Life in the Classroom

What is the purpose of school? An article today from NPR on the fading away of “Home Ec” classes, combined with another article about LA Unified establishing the goal of preparing every grad for CSU or UC, got me thinking: Should we be preparing students for college, or for life? I think both, m’self.

When I was back in Junior High (and yes, we called it that), there were still shop classes for boys — wood, metalworking, electrical, drafting — and home ec — sewing, cooking — for girls. By the time I was in high school, the classes were still there but mixed sexes, plus there was auto shop and photography. We also had courses available in Driver Education and what was called “Health”, but it was really Sex Ed and teaching you what drugs were on the street.

Today that has changed, and there appear to be courses called life skills, but based on the NPR article, I’m not sure they are teaching the right stuff, however. I believe, that by the time you get out of high school, you should know the following life skills:

  • Basic cooking
  • Basic clothing repairs and sewing
  • Basic electrical and plumbing
  • Basic wall repair and painting
  • Basic car repair
  • Basic financial skills: balancing a checkbook, what a loan is, how interest works, what impacts your credit score, what insurance is and how it works
  • Basic legal skills: how to read a loan contract, how to read a rental contract
  • Basic driver education

In general, you should come out of high school with sufficient skills to “adult” on your own. But that’s not enough.

I agree that schools should prepare you for college. That doesn’t mean you should go, but they should not preclude the option beforehand. This goes well beyond the academic course prerequisites that UC or CSU require. It also includes “collegeing” skills — which are appropriate even for those going the vocational route. These include:

  • How to manage your time
  • How to write papers with convincing arguments
  • How to get up and speak and present findings
  • How to think critically, examine issues critically, and argue issues.
  • How to navigate the academic process: not only financial, but exploring the wide variety of post-high school education options

We’re just now seeing the impact of a generation that cannot critically think. It occupies an office that is neither rectilinear nor circular, but something that has two focii.


Essay Prompt: What Did You Learn in School Today?

userpic=divided-nationI can always depend on my Conservative friends for essay prompts. Here is today’s:

Why are schools acting like they own our children? We are not sending them to school to be indoctrinated! They are there to learn…. we want history math grammar NOT walkouts … gun control .. and Hate towards our President.

Oh, there’s so much to unpack here.

I. That’s right, the place to indoctrinate our children is at home, where you get to teach your children your prejudices and your religion, your hatreds and biases. But then again, some do send their kids to school to be indoctrinated: witness the rise of private and religious schools, both of which indoctrinate children with specific values and beliefs systems. So what you are really saying is that you don’t want schools to indoctrinate children with values different than yours. Remember what they sang in South Pacific, “You have to be carefully taught.”  But then again, I don’t want my children to be indoctrinated with YOUR values.

II. You do want your children to learn history, and how to read and write. Guess what? That exposes them to the fact that protests and walkouts are a part of American History. It teaches them that guns have been a problem throughout American history, and that there have been numerous attempts to control them. It teaches them to read, and to be able to find political analysis and read that. It teaches them to write and to find their voice. It teaches them math, so that they can see the numbers of how many other children are being killed, and how much money the NRA is spending to prevent any regulations on weapons. Any regulation.  It teaches them to think critically, which is what a school should do. And these critical thinking students learn the power of their voice from history, and they use it.

III. There’s something that people (and especially the NRA) forgets: gun control isn’t all or nothing. Gun control does not mean the government is coming for everyone’s guns. Gun control is increased regulations on some guns, and perhaps the inability to purchase new models of some other types, and increased energy to go after the illegal guns out there. But it isn’t going after the legal gun owners that follow the rules. They aren’t the problem. However, the NRA wants you to think the government is coming after you, so you buy … well, you get it.

IV. As for teaching Hatred of the President: I think if there were staff actually teaching hatred during school hours, they would be called out for it. In fact, many have. These children may observe this hatred from society, or their parents, or for that matter, much of the free world. But the meme said specifically during school hours, and that rarely happens from school officials. Official school curriculum does not teach like or dislike of particular politicians. After all, that isn’t on the test. It might teach students about issues that are relevant to their education. But even this gun control debate is not necessarily hatred of the President, it is hatred of his policies. Yes: there is a distinction between policies and the person saying them.

In closing, again, we have Tom Paxton and Pete Seeger to take us out on a song, demonstrating that “indoctrination” has been more on the right, in any case:

What did you learn in school today
Dear little boy of mine?
What did you learn in school today
Dear little boy of mine?

I learned that Washington never told a lie
I learned that soldiers seldom die
I learned that everybody’s free
And that’s what the teacher said to me
That’s what I learned in school today
That’s what I learned in school

What did you learn in school today…?

I learned that policemen are my friends
I learned that justice never ends
I learned that murderers die for their crimes
Even if we make a mistake sometimes
That’s what I learned in school today
That’s what I learned in school.

What did you learn in school today…?

I learned Newt Gingrich has a plan
Of healthcare for every woman and man
It’ll cost far less and the reason why
Is all you have to do is DIE DIE DIE
That’s what I learned in school today
That’s what I learned in school

What did you learn in school today…?

I learned that Hillary Clinton is bad
For taking a thousand dollars she had
And running it up to a hundred grand
When that should only be done by a man.
That’s what I learned in school today
That’s what I learned in school


These Boots are Made for Walking

A lot of energy is being spent by folks blathering on about how students shouldn’t have walked out, they should have walked over, or in general, not walked at all. My thoughts? I have absolutely no problem with students — of any age — peaceably protesting about any political interest that is of concern to them. It teaches civic involvement; it teaches that one can stand up to the government when one believes differently; it teaches that one voice can start a change, and many voices can bring about change; it teaches our youth the value of political involvement. As for missing school, more time is wasted on pep rallies and similar school spirit idiocies that teach nothing than an hour of protest.

I’m a child of the 1960s. I remember the days when students across high school and college campuses stood up to protest the Vietnam War, because it was their lives that were being used as cannon fodder by the government. They brought about a change in attitude towards the war, they changed society. I remember the days when students across campuses protested for civil rights and equal treatment for minorities, when student idealism brought societal change that benefited everyone.

It was protest that started with walking out.

Your shoes, my shoes, 
Done walked a mile or two.
Your shoes, my shoes, 
Done all shoes can do.

They walked with Rosa to the front of the bus;
They walked with Martin when he prayed for us.
They walked with me and they walked with you;
They done all shoes can do.

There are those who say students should walk over instead of walking out. Those who say the bullies should make nice with the bullied, and that will solve all the problems. Although that’s a nice theory, it is full of holes (perhaps .44). Those who have been bullied know, once bullying has started, the bully can’t make nice and the problem will go away. The distrust and the hatred has been sown. Bullying must be stopped before it starts. Further, it is an example of blaming the victim, of saying it was the bully who does the shooting. It is an example of diversion of the discussion away from gun regulation. It is an example of black and white thinking: if you walk over and make nice, everyone will forget about the problem with guns and we don’t need to do anything about them. Nothing says you can’t do both: address bullying in schools, and improve regulation of guns. Nothing says you can’t make schools more secure and safe, and regulate guns. They aren’t mutually exclusive.

[ETA: For those who haven’t seen my thoughts on the issue: Here’s how I think the problem of school violence should be addressed, and it isn’t the arming of teachers, which is a bad idea.]

The children will lead us on this issue, because they are the ones bearing the brunt of this violence. It is their lives, and they are taking control of them. They are saying never again. They are saying not here. They are saying that we need to keep guns out of schools — be they in the hands of students, visitors, or teachers. They are saying we increase restrictions on the most dangerous and deadly guns: make them harder to obtain, make those who own them legally more responsible for securing them, and going after those who have them legally. They are telling the gun lobby that their lives are more important than the lobby’s profits or the politicians they own.

They are walking to make a statement.

Your shoes, my shoes, 
Done walked a mile or two.
Your shoes, my shoes, 
Done all shoes can do.

They’ve been up the mountain where the trees don’t grow,
Been ‘cross the desert where they never seen snow.
Been so tired that they can’t hardly go,
But they’re good enough to get us to glory.

It’s left shoe, right shoe, don’t know the size.
Shoes on the ground and eyes on the prize.
They’ve been to the river and they’ve been baptized,
And they’re good enough to get us to glory.

(Lyric credit: “Your shoes, My Shoes”, Tom Paxton, 1998)


Talking to the Wall

Those of you who read me on Facebook may have seen my vaguebooking about banging ones head on a wall: it doesn’t change the wall, and only hurts your head. You may also have seen my comment over the weekend: “we became ghosts to the wall, leaving us concerned and relieved”.

Perhaps I should explain a little.

About 6 months ago, we took in someone we care about who needed some help. The intent was to see if our different set of parenting skills could help this person do better in life: succeed in school, learn to be an independent adult. We had some successes, but it was often two steps forward, and one and three quarter steps back. Combined with this was a tendency to self-sabotage — when the situation got hard (as situations as an adult often do), the solution wasn’t to address the issue as an adult, but to retry self-defeating behaviors. As time went on, we learned that the causes of the problems were more complicated than we initially believed. Even with beating our heads on the wall, we came to realize that we didn’t have the correct skill set to change the wall. We were attempting a DIY for a solution that required a knowledgeable craftsperson.

We were on the verge of working together with this person, and others that care about them, to find a specific solution when they abruptly decided to move out, leaving a mess to clean up, with nary a thank you or hugs. Hence, “concerned and relieved”.

So this is a message to the “wall”: Even with what has happened, we still care about your well-being and your success. We’re here if you need to talk or figure out solutions. We fervently hope that you find a life situation that works for you and helps you grow into the remarkable independent successful adult we know you can be. When you reach or even get close to that point, you are welcome here.


A Father’s Job

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to dust off my parenting skills. This opportunity has reminded me of some of my thoughts on parenting, which I thought I would share with you this Fathers Day. Perhaps they will help you be a better parent to your child:

  • It is our job to be there for our children. Parenting means providing your child unconditional love and support. That doesn’t mean you always agree with what they do, but love must come first. Your child must feel free to talk with you about anything. Anything. A N Y T H I N G. Without any fear of your reaction. You are there to support and help them.
  • It is our job to uplift our children. In the broad sense, we are our child’s greatest cheerleader. In the broad sense, our children are by definition beautiful, smart, and talented, and we keep telling them that because that self-esteem serves them well throughout life. This doesn’t mean a particular piece of clothing might not make them look bad, or they might take a stupid action, or be untalented at a given task. But in the broad sense.
  • It is our job to respect our children. By showing them respect, we teach them what respect is and how to give it to others. Don’t pick up your child by calling them and having them come out — go to the door and meet them. Don’t call them names, make fun of physical attributes — that’s bullying. Respect their time, if you want them to respect yours. If you say you will be there at a certain time, be there at that time. In short, this is just the Golden Rule: Treat them as you would want to be treated.
  • Gently Encourage, Don’t Shame. We all have ways we want our children to behave — things we think are right. But the way to get those good behaviors is not to shame bad ones. Calling someone fat, showing how they are a slob only tears them down and makes you a bully. Instead, do things that encourage the right behavior. Have healthy right-portioned family meals together. Have family non-screen activities. Teach techniques on how to succeed. But while doing this, remember one thing: your love for your child is not a reward or something that can be withheld — it must always be present.
  • Couch Criticism Carefully. Every child is going to do something stupid. It is part of growing up. But think about criticism in a TQM sense: what have they been doing right, and where can they improve. Criticize only those things the child can change, and tread carefully on criticizing the child vs. the action. Make it clear when something is your opinion vs. a general societal judgement. “I don’t think that dress flatters you.” (or even better, “You would look better in this“) is much better than “You’re fat.”. Saying “I think that was a silly thing to do.” is much better than “You’re dumb for doing that.” Remember that the job of criticism is not to tear down (destructive criticism), but to show us how to improve (constructive criticism).
  • Don’t Hide Consequences. Actions have consequences — that is a fact of life. It is one of the most important rules a child must learn. Good actions have good consequences. Bad actions have bad consequences. As actions come from your decisions, what you do and how you decide to behave will have consequences. A fundamental lesson. However, we must temper that with the temptation to create artificial consequences, or to hide the impact of a decision. Real life consequences are often lesson enough.
  • You Will Make Mistakes. Expect that both you and your child will make mistakes. No one is the perfect parent; no one has a perfect child. Learn from your mistakes, and admit when you made them (and what you would do differently). That is how a child learns they don’t have meet an impossible standard of perfection, that they can make a mistake — learn from it — and move on. This also encourages them to tell you about their mistakes and get your help in recovering.
  • Avoid Yelling. Yelling does precious little other than relieving stress, or communicating with someone far away or not paying attention. Once you have someone’s attention, talk calmly and with confidence, and they will better hear you. People don’t want to hear yelling and tune it out quickly. We rarely yell in our household (we do, however, talk through issues, which is often painful enough).

Alas, I know there are some people out there with dads that perhaps don’t do what I’ve listed above. Reading my various feeds and news sources back in May, I found this wonderful essay: To All the Brave Kids Who Broke up with Their Toxic Dads. It should be required reading for all children with fathers — no, make that parents — that work against their self-esteem and success. It lets them know that such a break-up is OK, and even to love them from afar is fine. Here’s the opening paragraph to give you a taste: “You are going to be more than okay. Whether it was because of an addiction, constant excuses for not being there, an irresistible urge to put you down, an indifference or inability to give and receive love, his past, pride, selfishness, the fact that he’s weak or scared, or just the heartbreak of dealing with a man who’s broken, you did the hardest break-up that your heart will ever have to endure. You need to understand how brave you are.”


Good Advice Costs Nothing and is Worth Twice the Price

userpic=moneyAfter her graduation from UC Berkeley last May, my daughter did what millions of millenials with student loans have done — she moved back into our house with her boyfriend. I mention this because my accumulating news chum has a collection of useful articles for parents and children in the exact same situation, which I thought I would share:

Hopefully, these links will prove useful to your children (or, if you are a millennial, to you).


Needling (Anti)Vaxxers About Risk (or This Isn’t Your Father’s 11/780)

userpic=mad-scientistWhat’s this I hear about people being anti-Vax? Don’t they realize that without the Vax, and its older sibling, the PDP 11, there might not have been the Internet as we know it? I mean, Unix was developed for the Vaxxen. Oh, wait, I wanted to write about a different Vax. Nevermind.

Seriously, now that we’re past that bad but obligatory pun, I’d like to talk to you about a different sort of “vax” — vaccines, and their well-publicized opposition, the “anti-vaxxers”. These folks have been in the news lately because of a recently enacted California law that requires parents to vaccinate their children except when medically-contraindicated (no exemption for belief or parent choice), and a Federal Judge upholding that law. Do a search on the Internet related to that law, and you are overwhelmed by the anti-vax opposition sites, such as this one, masquerading as an information site. Closer to home, the subject is on my mind because of a recent discussion with a relative who is in the anti-vax camp, where she asked if she was anti-science because she was skeptical of many things such as the planethood of Pluto, the accuracy of meteorologists, and science’s disbelief (until recently) about the value of the microbiome. This particular post was prompted by a “Fuck You Anti-Vaxxer” rant a different friend posted, which made me realize that a more reasoned screen was necessary.

Let’s work through this and some of the arguments together. The BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front) is that being an anti-vaxxer is not necessarily being anti-science, but it is a clear demonstration of how humans want to blame something or someone when something goes wrong, how humans have difficulty separating correlation and causality, and how bad we are at judging and assessing risk. When properly assessed, the best way that a parent can reduce risk for their child is to ensure they are vaccinated.

Read More …


What Parents Miss When The Kids Come Home From College

userpic=calEarlier today, I linked to a number of lists posted in the Daily Cal, including a list of 5 things to enjoy now that you’re home from school. Of course, one thing the Daily Cal didn’t post was a list of the things the parents can’t enjoy now that the kids are home from college. I must oblige with a dozen… feel free to add to the list…

  1. Peace and quiet in the house.
  2. Only having to do a small number of loads of laundry.
  3. Having an empty sink in the kitchen… and having it stay that way.
  4. Most of the lights in the house remaining off.
  5. Only grocery shopping once a week.
  6. The house staying picked up for more than 30 minutes.
  7. Control of television and other electronic media.
  8. Not having to worry about when someone will be coming home… or if… and who they might be with… and if they are spending the night…
  9. Being able to run around the house in any state of attire, or lack thereof.
  10. Having your car available when you want it… and having it remain clean and with a full tank.
  11. Having confidence that all the doors to the house are locked when the house is empty.
  12. Yes that. You know you’re thinking about it, and you never want to think about your parents doing it.