Tuesday, May 31, 2011

For What It's Worth... What is it worth?

This past week, I learned of the family in Toronto deciding to keep their child's sex a secret from the world.  Following the story also introduced me to the concept of Unschooling which, in turn, introduced me to the concept of Elimination Communication (or as I like to call it "Going Brown").  This little choose-your-own-adventure into the world of alternative parenting has left me both unsettled and wondering the cost of these decisions.

I will start by acknowledging that these parents undeniably love their children, and most likely believe they are doing what is right for them.  However, while I am quite sure their hearts are in the right places, I cannot say the same for their heads.  I am concerned that these parents are taking their one shot at raising their children and using it as an opportunity for social experiment.  And I am not entirely convinced that they are doing it unselfishly.

Take the case of Kathy Witterick and her husband David Stocker.  These are the parents of the child whose sex they are withholding from anyone but a handful of people.  According to their Toronto Star interview, they got the idea after reading the book "X, a fabulous child's story", which Mr. Stocker found in the library of the school where he teaches.  In this story, a child whose sex is kept hidden turns out to be the most exceptional well-adjusted child in the school.  It's also a work of fiction in which the author controls the outcome - not controlled scientific research with a breakthrough discovery.  Nevertheless, these parents have taken the idea literally and are using their four month old as the key at the end of their experimental kite.  To make matters worse, they are not simply conducting this social experiment in the privacy of their own lives.  Instead, they decided to hail a media taxi cab so that their experiment can take place on the world stage.  They have traded their children's privacy for 15 minutes of fame, or in this case, parental righteousness.  I should not even know this family exists.

I do not take issue with encouraging children of any gender to pursue whatever interests or preferences they may have.  In fact, I applaud this.  I was uplifted by last Halloween's article written about a little boy who wanted to dress up like Daphne from Scooby Doo.  My concern with the Witterick/Stocker baby is that it does have a sex - its simple biology - but these parents are keeping it from everyone and encouraging their other children to participate.  These parents have already been open to the preferences of their older boys, and it does not seem to have stifled them.  So why they have decided to keep the sex of the third child a secret - like it is something to be ashamed of - is beyond me.  In this blogger's humble opinion, they should not be making an issue where their is none with their older sons by asking them to keep something a secret.  As with their other children, they should just let the new baby be whoever it is as a girl or a boy.  They should also show a little more conviction with their choices and not shelter their children from the rest of the world by unschooling them.

Yes, unschooling.  This is the methodology in which a parent keeps a child out of traditional schools and away from any structured curriculum, textbooks, or grading.  In some cases, it seems that the parents also avoid any rules or chores for their children, instead allowing them to determine their own needs.  The theory is that the child will simply learn through life experiences and that the parent will only facilitate the child's desire to learn when they show an interest in something.  It matters not whether the child learns the things a child in a traditional school setting would learn, as these subjects are not deemed necessary to get along in life.  Traditional school is seen as stifling, controlling, and at odds with the way a child should be raised. Of course, I am paraphrasing here as I am only a blogger writing one post and not an investigative journalist, though browsing through any unschooling website will confirm my assertions.  At any rate, I am at odds with the unschooling movement on several fronts.

To begin, I must point out that in order to be unschooled, at least one parent must stay home and serve as the caretaker and facilitator for the children.  This is so that the parent will be there to assist the children any time of the day their curiosity is piqued.  In order to do this, I am assuming that another parent must be out making a decent enough living to support the family.  And I am highly suspect that the parent who is making this decent living most certainly derived a great deal of benefit from curriculum, grades, or certification.  I would even be so confident to say that this is how the breadwinner was able to land said job.  I find it ironic that in most cases, the only way the unschooled can be unschooled is for someone else to be reaping the benefits of a formal education.

Secondly, while I am sure there are a handful of examples to prove me wrong, I would doubt the vast majority of unschoolers are given the background or skills needed to succeed in a job market that doesn't have time for ambiguous resumes or experience.  I see curriculum and rules as a stepping stone to succeeding in the job market - I know I owe my many years of hard work to my current employment successes.  The 'real world' isn't going to wait for someone who gets to make up all their own rules and all their own decisions.  I fear that these are the items missing from the unschooler's experience.

And finally, as with many such 'alternative' methodologies, it appears to me that the 'experts' in the field are there to sell you something.  When researching this topic I found that every purported expert was only a self-serving example of their own success.  Two such example: Grace Llewelyn who wrote a book encouraging teenagers to drop out of school, and Sandra Dodd who also writes about unschooling are only too happy to take your money.  For a fee, Dodd will send you the books she has written or come speak at your conference.  Llewelyn has created a camp - the Not Back to School Camp - in which she will take your money to allow your child to participate in a structured week about how not to be structured (so reminiscent of my disdain for Burning Man, but I'll save my diatribe on that for September).  At this camp you can also hear success stories of people who have been unschooled and then found careers teaching others how to be unschooled.  I am curious as to why they do not feature speakers who were unschooled and now work in any other field.

This brings me to my final topic - Going Brown.  I first read about this concept when reading the staff bios for the above-mentioned unschooling camp.   It is such a minor point that it hardly bears mentioning.  Though, while I am sure there is no harm to Elimination Communication, there certainly seems to be a lot of self-righteousness to go along with it.  Apparently the children of parents who do not use diapers have a vast leg up over the children of parents who do.  In fact, this is one of my last concerns with any of the parenting choices I've mentioned here tonight.  All of them seem to have an underlying tones of "if you only truly cared about your child, you would be doing this".  "Your bond with your child would be stronger...."  "They would be more successful... " "I care for my child more because I visit my interesting ideologies on them.  You are probably just screwing up your kids by giving them white sugar and allowing them to be totally mainstream".

As a parent, your job is to do your best to prepare your child for a happy successful life.  You have one chance (albeit over several years) to get it right.  Is any of that worth your fifteen minutes of fame... or your child's chance at an education... or your self-righteousness?  Maybe.  But what are you willing for your child to give up so that you can find out?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

For What It's Worth... I am not a fan of The Mommy Blog

Now to clarify, by "The Mommy Blog" I do not mean the blogs people keep that contain pictures and stories of their children as they get older.  I think of those as an appropriate way to chronicle a family as it grows, and in most cases the audiences for those are modest - limited to friends and family.  No, the blogs I am talking about are like the 'mega-churches' of the blog world.  They offer 'salvation' for the mother of today, and in return they ask for your attention, your money, and that you bring along a friend.  In my travels through the Internet, I have come across several variations on "The Mommy Blog".  Each has its own spin, but none of them speak to me.

"The Advertisemom Blog"
This is a version of "The Mommy Blog" in which there is so much blatant advertising that it is hard to discern where to even look for a blog post.  Instead, the reader is inundated with Freebee's! Giveaways! and Advertisements Disguised as Blog Posts!

"The Tips for Moms from Moms Blog"
These blogs are where I've discovered you can go to find mothers eager to share the obvious.  In them you will find revelations such as "sunscreen is a good thing to have on hand in the summertime", or "you may want to bring toys with you on a long car ride", or "freezing juice makes popcicles".  While I can appreciate a mother's need to share with other mothers, the blogs I have come across seem to contain very little helpful information.

"The Mommy in the Trenches Blog"
This is the one that I am most opposed to.  This is the blog of the mother that bemoans the children driving her crazy, blames her every shortcoming on being a mom, begs for a cocktail, and cheers when mommy finally gets a break.  I'm not buying it.  Certainly there are hard days, and of course kids don't always behave, but I don't buy the 'desperate situation' of these women.  I realize that every scenario is different (and yes, everyone deserves some time to themselves) but as a mother, I usually crave more time with my child - not less.  I don't for one second think of that child as a burden, and am not willing to blame my shortcomings (from not always keeping a clean house to forgetting to remember someone's birthday) on them.  And, in the future, I would never want my child to read a blog that ever insinuated I thought so.

And finally I wonder...when do we pass the plate to give credit to the dads?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

For What It's Worth... Today I will be grateful for pebbles

It is easy for me to see the things in my life that are not going the way I want, or to focus on the things that I wish would change.  But today I choose to be grateful for everything I have... just the way it is.  

Over the course of the past week, I have learned of two families in crisis.  One is a young family facing a very serious health condition, the other is a woman whose brother was kidnapped in Mexico.  It has served as a stark reminder that the things we most cherish can become ephemeral without warning.  These families are now faced with adversity they did not ask for, and time that may be fleeting.  They do not have the choice to hit the pause button, or to ignore the hard situation that lies ahead.  I am sure they would gladly trade the boulders in their paths for the pebbles in mine.  

And so with this, I now request a favor of anyone reading this post.  Whether you pray, meditate, or think positive thoughts, I would ask that you hold these families in your heart, as I hold them in mine.  And in return, I will hold in my heart those you know who are facing boulders of their own.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

For What It's Worth... We've Had a Difference of Opinions

The other day, my very upstanding, smart, and gentlemanly friend and I were having a bit of discourse regarding this article:  College graduates cheer as paralyzed student walks to get degree with robotic exoskeleton.  I qualify his temperament here so that I can attempt to fairly present both sides of the story.  I believe we are of generally similar backgrounds (in the grand scheme of things), and from this comes two different opinions.  The following is our debate, presented in anonymity.  Where do you stand?

Person A:  Call me cynical and cruel, but I think that medical device should have been given to someone affected by a drunk driver, not some idiot who got behind the wheel and, luckily, only hurt himself. He could have killed someone, a family, children etc....and people are cheering for him? Please.

Person B:  On the other hand, I would say that an 18 year old who makes a mistake that countless teens who have gone before him have made, and ends up being paralyzed for the rest of his life has done a pretty sufficient job of punishing himself. He is helping the researchers with their work and was allowed to borrow the device to walk across the stage for seven steps during graduation. The research in which he is participating will be able to help others who will someday be able to benefit from this technology.

Person A Rebuttal:  You are probably right, I just have a less optomistic perspective on the whole news report. The adversity he is experiencing is a the direct result of a decision to get behind the wheel; which could have killed someone. I imagine my child driving someday and I loathe the thought of someone like this getting a standing ovation. Sure, he made the best of his situation - big deal, it was his fault. I know that sounds bad, but I have grown tired of the media making a 'hero' out of nothing. A teacher that changed someone's life, an honest police officer patrolling the streets, the soldier fighting for his/her country; those are heroes that should be getting our attention. IMO this article is best intended as a tech report on that device, opposed to the intended 'feel good story'. I just don't 'feel good' about his actions and the tradegy that could have befallen someone else on the road that night.

Person B Rebuttal:  I completely see where you are coming from, but I also have to think that the teacher, police officer, or soldier may have gone drunk driving one night and put the same amount of people in jeopardy with their actions. Though, because of an act of God they did not happen to crash their vehicle, we never know about it. They are able to chalk that up to a bad mistake and move on with a normal life. We cheer them on for their accomplishments without a second thought. I just can't see keeping from this man, every opportunity that is freely afforded to everyone else who makes the same mistakes just because he wears the outcome of his in a physical way for everyone to see.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

For What It's Worth... I will not be adding this to my parenting repertoire

So, the other day a friend sent me this article:  Telling Kids About Osama Bin Laden
While I can understand that at some point, each parent must tell their child about unpleasant things in the world, I thought the article was a little overblown.  It seems that every time there is anything untoward in the news, there is a subsequent article that tells you how you should talk to your kids about it.  But I wonder why there is a perception that a parent would not know how to speak with their own child about something serious.  And if they did not know, I am doubtful that sudden insight would leap forth from the newspaper.  After all, the final advice in this article comes from a mother who sprang 10 years’ worth of glossy publishing of a tragic event on her children before breakfast, then seemed bewildered that they would feel less secure rather than more.

For What It's Worth...This could go one of two ways.

So, I came up with this only barely-original "bright idea" and we'll just have to see where it goes.  I find myself getting all fired up with opinions about this link or that article... and I thought perhaps it wouldn't be a bad idea to give myself a forum other than Facebook in which to express my thoughts.  Feel free to jump on in here, the water is fine for a little discourse, banter, or devil's advocate.  Just understand that while I may have an opinion about something, it doesn't always mean I think I'm right...

I figure I'll either tell it like I see it, or become a huge chicken...back down... and discontinue this little project in shame.  Now, to search for my first topic... any ideas?