The Upside Down World

Friday, March 31, 2006

What's happening to boys?

I'm sure everyone and their brother will have something to say about this Washington Post column today entitled "What's Happening to Boys", but I'll go ahead and add my $.02 anyway. Boys aren't doing well in our society today. 90% of Ritalin prescriptions are given to boys, they are more likely to drop out of school, be suspended or expelled, commit suicide, less likely to go to college, and apparently more likely to pursue serious employment as young men. Leonard Sax, a Maryland physician and psychologist wrote today's column on the subject and announced the formation of the National Boy's Project which is aimed at figuring out what's going wrong and how to fix it. From looking at their website, it looks like they already have some good ideas and probably won't have to look too hard to figure it out. The problem is probably going to be in implementing the kind of changes which will allow boys to succeed in schools and feel respected and needed in society.
Since I'm a homeschooling mother of 2 boys, it probably isn't a surprise that I see schools as toxic to the well being and proper development of boys. Any place where 6 year old boys are expected to sit quietly without fidgeting is a place which has essentially declared war on little boys. I have written here before about my son's struggle with writing which I believe was made much worse (and caused no small amount of discouragement) by a school system unwilling to work with the natural development of boys. It can take 3-4 years for a boy's fine motor skills to catch up with a girl's. Educators know this, yet they continue insisting that little boys spend large parts of their day doing handwork. If a boy must deal with this struggle and discouragement everyday of his school life, it's no wonder that by 4th grade many of them have checked out. Add in the impulse to criminalize and sexualize everything a little boy does in the name of creating a "safe" environment (as if boys are themselves unsafe) and you have a brew custom made to set a boy on a path towards failure.
If a toxic school system was the only problem, it wouldn't be so bad. However, our society takes a very dim view of men, what drives them and their worth in our lives as well. It's easier to see how the breakdown of family affects women and children, but I think it has been just as devastating on young men as well. Throughout time men have been driven to succeed, in no small part, in order to care for their families. I have found that men have a very strong need to be responsible, to be living their lives in service to something greater than themselves and to have people trust them. Knowing that they would be expected to provide for a family or that they could go out into the world an accomplish great things kept many a young man on the straight and narrow. Even today, I have been struck by the number of young men who when talking marriage express what their fiance or wife means to them by saying, "this person is entrusting her life to me." In all honesty, I don't think many women see marriage in quite this way - it seems to be a particularly male point of view which reflects the importance of being trustworthy and responsible to them. Today, many young women say proudly, "I don't need a man." Mothers teach their daughters "never put yourself in a position where you're dependent on a man." We have taken the very thing which is likely to bring out the best in men - the need to be trusted, responsible and to care for someone - and declared it not only unnecessary, but potentially dangerous to their partners.
On top of that, marriage is seen by many young men as being a very risky proposition. Our family courts are getting better, but for much of the past 30 years, women have been able to unilaterally declare a marriage over, take the kids, keep the family home, half of everything a man owns and then continue to take a large portion of a man's income for spousal and child support. I think we've underestimated the profound effect that this state of affairs has on a young man's thinking. Men love their children as much as any women, and the very real prospect of an unhappy wife who can make it near impossible to have a relationship with their own children is a major deterrent for a young man thinking about starting a family. I also think that we women tend to misunderstand how and why losing possessions and income is so hurtful to men in these situations. It's not really the things themselves, but what they mean to a man. Many men get themselves out of bed in the morning and go to work with one thing on their minds: "I have to take care of my family." They seem to personalize their work and the possessions they provide for their family more than women. When a marriage ends, the loss of possessions can seem like a betrayal of the care and trust that went into providing them. And a man facing going to work to provide child and spousal support to someone who he feels betrayed by is particularly galling to him.
So you take a young man who checked out of education somewhere around 4th grade, who is facing a future where he is unneeded and where the very things he needs - to be responsible and needed - seem terribly risky and it's no wonder that many young men just don't have a lot of motivation to do much more than provide themselves with as much pleasure as they can get. After all, we may have taken their most noble drives and trashed them, but our culture's still perfectly happy to pander to their least noble drives.
Like I said, I don't think the National Boy Project is going to have to look real hard to figure out why young men aren't doing well. What I've written is just a small sample of the ways in which we set our boys up for failure. I think the real challenge is going to be in implementing the changes in schooling and in societal attitudes which would allow our boys to turn into young men who are driven to act on their best impulses rather than flounder about in their worst.
BTW, the website mentions t-shirts which have been popular among girls which say things like "Girls rule. Boys drool" and "Boys are stupid. Throw rocks at them." I would just like to say in the most judgmental and least tolerant tones I can muster, that if you have ever allowed your daughter to wear such an item, you should be ashamed of yourself as a human being.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Miss Manners' take on "boomerang kids"

A few days ago I wrote about re-thinking our assumptions regarding young adults living with mom and dad. Today I came across a column Miss Manners wrote about the attitudes of parents and children facing a return home upon completing college. Her take is that the assumption that as our kids grow, they will come to have disdain for us is damaging to the parent child relationship, resulting in an unnatural and somewhat irrational rejection of adult children by parents who do not wish to continue pouring out unrequited love - even towards their own offspring who they doted on just a few years earlier. She also notes that it is unreasonable for young people to treat their parents as roommates as this is not in keeping with how a family treats one another. I think Miss Manners is a pretty smart gal.

The disappearing generation gap?

Today over at the National Review Online, Myrna Blyth has an article making fun of life coaches. In it she makes reference to a New York Magazine article about parents in their 30's and early 40's who, in her words, "in their hoodies and their retro sneakers, have decided it is really very cool to remain childish even when they have children of their own. " She also refers to them as "shallow". So I wandered over to take a look. It's a long article (8 online pages) and I spent about the first 3 pages going, "why is this weird? Why is this even an article?" At the point where they start discussing people wearing $400 torn-up jeans, they lost me, but even as a teen I wouldn't have considered wearing ridiculous, over priced clothing cool. Basically the premise of the article is that Gen X'ers (I am one), are keeping up with new music rather than screaming at the kids to "turn down that terrible noise", not trading in their comfy clothes and sense of style for suits anymore and enjoy a lot of the same activities and entertainment younger people do. Not only that, they're just not as willing to give up their freedoms and passions to make money as the last couple of generations. They're still making money - just not by working for other people if they can help it. An HR person says "To motivate a baby boomer, offer him a bonus. To motivate a Generation-Xer, offer him a day off." My first reaction was, "yeah. And?"
While my family isn't taking mid-week trips to Mammoth to snowboard on a whim or deliberately working to shape our kids to have a hip music and style sensibility, we do listen to a lot of current music, my husband and kids enjoy many of the same cartoons and play "Yu-gi-oh" together. While I need a lot more money and a lot less weight to be truly fashionable, I don't own a single plain colored t-shirt or sweatshirt, any "mom-jeans" or ugly, practical sneakers. If we could figure out a way for my husband never to depend on someone else for his employment, we'd do it in a heartbeat (actually at some point we do plan on doing just that). Does this mean that we're acting like kids? I think part of this goes back to the discussion earlier about what it means to be an adult. After all, the article is talking about people who, like my family, are having kids, bringing in paychecks, maintaining a household and all the rest of the things which seem to me to equal being an adult. I didn't realize that it was shallow or childish not to accept that such superficial things as music, dress and entertainment would define you as an adult or a child. (Of course, I'm talking about reasonably decent music, dress and entertainment here, not gangsta rap, dressing like a prostitute or being entertained by debauched things.) We also differ from parents in the last few generations by being pretty open with our kids about life, what we think about things and even what we'd like from our lives. Perhaps this is childish and self-centered as well, but we view it as part of raising kids who are connected with their parents (rather than seeing us as mysterious and unknowable) and who will know how to navigate an increasingly complicated world.
Then again, this came out of New York, so it's relation to the rest of the universe is dubious. However, I thought it was interesting that I, a homeschooling mom in the middle of the country, had such a "and your point is" reaction to an article which is clearly meant to define some new trend for marketers and category makers to glom onto. I'm still also wondering what elicited Ms. Blythe's negative reaction to the article. Actually, the most New York thing about the article (aside from some of the specific style and political preferences of the people in the article) is the fact that the author doesn't seem to realize that parents and children not being at odds with each other's sensibilities is pretty natural and is a return to the way things have been for millennia, not as he puts it "unprecedented in human history". If we're putting away the generation gaps which have poisoned and plagued parent-child relationships for much of the last century, so much the better. That doesn't mean that the adults involved are childish. Perhaps they're just mature enough to realize that clothes, music and money do not an adult make.

A new guide for helping your kids choose a college

I should be in bed, but I just had to post a link to a blog called The Torch which is run by the organization FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education). FIRE is an organization devoted to helping college students defend their rights to free speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association, due process and such. It's pretty sad that there's even a need for an organization devoted to defending people's constitutional rights against college administrators (who are themselves tasked with creating an environment of free intellectual pursuit), but that's the world we live in. As long as I'm at it, I might as well link you to the new blog addressing "higher" "education" on the National Review Online called Phi Beta Cons.
I particularly recommend these blogs to parents who feel a little insecure about not being able to afford to send their kids to Ivy League schools or who don't think their kids could get accepted. Once you see the sort of nonsense going on at places like Harvard (where no one's too whiney not to be taken seriously) or Yale (where a Taliban spokesperson is currently a "special student"), you will never again dream of sending your sons and daughters off to such hallowed halls. Not only that, but you'll have a nearly endless supply of stories to laugh about with friends (the ones coming out of Harvard really are the best). Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

How to become much smarter in about an hour

There's a gentleman over at the Crunch Cons board named Bruce Frohnen who I have become a big fan of. I swear to you that if you take about an hour and read just his posts from the Crunchy Cons board, you will be a smarter person.

Crunchy Conservatives and Civic Activity

I've mentioned the conversation going on at the National Review Online about the book "Crunchy Conservatives" as couple of times here. This week there has been a very interesting (or at least I found it very interesting) conversation about civil society and how we engage in a culture we see as hostile and corrupted. A letter was posted there from someone basically saying "you guys are too doom and gloom - get out there and get involved. Be a positive influence in the community." After thinking about it, I sent the following to Rod Dreher (the gentleman who wrote the book this discussion is based on). It has been posted on the "Crunchy Con" board, but I thought I would share it here as well:
I wanted to respond quickly to your friend Mike regarding being active in the community. I think that a huge part of what is simultaneously driving much of the "doom and gloom" and the small scale community involvement which comes with being a "crunchy con" is that we have lost faith in much of what has been thought of as civil society. Our schools, our political parties, county boards, chambers of commerce and many of the other avenues by which we've often been encouraged to "get out there" are so corrupted that fighting them or even expecting anything good out of them seems to be a lost cause. So yes, we're active, but we're not doing it within organizations which are often looked upon as being essential to a civil society. I think it's the reality of the failure of the basic structures of our civil society on top of the disintegration of our cultural/moral framework which is driving many people to simply withdraw and seek out places where we really can influence our worlds. So we homeschool because we cannot change the school system, we support crisis pregnancy centers because we can't influence the laws or change the larger culture which is driving the problem, we join garden clubs because we can't stop the county board from paving everything over and so-on and so-forth. I think part of what makes a crunchy con a crunchy con is that we don't buy into the idea that we can do much in the larger world of politics, education and culture. So we are retreating into smaller worlds where we can influence things for the better. Hopefully, in time, we can gain enough influence in these small areas that we'll start being able to influence some of the larger structures of society. In the meantime, I'm not holding my breath.
Actually, the second to last sentence really ought to say "Hopefully, in time, people will get sick enough of the status quo to start looking for alternatives. Should this happen our small, fulfilling communities may well be able to be central to a renewal of civil society."
I've gotten myself a bit out of sorts this week by spending too much time "out in the public square" looking at what people are saying about our local elections which are coming up, as well as in the larger world where we're arguing over immigration, marriage, parenting, the war in Iraq, the role of religion in our society and on and on. It all feels so futile. Congress will continue passing laws which don't reflect sanity (or the desires of the people), the local school board will never fix the fundamental problems of public schools, our local governments will always be involved in things they have little business messing with, the courts will do whatever they please, people will continue to say and think things which are demonstrably false and damaging rather than change their minds. So I come again to where I always do when faced with the discouraging reality of what passes for civil society - I'll pull back into the world where I can make things better, be a little light in the darkness and find others who are trying to do the same. It's not grand and gloriously self-gratifying - I'll never be honored in the public square, but it sure beats banging your head against walls and tilting at windmills!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

"Let's all get together and defend high unemployment" day in France

To us Americans, the riots and protests going on in France over proposed changes which would make it easier for companies to hire and fire people under the age of 26 are completely unfathomable. In his World Opinion Roundup on the Washington Post, Jefferson Morely looks at several international reports and some of the deep cultural issues which are influencing this seemingly incomprehensible lack of logic on the part of the French protesters. I still think they're completely bonkers, but it is an interesting, somewhat informative piece if you want to take a look. I can't find a link right now, but I particularly liked one protestor who said, "if they pass this law, we'll be like slaves for the employers - we'll have to do every little thing they tell us to do or they can fire us." Words just fail me.

Research on Homeschoolers

I came across an article from the Fall 2004 issue of the Journal of College Admission which summarizes the research which has been done on homeschooled students for college admissions officers. It was Written by Dr. Brian D. Ray, the president of the National Home Education Research Institute. It is written from an obviously pro-homeschool point of view, but Dr. Ray has the research to back up his very positive view of homeschooling. Some of my favorite points:
  • In study after study, the homeschooled scored, on average, at the 65th to 80th percentile on standardized academic achievement tests in the United States and Canada, compared to the public school average of the 50th percentile.
  • Researchers, wondering if only certain families-in which the parents have a high educational attainment or family income-are able to homeschool such that their children score high on achievement tests, show that children in homeschool families with low income and in which the parents have little education are scoring, on average, above state-school averages.
  • In addition, research shows that the parents' teacher-certification has little to no relationship with their children's academic achievement, and that the degree of state control of homeschooling (i.e., regulations) has no relationship with academic achievement.
  • Shyers (1992) found the only significant childhood social-interaction difference between the institutionally-schooled and homeschoolers was that the institutionally-schooled had higher problem behavior scores.
  • Susannah Sheffer (1995) reports a homeschool girl who told her:"I think some people would have seen [school] as my opportunity to 'be like everybody else.' But I didn't want to be like everybody else." Sheffer concluded, "Throughout this book the homeschooled girls I've interviewed have echoed these statements. They have talked about trusting themselves, pursuing their own goals, maintaining friendships even when their friends differ from them or disagree with them." Finally, these home-educated girls maintain their self-confidence as they pass into womanhood.
  • Both the SAT and ACT publishers have reported for several years that the scores of the homeschooled are higher, on average, than those from public schools.
  • Galloway and Sutton (1997) used academic, cognitive, spiritual, affective-social, and psychomotor criteria for measuring success at a private university. Among other things, they found that homeschooled students held significantly more positions of appointed and spiritual leadership, and had more semesters of leadership service than did those from private schools, and were statistically similar to the public school graduates.
  • . Gary Knowles (Knowles & de Olivares, 1991; Knowles & Much more, 1995) was the first to focus research on adults who were home-educated, collecting extensive data from a group who were home-educated an average of about six years before they were 17 years old. He found that they tended to be involved in entrepreneurial and professional occupations, were fiercely independent, and strongly emphasized the importance of family. Furthermore, they were glad they had been home-educated, would recommend homeschooling to others, and had no grossly negative perceptions of living in a pluralistic society.
  • Smith and Sikkink used data from the 1996 National Household Education Survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, which differentiates between students educated in public, Catholic, non-Catholic church-related, and nonreligious private schools, and homeschool students. The researchers concluded:
    "Far from being privatized and isolated, home schooling families are typically very well networked and quite civically active. The empirical evidence is clear and decisive: private schoolers and home schoolers are considerably more civically involved in the public square than are public schoolers, even when the effects of differences in education, income, and other related factors are removed from the equation. Indeed, we have reason to believe that the organizations and practices involved in private and home schooling, in themselves, tend to foster public participation in civic affairs... the challenges, responsibilities, and practices that private schooling and home education normally entail for their participants may actually help reinvigorate America's civic culture and the participation of her citizens in the public square."

There's more, but like I said, these were some highlights. I think that pretty well covers all the major objections to homeschooling we run into. Not that facts ever did anything to change a determined ideologues's mind. Of course, as the author points out, "This is not to say, of course, that every homeschool graduate is brilliant, attractive, and destined for success. It simply means that, on average, they appear to be doing well in the "real world" because the environment in which they were educated-in the broad sense, academically, mentally, morally, and aesthetically-gave them sound academic skills, a solid and confident social and emotional nurturance, respect for others, a stable worldview, and a zest for learning."

Probably my favorite quotes came from some Ivy League school administrators:

  • Dartmouth College admission officer: "The applications [from homeschoolers] I've come across are outstanding. Homeschoolers have a distinct advantage because of the individualized instruction they have received."
  • Admission officers at Stanford University think they are seeing an unusually high occurrence of a key ingredient, which they term "intellectual vitality," in homeschool graduates (Foster, 2000). They link it to the practice of self-teaching prevalent in these young people, as a result of their homeschool environment.
  • "These kids are the epitome of Brown students," says Joyce Reed, who became an associate dean of the college twelve years ago. "They've learned to be self-directed, they take risks, they face challenges with total fervor, and they don't back off" (Sutton, 2002).

If you know someone who is thinking about homeschooling or is just starting off and is worried about if they're doing the best thing for their kids, send this along. It should probably be read by those who know homeschoolers, but aren't real sure if it's such a great idea (hi, Mom!). So, there's my encouraging post for the day!

Monday, March 27, 2006

RIP Recess

There was an item in our local newspaper which caught my eye because I thought it was so very odd. The headline was "Recess thrives in Wisconsin":

The national PTA reports many schools in Wisconsin grant 30 minutes for recess during the day, half at mid-morning and half in the afternoon. That's the maximum allowed by state law. (Emphasis mine.)
But nationally, the PTA says 40% of elementary schools have either cut out recess or are thinking about it. Blame goes to budget cuts and requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act.

First of all, why do we have a law limiting recess? I mean, was there an epidemic of schools allowing children to run around for hours on end and not teaching kids to read and write? I can totally see passing a law requiring a minimum amount of recess, but a maximum?
Secondly, it's really frightening that school administrators (I can almost promise it's not classroom teachers pushing this nonsense) are so completely and utterly stupid that they think cutting recess is a good way to improve student achievement. Are all these people hanging out with Marion Barry over lunch? And we wonder why boys are failing in school and 1 in 10 fifth grade boys are on ritalin? Anyone with a functioning brain cell in their heads should realize that reducing kid's opportunities for blowing off steam will also reduce their achievement. Yeesh!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

We need clear thinkers like this today

A writer named Mark Steyn has a column up on the Orange County Register about the case of a man being threatened with execution in Afghanistan for converting to Christianity. The whole thing is good, but I particularly appreciated this bit:
In a more culturally confident age, the British in India were faced with the practice of "suttee" - the tradition of burning widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands. Gen. Sir Charles Napier was impeccably multicultural:
"You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: When men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks, and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours."

Saturday, March 25, 2006

What is wrong with people?!?!?!

There is so much to say about this Washington Post story on "Club Libby Lu", but I think I can sum it up pretty quickly: blegh! It reminds me of one of those mom phrases which just doesn't get used enough these days: over my dead body!

Friday, March 24, 2006

"Little People Big World"

Over on today there's a column about my favorite new show "Little People Big World" (Sat. 8/7c on TLC). I watch very little television, but I've actually been making an effort to try and catch this one simply because I think the family involved is so wonderful. The show is about a family where mom and dad are little people. They have 4 kids - 3 are average sized and one who is also a little person. The columnist for thinks that a big part of the appeal is allowing people to stare as much as they want without feeling bad about it. After all, the show isn't exactly edge-of-your-seat drama. I disagree. I enjoy watching it because we see this family defying whatever expectations we may have and being such a neat, better-than-average family. So often when we see people who face challenges on TV, the urge for Hollywood is to "make them real" by having them deal with the sort of sorrid-ness and disfunction Hollywood seems to think is normal. However, this show has a real family who, while not perfect, are refreshingly functional and really wonderful human beings. I think that is the essence of why it's such a fun show - we relate to this family not because of their disfunction but because they're people we'd actually like to have over for dinner. I think that any show which can cause people's physical differences to become secondary to our admiration for them as people is doing something right.

Is "Failure to Launch" Really Such a Failure?

There has been some talk lately about people in their 20's or even 30's who still live at home with mom and dad. Now, when I was in my early 20's, I certainly did not want to live with my folks and truthfully, I didn't really respect those who did. I have always said that I fully expect my kids to strike out on their own once they finish schooling. However, every time I read an article or column about how terrible it is that so many young people still live at home, I start to think that perhaps we're off base in our thinking about this issue as a society. Ruben Navarrette Jr. wrote a column this week extolling the virtue of a bit of shame in getting the young to jump the nest and now I'm really thinking I might need to re-evaluate my thinking on this one (probably just the opposite of what he was hoping for).
First of all, until fairly recently a child who moved out of his or her parent's home prior to getting married was rare and often seen as scandalous. So what we're talking about isn't exactly a new thing. Children stayed put for many of the same reasons they do today - to help the family out, to save money for their future and because it was where they were comfortable. I think that what has changed - and what we should consider alarming - is that we used to see getting married and starting a family as what moved us into adulthood. Today we look at freeing ourselves of encumbrances to family and being self-sufficient as what makes a person an adult. Marriage and starting a family are no longer seen as the standard of adulthood, but as risky endeavors which should only be pursued once one is completely established as a person with no significant ties or dependency on any one. Is this really healthy? Of course, if we get rid of the push towards marriage AND we get rid of the push towards self-sufficiency, we're not left with much by which to measure the passage into adulthood by. That can't be healthy either. Yet I'm not at all convinced of the superiority of pushing young people into becoming completely self-sufficient creatures. Not only does it deny the social bonds and centrality of family in people's lives, but is it any wonder that people who have been taught to measure their worth by their independence have difficulty negotiating marriage where mutual dependence is the name of the game?
The portion of Mr. Navarrette's column which really raised alarm bells for me was this:
And if these young people live in areas of the country where home prices are astronomical, they even have a built-in excuse. Many may be unable to buy a home of their own and thus are more likely to move back with mom and dad. Some may have decided that they'd rather live in a nice area of the country, even if it means living with their parents. They must know that they could have their own home if they moved to a place with more opportunity and a lower cost of living, but they stay put.We already knew that--according to U.S. employers who are dependent on foreign labor--the work ethic is slipping among members of the younger generation. Now, also in short supply is the willingness to seek out opportunity wherever it exists.
As much as it's become a reality of modern life, anyone who looks at our society can point to the loss of community, neighborhoods and family support which results from the high levels of mobility we have as having been detrimental to our quality of life. What Mr. Navarrette is saying is, "to heck with the kids knowing grandma and grandpa. To heck with having women you trust around to help teach you how to care for your first child. To heck with caring for aging parents - a real American goes where the opportunities are! Why do you think we have e-mail, day care and nursing homes?" As much as we all want our kids to be independent, do we really want to teach our kids that the bonds of family and community come behind seeking out the next opportunity? I'm being a bit of a hypocrite here as our family has certainly made choices about where to live based on jobs. However, I'm not certain that this trade-off is one which should be accepted so casually.
I'm not saying that I've committed myself to having my kids live with us until they build a hut in the family compound upon taking a bride. However, I do think that we nee to ask ourselves if a set of social norms which is so dependent on accepting family as secondary to self-sufficiency is what we should be promoting with our children. Many of us often lament the short shrift family matters get in our culture, but perhaps that's just what is to be expected when leaving your family is seen as necessary to living a worthwhile adult life. Something to think about.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

My kitchen table is under-used (and I think I'm OK with that)

This is our third year homeschooling and perhaps I'm a little slow on the uptake, but half the time I feel like I'm just starting to figure out what we're doing. I do think I'm ready to make a confession, however: my kitchen table is sorely under-used. (Actually, I think it gets way too much use from greedy munchkins who expect to be fed 3 times a day, but that's a whole 'nother story.) The fact of the matter is that we just don't sit down to do "school work" all that often. And no matter how often I run through my mental list of re-assurances that my children are being educated, the idea that they should be sitting down at the table every day to do "work" is a hard one to shake. I suppose I could have made life much easier on myself by buying a curriculum and setting aside time every day for the kids to learn. However, when I started I wanted more - I wanted to be creative, respond to where my child was and what they were interested in and all those other things we romantically think education can be. So rather than buy a curriculum, I set about making my own. Because a curriculum I designed was just going to be so much better than one someone else designed, you know. I'm so funny sometimes.
There was a little snag in my plan, however; an 8 year old named Noah who was not going to be a willing participant in my little curriculum designing adventures. Now, I want you to know my husband and I are in charge in our home and we have no problem asserting our authority as parents. Noah, however, has an amazing capacity to accept the consequences of his behavior as a necessary price to pay when it comes to certain things. He will willingly forgo his allowance and give up all his privileges if he thinks it might buy his way out of clearing the kitchen table after dinner. So, I would give him a sheet of math problems I knew he was perfectly capable of completing in about 20 minutes and he would sit at the table for the next 8 hours without doing it. He knew he was missing out on playing outside or watching TV. He knew he would lose television, computer and gameboy privileges for weeks on end. He knew that piece of paper wasn't going to go away. He knew I wasn't going to give in. If I offered an incentive for completing his work in a timely manner, well that's OK, he could do without. If I gave him something unpleasant to do until he was ready to get back to work, well, really he could just do that all day. Or he could say he was ready to work and then sit down, do one problem and then stop working again. Repeat this pattern for all the other subjects we were supposed to be covering and it was often bedtime before he was allowed to leave the table (with very little work completed), usually just because we wanted him to go away. After a month or so of this, I finally decided that if I wanted him to spend his days being forced to do things he didn't want to do, learning to hate learning and being screamed at, I could just pack him off to school and use my time to do other less frustrating things, like negotiating peace between the Isreali's and Palastinians perhaps.
So, I laid down a few things with him. I told him that he was responsible for his own learning. I would provide him with all the opportunity and materials he needed to become well educated. I could make it unpleasant for him to refuse to learn, but ultimately, learning was his responsibility. If he wanted to grow up to be an uneducated dolt, that was his problem. I wasn't going to give myself a stroke over it. I told him that I was going to make sure he knew how to write and do math, but as long as I could see that he was moving forward in these areas, I was going to make sure that these activities didn't take up more time than needed. As far as everything else went, I would make myself and the materials he needed available, but again, this is his education and I wasn't about to destroy a child's God-given curiosity about life by allowing his education to become part of a power struggle between us. Now, perhaps this seems like a ridiculous set of ideas to present an 8 year old with. Lord knows I have fudged and meddled and doubted what I was doing many times over the last couple of years. It took a long time for me to stop trying to turn all of his questions into lessons, complete with activities and preferably, lots of writing. Needless to say, he didn't ask me many questions for a long time.
Believe it or not, he didn't stop learning. I think he was afraid that if he did his work, he would be rewarded with increasing amounts of work and pretty soon I would consume him whole with my desire to teach him. Once he felt comfortable knowing that this wouldn't happen, he became more co-operative about those things he had to do like math and writing. And faced with a lot of time to fill and very limited access to TV, movies, computer games and such, he filled it by reading the piles of books I carefully selected and left laying about or making up goofy experiments with his brother. Add in the 4-6 novels he reads a week and despite my nagging guilt, he kept moving forward.
I also discovered the magic that happens in letting a struggling child walk away from a subject for a while. I can't tell you how many times we've gotten to a point where he either couldn't or wouldn't do any more work. Inevitably if I just let it go for a month or so, when we came back to it, it was like a something had just shifted into place and it wasn't such a struggle any more. Of course, try telling a parent whose kids are in school or who do "school at home" homeschool that your kid hasn't done a formal math problem for a month!
Just recently, however, we had an experience which confirmed for the me the wisdom of allowing these breaks. I have been particularly concerned about Noah's writing abilities this year. Fifth grade is one of those transitional years where kids start working on creating output rather than just absorbing information and writing is central to this. I knew that Noah had been forced to do a lot of handwork in his first 3 years of school despite not having the fine motor skills needed to do the work well. However, I was uncertain to what extant this slow fine motor skill development and the resistance to writing he picked up from being forced to do something he wasn't ready to do were contributing to his poor writing skills. He almost never used cursive unless forced, would write as little as he could possibly get away with at the expense of being able to express himself coherently, misspelled almost every word and just absolutely despised doing anything which involved writing. So, after forcing him to write at least a little bit pretty well every day for a couple of months and seeing no real improvement, I let him go. He hardly wrote a word other than the occasional thank you note for about 3 months. A few weeks ago, I decided to give it a try and got him a new guided writing workbook. I told him to pick one page and do it. 20 minutes later he was done. He had answered each question thoroughly, had very few spelling errors, wrote in cursive without being prompted and even wrote sentences which made sense! I can't say he enjoyed it, but it was no big deal. So, he's been doing that 2 or 3 times a week. What was especially intriguing to me about it was that a couple days after he started working on this workbook, he came to me and said "look what I can do, Mom" and drummed his fingers on the table. He explained that he couldn't really do it with his left hand yet, but thought it was pretty cool that he could do it with his right. Obviously, if doing something as simple as drumming his fingers on the table was a novel new skill to him, his fine motor skills really were lagging behind up to this point and continuing to force him to do something he just wasn't developmentally ready for wasn't going to help.
I think part of what makes our family different in our approach to education than many others is that we're using what in the business world would be called an "outcome based approach". As long as they're learning and progressing forward, how that happens isn't really the issue. I think that in a lot of families, education doesn't only serve as a way to make sure the kids have the scholarly knowledge and skills they need, it's also used as a conduit to learn other, non-academic skills. Keeping a schedule, perseverance, self-discipline, self-denial and even authority issues are often goals of the educational program a family chooses. We actually devote a lot of time to developing these essential elements of character in our kids, we just don't use their scholarly education as a means to do it. In a way, I think that there are some advantages to separating the two, at least at the elementary and middle school level. Growing perseverance and self-discipline as well as learning to submit to authority are difficult, sometimes unpleasant lessons. I think that by treating scholarship and character development as separate arenas, one can avoid contaminating the task of learning with the pain and struggle of character development. And character development isn't confused with real learning or developmental struggles. Too often children are labeled lazy (a character judgment) when really they are just struggling with some specific academic skill. In time, I expect and am beginning to see, as a child's character becomes more well formed, it should be a pretty natural thing to apply self-discipline, perseverance, time management and such to the pursuit of knowledge. One can benefit the other without being knotted together so tightly that one or the other runs the risk of being strangled.
Sorry this is so long already - on another day, I'll have to explain in a bit more detail how my children's learning works, but for now, consider this my family's declaration of freedom from the kitchen table!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Afghan Man Facing Death for Converting to Christianity

Perhaps you have seen this story about an Afghani man who is facing death in Afghan government courts for converting to Christianity. I'm sorry, but I really think this is the point where we need to tell the Afghani government that either they need to join the modern world and learn to play nicely with others or we're taking our cash and soldiers and going home. If they can't handle themselves without our assistance, well, we always have long range bombers on hand to help keep them in the stone age where they apparently feel most comfortable. I know, I'm not being very nice here, but if I was a mother who lost a child fighting for this country, I would be furious. There is no way our men and women should be away from their families facing injury and dying so that this sort of thing can go on. I'm also not one to write off diplomacy, but there are some things which I think we should make clear simply are not open for negotiations. This is one of them. Plus, if we turn a blind eye to this sort of thing in Afghanistan, is there any doubt that religious fascists in Iraq will seek to set up their own oppressive government with our money and blood?
If President Bush isn't willing to take a hard line on this, it's time for the congress to grow some cajones and threaten to cut off funding for our activities in Afghanistan.

More on Public policy and Families

There's an article up on The Weekly Standard called "Indentured Families" which I found very interesting. It outlines several prime examples of how the GOP, while being miles above the Democratic Party on many things, is hardly the champion of the family it is too often allowed to portray itself as. It gives examples of 3 specific policies which hurt families but because of specific business interests, are supported (or even championed by the Republican Party). I think the 3 examples it gives are both excellent and an illustration of the fact that one need not be talking about creating new government programs or entitlements in order to support families. The policies mentioned are the really terrible bankruptcy bill passed last year, the child care tax credit and the federal student loan program. My only quibble with the piece is that they fail to point out that our unacceptably high bankruptcy rate is directly linked to another family problem the GOP refuses to take constructive action on: health care costs (and here).
I find it encouraging that a prominent conservative magazine like the Weekly Standard has taken to addressing these sorts of issues. I also think it's high time we start pressuring the Republican Party to take actions which help families rather than letting them get away with just slapping a family friendly face on any old thing they do.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Frightening Video

A few days ago in a post about our cultural taboo against correcting other people's children, I wrote this:

"It's not just that we live in a more dangerous world - the reality is that crime has dropped very dramatically in the last 20-30 years. Statistically speaking, we're much safer today. However, what's missing is any re-enforcement from others our children will meet as they move through the world of the sorts of good behavior and proper character development we're teaching our kids. Instead of living in a world which helps us as we raise our kids, we must equip our kids to defend themselves against the world."

I was speaking in particular of misbehaving children, but I think it also demonstrates that in those rare cases where our children might need help, adults would not feel it was their place to step in. A story on the Today Show demonstrates just how true this is. A security expert set up a mock kidnapping of a little girl to see if anyone would step in to help. This girl did just what we teach our children to do: fight and yell "help, this isn't my dad!" Yet it took hours of repeating this scenario before several young men came forward to help. Watch the video of the story here (the link's part way down the page) and ask yourself if you would stop to help. Children cannot raise themselves and they cannot properly defend themselves against the evils of the world. They need adults to step in when there is trouble and acts like the grown-ups. It's very sad that we live in a world where a child faces not only potential dangers from those who would do her harm, but cannot even expect that other adults will see it as part of their responsibility to step in when she needs it.

Spring Malaise

Spring officially begins in just a few hours, but spring time malaise has already set in here in the northern tundra. Perhaps this isn't something you suffer from and you whole heartedly buy into all the wonderful visions of new life springing forth from the earth, the cycle of life and cute baby animals coming forth into the world. If so, I'm willing to bet you live in far more temperate climes than I do. Here, we're still digging out from a couple of late winter snow storms which left nearly 20" of snow on the ground. Usually I can augment this ugly reality by tending to the tiny seedlings I grow for the garden each spring, but this year we are moving to Lord knows where at the end of April. Even if I knew that I was going to have a garden somewhere this summer, the poor seedlings wouldn't be fit for the trip. Sigh.
It's cliche to even say it, but God really has provided a great balm for our spirits in nature. I suppose I should just learn to enjoy the stark beauty and bracing chill of the long winter months, but I don't. It's just to darn cold. So by this time every year, I'm claustrophobic and sick of people. Even things I usually enjoy like politics, education and news are oppressive rather than intriguing. Everything weighs heavier without a warm sky to send cares up into.
Add in a terrible sinus cold I've been fighting off for the last week and a pregnancy which has become rather uncomfortable and I'm just all out of sorts. Heck, I haven't even found anything I'm real eager to pontificate about here for the last few days!
Ah well, like everything else, this will pass. Comfort is found in strange places and if we're open to it, it always seems to come. So, nothing real interesting today, but I'll leave you with this sonnet from William Wordsworth which seems particularly timely both for my spring time malaise and for the world at large:

The World Is Too Much With Us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. -Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

"Smart Sex"

It is really difficult to over estimate all the ways in which our culture bombards us and our children with the idea of sex as merely a recreational activity whose consequences can be avoided. Too many parents indulge their discomfort about the topic and fail to provide their kids with an equally strong, consistent and frequent alternative view. They think that making sure their kids go to church, know what their parents think right and wrong is and maybe promise not to have sex before marriage is enough. I would emphatically argue that it doesn't even come close to being enough. Most kids raised in a good environment know what they should do but have no real idea of why. They know that "God said so" and have heard "it's wrong", but why did God say so and why is premarital sex wrong? There's a whole world out there which will happily tell them not only that it's OK, but why. And trust me, when hormones start raging, a young person needs more to hang their hat on than "God said so". If they're to resist their God-given sexual urges, they had better know why God said so.
In a new book called Smart Sex, former economist Jennifer Roback Morse takes on the arguments of our culture which view sex as a morally neutral, personal activity without real consequences and shows both how false this is and how true sexual freedom and fulfillment can only happen within a life-long marriage. You can read a bit about the book here. I highly recommend that anyone with an older high school student or college student give this book to their child to read.
Not only is her argument well founded and argued, but she's not some holier-than-thou moralizing windbag who readers can easily write off. As she puts it, I "got to be an expert on what doesn't work . . . I more or less did the whole sexual revolution . . . I tried most of the hare-brained things I'm now writing about: adultery, fornication, cohabitation, group sex, same-sex sex. I had an abortion. I was married and divorced."
I would also recommend this book to parents who think that although they should tell their kids to wait until marriage to have sex, just aren't sure if it's realistic. Or perhaps, like most of us, they've never heard a particularly compelling argument to refute our culture's permissive attitudes about sex. This is a huge issue with implications for our kids, our grandchildren and the well being of society as a whole. If our kids are going to have a fighting chance as they move into the world, we need to let go of the fantasy that we can protect them from being exposed to the corrupting influences of our culture and start properly equipping them to fight.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The great expanse of motherhood

I came across this wonderful quote about motherhood from G. K. Chesterton today in a book I am reading and wanted to share it with you:

To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors, and holidays; to be Whitely within a certain area, providing toys, boots, cakes and books; to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people's children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one's own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone and narrow to be everything to someone? No, a woman's function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. (What's Wrong With the World)

I think that in our modern era, all stay at home moms, from time to time, feel that we are not doing enough - that we must somehow justify our lives with busy-ness and being productive. We know that there are those who look at us and think we are wasting our talents, stuck in the house. Or the enemy tells us we are. We see other women who are being productive, making money, gaining power and recognition, wearing beautiful clothing and, well, making money. In comparison, we can feel silly, unimportant, dowdy and poor. In fact, as the gentleman says, we are the universe to our families. We don't need to justify what we do and who we are.
Everyone who homeschools has been asked why they homeschool. So often it feels like an invitation to justify our choice. So we talk about poor school experiences, religion, our particular child's difficult temperament or health problems, our own abilities as an instructor and so on. While all these may well be true, I have lately come to realize that even if I could send my children to excellent schools which I know they would fit into and be safe and respected in, I would still homeschool. Simply because we like it. We enjoy it. We have no reason to do otherwise. Likewise, for all of us who have made the choice to devote ourselves full time to the care of our children and family, we do not need to justify ourselves to the world. Some things are just true, whether the world would recognize them or not and the great expanse of motherhood is one of them. Be blessed!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Correcting other people's children

Yesterday a friend and I were talking about the taboo many people seem to have about correcting other people's children when they are misbehaving. Then this morning, I found this article from the Today Show about how to deal with other people's misbehaving/annoying children. In it the parenting "expert" completely accepts the idea that one should never correct someone else's child even in the face of bullying or extreme rudeness (she mentions a child burping in your face). Can someone please explain the thinking behind this taboo to me? Now, I wouldn't yell at someone else's child or interject myself into the life of some random obnoxious child I saw while walking down the street. However, I see nothing wrong with telling a child who is operating in your common space, "please stop doing that. You're going to hurt yourself/it's very rude/you make other people feel bad" or whatever is appropriate. Occasionally, my children are corrected by another adult and they know that they need to deal with that and not give people cause to correct them. Of course I would never be abusive towards a child and would not tolerate another person treating my child in an abusive manner, but simply correcting poor/dangerous behavior seems perfectly fine to me. Every time this topic comes up, I feel like I must be missing something as I just cannot understand why stepping in to speak to a child who is out of hand should be a problem.
Many of us (or at least our parents) remember a time when if you misbehaved out in public, not only would any adult present reprimand you, but they would likely make sure your mother knew about it by the time you made it home so she could deal with you as well. I think that the difference between those times and today demonstrates a change which parents neglect to take seriously at their (and their children's) own peril. Once upon a time, you could be a fairly negligent parent, not devoting much energy to supervising or disciplining your children and feel fairly comfortable that your kids would turn out basically OK. That was because while you might not be there with your kids, other adults were watching and correcting problem behaviors. Your children simply could not move through the world in most places without having societal norms enforced on them. Having other parents and the community re-enforcing proper behavior and norms assisted parents in raising good kids. I think too many parents fail to realize that since this mechanism is no longer in place, they are wholly responsible for their child's development. Too many parents act as if they can still send their kids out into the world and have them be OK. It's not just that we live in a more dangerous world - the reality is that crime has dropped very dramatically in the last 20-30 years. Statistically speaking, we're much safer today. However, what's missing is any re-enforcement from others our children will meet as they move through the world of the sorts of good behavior and proper character development we're teaching our kids. Instead of living in a world which helps us as we raise our kids, we must equip our kids to defend themselves against the world. It seems to me that this cultural taboo we have about correcting other people's children simply feeds into this problem and makes raising good kids that much harder.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Government Policies and Marriage

On of the topics I have brushed on here is how the government can/should change policies in order to encourage family formation and make it easier to maintain families. Unfortunately, whenever government and policies appear in the same sentence, people may assume I'm referring t new big-government programs. This is not the case at all. In The National Review Online today, one of the authors of the study I reference below is interviewed regarding his work. In response to the question of what policy changes we should make in light of his study, he responds as follows:
I think we should give couples and families the ability to make choices about work and family that best suit their own needs. Among other things, this means adjusting the tax code so that child-care tax credits do not reward one model of organizing family and work.
I also think we can reform divorce laws so that spouses who commit themselves to marriage do not find themselves holding the bag when their spouse thinks they have fallen out of love or finds an attractive alternative. For instance, court decisions regarding child custody and property division should take into consideration the responsibility that each spouse bears for the divorce. As a matter of simple justice, innocent spouses who do not wish to divorce should not lose primary custody of their children or primary control of their property. Of course, spouses who are the victims of adultery, abuse, or abandonment should be able to get a divorce promptly.
Finally, because many of our tax and welfare policies - e.g., the Earned Income Tax Credit, Medicaid, etc. - are means-tested, they end up penalizing marriage among low-income couples with children (
see). To strengthen marriage for all Americans, federal and state policies must be reformed to stop penalizing low-income couples who are considering marriage or who wish to remain committed to their marriages.
This is exactly what I have been talking about. We really do need our lawmakers to stop claiming that every pro-business move they make is also pro-family (it may or may not be) and start looking at the nitty-gritty of what the government is already doing which makes family formation and maintenance harder than it needs to be.

Monday, March 06, 2006

If you're happy and you know it . . . perhaps you're a SAM

Another one for the destruction of radical feminism by reality files: an exhaustive study by two sociologists at the University of Virginia has found that women who stay home with the kids rate themselves as happier with their lives than wives who work outside the home. This held true for both religious women who may see traditional gender roles as ideal and women who hold very progressive, feminist ideals. The study also found that people who believe that marriage is a life long commitment have happier marriages than people who think that people should divorce if they fall out of love.
I do understand that there were definite problems in society that the feminist movement and the sexual revolution tapped into. However, rather than tweaking and working within frameworks that did fit, too many people decided to "throw the baby out with the bath water" and turn society upside down entirely. While it's nice to see so many recent studies which have confirmed traditional ideas of marriage, family, sexuality and gender, when one thinks of the serious damage which has been wrecked on people's lives by the breakdown of families and traditional morals, it's hard to feel smug. All the children growing up in poverty without fathers, all the young people coping with the humiliation and potentially life altering effects of STD's, all the people broken by broken marriages and on and on.
This is why it's so important not to allow our children to be sucked into the vicious, soul-destroying culture we live in and the lies which undergird it. If you have kids who are old enough to read, print out an article like this and give it to him or her to read. Equip them defend themselves against those who like the "feminist" I wrote about last week who would have them toss out their God-given desires to fit some crazy utopian vision which has wrecked such damage on so many souls. Like I said, it's nice that research is disproving much of the nonsense we have been fed for the last couple of generations, but let's not allow another generation to suffer through the sort of hardships and sorrows this nonsense has wrought before it all sinks in.

Student Loans Are Evil!

I alluded in a very long post a couple of weeks ago to my distaste for student loans - they are perfectly horrid things and I would rather see my children work their way up from being potato peelers in the Salvation Army kitchen than take on any. Any one who thinks that I'm being ridiculous needs to read this. We really are failing our young people if the best we can offer them as they start life is exhorbenant college costs which render trying to work your way through unfeasible and the opportunity to take on a lifetime of crippling debt.
I have a particular problem with financial planners who say that student loans are "good debt". Not only are they a huge burden on young people's lives, but there's no guarantee that you'll get anything for them. If you go to the government student loan website one of the most common issues they address is whether you have to pay your loans back even if the college you attended did not meet its obligations as an educator or you cannot find employment. If I borrow money to buy a car, at least I know I will have a car in my driveway for my money. If I buy a new car or a warranty on a used car, I can even be reasonably sure I will have a working car in my driveway. Plus, I know exactly what my loan payments are when I borrow the money and I know how they will fit into my budget, since I know what my budget is, I can make a good decision about how much I can afford to borrow. With student loans, I may end up getting very little for my money (especially if I can no longer afford to attend and drop out) and since students usually don't know what their loan payments will be and have no idea what their budget will be when paying off those loans, there's no way they can make good decisions about how much they can afford to borrow. I think it's a program the government should get out of. Let private lenders step in the gap if they want to. Either the government is willing to help fund higher education or not, but this garbage of setting up a program which does nothing to encourage market discipline in the system and makes it harder for students to get started in life is complete crap.

And I thought no one was reading my blog!

Over the weekend it appears that this blog was reported to as a spam blog by enough people that their "anti-spam robot" put a lock on it which has prevented me from posting for several days. Gee, what could I have posted that would have caused not one, but several people to behave in such an absurd and immature way? Hmmm . . . Well, I'll leave it to you to check out the posts below and come to your own conclusions. I will also leave it to you to decide what this says about the dynamics of how certain issues are being discussed in our society. If one can't defend one's point of view on the merits, I suppose trying in whatever silly, immature way possible to silence one's critics will have to suffice.
As for me, I'm guessing it was my post on what a cute baby girl I have - very offensive stuff, you know!

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Altruism of Babies

I have a 13 month old baby who has recently started offering us portions of her food to share. Of course, she also throws herself on the floor and screams when you stop her from climbing on everything like a monkey. We often hear that people are naturally bad and need to be civilized in order to overcome their natural tendency towards sin. I have always thought that this was an overly simplistic view verging on blasphemy since it denies the fact that we are made in God's image and His glory cannot be obliterated by our tendency to sin. Now science is backing me up; there's a story in the Chicago Tribune today about scientists studying empathy in toddlers. The toddlers very consistently and without exception tried to help when they saw the need. Of course from an evolutionary as well as a theological point of view this makes sense as humanity needs to be cooperative and altruistic in order to survive. We're just designed that way and I think that's a good thing to remember.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

"Gay Marriage" News You Haven't Heard

The French government set up a commission to look at the issue of same sex marriage and issued a report called the "Parliamentary Report on the Family and the Rights of Children" in late January which came down firmly on the side of traditional marriage. Story here and here. The commission held numerous public discussions, listened to a wide variety of opinions and studied the laws and after-affects of changes to marriage in numerous countries and came up with a report which could have been written by the Heritage Foundation or Focus on the Family. In our country the discussion of same sex marriage is often framed in such a way that the only possible reason for opposition to "gay marriage" is said to be homophobia or religious zealotry. Concerns about children are dismissed out of hand as being mere covers for the true motives behind opposition to same sex marriage. However, this report came to its conclusions based on a simple presupposition which gets to the real heart of the issue: "to affirm and protect children's rights and the primacy of those rights over adults' aspirations." In doing this, the commission decided that it "is not possible to think about marriage separately from filiation: the two questions are closely connected, in that marriage is organized around the child. Marriage is not merely the contractual recognition of the love between a couple; it is a framework that imposes rights and duties, and that is designed to provide for the care and harmonious development of the child." (Emphasis mine.)
In conclusionsion of the report, the commission actually went so far as to call laws allowing parentage of children by same sex couples "fictitious filiation by law - two fathers, or two mothers - which is biologically neither real nor plausible." Can you even imagine what the response would be if a government report actually asserted such a thing here in the US? The report concludes: "Diametrically opposed representations were made by the people heard on this point, and they failed to persuade a majority of the Mission to support recognizing a right to a child or a right to marriage, for same-sex couples. A majority of the Mission does not wish to question the fundamental principles of the law of filiation, which are based on the tripartite unit of ‘a father, a mother, a child’, citing the principle of caution. For that reason, that majority also, logically, chose to deny access to marriage to same-sex couples."
I don't know if the conclusions of the commission will hold in the face of popular support for gay marriage in France, but it sure is nice to see a group which can't possibly be said to be either homophobic or religious zealots come to logical conclusions regarding this issue. What would be even nicer is if in light of the obvious care with which this report was developed and the strength of the arguments, this report was able to influence public thinking on the subject.
Of course, it's very telling that although the report has been out for over a month, there has been NO discussion of it or even reporting on it in our press. A search for information on the report elicited not a single mainstream media news report on the topic. The only people reporting it seem to be conservative news outlets and the Catholic Church. I must admit that I take allegations of liberal bias in the press with a great big boulder of salt. Actually, it's one ofonly a few topics which I just don't have much of an opinion on, but given the coverage that things like the approval of gay marriage in Canada got, this does seem a bit suspicious.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

What makes us jealous

Parenting Magazine has a survey up which found that the thing moms envy about other moms is their organizational abilities. I know this is true of me! Other interesting tidbits:

Only 6% of moms said that they wanted to go without kids - even for a day.

73% of working moms say they are jealous of stay at home moms vs 49% going in the other direction.

Hat tip to Chattering Mind on Beliefnet.

Feminists "Intellectuals" vs Real American Women

Some of you may have read or heard something about feminist professor Linda Hirshman's campaign to condemn well educated women for staying home with her kids. This started with a ridiculous article in American Prospect titled Homeward Bound in which she declares among other things "The family -- with its repetitious, socially invisible, physical tasks -- is a necessary part of life, but it allows fewer opportunities for full human flourishing than public spheres like the market or the government. This less-flourishing sphere is not the natural or moral responsibility only of women. Therefore, assigning it to women is unjust. Women assigning it to themselves is equally unjust."
Ah yes, there's the essence of my life: "repetitious, socially invisible, physical tasks". Talk about completely missing the point! What planet does this woman live on? That's like calling being a rocket scientist "repetitious, socially invisible and physical". After all, it's repetitious because they are often working, reworking and refining the same numbers, sketches and calculations over and over again. And it's obviously socially invisible, because let's face it unless you're related to a rocket scientist you probably can't name a single one. And it's physical because they have to keep their desks in order (no doubt a job that's never done), may have to walk back and forth to meetings, the copier and may even have to physically put together and take apart models, prototypes and such. I say we start a campaign to declare rocket science to be a "less flourishing" sphere for women due to it's "reputes, socially invisible and physical tasks".
Of course the reality is that us women living in the real world completely disagree with her. According to studies only 16% of mothers actually want to work full time outside the home. No doubt she would consider this a sign of our oppression, but hey, we're just little women - what more can you expect from us? Really, what her thinking reveals is a profound misogyny which underlies much of what has passed for feminism in the last 40 years. If you click on the link to her article above, you'll see that the lead in says "'Choice feminism' claims that staying home with the kids is just one more feminist option. Funny that most men rarely make the same 'choice.' Exactly what kind of choice is that?" And this is exactly where modern feminism went wrong - they define worth by what men do. Women cannot be women on their own terms, being respected for their own choices, values and natural tendencies. Their equality and worth is assured only to the extent that they live up to male standards. Obviously, if a choice was worth making, men would make it. If they don't, then no matter how deeply a woman may desire it, it's just not up to snuff. The original feminists (Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton et al), must be rolling in their graves.
Fortunately, Ms. Hirshman doesn't rely on her misogyny alone to let her know that staying home is a lesser choice; she also reads our blogs: "One of the things I've done working on my book is to read a lot of the diaries online, and their description of their lives does not sound particularly interesting or fulfilling for a complicated person, for a complicated, educated person." Boy, she really has her finger on the pulse of my life! What a bloody joke!

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