Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sex Education

I really don't understand the problem with schools teaching sex education. Should they learn about it the old fashioned way --- on the street?

My parents would have liked the schools to teach about sex. My experience with sex education in school was particularly painful. I was listening to my fifth grade teacher explain genetic theory to us, when something came over me. An uncontrollable urge to ask a question. I hadn't had an uncontrollable urge to ask a question since third grade, when I asked on what day God made the dinosaurs. That experience taught me to control my questioning urges. But this day, I raised my hand and said, "I understand how babies get the mommy genes, but how do they get the daddy genes?"

There was complete silence. The teacher glared at me, then started sputtering. The kids begin to snicker. A friend later told me that her mother had given her THE TALK the weekend before. It would appear that many parents had given THE TALK already. My Mom didn't get the memo. Or she sent it back corrected, as she often did.

So, I went home and about a month later, asked Mom the same question. She sputtered a little and said she couldn't tell me then, because my brother & sister were in the room. Another week or so later, my parents gave me a book.

The book was published by the Catholic Church. It was called "Take the High Road." The cover had some sort of colorful seventies thing on it. I took the book and read it. Well, most of it. There was a chapter called "For Boys," which I didn't read since I'm not a boy. Duh. The chapter called "For Girls" had the other internal organs and the egg with big eyelashes. I learned you shouldn't go steady too early and that it's OK to have wet dreams. When Mom asked me what I learned, I said you shouldn't go steady too early. I didn't know what wet dreams were, but I had a feeling Mom wouldn't want to talk about them.

Years later, I discovered (or my brother & sister discovered) that all of my missing information was in the chapter called "For Boys." It had pictures of internal organs and sperm that looked like tadpoles. The tadpole and eye-lashed egg never met.

I learned about sex in the upstairs bathroom with a friend who my mother didn't really like. This friend, later voted "girl most likely to" at her high school, told me what men and women do, then primly informed me that she was going to make her husband do it to her when she was asleep. My reaction was, "Not MY parents." I think that's typical.

So I'm all for sex education in school. I think they do better now than "I am Joe's testicle" (remember those films?). Values related to sex should be taught at home, of course. But parents need to teach all kinds of things at home. The school is supplying knowledge, skills, and training. Families, churches, communities need to help kids decide what to do with all of that stuff.

Sex education in school and at home are not mutually exclusive. Schools don't let parents off the hook, but they can supply teachers who are better equipped to teach.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Tuition Vouchers

A study released by the US Education Department comparing the performance of students in public and private schools said that, for the most part, they are about the same, with public schools doing slightly better in everything except 8th grade reading. A study by Harvard concluded that private schools do better across the board. Both studies are going to be used in the debate over vouchers, but as the National Center for Education Statistics, which performed the Education Department study, said, the report is of "modest utility." (The New York Times:

(The Arizona Star

First of all, all public schools are not alike. All private schools are not alike. The study presents an aggregate of test results for all schools all over the country. Private schools range from high class prep schools for the scions of the very wealthy to modern day segregation academies that meet in the basement of the Church of the Self-Righteous Holier Than Thou Better Looking Christians. Many charter schools and alternative public schools concentrate on troubled students. Public schools serve different student populations, even within the same city.

Second, all students are not alike. Race, socio-economics, and culture all play a roll in students' success. Ontop of that, each child has his or her own learning style. Across the board, students with parents or other adults who care about their education do better than those without the support and respect for education.

Third, even if private schools are better than public schools (which I'm not conceding), vouchers won't help.

Private schools don't have to serve all children, and they won't. If a kid doesn't behave or achieve in a private school, they can and will kick him out. Public schools can't do that without great cause. In the old days, most kids dropped out by 6th grade. Now we are trying to educate more kids for a longer time. Public schools don't give up on kids, and that's a good thing.

Private schools cost a lot more than $1000 a year. A tax credit, even a refundable one, isn't going to help a family that can't come up with the tuition up front.

Public schools need money to serve students well. As I've said before, throw money at the right places. Throw money at the faculty and staff of schools. Trust them to know their children and families and teach them well. Hold them to tough but reasonable standards. And remember that they are teaching everyone.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Potty training

This morning on the Today show, they had a segment on people who never use diapers. By following their babies every move and nuance, they know exactly when the baby needs to go, and put them on a potty. There is evidence this can be done.

But just because something CAN be done doesn't mean it SHOULD be done. What is the point? I'd rather spend time kissing and loving the babies rather than waiting for them to pee. That isn't potty training, of course, it's parent training, but I think maybe that's the point. Do they believe children should live in a world without conflict, discomfort or reality? That can't be a good thing. Think what a shock middle school will be.

I consider myself to be an expert on potty training. I have three sons, none of whom wear diapers.

With our oldest son, we read all of the literature on potty training. We listened to Bob's mother, who said all of her children were potty trained by 18 months. We listened to my mother who said they had a big stake in potty training in her day, because they had to wash diapers and she didn't have a washing machine.

We bought books with anatomically correct children using the potty and shared them with our son. We bought a cute, safe potty chair. We bought big boy pants with his favorite characters on them. Still, he refused to use the potty.

Finally, right before his 3rd birthday, on a rainy New Year's eve when I was pregnant with his brother, we ran out of diapers. I looked at my baby and said, "We are out of diapers. You have to use the potty." He said, "OK." And he used the potty from then on. He had no daytime accidents and very few night time accidents.

So, with sons two and three, we didn't worry. We ignored everyone who said they should be out of diapers by 18 months. We gave them books and potties and big boy pants. And they potty trained themselves when they were ready, around three.

Now, let me say, this worked for us. It wouldn't work for a lot of people. I was home with Son 1 and Son 3, and Bob was home with Son 2, so we didn't have the pressure from day care providers who, quite reasonably, don't want to change the diapers of a half dozen three-year-olds. We are fairly laisse-faire parents (or lazy, as my mother often said when she was angry with me). We shower our children we love, books, paper, crayons, love, and books. We don't worry about where they will go to college (even now that Son 1 & 2 are of college age.) We worry that they will be loving, kind, self-assured young men who take care of themselves and others. And so far, they are, mostly.
I guess we'll keep reading the experts and disregarding at least half of what they say. We'll keep showering our children and grandchildren with love, books, crayons and other things we value. And hope they can hold their own in a world where some kids never wore diapers at all.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Teech a man tu ghoti (Teach a man to fish)

Last month, Bill Gates announced his plan to improve public education: more national testing, phonics, & converting to the binomial number system. OK, I made up the last one.

Several people have commented on the wisdom of a computer geek lecturing America on education. Most involved ad hominem attacks on Microsoft (is that ad hominem or ad computeriem?). Since I'm pretty sure that if I insult Microsoft, my computer will crash, I won't go there. However, I will address the basic ideas he put forth.

Testing. Several years ago a SC House member whose name I forgot said that putting more and more tests in the school system without doing anything else is like taking a sick person's temperature every couple of hours without giving them any treatment. Testing, which should be called assessment, is used to find out what needs to be improved. If programs aren't put in place to implement improvement, the test scores aren't going to improve. Duh.

Phonics. Why do people love phonics? The word itself shows the deficiency of phonics. English isn't a phonetic-friendly language. Maybe we should change our official language to Spanish. At least the pronunciation is consistent.

I think people like phonics because it lends itself to games and worksheets and things any bozo can look at and say "cool, I can read." As my son's teacher Chris said, like spelling bees and geography bees, it's a microwave teaching method. Pop it in and 2 minutes later your kid can spell Azerbaijan and place it on the map. There is no logic, no investigation, no relevance.

Phonics is one tool in a teacher's bag of tricks. That bag is full of his or her knowledge, skills, and experiences as a professional teacher. And a good teacher knows when to use each tool, just as a mechanic knows which wrench to use and a doctor knows which medicine to use.

I really don't understand why people tend to disregard the professionalism of teachers. Sure, we are all experts on education, to the extent that we are all educated to some degree. But we all have bodies, yet we don't think we're experts on anatomy.

To improve education, we need to make some improvements that work. We need to throw money in the right direction instead of at consultants and sooth-sayers. We need to pay teachers what they are worth so we can expect excellent, caring, well-educated teachers. Sure, some people will decide to teach simply because of the big bucks, but they won't last. Why do we worry about that anyway? Have you ever heard anyone say, "We shouldn't pay doctors too much or people will go into the profession just for the money"? Do you want a doctor who is just in it for the money?

We need smaller classes so that these professional teachers can meet the needs of each child. People learn in different ways, but it is hard to teach to the individual in a class that is too large.

We need to encourage parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and next-door-neighbors to take part in children's learning. Some people have more time than others, but everyone can express concern and interest in their children's education. When families are welcomed and shown how to help their children, they become great assets to excellent education. The difference between CSI and other public schools is that every child has active family members, and everyone at CSI cares about everyone else. There is a support system that nurtures learning and growth.

Microwaves are wonderful things, but they don't make the best food. Quick fixes and cookie-cutter programs don't make for the best education either.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Charisma & Kool-aid

CHARISMA: a : a personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm for a public figure (as a political leader) b : a special magnetic charm or appeal

Charisma is one of those things that people want and fear. Charismatic leaders save our souls and encourage us to be greater than we think we can be; or they entice us to drink poisoned Kool-aid or kill millions innocent people. Definitions include the words "magic" and "charm." People who follow charismatic leaders feel powerless to do otherwise. There is something special, something extraordinary, something a little scary.

I am thinking about charisma because I have been affected by it, and I'd like to know why. Should I seek forgiveness for falling under the spell? Can I ward off charismatic influences in the future? What made me susceptible when others were not?

I am an intelligent, honest person. I don't claim to be a great judge of character because I tolerate most and enjoy being around quite of few people. I can take an irrational dislike to someone, but I often get over it. I can be mean and sarcastic, but I try not to be hurtful. (OK, that doesn't make sense.) I sometimes lead by accident, and I follow if I think the leader is reasonable, but mostly I like to stay out of the way and do what I need to do. So who cares, and what does this have to do with charisma?

I describe myself so you know I'm not a wide-eyed idiot, most of the time. But in this case, I met this person who immediately captured my loyalty and admiration. I became her biggest supporter, even when she crossed people I'd known longer and liked better. Friends told me that she did not have my best interest at heart, but I thought we had the same goal, so I didn't see why it mattered. "When it comes down to it, X will take care of X," a good friend said. I know, I know, but it doesn't matter because we all care about the children.

OK, so then she started spending organization money a little loosely (although never illegally) and I joked that she shouldn't be given a credit card. She laughed and said her husband wouldn't let her have one. And she kept buying stuff that was cool but not necessarily what we needed most. And I didn't go to other board members with my concern, because I thought she would be OK, and the board members were a little hard on her at times. I protected her. How could I expect such a brilliant, free-spirited innovator to worry about such mundane things as money?

I was wrong to let her get away with that. I should have gone to the board or the director, but I didn't. That is my fault. And, when a near crisis occurred, she told the board I was incompetent, among other things. I really can't tell you all she said because she never said them to me or in front of me. I'm not sure how I would defend myself, but I never got the chance. And as far as I am concerned, I am to blame. I am an intelligent adult. I cannot say that I was bewitched and my senses addled. I knew better.

So what have I learned? I don't know. I am still a rotten judge of character. I sometimes look at friends and allies and think, maybe she's lying like X did. Who would tell me? In future business endeavors with friends or strangers, I will insist on checks and balances, accountability.

But I will probably continue to be charmed, continue to drink the Kool-aid. I mean, who can fight the magic?

I am just grateful that the vast majority of people I call friends are honest, kind, caring people. Their strength, love, and faith will help me survive any unfortunate encounters in the future. And maybe, next time, I will listen when a True Friend warns me not to touch the Kool-aid.