Friday, 16 December 2011

Thinking about Literacy… and learning

While the Google Machine is near-ubiquitous, we remain stuck in an inane vortex of ‘knowledge’ tests.
I’m just reading through a research project about adult literacy (Muth, B., Integrating Social-Humanist and Cognitive Approaches to Adult Literacy, Adult Basic Education and Literacy Journal Spring 20011, Vol.5, Issue1, p26-37, in case you care) in which the author discusses what he calls ‘social humanist’ styles of teaching. What most people would call ‘whole-language’ or ‘real’ learning. He says this:
Boudin's project focused on the experiences of female prisoners and their use of literacy to confront fear. It shifted the focus of instruction from a "collection of skills outside of any meaningful context" to a "meaning-driven, whole-language orientation" to learning (Boudin, 1993, pp.  214 - 215). There are many examples of social-humanist oriented adult literacy programs in the literature (e.g., Auerbach, 1990; Duguid & Hoekema, 1986; Fingeret & Drennon, 1997; Friere, 1972; Lyde, 2001). Stirring as these accounts are, one might wonder how they register with educators who are charged to teach standardized sets of skills and knowledge, such as those required to pass the GED or to advance from developmental education to college credit-bearing courses.
And I think to myself… hmmmm. [Shall we mention the additional ‘to’ in the second sentence? In a periodical dedicated to the study of literacy? Again…. hmmmmm.]

Outside of the GED, in what context (real life, educational, professional, or, I dunno… medical?) is any person going to find themselves, wherein they need to know a specific word and can’t look it up, figure it out, use a different one. Or rather, wherefrom comes the strange notion that Literacy=Complete Vocabulary.

The process of context-based learning may very well give the learners a ‘different’ vocabulary than the one that is curriculum-based. So?

Playing baseball gives people a different vocabulary than playing pool. Does it mean only baseball players learn ‘the right’ English, while pool player are left on the sidelines with a ‘poor education’?

That’s the implication in tests such as the GED, that focus on knowing a very, very specific tiny fraction of the English language, while happily ignoring the other, much greater (and generally more complicated, gleefully contradictory) part of it.

Example (sample GED question):

Sentence 2: My work experience and education combined with your need for an experienced landscape supervisor have resulted in a relationship that would profit both parties.
Which correction should be made to sentence 2?
1. insert a comma after education
2. change combined to combine
3. change have resulted to would result
4. replace profit with prophet
5. replace parties with party's
Now, I happen to be exceedingly literate –to the point that I make up my own words fairly often (humbility is a favourite). So I actually know the answer…and expect most people reading this to know the answer… but suppose in the run of the time the test victim has read English –perhaps many years– they haven’t come across the written homonyms profit and prophet…. or the written plural of party… So?

Does getting this question wrong, because a tiny, tiny amount of written English’s bazillion rules are cherry-picked and determined, by virtue of being on the test, the be ‘most vital’ when compared to the rest, have anything at all to do with genuine language skills of the testee? Does getting it right mean anything at all?

What About Research Skills?

Do you know how long it takes on the average, generic search engine to find out whether profit or prophet is the right choice? According to Google… if you can figure it out from the hits on the first page, 0.18 seconds, not including the time it takes to type it or scan the results. 

Call it half a minute.

Not fast enough to suggest the testee has any aptitude at all?

I read with either a dictionary or a laptop beside me. Whenever I find a word or phrase I don’t understand, I look it up. If I happen to be near the computer, I’ll even look up unfamiliar punctuation usage. Did I mention that I’m extremely literate? Someone attempting to prove their literacy in a standardized test is not allowed to use the resource materials that literate people use every day?

Wouldn’t it make more sense to hand out the page of Shrunk and White, and the relevant page of the Oxford Concise English… and then ask questions that suggest that any literate test victim was either capable of comprehending and applying sufficiently to answer correctly… or not.

Why is there so much testing that has to do with ‘learning this arbitrary piece of information long enough to barf it onto a test’ rather than ‘use this to show you can do this’?

Anyhow… the research paper made me think: are the educators really so lacking in creativity that they can’t think of any way of examining knowledge or ability while incorporating authentic contexts?

Without authentic contexts, how meaningful can the tests pretend to be?

Saturday, 3 December 2011

They Don’t Listen to Anything I Say



Did you?

When you were 14, did you hang on every word your parents said? When what they said was critical? When it was demanding? When it was complaining about whatever you’d done or not done or should want to do?

Sure. I know I did.

At a speaking club meeting (POWERtalk International, you should check it out!) I was introducing my dad, more or less saying that I learned a lot about speaking from him, as I knew him to be a skilled orator. He got up to respond and started with ‘I never knew she was listening…’ and was unable to continue, in the face of the laughter.

The thing is, when a parent says ‘they don’t listen to anything I say,’ I have a pretty good idea what’s going on. The parent isn’t saying ‘can I make your favourite breakfast?’ or ‘what would you like to do this evening?’ or ‘I’m thinking of getting you a car, what kind do you want?’

Primarily, what the parents are saying is perfectly audible to the child. It’s merely that the message is either a re-run, or unwelcome, or created and delivered for the sole purpose of controlling the thoughts, words or actions of the victim…

Change the tune, maybe?

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Chores and Underlings: What Works


Surrender works so well in so many areas of parenting (and life) –it is when we stop struggling with reality that we find ease and peace.

One note for clarification: surrender is not sacrifice. Sacrifice is for martyrs, not people who seek happiness, effectiveness, joy, peace, connection or love. Martyrs may get admiration . . . maybe. But what they will get is resentment, avoidance, criticism (which is ironic, because they seek to avoid it) and derision.

Regarding chores, there are several aspects of surrender necessary to create a peaceful and healthy home:

Surrender to the reality of time constraints

You can do it all, just not all at once. Priorities need to be evaluated so you’re not wasting your life –or trying to waste anyone else’s—on things you don’t genuinely value

Surrender to the necessity of the task

Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water
After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water

There will be no time in your life when feeding and cleaning does not need to be done, however much modern conveniences ease the work. Accept that it must be done, without end.

Surrender to the real equality

All people need feeding and cleaning: of all the base, common and menial drudgery, none can be less exalted than ‘voiding bladder and bowel.’ We all get to do that with part of our days – 5 cent/hour garbage pickers in Brazil and $30,000/minute superstar athletes, and everyone in between. You can value this real aspect of life or revile it, but no one else is far enough beneath you to have to do it for you.

It is deeply disrespectful of humans to hold the opinion that the work is beneath you but not them.

Surrender to the power of mindless repetition –and hard work

All the effort spent (and technology invented) just to avoid the peace and ease of simple, repetitive work…

The dedication modern folk give to avoiding some of the easiest and most instantly-gratifying work available is amazing. A cleaned plate is clean: visibly, obviously and it is ‘finished.’ So much work is never done, has no clear product or is so complex and involves so many people that our part in it is (or feels) both invisible and impersonal. A clean plate is clean. A planted garden is planted. A cooked meal is completed.

Surrender to the fleeting nature of life

Yes, the meal will be eaten and the plate will once again need cleaning, but such is the nature of life. What is it that, once done, need never be redone or will never be undone? A singer walks off the stage and the song has ended. It can be re-sung, of course, but that performance is over. Even a recording of the thing is not the thing –it was live with a live audience and now it is a recording of both. Why is that less distressing than the laundry that needs re-washing?

Find the joys in doing, not in only having done. Life is a process, not a product.

Surrender to the chaos

Unless you seek to live alone forever, chaos will always be your roommate. Other people are ‘other’ –they see things differently, they react because they have a different perspective. The desire to live in peaceful harmony forever precludes living with other humans at any age.

Even if you did not understand the deal you were signing up for, the decision to have children comes with the built-in guarantee of a life filled with chaos. Will you fight it like it’s an unwanted intruder, or accept it as the inevitability it is, like static or dust?

Surrender, finally, to your own personal preferences

Do what you will, as you will.

It is only within this freedom and self-respect that you can find worth in your work –and free others to see the worth in the work you do, and perhaps even find value in doing it themselves.

The secret of children happily cooperating in their own homes is an atmosphere of joy, worthiness and respect which cannot be found in an atmosphere of dictatorial superiority.

A parent who finds himself sneering at the idea of washing a floor cannot be surprised by a child’s distaste for the task. Equally, a man happily engaged in nurturing his family through meal preparations may well find cooperative bodies eager to share the room and help.

Joy, enthusiasm and a sense of an important job well done are all attractive, and contagious. When you feel resistance from your kids, check to see how you really feel about the work. . . and if you believe it is necessary to do at all.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The Debate: Kids and Chores–Part 3

A whole family

Be it resolved that the truth of kids doing chores is: ‘we all need to work as a family.’

How do you know that’s true?
--it’s self-evident: it’s our home and we need to work together for it to be peaceful and healthy

A bit of a circle of logic, there, but how ‘healthy’ is it to put kids in a position of opposition to the people they need to live? How peaceful is it to order people around? How peaceful do you find resistance and rebellion?
--we’re all equal in our home

Y’are not. Who selects which chores are really on the list? Who has veto?
--well, someone has to lead!

Doubtless. Does it always get to be the same person?

‘Leadership’ engages voluntary cooperation. Dictatorship engages ‘doesn’t matter how you feel about it’ obedience (and resistance and rebellion.) What do you do when they choose not to participate?

Perhaps more importantly, what are they allowed to do when you choose not to participate?

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Debate: Kids and Chores–Part 2

I need a break…

Be it resolved that the truth of kids doing chores is ‘mom/dad needs a break.’

How do you know that’s true?
--I/we work hard

Good. Hard work is good for people, especially their mental health.

What’s mom/dad ‘needing a break’ got to do with kids?
--they can help, so they should

Sorry, that’s a syllogism: you can, too, so you should do it.
--there aren’t enough hours in the day, they have to pitch in

There are 24 hours in every day which you can spend any way you choose. Your time should be spent on your priorities: if it’s important to you, do it. If it is less important to you… why should anyone else do it?
--my skills and talents are far superior to the work, someone whose time is less valuable should do menial work

Therefore, let’s not be coy: a child’s time is less valuable to you than yours is, so they can do the less valuable tasks to free you up to do the more meaningful and valuable and rewarding tasks with your much more worthwhile life, yes?

Could you demonstrate how your time is more valuable to your children than their time is to them? Or perhaps argue simply that your life is more valuable than theirs, and with it you are entitled to leisure time that they are not?
--well, I pay them for chores, so I clearly value them

Do you pay them what their time is worth to them or what your time is worth to you? Or a couple of bucks? Or a quarter?

Monday, 20 June 2011

The Debate: Kids and Chores --Part 1

They need to learn it…

Be it resolved that the truth of kids doing chores is ‘they need to learn how.’

How do you know that’s true?
-- because all adults need to know

Okay, without referring to all the adults who hire out that work to pros, let’s pretend that’s true: how long would it take an adult to learn to sweep a floor or wash a toilet? Ten minutes? Fifteen if they had to add a lecture on cleaning supplies and tools?

How long do you think the training is for a professional maid to be completely qualified? A week? Three days? Half a day? How is this an argument for eight-year-olds doing the same task even once a month?

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Chores & Underlings: Attitude

Question 1. How can I improve my kids’ attitudes toward helping out at home?
Answer 1. Check your attitude. The odds are excellent that your kids are mirroring, venting or just showing you yours.
Question 1.a. My attitude is excellent: I know it needs to be done, I know it’s ‘work now, play later.’ I know it’s important to get things done.
Answer 1.a. I’m not hearing ‘I enjoy and value this work while I’m doing it –I plan it and look forward to it.’
Question 1.b. What kind of nutcase feels that way about cleaning toilets?
Answer 1.b. You’d be amazed –but it’s the attitude you want someone to tell you how to install in your kids. If you can’t find it within reality, how on earth can they?

Chores & Underlings: Drudgery

Question 1. I really need kids to pitch in (write in reason of choice: single parent, busy schedule, ailing parents, demanding job, kids waste time, they have to, it’s their turn…)
Answer 1. Uh-hunh. How much of what you do in a day is optional? TV, computer time, re-organizing organized things, cleaning clean things, pampering, socializing…
Question 1.a. I deserve a break.
Answer 1.a. From what?
Question 1.b. From all the drudgery and hard, menial work I do for them –laundry, cleaning, tidying, picking up after them, shopping, cooking…
Answer 1.b. So, because you’re you and the work you do is beneath you, you’re entitled to free labour from ‘not really people’ because that’s what you had kids for: slaves?
Question 1.c. No, no, no! Not at all!! They need to learn to do it and I need a break.
Answer 1.c. Popular answers, but failing to address the issue: the work is beneath you, not them?

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Chores & Underlings: Obedience

Question 1. How can I make my child listen?
Answer 1. You mean 'obey.'
Question 1.a. No, no, no, not at all.
Answer 1.a. Oh, yes, you do. You just shy from the word 'obey.' You still mean 'how can I make my kid do what I want my kid to do?
Question 1.b. Well, okay... maybe. But how?
Answer 1.b.  Go back to the beginning and order a child with the Voice Command Software pre-installed. Sorry, it is not available aftermarket. There is no app for that.

Question 2. 

Why do my kids do what the teacher (scout leader, neighbours, etc.) tell them to do and it never works for me?
Answer 2. Because your kid trusts you. You can destroy that, if obedience is more important...
Question 2.a. No, no, I don't want obedience, I just want them to _______________[fill in blank]
Answer 2.a. Yes: you want them to obey orders.

Friday, 11 March 2011


I have no personal experience with the cost of wipes --I never bought any. They were around, but like the cloth diapers I washed instead of buying new ones all the time, I used  cloth --those little baby face cloths, specifically. Water and a cloth: as high tech as possible, obviously. That's me.

There are a number of reasons I can think of to avoid buying disposable wipes, but the one that leaps to mind in this era of the Environmentalist, is Reduce~Reuse~Recycle. Buying a dozen cloths once is quite different from buying cases and cases of disposable wipes, all neatly packaged in disposable containers. Apart from the garbage they create, there is the inability to re-use them, and the fact that they are neither biodegradable nor recyclable. 

The cost difference from name-brand wipes to cloth wipes is incredible. In hours-of-work necessary, after taxes the cost a month's supply can be a whole day's work --or more. Somewhere around $40-50 a case in bulk (and a lot more one package at a time) after taxes at minimum wage, is about 10 hours. If mom and dad both work, and pay for daycare, the number of hours necessary to work just to buy wipes rises dramatically.

But here's a fantastically inexpensive disposable alternative: my sister emailed me the instructions...

Boil four cups of water and let it cool (perfect for a busy Mom cause I forget about it anyways)
Mix in 1 tablespoon body wash (I use the kids' Melaleuca) and three or four drops of tea tree oil (you can add lavender as well if you like but I don’t have any of that at home today)
Take the cardboard out of one roll of paper towels and put them in a plastic container with a lid that will fit them. 
Pour some of the water over the paper towels
Flip them over
Pour some more water over
Flip them over again and pour the rest on

Available to use

....I am breaking a sweat now....
I replied: You. Are. A. Super. Hero. I'm wiped. 
Photo (Butt Wipes, by basykes) used with permission (Creative Commons, attrib)

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

My Child --the question of ownership in childhood

Had a little rant, talking to a friend yesterday. What is it about the embarrassingly-poorly-written Secret Life of an American Teenager that brings this out in me? storyline involves a 'bad girl' who gets pregnant who, in the ever-so-delicate language the US networks use to avoid alienating a single sponsor (or inflaming a single protester), 'isn't going to keep it.' Her father, a bit of a rowdy himself, suddenly turns all conservative and is determined not to 'let her.' Because she is, as he says, 'my child.'

Dad's argument is solely, 'you are MY child...' with additional invective and raised voice.

Oooh, that makes me cringe. Not the least because the whole time this cryptic conversation is ongoing, they could have been talking about a broken toy or an old chair.

It reminds me a little of an ancient Electric Company piece, where an animated girl walks around her house picking things up saying 'this is my...'

While our children are certainly our responsibility, they are absolutely not our possessions. 

There is some confusion there, the difference between our responsibilities and our possessions. Partly, probably, because historically --legally-- our children were, once, our possessions, chattel, just as were wives. We were at liberty to sell them, and even to kill them. Those days, at least in the Western world, are gone.
In fact, just to clarify, no one belongs to anyone except himself. Or herself. We don't even have proper language to convey this self-ownership. And, sadly, we don't have another pronoun that indicates 'my association to' distinct from 'my ownership of'... which also muddles the issue.

My friend pointed out the distressing knowledge that while we can't control our kids, until they are of legal age, we are financially responsible for whatever they do. Strangely, this has not been the case in Canada until 2011, when a precedent-setting case made its way through BC Supreme Court. I am not alone in being flabbergasted by the fact that this has not always been the case.
BC Surpreme Court
However, this case also does not confer ownership --a great reason for parents to learn, somewhere between their kids' birth and 14 years of age, to influence them in an effective and positive manner... not to exert control.

But back to the cringe-worthy part of that tv show: our children are individual human beings, quite separate from ourselves. They are not 'ours' the way our houseplants, pets or feet are. 
They are their own selves.... 
...that is, they belong to themselves, not us.

Children come as their own people, and remain their own people. I suspect it might be helpful in living a respect-filled family life to remember that we are not controlling or owning them, but stewarding their individual, whole human selves, unto their adulthood. 

We do not possess, we chaperone. 

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Hover Parent

Helicopter Parenting Vs. Free Range Parenting is a false dichotomy...

I have thought about this, quite a lot over the years --not the least because I have fielded criticisms from both ends of the spectrum: that I am overprotective and neglectful. It's really, really funny when they're both from the same person...
The phrase I've always used is benign neglect... but I think I need to work on that a bit. I have felt it wasn't quite right for a long time, but haven't really sorted it out in my own head yet.
I believe very strongly that a great many of the problems we see with kids, young adults and society is a massive lack of appropriate supervision. Not someone guiding the kids' activities or telling them what to do or how to do it (of which there is an overabundance, and all of it lacks respect), but someone actually watching them --their development, their discoveries, their forays into the social landscape. 

99% of what goes wrong in any child-on-child interaction could be prevented by anyone with half a brain watching it escalating, long before it gets out of control. What we usually have is someone studiously ignoring them until they're too annoying, or too violent, to un-ignorable and then meting out punishment which appears to be mainly about having interrupted the grownups.
What I'm suggesting is not the same as helicoptering over what's going on all the time, leading kids to this activity or that, or interfering with their play and discovery, telling them what they're learning or quizzing them endlessly... and it is certainly not stopping them from overreaching themselves, trying hard things, becoming frustrated or otherwise engaging in the wide and messy world. 

It is over-managing so their fragile little selves won't have a bump or a bruise ever that I've always been extremely sarcastic about. I don't need my kids not to have a sad. I don't need my kids to feel they're entertained 100% of their day, and whether they are or not is frankly none of my business. In fact, I think the worst of helicopter parenting is that 'your feelings are my fault' aspect that is, in my view, intrusive into a child's private life in some cases to the point of abuse.
My kids were not out 'on their own' when they were 8, 10, 12 or 14... I was with them. Not necessarily doing what they were doing --but there. And almost always the only adult there. I was writing a book, or reading, or writing stories or chatting with whoever was there including other people's children just like they're people, but I was there. 

We had a lot of parents hovering around the gym/dance studio/sports field until the kids were 8 or 10, then I was alone -- unless there were younger kids in the program. 

My kids didn't have a curfew, ever. They were expected to be home (or picked up) when they were done what they were doing. They were expected to have a reason to be out, including a destination and an activity. 'Hanging out' and 'being home later' was not on the menu. They were dropped off and picked up, very often with their friends in the car...
It's tempting to say, now that they're 19 and 21, that they're 'this way' because of how I handled them... but I suspect they came as themselves and are still themselves. If anything, I'll take credit for their total lack of nervous habits, but otherwise it's all them. However: here we are... they're adults and I do not worry about them. I trust them, know them very well, and believe they can handle absolutely anything that comes their way.
I believe this is because I stood back and watched things develop, instead of driving their lives (or padding the world with bubble wrap) --there to help if they needed it, there to stop things that were getting out of hand, and there to watch them handle things well, very often. 
Photo Used with Permission (Creative Commons, Attribution)  Seven News Helicopter over Perth's Swan  River by Michael _Spencer

Monday, 14 February 2011

Family Attachments --Why Dr. Phil is Wrong

Children need to break away, emotionally, from their parents in order to mature.

That is Dr. Phil's belief about the world. And I'll tell you why he's wrong.

Human Cooperation = Survival

In our cooperative culture, the one where every person alive relies on the strengths, talents, gifts and cooperation of everyone else... where people who don't cooperate for the common good are considered to be the most heinous of criminals, the most irredeemable of the sinners, the most selfish and narcissistic of the insane...

Yes, we do have a cooperative culture. We need other people, not just to thrive, but to survive. We need others working on our behalf far away from us, and emotionally we need people working on our behalf right in front of us. We need to know that others value our contribution, we need to make a contribution and we need to value others' contributions. Our basic expectation of life is so cooperative, we can actually ignore the vast majority of our experience in any given day and say 'it's a competitive world' based on the few, rare and still largely cooperative aspects of life that we compete in.

For just a simple illustration: Millions of people on millions of miles of road every day totally take it for granted that all the cars travelling in the other direction will stay in their lane... unless they're drunk, drugged, unconscious or crazy.

The Insanity of Breaking-Away

Where is the benefit, to individuals or humanity, to intentionally break a loving connection with anyone? How is it better to destroy a connected, loving relationship with anyone, if maintaining mutual respect and cooperation is a choice?

How is that good for anyone?

How is it good for parents, to connect with their children and hold their success as a success of their own, to support them, to give to them and to cherish them, and then stop? Why stop?

Who benefits when family relationships are destroyed? 

That is a John Taylor Gatto theme: the intentional destruction of family relationships is to create a society where individuals identify with the state (or the platoon) --to accept propaganda as truth, to take orders without thinking about them, to sacrifice the self for the good of this flag's team, to help control the behaviour of others who also need to rely on the attention and love of this group for their acceptance in society.

It is also a Gordon Neufeld theme: the intentional destruction of family relationships in order to control groups of school children --to get the kids themselves to mold the behaviour of their classmates to avoid group punishment, and to adhere to each other in a deep neediness so they become attached to external things (grades, approval of emotionally-distant professionals, class rankings, school colours, pep rallies) and more readily-controlled through fear of losing that approval or connection.

An illustration of the effect on children: a small human was visiting our home, and struggling to get her own way in some minor conflict over what to do or how to do it. For her, the next act was Defcon 2: she said, "I'm not your friend anymore." For my children, for whom friendship was a lovely, unnecessary, extra in their family-attached lives, it was a cause for empathy. One of them leaned over and very gently said, 'do you need to call your mom and go home now?' My kids had never experienced the withdrawal of affection as a control tool, and felt no risk in having this one child dislike them. How different would  grade 9 be for most children, if they had that kind of stability?

Children grow into adult afraid of rejection when they have already experienced the destruction of attachments. Adults afraid of rejection make better soldiers for governments, better factory workers for corporations, more obedient citizens and more desperate consumers... it's good for the government and the economy to have only a very small proportion of the populace capable of asking astute questions, thinking about the implications (or the foundations) of the propaganda, or resisting the Buy More, Buy Now imprecations of the corporate machine.

Whenever it sounds like it might be good for society, or people, to be incapable of thinking critically about the actions and propaganda of the government... or the environmental organization... or the military junta... or the commercials during the Oscars ... ask 'who benefits?'

Dr. Phil is wrong: to be a mature, stable adult in the real world today, the very last thing that is necessary is intentionally destroying mutually-respectful, human attachments.
Photo used with permission (Creative Commons, attribution) Spirit of Cooperation by NovriWahyuPerdana

Friday, 11 February 2011

Creative vs. Simplistic Parenting

Here's the question of the day, thanks to a reader of my last post:
Why is it that parents keep looking for the simple answer? Is there no room in their lives for a bit of creativity when dealing with a child?
What a great question!

And, it coincides with the posting, by a friend on Facebook, of a story of real parenting creativity:

Scott Noelle, author of The Daily Groove --a parenting newsletter available by email-- wrote a piece about sending notes to your future self (love notes, encouragement, etc.) and tucking them here and there where you'd stumble on them later. A reader commented, including a long story about his experience after finding one, while his 3 year old was having a wobbler, that said 'have fun.' 

This commentator brought creativity of the moment to a situation that many parents would have simply responded to with 'order the child around, if they fail to obey, pick them up and make them do what you want them to do...' A solution that feels simple, obvious and efficient... Does anyone have a tale about what happens when you 'just pick the child up'? or 'just order the child around'?

The problem, of course, with simple, obvious and efficient answers to complex problems (like 'how can I help this overwrought 3yo thrive while I want to accomplish anything else today?)' is that if the problems were simple, obvious and efficient there wouldn't be a problem.

Even 3 year olds are not simple, obvious or efficient. They're people, and like the rest of the people they bring complexity to the world. Of course, we want pat answers --our lives would be smoother, less challenging, less draining and who doesn't want that when we deal with everything else, all day every day?

I understand the allure of the simple answer. I love the simple answers. I want the simple answer to work --who wouldn't? What's not to love?

Well, quite simply, as Barbara Sher puts it: 
If we really wanted bliss in our lives we'd get a 6-pack and a full cable package.
We don't want bliss --ease, simplicity... we might think we do, especially when we're stressed out, but we don't. We thrive on challenges, we strive for mastery, understanding, effectiveness. It's nice if it happens to coincide with efficient, simple and obvious --but we are not energized by those experiences.
Photo used with permission (Creative Commons, attribution license) Father Swinging Son 
PinkStock Photos! by D Sharon Pruitt

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

2.1 Choices --Thinking About Parenting Styles

It is with glee that I notice, once again, that I'm way over the edge over here on the coast... I wouldn't do (or recommend) doing any of the three choices given by, as quoted in an article from St. Catharine's The Standard... click on that link if you want to read the full article, but this is the segment I'm commenting on today:
Your toddler and her friend are fighting over a doll.
When the friend pulls it away from her, your daughter punches the girl and grabs it back.
Do you:
Take the doll away and explain to the girls that they can have it back when they can share and play nicely together?
Do nothing. After all, it is your daughter's doll. Her friend can find something else to play with; kids need to sort out their own problems.
Take the doll away and tell your daughter that you're selling it in a garage sale. She can start saving her allowance if she wants it back.*
The first is 'strict' parenting, the second is 'permissive' and the third is labeled (mis-labeled, in my opinion) 'balanced.' What the third option really is, though, is just as controlling and authoritarian as the first. Different, but the same end of the spectrum. 2.1 options, not three.
When a child is struggling for ownership over her object --with anyone-- it just can't be a parent's job to take possession of the object. Unless what the parent really means is 'none of your stuff is actually yours.' It doesn't matter if the object is removed forever or if it can be purchased back from the thief: 

It is either the child's possession or it is not.
Think about this in the context of the society we actually live in: you and your neighbour have a dispute over half of a driveway that is owned by one party. Does the court step in, take it away and rent out the space to just anyone until the actual owner buys it back, with a threat to sell it if they don't pony up fast enough? 

Why are we teaching children that anyone who considers themselves an authority gets to 'own' their objects until they're satisfied that atonement has been made sufficient to the infraction?

Three things:
  1. Children do not learn to share in an environment where they own or control nothing. All the energy they might have to share something with genuine generosity is spent in fighting for, confirming and protecting their ownership.
  2. We do not live in a 'sharing' culture --it's a fun idea, but no one is allowed to come to your house and use whatever they want for however they want whenever they are there. Here is an example: I'm sending a friend over later to get your car... you can have it back when she's done with it, in whatever condition she happens to leave it. This is, of course, fine because you were taught to share, right? Is it different because it's a 5 year old, or is it only because their stuff is not valuable to anyone but them?
  3. There is a sliding scale of extremely strict to a more balanced style of authoritarian parenting. The key is whether or not someone other than the child is seeking to control what the child does, what the child thinks or what is important to the child... the question to ask is 'what if the child still doesn't do what the parent wants?' The answer to that clears up any doubt that this is about command and control, carrot and stick parenting, whether it uses the rapport-building manipulative communication styles or straight-up ordering kids around.
There is no real 'third option' in this article... just one point on the permissive end and two points on the strict/authoritarian end and one at the other end.

Which is unfortunate, because there is a third option.
*Toddler, seriously? We're going to make a toddler 'save their allowance and buy it back'? A toddler?!
Photo used with permission (Creative Commons license, attributed) Sharing by PlatinumBlondeLIfe

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.
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

Pushing Kids Away, or how to create lonely empty-nesters

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

She asked, 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.

push kids away, adults only, parent's peace and quiet, cat's cradle, me-time, nurturing kids, attachment disordersIs that not the apparent goal of every parent who celebrates 

~ the first day of school

~ the first day back to school after any break or long weekend

~ or who laments the cost of boarding school 

~ or who threatens that social services or the police will come and take the kids away and give mum a 'break' 

Is it not clearly their goal to keep the children as far away as possible, for as long as possible? 

Does it strike anyone but me that it's a tragedy that so many 'normal' parents are working diligently toward goals they do not wish to achieve?

They accomplish this through the very simple process of mindlessly doing what all the rest of the 'normal' parents seem to be doing.

me-time, attachment disorders, cat's cradle, Harry Chapin, nurturingFollowing the advice all the 'normal' parenting experts, those warning parents to comply lest they fall prey the evils of permissiveness, cause arrested development or, horror of all horrors, 'losing themselves.'  

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? 

attachment, cat's cradle, Harry Chapin, dads, fathers, nurturing, 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...

attachment, cat's cradle, Harry Chapin, me-time, nurturing, dads, fathers
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. 

attachment, dads, cat's cradle, Harry Chapin, nurturing, me-time
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. 

attachment, cat's cradle, Harry Chapin, dads, fathers, nurturing, me-time

Spend a year away from a child and you will encounter a different person. Spend a child's childhood 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 now you do not know at all.

attachment, dads, nurturing, cat's cradle, Harry Chapin, me-time
From the small 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 deftly recommends: spend time with your children while they're still young and want to.