more respectful approaches?
Do you stand up to the teacher about the bullying seen but not addressed? Every single instance of it or is there some scale of 'that's not bad enough to comment on'? What about the sexual assault? What about the child who is utterly ignored? What about the one getting a disproportion of the school's or teacher's attention? What do we do about the kids who are left to flail about, or sit dully until their aid comes back tomorrow? Nothing? Anything?

What about the lack of respect for the humanity, body wisdom and personal pace of everyone except the strongest willed and most confident? 


It was not lost on me in the system that affected me deeply, and for years, that I alone was allowed to wander the halls during class time, get up and leave a lecture while the teacher was speaking (without a murmur of reproach) or completely fail to hand in any portion of an assignment without it negatively affecting my grade. Somehow, I managed to import a sense that 'Linda's doing something else that's important' into teacher's heads --or I was far more trouble to deal with than I was worth-- or both, so I was respected (or at least not stomped on) when I felt the need to move around, or believed I knew enough about this subject already, or whatever provoked me to routinely leave the classroom and, say, go have a smoke. I was marked present for classes I spent at the orthodontist.


All of this, without even talking about the quality or composition of the curriuculum, its relevance in today's world, the subjectiveness of grading, the pervasive and contrived competition, the propaganda, the age-segregation and sexism inherent in the system.


Why not let a child try school, if the child wants to? Because school is not benign environment, and few adults understand the ramifications of even a short indoctrination into that system.
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photo Classroom Panorama by grampymoose, used with permission (Creative Commons, attrib/share alike)

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Homeschooling as a form of child abuse

A provocative post by this same title, by a woman who describes the purpose of her blog:

"Are you doing this on purpose?" a friend writes to me. "Are you trying to provoke people's anger with your posts?"
The answer is that, of course, I am. See, I have this theory that getting people to think is akin to pushing a car down a hill. You need a significant initial effort to get people's brains to start moving. 
Oh my. Respectful? I don't think so... do you?

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

My Sister Reminded Me

What with her sweet new baby (right), and all, we've been talking a lot about attachment... and by natural extension, attachment disorders, and how easily you can find examples in the wild.


She asks, rhetorically, 'why is it that the parents who spent the kid's whole childhood pushing the child away, arranging daycare and babysitters and ordering the child outdoors, or at least into distant rooms, are also the parents who complain endlessly that their adult children don't have time for them and never call or write?'


Cue the smirk.


Obviously.


Is that not the apparent goal of every parent who celebrates the first day of school, and the first day back to school after any break or long weekend, or laments the cost of boarding school, or threatens that social services or the police will come and take the kids away and give mum a 'break,' to keep the children as far away from their parents as possible, for as long as possible? 


Does it strike anyone but me that it's a tragedy that so many 'normal' parents, doing what all the rest of the 'normal' parents seem to be doing (and what all the 'normal' parenting experts are extolling the virtue of and demanding all parents adhere to, lest they fall prey to permissiveness, arrested development or, horror of all horrors, 'losing themselves'), are working diligently toward goals they do not wish to achieve? And daily, moment by moment, walking further from the goals they do wish to achieve.


Even way back in the dark ages (1974), when Sandy Chapin wrote the poem, which became the lyrics to Harry Chapin's Cats Cradle, at least one person recognized the path taken when the son's need for his father is dismissed for decades only to be supplanted by the father's need for the son.


Richard Carlson, author of Don't Sweat the Small Stuff, had a brilliant insight as a father, regarding the insidious idea of 'me-time': why would I actively avoid spending time with the people I love most in the world?


How is spending time with the people we love anything but me-time? And, because I'm in a noticing kind of frame of mind, I just noticed that this whole 'me-time' necessity has been created entirely by the current generation of parents and parenting experts who are bleating on about how this generation of youngsters have the most outrageous sense of entitlement ever... hmmm...


Spend a week pushing a child away because you have more important things to do, and you'll have some work to catch up on when you're free --to re-connect and reassure and just be together to establish a relationship with this child who has now had 168 hours of development without your presence. Spend a month 'too busy' and you find yourself facing a changed child who is no longer someone you can predict accurately, and whose cues and communication have changed from the last time you met. Spend a year away from a child and you will encounter a different person. Spend a child's lifetime away and you will be facing a stranger, who you might remember used to like a particular colour or didn't used to want to eat a specific food, but who you don't know at all.


From the child's point of view, the week is a serious problem, the month is traumatic, a year is everything he can remember and his whole childhood: even if he feels a bit guilty about his natural resistance to approaching his parents, his natural resistance is based entirely in a lifetime of rejection.


Barbara Coloroso so neatly explains: spend time with your children while they're still young and want to.


In my experience, doing so results in adult children who still want to.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Oh, Man... there's more: Chinese Vs. Western, part 3

Oh deary me. In an effort to explain, she says, that the book is her own coming of age story --a memoir of how she learned to become a better parent and to let her daughter give up the violin-- and how people don't seem to be getting the joke, she's interviewed on Friday, January 14, 2010.


During an interview with CBC, Amy Chua digs her hole just a little bit deeper:

... even a generation or two ago here, there was a lot more of a sense of like you owe your parents a sense of decency, a sense of respect, a sense of gratitude and I really don't like a lot of what I see today, which is a lot of these kids that are very pampered and very entitled and want more more more, buy me more equipment, buy me more iPhones, buy me more this ...
I find it mildly ironic that I was just looking over Alfie Kohn's review of permissive parenting research (there is none) and increasingly narcissistic children from generation to generation (there is none of that, either) or any evidence that helicopter parenting is damaging (nor any of that), and here is Amy having a bit of a rant about what is 'wrong' with all these children raised the 'wrong' way. 

Excuse me while I quote someone else on the subject for a moment:

I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words... When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and impatient of restraint.*
It is, as Kohn points out, an item of faith that children are more narcissistic than ever before, that helicopter parenting is problematic and that permissive parenting is fruitless and creates unsuccessful children. Except the research simply does not exist. In fact, the research that does exist:
... published in Pediatrics, discovered that there is indeed a parental practice associated with children who later become demanding and easily frustrated.  But it’s not groovy, indulgent parenting.  It’s spanking.
But I want to give Amy a shovel, so she can really dig in. The hypocrisy between what she states as her values and her own attitude: oh my! From fairly late in the interview, as she really gets to chatting (referring to the child's making of a birthday card):
I think that you can do better and I think that you owe me a little bit more, and I think that people balk at that, too: 'oh my god, she wants more'
Sorry, could I just highlight that? Maybe bold and italics: I think you owe ME a little bit more. This, in the midst of a thought-free rant about the sense of entitlement in children. I wonder 'are you looking in a mirror, here?'


From earlier in the interview, regarding the same anecdote:

Nope, this is not good enough. You know, when it's your birthday, I spend my whole salary hiring a magician and baking you a cake and having big parties and buying all these party favours and getting waterslides and I deserve better than this...
Okay. First, this is a four-year-old she is talking to. The 4yo is the reason she spends buckets of money on lavish parties? Who is running this household? Seriously. 


And, to be pedantic about her point, let me once more pick out the phrase that I believe --were it said by someone, 4, 14 or even 24, would be gilded and plastered onto a Youth Entitlement Wall of Shame somewhere: I deserve better than this.


Do I have to say anything at all here?

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*from Hesiod, 8th century BC
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photo used with permission Creative Commons attrib/non-deriv; PinkSugarPhotography

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Further to Chinese Vs. Western Mothering...

An astute friend on an email list reminded me: 
Ever tried reframing a parenting decision by imagining whether it would be okay to do to your spouse or another adult? Imagine an alternate version of Chua's book giving relationship advice: "[insert group/racial descriptor] Marriages are Superior", containing descriptions of the dominant spouse treating their powerless spouse in the way that Chua treats her children.... and imagine
that throughout they are touting themselves as the ideal that other's should strive to achieve. I doubt very much that any publisher would dare publish a book like that.
I do like to think of parenting decisions in that way, which is more or less just the Golden Rule. Would you like to be treated that way?


Would you keep a job after your boss called you 'garbage' or refused to allow you to use the washroom or eat until you'd performed a task the way s/he wanted you to?


Isn't this more or less why people are not allowed to own people?


Again, I am reminded of Alfie Kohn, and his ever-so-insightful ideas, from Unconditional Parenting: why should an adult's preference win? Sheerly on the basis that it is an adult's preference?


This is where I stopped short, when my children were really, really little: if it's only my idea of what's the right thing for them to do right now, not some real need or real emergency, why is it supposed to matter to my kids --to the tune of four hours or even just three minutes of torment and power struggle?


To me, it's obvious that dinner time is arbitrary. Sure, whole swaths of the population will agree that dinner time is 5pm or 6pm or 7:30pm or 8pm. What's that got to do with anyone's hunger? What's it got to do with any child? As I have said ever since Ford came up with it as a slogan: a million people can absolutely be wrong, why not? What possible force in the world can stop a million independent people from making the same erroneous choice, even if it's buying a Ford, driving drunk, or arguing in favour of head shots in hockey.


So what if, ostensibly, a billion Chinese agree that the 'right' way to raise children is to decide for them what is their art, which school subjects matter the most, and what they are allowed to do, what is valuable for them to do, with their free time --if they are even deemed to own any. Even if a billion Chinese people do agree (and I would expect that at least four probably don't) with Amy Chua, that doesn't make her (or them) right. It just means they agree. Perhaps they've been swayed by similar arguments. Perhaps they have been told, one way or another, for their whole lives that they must. Perhaps they haven't really thought about it and have never felt any pressing reason to think about it.


Or perhaps it doesn't matter, really, to any child growing up anywhere, who agrees with Amy Chua...


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photo 'We're Just Little Children' by Matsuo Amon, used with permission: Creative Commons, attribute/non-deriv

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Chinese Versus Western... Really?

Since it's the current storm across the internet is Why Chinese Mothers are Superior, including thousands of comments right on the Wall St. Journal site itself, I thought I'd join in.


When I first finished reading the entire article, my first thought was: 
I wonder what is the difference in suicide rates between children raised this way and the Western way?
Better journalists than I have already found this, from CNN: Push to achieve tied to suicide in Asian-American women. The tremendously sarcastic part of me says 'well, at least they got As instead of A-minuses...' But, more seriously, this is not a hearty endorsement of Ms. Chua's assertion that "Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids." I don't think disproportionately high suicide rates equal 'success.'


I do bristle at this:
What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. 
Wow... is that ever not my experience. I've watched babies who can't stand for more than a second or two giggling in joy at the fun of falling over, wobbling, trying again and again and again. I've watched 8 year-olds slog through pages and pages of words they couldn't read, trying to break the code, so they could play the computer game that requires their reading skills to be far beyond their 'grade level.' I've watched 12 year-olds play the same battle on some video game, over and over and over again, talking together and trying different strategies until they win. I've watched a 14 year-old sew and pick out the same seam ten, twelve, fifteen times in order to create the look she wanted, convinced it was possible and that she could do it.


Ms. Chua has clearly not spent any time reading the biographies of the preternaturally talented: Wayne Gretzky on the ice until after dark day after day; David Beckham's endless corner kick practice; Stephen King's 1000s of words of writing every day since he was a teenager... examples abound throughout every single field of human endeavour. That is, specifically, intentional ongoing boring and reward-free practice and entirely voluntary work on a chosen activity.


And, while we're there: how 'fun' is anything once it's mastered? Does anyone giggle the whole time they're walking, for the sheer joy of it, more than 3 months after they've really figured it out? 


The fun in life is in becoming good at things, in the discovery that we can do more than we thought, certainly not in simply performing things we already know we're great at. Sure, it's fun from time to time to impress others, but that's a thin joy. It's extending ourselves to ever-new heights, overcoming new challenges, surpassing our last achievements, or trying completely new things-- even failing totally at them.


There is so much more...
  • What is so magical about piano and violin? Why not guitar and sax? Why not drums and harp?
  • Why musical performance and not acting or sports? No... really --what is better about classical music compared to classical theatre? How is music better than physical activity? Why not one instrument and one sport? Is it only because there is no way to get an A as a hockey player?
  • Have we determined that 'success' in life doesn't include being happy? 
  • Did the research about 'good grades don't make life success' disappear?
I found the description of the protracted piano practice disturbing, but the justification using the child's behaviour later than night is a real problem for me. The story reminded me a little of the creepy stories of children who have been terrified by something, whose parents think they're 'fine' because the child is sitting still, not crying or making a fuss. Those children are experiencing the natural response to tremendous stress: fear paralysis. Children aren't strong enough to fight and running away triggers a curious predator to pounce, so their best chance of survival is to hide, stay still and silent and hope to be mistaken for a tree. Their silence is not an indication that they're 'fine', it is an indication that they've been traumatized.

When a child who has been unable to connect with her mother's approval and affection for hours and hours and hours, because of some inability to meet some demand or expectation, is finally able to please her, the relief she feels will take over her whole body. She'll giggle, snuggle, and cling to mother in the hopes of never, ever again experiencing the deep sense of discord between needing her mother's affection and love, and what she has to perform to get it. Repeat this too often, and the attachment will cease to be elastic enough to withstand the tension. The child will disconnect... from something. Mom. Life. Herself.

Who cares? As long as she gets an A.