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On being “gifted”

Last night, I read Glennon Melton’s post about calling kids “gifted” and this response to her.  Today, I read Glennon’s response on Facebook.  Because I believe she truly does want to understand, here is my answer.

Dear Glennon,

You will probably never read this, but I’m going to write it anyway because I sense that you honestly do want to know why some of us felt a little (oh, fine, a lot) defensive about your post on giftedness.

I’m going to be honest–I didn’t actually read your blog before unless someone linked to it.  I admit that I always kind of felt a little judged by you.  That might have been because the specific posts I read were often passed along by people who actually were judging me, so please forgive me for that.  That said, I didn’t have an open mind when reading your post on the word “gifted.”

It made me angry at first.  I’m the mom of a gifted child (in the label sense).  My immediate reaction was, “Dang.  How did we become a culture of people getting all tied up in knots over a word?  Let go of your need to have your child be a special snowflake, people!”

So I did what comes naturally–I grouched about it on Facebook.  In the comments, a friend suggested I watch your TED Talk.  I rolled my eyes and replied that I would.  (Yeah, I’m not very nice sometimes; I’m not proud of that.)  And then I watched it.

Oh, my.

I cried.  I cried because I know intimately that feeling of wearing a cape and pretending.  I’ve done it my whole life too.  My cape is being angry and self-righteous.  I’ve mostly shed it, but it sometimes begs to be taken out and worn.  Kind of like how I reacted to your post about gifted children.

So I thought about it, and I decided I want to help you understand.  You can correct me if I’m wrong, but I wonder if you’re seeing the label of “gifted” as being a kind of cape–something to hide a child’s real self.  If that’s so, then I want to tell you that you have it backwards.  My son’s gifted label is not his cape; it’s his freedom.

For us–for my son and for me–being told that he is gifted and has ADHD gave him wings.  Suddenly, he didn’t have to try to be just like every other child.  He could have his needs met, just like the child who has a learning disability or autism or physical limitations.  He could be fully, completely himself.  No pretending.  No cape.

Sometimes, I envy my son.  He loves who he is: highly intelligent, creative, musical, energetic, sassy, cheerful, sensitive, friendly, confident.  Unlike me, he is entirely comfortable in his own skin.  Knowing there’s a name for some of the ways in which his brain works differently is an important part of understanding and feeling good about himself.

I know you believe the word “gifted” is a frustrating term.  Right now, it’s the best one we have.  It isn’t a descriptor of gifts, it’s about the overall way in which children like my son are unique, just like other labels for brain function.  It’s not a reference to specific talents, such as playing the piano or being particularly good at math or art or soccer.  One can be a gifted musician or a talented writer without being given the overall distinction of gifted.  They’re not synonymous.

Maybe someday, we will have a better word that explains the difference between a gift and being gifted.  Until then, children who are gifted should not be ashamed to be given that title, and parents should not be ashamed to use it to describe their children.  Nor should children be ashamed for not being labeled gifted, in the same way no one should be ashamed of not having ADHD.

I hope that helps bring understanding, and I hope I’ve said it in a way that is kind and not shaming or hurtful.  We’re all on this planet together, and we parents have the responsibility to our kids not to make it harder for them by arguing amongst ourselves, particularly over such small things as words.

Much love on this parenting journey,

Amy

Health class and hook-ups

Last night, I got an email from one of my readers.*  She sent me the link to this mind-bogglingly awful blog post by Matt “Stay-at-Home-Moms-Are-Awesome” Walsh.  I’m not sure that we should have expected anything different from his guy, given the chipper and vaguely misogynistic tone of the post about motherhood.  Please be sure to read Matt’s post, or none of this will make any sense.

Let’s start with the “email”  Matt received from “Jeremy.”  Aside from the fact that it doesn’t sound like anything a teenage boy would write, I had to laugh at this:

One of my teachers actually mentioned it in class once after you wrote something (she didn’t mention it in a good way lol)

Oh, really, letter-writer?  I suppose it’s possible that one of Matt’s previous posts could have been popular enough to be read by an apparently non-Christian high school health teacher.  It’s not anywhere near likely that the teacher would have mentioned it in class, and almost certainly not including the name of the blogger.

“Jeremy” goes on to say that his teacher does the following things that I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard a teacher do and still keep his or her job:

  1. Calling abstinence “out-dated” and “unrealistic”
  2. Encouraging students to have casual sex
  3. Asking students to raise hands in a show of sexual history

This is a classic argument against sex education in high schools.  It doesn’t actually happen this way–in fact, more often than not, teachers hands are tied in regard to giving students proper information because some parents throw a fit every time the teacher tries.  The conservative families who don’t want comprehensive sex education come up with strange arguments about how teachers are going to start telling kids to just go ahead and do it.

The sad reality is that there isn’t nearly enough good education about sex.  I grew up in a non-religious household, but I knew people whose parents wouldn’t even allow them to go to school during fifth grade puberty lessons.  I remember those classes being embarrassing but halfway decent; my sex education steadily declined thereafter.  It ranged from having to diagram a penis for an exam (but not a uterus, because dicks are more complicated, ya know) to a teacher putting in a filmstrip about STDs.  The one teacher I had who might have done a better job never got the chance.  My grade 10 biology teacher had us submit 3 questions we wanted answered, and he was going to spend one double (lab) period answering them.  That was the year we had a huge ice storm, lost a week of school, and that lab got slashed as “unnecessary.”  Unfortunately, my teacher gave us the list of questions (ranging from “I think this whole thing is a joke” to good questions about relationships) without giving us any of the answers.

Anyway, if I were a teen in need of support, Matt Walsh is probably the last blogger I would write to.  His response to this “kid” is full of the same self-righteous crap spouted by most conservatives.  It’s condescending, it’s shaming, and it won’t help anyone make good decisions.

Believe it or not, I tend to agree with Matt that it’s not a great idea for teenagers to be having sex.  I’m not unrealistic enough to think they won’t, but that doesn’t mean I won’t teach my kids that it’s not a decision they need to make in high school.  I absolutely agree that the vast majority of adolescents are not equipped to make adult decisions about relationships.  We don’t expect our teens to know how to navigate the adult world in other ways; why should sex be different?  But the way Matt approaches it–including referring to teens as “emotionally immature juveniles” (that’s not at all condescending)–isn’t helpful.

I think this may be my favorite part of the post:

There’s plenty of ignorance on the subject. Plenty of confusion. But it’s the lies I hate. The lies that come from people who know better. The people who have made mistakes and now encourage others to make them, too.

I hate the lies, too, Matt.  I hate when people use their religious convictions to make up fake emails (whether this was Matt or a “concerned parent” posing as a kid, we may never know).  I hate when kids are given misinformation or none at all because of fear that telling them something will make them go try it.  I hate that kids are growing into adults who also don’t navigate sex and relationships well.  I hate that people are shamed for what they chose (or were forced) to do.  I hate the heteronormativity inherent in these conversations.

Casual sex proponents are the ones who have turned sex into something trivial, banal, utilitarian, pointless, joyless, one-dimensional, lifeless, lonely, and disappointing. How could the ones who hold it as sacred also be the ones who make it “boring”? No, it’s mainstream culture that’s made sex boring. It’s mainstream culture that is, in fact, afraid of sex. That’s why we spend so much energy shielding ourselves from every natural aspect of it, other than the physical sensation itself.

I’m so glad that Matt thinks he knows the minds of every person and how they feel about their sexual experiences.  Plus, he cleared it up for us–there are only two ways of thinking about sex!  We can have “meaningless” casual encounters, or we can have holy married sex.  Whew!  Good to know.  Now when I talk to my kids, we don’t need to have a conversation about sex in a long-term, non-married relationship.  Great!

This is exactly my problem with having conversations about sex with a certain brand of conservative-minded people.  They set up these straw-man arguments about how “the world” is teaching us that we should (Matt’s words here) “throw ourselves at strangers.”  Not even one word about the damage done by purity culture and how shame plays a big part of it–especially for girls and anyone who isn’t straight.

My second degree is in health education.  One of the first things we learned is that statistically speaking, abstinence-only education does not make any difference in rates of STDs and pregnancy among teens.  On average, teens who pledge abstinence wait 6 months to a year longer than their peers.  What is different is that with abstinence-only programs, students don’t learn how to be responsible.  Would you like to know what does make a difference–regardless of religion–in keeping kids safer and healthier?  Parent involvement.

Yep, that’s right.  It’s not about what the teacher says or doesn’t say.  It’s not about abstinence-only or standard sex ed or even some teacher spouting off about the perks of casual sex (not that the last one ever happens outside the made-up world of certain conservative Christian bloggers).  It’s about parents who are willing to have open communication with kids–not just a one-time “birds and bees” lecture but a lifetime of teaching them to respect themselves and others.

Believe it or not, this is the line that disturbs me most:

And, when the time comes, you’ll express love. Then, you’ll be able to say that you only ever expressed this sort of love to the one person who deserves it.

“Deserves it”?  That phrase haunts me.  Was I more deserving because when I got married, nothing other than a tampon had ever been in my vagina?  Is someone who has had casual sex–and enjoyed it–less deserving?  Or is this just a reference to how awesome married sex is?  I can’t tell.  I would like to hope that Matt didn’t mean it to sound so shaming, but I’m not convinced.

If “Jeremy” is real, here’s what I would like to say to him (and any other “Jeremys” our there):  If you want to wait, that’s cool.  Don’t feel pressured to do anything you’re not ready for just because someone else said you should.  Don’t listen to people who tell you that you must have sex in order to know for sure if that’s the person you want to marry.  But also?  Don’t listen to Matt Walsh or anyone else who tries to tell you that there are only two options–hook up with strangers or marry your one true love.  Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you should feel ashamed of your choices.  And don’t feel like you need to figure this out on your own.  Find people you trust who are open to talking about it.  In the end, the decision is yours and yours alone who you choose to have sex with.  You have the right to live your life without shame.

______________________________

*Dave Barry always said those letters were from Alert Readers.  Stephanie Drury (of Stuff Christian Culture Likes) calls them “email of the day” or “comment of the day.”  I suck at naming things, so if anyone wants to suggest a clever name, feel free.

Pearson strikes again

By Pearson Education (http://logok.org/pearson-longman/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I do my best to stay out of most discussions about public education.  My older child is having a positive experience in public school, and our family’s income depends on the public school system.  I’m hesitant to say anything that would put my husband’s job at risk because of his wife making trouble.  I honestly used to think that might not happen–after all, this isn’t some mob movie, right?  After reading about Pearson’s latest antics, I’m not so sure it isn’t the educational version of The Godfather.

For those of you who don’t remember, Pearson is the company that brought us the Pineapple Question on the state ELA test a few years ago.  (They bought the rights to a short story by Daniel Pinkwater and rewrote it in a convoluted way.)  Now the New York State Attorney General is investigating whether Pearson is using their non-profit branch to influence state officials by paying for expensive trips that may include lobbying for their for-profit arm.

By now, I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m bringing this up.  I mean, this is obviously important to me as a parent–I don’t want my children’s education corrupted from dirty dealings by a testing company.  Other parents have the right to be informed as well.  And really, I’m feeling pretty proud of my state for taking on Pearson.  I hope they suck them dry (fat chance, but it’s a nice dream).  While those are my top reasons for my interest in the subject, I do have another selfish motivation.

I don’t like to go into details about my projects very often.  I find that it stifles some of my creativity and creates undue pressure on me to perform in a way I can’t always manage.  But I’m going to mention it because it’s related to the article I linked above.

Last year, I started writing a story.  It was going to be just for fun, something to work on whenever I felt like I was in a blogging rut.  I wanted to experiment with some things I’d never written before.  I happen to like updated fairy tales that don’t come off as fairy tales, so I chose the tale of the pied piper.  I had in mind to give it a happy ending, because I’m cheesy like that.  Anyway, I worked on it for a bit and then decided to set it aside because I’m not great with long-term projects.  I figured if I really wanted to, I could pick it up again for NaNoWriMo, since I hadn’t written that much and I knew I could write another 50,000 words (and therefore not be cheating, since I had some written already).

What does this have to do with anything?  The story is about underhanded dealings in public education and misuse of disciplinary action against “failing” schools.

I ended up going back to it sooner than I’d intended.  I finished enough to start sending the story to beta readers so I could get some feedback on where to head with it.  In one chapter, a character tells another that the underhanded dealings are not a good way to live.  One of the beta readers complained in her comments that I had made it sound like a mob movie and that while “corporate takeover of a school is not ideal,” it made her roll her eyes.

Except that’s what happens.

For-profit companies (for example, Pearson) can take failing schools, create charters, and make a profit.  Investors–usually wealthy donors such as the Gates Foundation–can put money into it and receive not only a tax write-off but a financial gain, sometimes as much as double what they put in.  I swear I could not make this stuff up.

The worst part is that the charter schools are not better than the public schools they replaced; they’re just not as heavily regulated.  Charter school teachers don’t even need to be certified because the rules applied to state-funded schools don’t apply.  The idea that if schools operated on a for-profit basis they would improve due to “competition” is ridiculous.  Additionally, schools can lose funding and students can suffer when wealthy investors back out suddenly (this has happened with the Gates Foundation).

Does this have the potential for people to try to game the system in order to profit from education?  Absolutely.

Go ahead, beta reader, and roll your eyes.  Corporate takeover isn’t “ideal”?  I hope you’re unlucky enough one day to be forced to send your child to a sub-par charter school run by a for-profit Educational Management Organization.

I have no idea whether I’ll ever publish this story.  I’ll let you know if I do.  For now, I’m content to watch the Pearson drama unfold and pray desperately that someone takes that company down several notches.  We don’t need education reform; we need a complete overhaul.

 

They’re Just Words

I had an eye-rolling moment this afternoon.  One of those times when you think, “You didn’t just say that.  Oh, no.  You did just say that.  Wait…really?????” and it’s also an extremely squicky moment.

I had taken S to a class and was prepared to sit down to wait for her outside the classroom.  I even brought my laptop, fully intending to get some writing done.  I found a good spot, booted up, and…yep.  Chatty Mommy sat down next to me.

Now, anyone who knows me knows I love to talk.  All right, that may be an understatement.  My husband says I need to get my 10,000 words in every day.  Writing takes care of a lot of that these days, but if I’m in the company of good friends, I let loose.

I do not love talking to complete strangers, or listening to them talk endlessly.

To be fair, I had no idea she was so talkative.  I politely asked if she had a child in the class too (hey, she could have been randomly stalking classrooms).  Right there was my first mistake.  My second was failing to turn right back to my computer as soon as she’d answered me.

For the next hour, I listened to her talk about her kids.  How they were so different from each other.  How homeschooling was proceeding for the oldest.  How she writes her reports.  Her fears about her five-year-old’s progress in reading.  And on…and on….and on…

Until she finally asked me about curriculum.  We don’t use one, though we do use a few workbooks and some other materials.  I shared that, and mentioned that I want to avoid full curricula because I want a bit more control over what we teach.  She began telling me about how she’s had to modify the information in some of the lessons.  And therein lies the squick.

This conversation is now on my Top Ten Things I Absolutely, Completely Did not Need to Know about a Total Stranger’s Children.  Apparently, she didn’t like that the health book had children learning the differences between male and female bodies and using proper terminology for male and female anatomy.  At which point she told me that her children don’t use “vulgar” euphemisms, but that her daughter calls it her “front butt.”

I thought my head might possibly burst.

I have a boy and a girl.  They share a room.  They took baths together until they were four and six, and we only stopped so they wouldn’t kill each other in the shower.  They are completely familiar with the difference between boys and girls.  They know and use the correct words for their body parts (all of them).  They are not ashamed of nudity or embarrassed about bodily functions (in a good way).  They are very comfortable in their bodies, thankfully, and I hope it remains that way.

I shared the “front butt” story with the fam at dinner.  Of course; who wouldn’t share that kind of thing over a plate of homemade lasagna?  When my husband asked S if she would like to begin referring to her anatomy as her “front butt,” she frowned at him and emphatically said, “No!”  And because we have now reverted to age ten, this caused hysterical giggling in all of us.

There is no reason why kids can’t be taught from an early age to respect their bodies.  This includes using correct terms, knowing what their bodies look like, and being aware of what their bodies can do.  We don’t need to fear that using the anatomical terms are somehow going to lead them astray; the opposite is much more likely, in fact.  They’re just words, people.  Get over it.

Making Progress

One more post about the kiddos and then I promise, it’s right back to brilliantly scathing commentary on fundamentalism.  Okay, fine, it’s back to somewhat grouchy and disapproving commentary on fundamentalism.

It seems that we are in a good place with J and his school.  Thankfully, he has a wonderful and caring teacher who wants to see J be successful as much as we do.  I was amazed by some of the things she said to me today, particularly in regard to helping kids feel like they are making progress rather than always punishing the negative.

One reason we have been able to work through these tough issues is that I feel it is my duty as a parent to keep our son from being in the middle between his teacher and us.  We’re not on opposite sides.  We all want the same things.  J and his classmates have the right to an education, and it isn’t fair for one child to lose out for the sake of the rest, nor for the rest to be disrupted for the sake of the one.  I believe it is the responsibility of both parents and teachers to form an alliance in order to ensure a positive learning environment.

I have taken this approach with homeschooling as well.  From the time we began homeschooling four years ago, I went into it with the mentality that it was important for us to work with the local district in order that our children’s needs be best met.  Although it is not required by law to use them, I created J’s and now S’s IHIP (basically a homeschool learning plan) based on the school district’s forms.  I found the forms to be helpful not only for keeping in touch but for my own record-keeping and lesson plans.

The evidence of how well that worked came when J went to school.  School personnel were impressed with how well we communicated and J’s first teacher said he was well prepared to enter the classroom, in more ways than mere academics.  We had instilled in J a love for learning which carried over into his time at public school.  We are on a similar path with S, though she learns very differently than her brother.

Unfortunately, although this has been the approach that worked best for our family, I’ve faced a good measure of criticism.  The vast majority of homeschooling parents have told me that I provided the district with too much information, that I would “ruin” it for others because the school would expect more from them, that I was making too much work for myself, that it’s us against the evil public school world.  Nothing I said in our defense made any impression.  And once J was in school, I was actively shunned by some families I had known when the kids were younger.  Never mind that S is still learning at home, I had become a traitor to the cause.

The thing is, I don’t think it has much to do with homeschooling.  There are some people who simply view life as a series of battles.  The nuclear family is seen as an army or two, three, four, or more, and the enemy is anything on which they declare war:  Public school, teaching methods, mainstream physicians, food, religion (or lack thereof).  It’s not even a matter of fighting injustice.  For example, take the hostility over public school.  It’s usually about the belief that one’s own children are being harmed or neglected in some way.  It’s rarely about the need for reform within the schools that would improve things for everyone, such as smaller classes, higher quality food, and adequate resources.

We’ve chosen to see things differently.  We believe that if we support the teachers and the other staff, they will go to bat for us.  So far, that’s been proven true time and again.  As we work together to help sort out what needs to happen with J, we’re all keeping open minds throughout the process.  My husband and I have a great support network of family and friends.  It’s our job as parents to let J’s teacher know that we want to be a team in creating the best possible school experience we can for everyone.

It may not work out perfectly every time, in every situation, for every family.  I don’t want to paint a rosy picture or imply that if you just do all the right things, magic will happen.  Sometimes, needs are not met and changes must be made.  Sometimes there are real battles to fight.  But if every detail and every aspect of life is a battle, how can one ever hope to come home from the war?

Being Open-Minded

For a long time, I’ve been an advocate for keeping more kids off psychotropic medications.  Not because I doubt the existence of childhood mental disorders, but because the long-term effects are unknown and I believe that parents and professionals should proceed with caution.  I am not against using medication when it is necessary and beneficial for the child.  After all, my own daughter is on steroids for her asthma, and there are well-documented associated risks.  But I’ve seen the downside of over-medicating young children, particularly when it comes to diagnosis and treatment of ADHD.

One of the problems with institutionalized learning (and a major reason why we began homeschooling almost four years ago) is the amount of time children have to be kept quiet and sitting at a desk.  For some children, this isn’t a problem.  But for others, it is absolute torture.  It may not have anything to do with the ability to focus or concentrate.  Some people are sensation-seekers who thrive on sensory input.  Others simply learn better by doing rather than hearing or seeing (kinesthetic learners).  For still others, they may exhibit traits similar to ADHD, but do not actually have that particular disorder.

I used to be a school nurse, so I was responsible for passing out Ritalin or similar medications to approximately 40 children on a daily basis.  I saw both sides of the coin.  Were there kids benefiting from the meds?  Absolutely.  There were also kids for whom nothing ever seemed to work.  Some kids suffered through repeated change in dose, type, and schedule, to no avail.  Other kids had behaviors so bothersome that I had teachers either red in the face with anger or near tears, begging me to talk to the family about “doing something” with the child’s medication.  And one story stands out in my mind vividly.

We had one student who was put on a medication trial.  For those who don’t know what that means, the physician orders two to four weeks of trial period.  For half of the trial, the child receives an actual dose of medication.  For the other half, a placebo.  No one except the pharmacist has any idea which half is which, only that the child is taking some kind of pill.  Before and during the trial, the parents and teacher are expected to keep a log of the undesirable behaviors the child has and any changes.  The boy in question underwent such a trial about halfway through the year.

When the study began, his teacher approached me and said that she was already seeing a difference in his behavior and attitude.  She was thrilled, and certain that the dose he was on was correct.  After the first two-week phase of the trial ended, she returned to me to let me know that the boy’s behavior had gone downhill again.  She hoped that he would be placed on medication for the remainder of the year.

I suspect you know what’s coming.

And you’re right–the boy had been on the placebo for the first two weeks.  Needless to say, the doctor and the parents refused to have anything more to do with medicating the boy.  He went on to have successful behavioral counseling.

Now that I’ve said all that, I have to make a confession.  We’re now about to embark on a journey with our son.  He is a wonderful kid, bright and creative to the extreme, with the soul of an artist.  He almost literally dances through life, his body craving near-constant motion.  On a good day I wish I had his energy.  But the flip side of those good qualities is that he is extraordinarily impulsive.  He reacts, rather than thinking.  His high-octane personality is not suited for long periods of seat work.  And it leads to a lot of negative consequences.

As much as I favor treating children naturally, without brain-altering chemicals, I know I have to keep an open mind.  I hope to begin with the simple, some help learning how to control his impulses.  I also know that if it comes down to it, I expect that he will be given every possible evaluation and trial before being handed a psychotropic medication.  His dad and I are his best advocates.  We want what is right for him, not a broken system where a teacher has to be solely responsible for the instruction, behavior, and well-being of 25 or more students.  We’re prepared to make some hard choices, including returning him to homeschooling to give him a break from forced seat learning.

It’s going to be a bumpy ride, but we’ll handle it the way we’ve handled everything else with the kids.  We love them, we respect the other adults, and we work toward a common goal of helping our son to grow into the person he is meant to become.

Fear-Based Education

Although this isn’t making news beyond the evangelical sphere, I thought I’d share.  Please take a moment to read the article I’ve linked before you read the rest of this post.

First, in case you’ve never heard of the book in question (I had, but in a different context), you should know that this book is a) not the first of its kind; and b) not as scary as Baptist Press makes it sound.  It’s actually a pretty cute story, and it has a sequel in which the two kings add to their family.  However, all that is beside the point.

I happen to live in New York, where same-sex marriage is now legal.  It has been legal in Massachusetts for some time now.  (It’s also legal in Canada, the land where people seem to freak out a lot less about this stuff.)  The growing fear among conservative evangelicals is that our children will be “indoctrinated” to believe that same-sex unions are “normal.”

I have news for you: In New York, it now is normal, being legal and all.  I have more news: Right now, your children are in class with kids who have two mommies or two daddies.  I happen to personally know three such families, all of whom have children in the public school system.  It’s not going to happen, it already is.

For other kids, same-sex unions among family and friends are part of their reality.  My children have two aunts who love them very much, and a host of other GLBT folks in their lives.  For them, this is not strange.  Knowing real, flesh-and-blood humans creates an opportunity to talk with our kids (yes, even at ages 6 and 8 ) about these things.  And it has come up, not in class, but because they can read for themselves.  They read signs, see newspaper headlines in the store, and come across bumper stickers.  We have had to explain all sorts of things to our kids, and we always try to take a loving approach to the subject.

This whole thing is parallel to the brouhaha in California over the “gayification” of public education.  There is this fear that somehow, all the history books are suddenly going to turn everyone gay.  I’m not aware of campaigns to list the Founding Fathers as having had a wild orgy on the night they signed the Declaration of Independence.  All that is happening is that the contributions of gay Americans will have a place in the books (for example, Harvey Milk) and that important events in the history of the Gay Rights Movement will be included (such as the Stonewall riots).  Historical facts, people, not a lengthy course on Every Gay Person Who Ever Lived and How They Are More Awesome than You.

Public education is not conservative Christian education.  Nor should it be.  If you would like to teach your child those values, please feel free to do so—in your own home.  If your child’s teacher reads a book to which you object, please talk with your child about your family’s beliefs.  Or, better yet, send your child to private school or homeschool.  If those are not options, then revisit option 1.  But don’t expect the everyone to cater to your specific reading of the Bible in a public classroom.

Top 10 Reasons I Wish I Still Homeschooled

I do still homeschool my daughter.  But I have to admit, I wish I had my son home again.  I could make him homeschool, but he does enjoy school.  I’m trying to do what’s best for him.  Still, when certain things happen, it does make me long for those days back again.  So here’s my list:

10. Head lice, strep throat, colds, flu, and puking

This is the worst winter we’ve had in years.  I would like to send my kid to school in one of those biohazard suits.

9. Bullies

J came home a few weeks ago and said a kid in his class is picking on him.  Of course, homeschooling is no guarantee against that issue.  When J was still at home, he was bullied by a couple of kids his age because he takes dance class.  I guess I was foolish enough to believe that certain cultural stereotypes and attitudes might not be present among homeschoolers.  I was wrong; teaching your kids at home is not proof against being a nasty individual or having stupid ideas about what boys “shouldn’t” do.

8. Lady Gaga

Well, okay, not Lady Gaga herself.  But one of his classmates came to school with a magazine clearly intended for teens that had a photo of Lady Gaga in her meat dress.  I’m not really concerned that he saw too much flesh (pun intended), just that I know that whatever else is in that magazine wasn’t intended for his age group.

7. The playground

The weather has turned nice here and the kids should be outside playing.  Sadly, at J’s school, that means playing on the blacktop.  The playground is literally under water–several inches.  It will be awhile before anyone is playing on it, especially with more rain predicted.

6. School lunches

Yes, I know I have the right to send my kid with his own lunch.  And I do, nearly every day.  So I’m not really worried about J.  I am worried about the kids who get free lunches.  That may be the only thing some of them eat that day.  So shouldn’t it be a little more nutritious than chicken nuggets?

5. The bus

I suppose I could drive J myself.  And mostly I don’t mind the bus.  His morning bus driver is a very sweet, motherly lady whom all the kids seem to like and respect.  It’s his afternoon bus driver that scares me.  He is a very strange man.  Not to mention the kids J rides with in the afternoon.  J exchanged phone numbers with one of them.  The boy called and was incredibly rude to me.  Apparently, no one has bothered to teach that kid phone manners.  And one of the other kids managed to make trouble for J at school.  He threw snow balls at him, then ran away to watch while J got in trouble  with a bus monitor for dodging them.  Judging by what his teachers say about him, I don’t doubt J’s story for even a minute–he’s the last kid to get in trouble for anything.

4. Reading

I was told by the reading teacher that J needed to catch his reading comprehension up to his decoding (reading the words/sounds on the page).  Huh.  Doesn’t just READING MORE do that??

3. Budget cuts

We can’t know the future, of course, but it doesn’t look good.  The first things to go are usually the arts.  We talk a lot about how kids need physical education so they don’t get fat.  True, but should we let their brains atrophy, too?  Kids need art, music, and literature, too.

2. Getting the facts straight

So far, J has informed me that your heart stops when you sneeze and several other urban legends.  Apparently, the adults in the school are telling the kids this stuff as facts.  But the kids believe it because a grown-up they trust is telling them.  It’s hard to compete with that.

And the number one reason…

1. I just plain miss my kid.  ‘Nuff said.

Walking the Mile

Today I’m taking on people who complain about teachers.  If you’re a teacher, you know exactly what I mean.  I’m talking about the people who complain that teachers are paid too much, don’t work enough hours, or aren’t doing their jobs “right.”  A parallel category is the people who like to say things like, “It’s easy, I could do it.”

My husband is a teacher.  We have found that the vast majority of people who complain, especially about the salary, are people who have an annual family income greater than ours.  Now, I am not complaining.  We are very comfortable and content.  We live well within our means and we don’t have to struggle to keep up.  But it does make me wonder why anyone would think it appropriate to whine about what we have when they clearly have, materially, much more.

I don’t have any compelling logical arguments to make that will change anyone’s opinion.  I think the reality is that the majority of teacher-haters probably have no idea what it’s really like to be a teacher.  So I’m going to propose that anyone who feels compelled to complain take the following steps:

1. Trade salary and benefits with a teacher.  (This was my husband’s idea.)

2. Go teach for a year in one of these locations: the inner city, northeastern U.S.; rural Appalachia; among the Native Americans in Alaska.  It might be a good idea to try out all three.  Although there are other rough areas to teach, those present some of the most challenging because of poverty and cultural differences.

3. Spend a year teaching in a wealthy suburb.  Deal with parents who believe their child deserves special treatment, students who don’t do their homework, and pressure to have the kids perform to a certain level on state testing.

4. Teach at a state college or university for a year.  You will probably still have to deal with some of the same parents as in step 3, along with managing the pressures of having to publish original material.  Some colleges also expect you to perform some type of community service or service to campus life.

5. Answer these questions and report back: Was it as easy as you thought?  How did your salary and benefits compare to what you expected?  Would you ever do it again?

I know that some people will be thinking that teaching is a “calling” and as such, should not necessarily be rewarded any more than a missionary or a pastor.  But if you’re in a job you really enjoy and are good at doing, isn’t that the same thing?  The difference here is that I don’t spend my life complaining that my non-teacher friends make too much money or don’t do their jobs well enough.  All I’m asking, really, is for the same respect.