Kids these days aren’t the problem.

To everyone who sees that video of the cop flipping the student out of her desk and throwing her into the wall, and says, “see, the problem is that kids these days don’t respect authority,” I’d like to say one thing:

NO.

While unpacking the levels of wrong in the current discussion is a little like peeling the layers of an onion, this is something that absolutely must be discussed.

First, should the student in question have unfailingly obeyed her teacher’s authority?  To accurately answer that question, there are several things that must be addressed.  The first is if the teacher is an unquestionable authority in the child’s life.  I can remember, when I was fourteen, getting into an argument with a teacher so heated I was sent to the principal’s office.  There were many times I did so, in fact.  From pointing out that penguins don’t only live on ice to Indians not being treated with respect to dinosaur bones not being planted by God to challenge men’s faith, my career of disrupting class to call my teachers idiots spanned a 7 year period, and was only ended by my being taken out of school to teach myself.  Should I have simply respected my teachers authority, unquestioningly, when I felt I could prove that they were wrong?

You may, correctly, point out that there’s a difference between respecting a teacher as an authority on the class material and respecting their right to reinforce rules and expectations.  Yes, please, let’s talk about rules and expectations.  On the first day of my class on classroom management, we talked about how difficult it is to maintain discipline when 30 kids don’t want to learn what you’re teaching them.  That class, like many classes, focused not on how to punish students but on how to convince them that they want to learn.  Here’s a secret:  You can’t make other human beings always do what you want.  Other human beings can and will have different ideas of what they should do with their time, and a teacher who focuses on punishing bad behavior instead of teaching those willing to be taught fails both those who want to learn and those who don’t.

There aren’t enough hours in the day to punish the students who don’t want to learn, because increasingly schools are filled with reluctant students who don’t see the point of education. The problem with those students isn’t that they are disrespectful, it’s that they have so little hope.  A good teacher won’t waste anyone’s time punishing their disrespect.  A good teacher will address their lack of hope in order to win their cooperation.

So why are kids today hopeless?  Well, there are many reasons.  One is that the level of poverty in the country is growing.  A high school diploma no longer guarantees you the ability to keep food on the table and provide yourself with a decent life.  Another is growing inequality.  Oh, isn’t that the same thing as poverty?  No, it isn’t.  Because what we see is that the lines between the rich and the poor are growing, but so are the lines between white people and minorities.  So are the lines between native language speakers and language learners.  In some areas we don’t just fail kids once, but we fail them three or four times, because every line of difference between them and the usually white middle class teacher is another barbed wire barrier they have to climb over with bare hands, unassisted by the system that is all too happy to punish their lack of adherence to expectations with a little unwarranted jail time.

Let’s talk about this.  Lets talk about the kid who I saw fall asleep on his desk, because he works nights and takes care of his brother and sister when he gets home from school.  “Let him sleep,” his teacher told me, “I’ll give him extra credit work.”  I asked her if that wasn’t rewarding his lack of attention.  She said, “I call it justice.”  Let’s talk about the level 3 language learner being dragged out of classes for one on one teaching with someone unqualified to teach him because the school system couldn’t afford someone with the right credentials.  Lets talk about the 3 or 4 positions at that school being filled full time by substitutes because no one wants to work at the school with “gang problems”, so students are deprived of even the ability to develop an ongoing relationship with their teacher.  Lets talk about the kid who is on their phone during class because their cousin in Mexico had their house robbed that morning and is scared.  Lets talk about the girl who is distracted in class because her uncle is sexually abusing her.  Lets talk about the immigrant from some central american country who is scared every time the school resource cop walks by because in his country, cops are known to murder students and steal from them.  Lets talk about the African American girl who has, since kindergarten, worn the label of “thug” because she had poorer language skills than her peers because her parents were hardly ever in the home, so she communicated mostly with pinches and grunts.  And that label stuck with her to high school, until she believed that no amount of good behavior would ever shake the fact that teachers just hate her.

Lets talk about why kids don’t pay attention in class, and then lets talk about how absolutely senseless it is to punish a lack of attention as if it is a crime.

“But kids should respect their teachers,” people continue to say as if that is some sort of silver bullet against the woes of the world.

I’m going to say something very daring right now:  students shouldn’t respect their teachers just because the teacher stands in the front of the classroom.  If teachers want to be respected by their students, they need to understand and teach to the very real problems their students face.  They need to respect the injustices and inequalities their students bring into the classroom, and they need to counteract them.  They need to understand why their students suffer from a lack of sustained attention and design classroom instruction to work within that lack.  They need to know why some students need to act out and they need to build action into their lesson plans so that it isn’t disruptive to everyone else.  They need to understand that control of the classroom comes from a healthy sustained relationship between student and teacher, not hanging on the authority of a cop that they can call.

Because the second you call in the cops, you say, “I’m not in charge, this guy is.”

And more than that, teachers need to understand that blind adherence to authority isn’t healthy and shouldn’t be taught.  Blind adherence to authority is what leads people to be willing to administer a lethal electric shock to someone innocent just because they are told to.  This was studied because scientists wondered why seemingly decent German citizens would cooperate during the Holocaust.  What they found was that fear of challenging authority can and will cause people to violate their own morals.

What in the world would possess any reasonable person to think that instilling an unfailing fear of challenging authority into our children would be okay?  I don’t want my children to never question their teachers.  If anything, I want them to question everything and everyone that asks them to behave in a way they see as unnecessary or harmful.

“Kids these days are just acting out all over the place.”

Open your eyes.  Look at the world around you.  See what we are handing to our children: lack of opportunity, a failing economy, an education that is barely good enough to wipe their butts and flush down the toilet.  And you expect them to cooperate with that system?

So you take a girl who was just placed into foster care, who is traumatized and afraid, and when she is chatting with her friends as a way to cope instead of listening to the lesson, you demand her phone.  You demand her safety.  Then, when she refuses to comply, you call the cops in to slam her against the floor and wall, and you stand back with your arms crossed and say, “the problem is that kids these days need to comply.”

To everyone who agrees with that statement, I say this:  the problem is that adults these days don’t give a damn about the well-being of children.

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Sarah Palin: what really matters?

I am conflicted.  One part of me says, “Sarah Palin’s personal and family life don’t matter.  At all.”
Another part of me says, “but one of the best ways to judge a person is how they interact with their family, so it DOES matter.”
Another part of me says, “but all that matters to whether or not a person should be hired for a particular job is whether or not they can function in that position.”
And the mom in me says, “but, seriously, WHAT THE #$^%?!”
The pragmatist in me researches Palin’s political career.  And that, my dear readers, is when things get interesting.  Palin has only been in politics for a fragment of her life.  She has a minor in Political Science, but that was from a long time ago, practically another life time.  She paints herself for the media as a simple homefry girl who fell into politics more or less in a vacuum.  She felt that things for her small home town needed to change, so she ran for mayor.  And she changed things.  Her reelection to mayor was contested by the previous mayor, but her election to Governor of Alaska wasn’t so heatedly contended.  She’s pretty, she’s well spoken, she thinks fast on her feet.  She fills out her pantsuit well.

But what makes her special?  She’s a politician.  One one hand she rabidly attacks governmental corruption, but on the other hand she was sued for personally motivated firings, a suit that was settled not with a decision of “not guilty” but “within her rights.”  So she was “within her rights” to fire people, even if it was motivated out of personal and political interest, and not for the good of the people. She’s currently under investigation for corruption.  She rabidly attacks corruption, she vows to work against it, but she courts Ted Stevens (currently under indictment) for his sponsorship and doesn’t denounce him when the  other shoe drops.  In fact, she talks out of both sides of her mouth by both denouncing his corruption but lending her personal support and gratitude for his kindness to her.

Seriously, what the frak?

When she first became governor, she moved heaven and earth to cancel the destruction of a government sponsored dairy farm because of the jobs it would cost her state.  Later in her term when it became clear that her promised spending cuts may not be doable, she first put the farm up for auction and then axed it when the auction failed to provide sufficient revenue.  I tell you this not because I feel it shows her “flip-flopiness” but because it shows her dangerous lack of experience.  Being the Vice President isn’t a learn-as-you-go escapade.  Imagine the amount of man-power and time and money wasted in just that one particular instance, where she naively made promises it should have been clear she couldn’t keep.  Imagine all of the wasted energy that could go into her Vice-Presidency as she postures and then fails, time and time again.

It’s not that I don’t think a woman can do the job- this woman is just not the right one.

And we haven’t even started talking about her woeful lack of legislative experience.  The Vice President is also the President of the Senate.  She will have to preside over a system with which she has practically no experience.  She will be expected to read and comprehend legal briefings, she will have to hold in her head the minutae of the law.  What does she really know about any of this?  Yes, being governor has certainly familiarized her with the broad strokes, and I’m sure she’s very familiar with board meetings- and I hear she was on the PTA, so she’s probably presided over town-hall style debates.

But this isn’t the school board we’re talking about, it’s the COUNTRY.

One may point to my consternation and state that all of this also works against Obama.  But, let me be clear:  Obama has been in the Senate as well as the State Senate.  He has had enough time on the national field to be able to pick a cabinet and cadre of advisors who he can trust to not let him fail on a massive scale.  Palin is a relative unknown who clearly has a great deal of personal pride and ego to contend with.  She has no experience on a national scale, and while McCain will be able to help assign her advisors to guide her through the transition- not only will she have the legislative work to familiarize herself with, but she will be a heartbeat away from the Presidency. McCain is no spring chicken.  He has had his share of health problems.  While I don’t wish him dead, I also don’t know that something tragic won’t happen.

Is Palin really the person we want to have second in line?

Now, onto the more personal matters.  Do I care that her seventeen year old daughter is pregnant and marrying the father?  On a political level:  No.  Why would that matter?  Yet here is where, as a mother, I start to say- “What the frak, Sarah?”

  1. While seven months pregnant with her son, she flew out to speak at a conference.  Pregnant women are not allowed to fly in their third trimester due to risk of ruptured membranes and premature labor.  Sarah Palin had prematurely ruptured membranes and went into labor.  Rather than going to a hospital immediately, she finished up her duties at the conference and then flew back home.  Anyone who has had a child can tell you that after your membranes rupture, your doctor will give you twelve hours, tops, to have that baby.  The amount of fluid in your uterus will have to be regularly checked, as well as the baby needing to be monitored for stress.  You should BE IN A HOSPITAL, NOT AN AIRPLANE.  Sarah Palin showed a reckless disregard for the safety of her unborn son.  Badly done.
  2. Her seventeen year old daughter is purportedly five months pregnant.  Which wouldn’t matter to me at all, except that I had my daughter at twenty one.  And that was hard enough.  Even with a lot of family around, even with my mother in the delivery room, even with a relatively easy recovery…  I cannot imagine having a child at seventeen.  I cannot imagine having a child at seventeen while trying to adjust to the pressures of marriage.  I cannot imagine doing all of this while your mother is out of state being sworn in to office.  I CANNOT IMAGINE A MOTHER NOT BEING THERE FOR HER DAUGHTER.
  3. There’s also the fact that Palin is quoted as having said that even if her daughter were brutally raped, she’d still want her daughter to have the child.  At the time, her daughter was fourteen.  And Palin is an avid supporter of abstinence only sex education- which baffles me.  I won’t say “perhaps had her daughter been more educated she wouldn’t be pregnant now”, because I’ve no right to make that judgment, but I WILL say that Palin’s choice to run for VP while knowing that her daughter is pregnant and that it will inevitably make news and inevitably call her morals and the value of said morals into judgment shows a callous disregard for said morals, as well.  If I really, truly cared about abstinence only sex-education, if I really truly believed it to be the best moral choice, and I had a seventeen year old pregnant daughter waiting for me backstage, I wouldn’t accept the nomination.  Because if my ideals are to hold any water, they have to be more valuable to me than my career.

I just can’t wrap my mind around it.  And as much as I wish I could say my pragmatic reasons for disliking Sarah Palin outweigh my WTF about her family life, I have to admit that it’s eighty percent WTF and only twenty percent “she’s just not ready.”

But, of course, I’ve known that I would be voting for Obama for the last four months, so it’s not like it matters.