Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Why Do We Scrutinize Parents?

"Oh, you must be a parent from the generation that lets their kids ride the subway alone?"  This is, of course, a reference to Lenore Skenazy, an advocate of free range parenting.  I responded "No, but I am of the generation that lets her kids stand at a bus stop while I am 30 feet away looking to see if the bus is coming."  It was probably more like 50 feet, but I was completely in eye shot of them.  We were at Elmwood and Virginia where there is quite a curve in Elmwood Avenue and you can't see even the previous stop.  I suspect there was a bit more to it.  We had just finished watching the pride parade and she was one of two people I saw with a Bible.  We had just come from church ourselves, but as Episcopalians we embrace gays.  We are reading the Bible cover to cover right now, but we wouldn't bring it to the pride parade.  The people who do tend to be sort of protesting.  They completely miss that Jesus is for everyone, particularly the marginalized.  I imagine she disapproved of taking the kids to the parade.  Regardless, she felt totally comfortable providing me with her opinion on my parenting.  She even seemed to want me to thank her and praise her for being concerned.



She isn't the only one.  A couple of weeks ago, we were riding the bus and a person was having a very loud cell phone conversation.  First, he was discussing his need to lose weight in some detail with the other person.  He did appear to be about 350 pounds which I would ordinarily consider none of my business.  He then went on to talk about a boy on the bus in pink sandals and purple sunglasses and how his mother wouldn't sit with him and that some people don't know how to parent.  This was at the same volume as the weight loss discussion.  Clearly, this was about Thomas and I, who was sitting next to Carmella at the time (often we get on and it is full enough we each sit separately) once two seats together became available.  I couldn't help it, when we were about to get off the bus, I said "Now that we all know all about your weight loss situation, I hope it goes as well as my parenting!"  He claimed he didn't know what I was talking about.

Are you seeing a theme?  The same day as the pride parade, I was having a discussion with a few others about the issues facing the school district.  These are very good, smart, and well intentioned people, some of the best I know.  We all agreed on the level of complexity and regulation of the modern education system.  I said that I thought ending compulsory schooling and turning the money used over to the parents is the best thing.  They could either homeschool or put their child in an unregulated school that met their needs.  These very good people told me that parents would just pocket the money and not teach their kids and that child labor would result.  Aside from the idea that I would argue school is child labor, why do we assume parents would not want what is best for their children?  The funny thing is that, of anyone, I have probably lost the most faith in our culture.  I just finished reading, and loved The Twilight of American Culture.  When instances occur where I don't believe parents want what is best, I can get comfortable that it is OK for them to be susceptible to their own parent's foibles in preparing their children.  While we hope for good parents all the time and want them to be just like us, except for the most extreme situations, our intervention the natural parent-child relationship is inappropriate.  On the other hand, if we are going to trump parental rights with compulsory schooling, there should be no room for any result other than better than what the parent would have done.  You can see that most school districts, particularly troubled ones, are not doing a better job than parents who homeschool or even others if they tried.  Therefore, compulsory schooling is inappropriate.  When you examine it in the context of natural rights rather than what is recently customary, it is easier to come to a conclusion that is not the conventional.

The theme seems to me that we are suspicious of any parenting choice other than the one we would make.  We criticize and then pat ourselves on the back for being concerned.  Amazingly, institutions, like homework, are completely unchecked.  Yes, there is debate about the volume sometimes, but not a full examination.  "It's worth asking not only whether there are good reasons to support the nearly universal practice of assigning homework, by why that practice is so often taken for granted - even by the vast numbers of parents and teachers who are troubled by its impact on children.  The mystery deepens in light of the fact that widespread assumptions about the benefits of homework...aren't substantiated by the available evidence."  (Kohn, Alfie, The Homework Myth , page 3)  Of course, there is little to no criticism of homework, but watch the dirty looks I get for reprimanding one of my kids for forgetting their bus pass.  It is OK to teach responsibility artificially with homework, but not something real like keeping track of a bus pass.  Am I guilty too?  Sort of and yes.  Noticing such inconsistencies, I am probably way more critical in my own mind (or quietly to friends) than most people, but I rarely say anything to specific parents.  On the other hand, our very different lifestyle is a total indictment of other parents.  Clearly I have chosen differently because I think the mainstream is wrong.  No wishy washy "Homeschool isn't for everyone" nicey nice statements from me.

Why is there so much inconsistency as well as scrutiny of parents in our culture?  I think it goes back to school.  In school we are trained to be susceptible to praise as well as punishment (Alfie Kohn talks about this too and including its zapping of the desire to learn).  I think we are looking for praise.  We want to be the hero that called CPS when we saw the kids walking alone down the street to the park.  We secretly hope we have saved them from some abusive of neglectful parent so those around us or even the media will tell us how wonderful we are, the same way we were told, in school, how wonderful we were for having all the homework.  We want to hold our heads up as the good people and get recognized for it as if "A+"s and gold stars were for grown-ups too.  Essentially, our way of schooling has created this narcissistic sort of scrutiny. 

How to deal with it?  I am not sure except try to have clever responses lined up to call people out on it.  What do you think?

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