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Archive for the ‘School life’ Category

We like to think our society in 2015 has made great strides in treating everyone fairly. Too often, however, we’re reminded that just isn’t the case, whether it’s in race or gender issues. And even saying you’re pro-whatever might brand you as something you’re not. For example, I guess I’m a feminist. I’m pro-life (anti-abortion), fairly conservative when it comes to politics or “values,” but I am a feminist. Pretty simple: I believe women should be treated with the same respect as men. Women should vote, hold office, run companies, raise families, … whatever they would like to do. Their opinions should be given the same weight as men’s. They shouldn’t be abused by men, they shouldn’t be raped. These are very basic principles. Goes the other direction, too, of course: women need to treat men with respect and kindness.

Same goes for color. I was raised just believing we’re all alike. Sure, we’re all different where it counts, in our personalities, our talents, our interests, etc., but how we look certainly has no bearing on those real matters of identity. Heck, I married an Asian, we have three half-Asian, half-white kids, and we adopted a black girl. I respect whatever cultures we bring to the table, but they’re not the defining things about who we all are.

I could go on and on. But I hope you get the idea: we’re all people. And all people deserve kindness, respect, civility, hope, opportunities, the chance to pursue happiness, and so on.

I’m always disappointed, however, when I see that other people apparently don’t see others of the human race that way. The latest story in the news is just that an 8th-grade girl’s T-shirt got Photoshopped out of a class picture because it stated that she’s a “feminist.” I’m still not quite sure what about that is offensive: like I said, if you believe women and men should all be treated with respect and have equal opportunities, it’s pretty simple.

It struck home because right now I’m angry (yes, I got angry about this!) because my daughters’ high school allowed sexist (insulting, demeaning) messages on posters at a pep rally a few weeks ago. The student government/leadership group (ASB) led the charge on a “Battle of the Sexes” theme that’s been going on for some years (at least all four years my oldest, who graduated last year, attended). Done right, could be fun. But done wrong: ka-blooey. Here’s what some posters said, according to some students: “Stay in the kitchen,” “Female president? Nah” and “You woke up ugly”. Here’s a photo of one.pep rally

Anyone think these are respectful, fun, kind? This school and all the others in this system are always stressing how they are trying to instill character in the students, such as respect. The principal’s official online message even says this: “To help provide a safe and secure learning environment for everyone, staff members require students to treat every person at (our school) with respect, both in and out of the classroom.”

Hm. Curious. So in this situation, where the student “leadership” group’s members actively wrote and posted for the whole school to see messages that were disrespectful (and ridiculously antiquated: what decade IS this?), staff members who are required to be in place as overseers and advisers OK’d these messages.

I complained to the principal about this situation as soon as I could. We had a good conversation. I told him these messages were anything but respectful, and I said it would be a good opportunity for him and other staffers to use this as a learning situation for the students involved. Teach them what kind of messages we do want to send to others, whether it’s of the opposite sex or other races (can you imagine if the posters had been talking about race?!). Then have them take some responsibility for their poor choices and apologize themselves to the student body at the next rally.

Well, the next rally came and went last Friday, and the principal did none of these things. He stood up for three minutes and talked about how great the ASB is, how more students should be involved in it, and that some posters at the previous rally had bothered “some people” and he took “full responsibility.” The ASB teens were, after all, just 15- and 16-year-olds and didn’t really know what they were doing entirely. He pseudo-apologized and that was it.

This isn’t news because it’s unusual, just like the Ohio girl’s “feminist” message being censored from a class photo. It’s news because it reminds us just how much we still accept or gloss over disrespect to others, even when we know in some part of our brains that it’s “wrong” and we even get regular, “packaged” messages about respect. In practice, though, we treat people of other races differently and “less.” We accept all kinds of ridiculous messages in the media about how women should behave and look; we’re all about image, and the vast majority of us who don’t fit a certain image feel less than. Weight shaming is still tolerated. Commenters still somehow feel they’re perfectly entitled to comment online about how fat a certain celebrity is getting (see Pink or Kelly Clarkson, just in the past few weeks). In what universe does this all really seem OK? Ours, apparently.

When is this stuff going to stop? When are we going to put our collective foot down and say, “This is NOT OK!”? It’s not OK to body shame, it’s not OK to call names because of gender or race? It’s not OK to insult. Kindergarteners know this. Why do teens and adults seem to have forgotten?

When will we all just be people: people with all kinds of fascinating diversity of backgrounds and interests and talents and personalities, people who happen to look different because of color, because of disabilities, even?

I was hoping that day would come much sooner. In the meantime, I am putting my foot down, and I am saying loudly that respect to all matters. People matter.

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If you’ve read my blog much at all, you may have noticed that I have a few passions: I care about and advocate for mental health issues, education, and other issues related to the media (content that’s suitable for families and kids, better accountability on issues like image and portrayals of women).

In the 14 years or so I’ve had kids in school, I’ve been involved in different aspects of education. At times, I’ve attended school board meetings and advisory meetings; at other times, I’ve been involved with specific organizations like the band boosters. I’ve always gone to my kids’ parent-teacher conferences and back-to-school nights and open houses and so on. I’ve helped out in classes sometimes and gone to activities. In all this time, I’ve observed all kinds of problems, some of which I’ve written about.

But in all I’ve done to participate, read, ask questions, and educate myself about education in the United States today, I’ve realized one thing underlies most of the problems and concerns: families aren’t playing the role they should in the development of children and their overall education.

I’ll say that again: Taken on the whole, families (i.e. parents) in this country aren’t teaching, supporting, and nurturing their kids. Why? Lots of reasons. But to be brief and try to get at a core issue, families simply aren’t “whole” anymore. I read a great overview of how there is no “average American family” anymore and it provides a few revealing statistics, taken from a new book: “Take 100 children who are representative of American life, … and 22 live in families where mom stays home and dad earns the income — the ‘typical’ family experience of 65 percent of kids in the 1950s. Another 23 live with a single mother; it’s a 50-50 proposition whether that single mom was ever married. Seven live with a cohabiting single parent and three each are being raised by a single dad or grandparent.”

If many kids are living with just one parent, and that parent has to do the job of two parents, and is necessarily away from the home working to provide for the family, it follows that those kids won’t have the level of involvement in their day-to-day lives and school lives as a household in which there are two parents. And in those households in which both parents are working (because that’s their choice or because of economic necessity), kids will have more involvement in their lives than the families with one parent around, but they simply won’t have the time dedicated to them that a family has with two parents with only one parent working outside the home. I’m not casting blame here at all; I’m simply looking at the realities of time constraints and what kind of actual QUANTITY time kids have with parents, as opposed to the oft-talked-about “quality” time.

The reality is that quality is great, but a certain amount of quantity is vital. As a stay-at-home parent (I do editing work from home on my own schedule, which is a luxury I really appreciate), I get lots of face time with my kids, who are all in formative periods of their lives. They come home from school and have questions or comments or needs, and I’m there for them. They are lucky to have a parent there to help them with needs and to do informal teaching. Kids’ learning really happens during moments they have questions and someone can answer tailored to their interests.

So with the new reality being kids living in homes with single parents who must be absent and with two parents who are both often absent (during those crucial times of afternoon into early evening), kids aren’t getting as much time for informal learning from their parents. That learning includes all kinds of topics: building character, learning to manage finances, learning about interesting topics that schools don’t necessarily provide classes in, getting opportunities for family “field trips.”

Schools are places to learn the sciences, literature, math, writing, history, etc. I was quite good in all the school subjects when I was growing up, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable teaching advanced math or sciences to my kids; I’d rather they have teachers who specialize in each subject and who are particularly adept in those to help them learn about those topics.

I guess I sound rather old-fashioned. But the reality is that it’s not the job of schools to teach character, for instance. Schools can’t take my kids on trips very often at all to learn about different areas of our state or country. Schools can’t teach faith, and they don’t often have time to focus on basic life skills that are more easily learned informally at home.

Character Counts is a nice program, but it isn't enough to replace parents teaching their kids about character 24/7.

Character Counts is a nice program, but it isn’t enough to replace parents teaching their kids about character 24/7.

Time in school is finite, and as I’ve observed at a variety of meetings with other parents and educators, it’s becoming more and more difficult to fit in during a school day all the core subjects, let alone other things schools are having to teach kids because their families aren’t doing it very well or at all. In our town, elementary schools focus on a different character trait every month to teach students: respect, responsibility, caring, trustworthiness, fairness, citizenship. Why? The “Character Counts” program was started to “combat youth violence, irresponsibility and dishonesty” by stressing positive character traits. This means that the community and schools were finding that kids and teens were acting badly and needed to be taught values; families weren’t doing the job.

Over the past dozen-plus years I’ve been actively participating in community education, I’ve seen all the problems that exist. I’ve also seen all the programs school systems have started or turned to to combat the problems. I’ve seen how little time and money exist for schools to be able to surmount all these issues by themselves. And the simple fact of the matter is this: no matter how much schools try to do to “raise” kids into good, contributing members of society, they simply can’t parent kids. Parents parent. And no one else can do that very challenging, intense, nonstop, VITAL job.

I’ll continue to be involved in school meetings and advisory panels and so on. I’ll continue to give ideas on how better to teach and support all kids, mine and everyone else’s. But nothing I or the schools can do will take the place of the home. The solution is to support families and homes. Our nation, our communities, absolutely must find ways to strengthen families. In the article I mentioned earlier, Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, says this: “Kids raised by their own intact, married parents are more likely to flourish. Given that, public policy should help strengthen both the economic and the married foundations of family life for kids in the United States.”

Until we change our attitudes about marriage and family life, our children (including their education) will continue to suffer.

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Just as I happened to be thinking about education this week, I came across an excellent article on Slate called “College isn’t for everyone.” For me, this wasn’t a new idea or a revelation, though it may be shocking or weird for other readers. My parents have been saying this for years. My father was a college professor and lamented for ages the push to get everyone to college. Here’s what happened from what I remember him saying (and mind you, he’s no longer around to correct me if I’m wrong, so hopefully I’m remembering right): having students at the university level who weren’t prepared for it or weren’t “college material” dumbed down the classes for everyone. A university education isn’t necessarily job training; it’s further education. Many people who ended up being pushed to go to college would have been better off in a good job-training program.

Since this idea is one that my parents have talked about for ages and ages, and I’m just now seeing more about it in the media, maybe it means it will finally get some attention and traction and we can start rethinking what’s turned out to be a bad idea. I’m just going to throw out a few of the bad consequences I’ve seen coming from this push: since college classes have to accommodate many students who are ill prepared or simply not able to handle them, they’ve been “dumbed down” and don’t teach or expect from students as much as they used to. Cumulatively, this means a university degree isn’t worth what it used to be. Interestingly, I just saw an article today talking about a study from CareerBuilder.com: employers want college grads now for jobs that used to just need high school grads. Companies also are requiring more degrees, so master’s are necessary where bachelor’s used to do. I’ve noticed this, ironically perhaps, in the school systems: teachers are more and more required to have master’s degrees. Has this improved education for young students? I think not. So we’re requiring more and more degrees, perhaps because lower degrees mean less. This is simply degree inflation.

And think about how much, then, it costs to go to college now, let alone finish a degree, one that is then not worth what it used to be! We have a huge problem with tons of college grads out there holding huge student loans. And many aren’t being able to find jobs. College costs are definitely too high, while at the same time university degrees are worth less. Yeah, that makes sense.

This has all come to pass because of studies that show that college grads on average make more over their lifetimes than those who just graduate high school. OK, so yes, if we want people to be more prosperous, then it seems like a simple solution: send them to college. But the writer of the Slate article makes some excellent points: we’re not doing any favors for those who are just not ready for a university education. As he says:

Imagine that you’re finishing ninth grade at a large comprehensive urban high school. The year hasn’t gone very well; because you are reading and doing math at a sixth-grade level, much of your coursework is a struggle. … A rational system would acknowledge that, with just three years until graduation, the likelihood of you getting to a true “college readiness” level by the end of 12th grade is extremely low. Even if all the pieces come together in dramatic fashion—you get serious help with your basic skills, someone finds you a great mentor, your motivation for hitting the books increases significantly—you probably aren’t going to make it. … To be sure, your long-term earnings will probably be lower than if you squeak out a college degree. But that’s a false choice, because you’re almost surely not going to get that college degree anyway. The decision is whether to follow the college route to almost certain failure, or to follow another route to significant success.

Why don’t we actually give high school students more options for careers, rather than saying, “OK, go to college and you’ll be fine”? We’ve had a French exchange student this year and learned that France gives students more choices when they start high school. The Slate writer references Germany, which seems to be similar (don’t quote me on this; this is an educated guess). Why not provide really useful vocational training, with a true variety of real-world choices, earlier in school? Basically, now all we have is maybe a few very limited choices for voc-tech. And it’s frowned upon because we really want kids to all get to college; we don’t want to discourage any from not going. But why can’t we set kids up with vocations they’ll enjoy, have natural aptitudes for, and will still earn them a good middle-class living? Plumbing, electrical, food service, what-have-you? Our exchange student chose the hotels/hospitality industry and is going to a high school that already is leading her down that path. I think that’s pretty smart, actually. Here, she’s learning English so she’ll be better equipped to deal with foreigners who visit her at work there in France.

I understand why we got where we are today. We were trying to give disadvantaged young people a leg up and options. But we’ve doomed many of them to disappointment, failure, and student loans they won’t have college degrees to go with. As the Slate writer said so well:

But our system isn’t rational, and it doesn’t like to acknowledge long odds. Perhaps it used to, but this sort of realism was judged to be deterministic, racist, and classist. And for sure, when judgments were made on the basis of ZIP code or skin color, the old system was exactly that. Those high school “tracks” were immutable, and those who wound up in “voc-ed” (or, at least as bad, the “general” track) were those for whom secondary schooling, in society’s eyes, was mostly a custodial function.

But making sure that there are real options for our young people—options that include high-quality career and technical education—is a totally different proposition. We shouldn’t force anyone into that route, but we also shouldn’t guilt kids with low odds of college success—regardless of their race or class—to keep trudging through academic coursework as teens. 

So here we are, a nation full of college graduates, whose degrees are worth less and less, who will be paying off huge loans for decades, as well as plenty of college dropouts who went, didn’t have success, and who STILL have loans to pay off, with no degree to show for it. How about we really help people find the work that will suit them, that will be cost-effective and will target their skills and interests? Crazy idea. It might just work.

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I haven’t been a fan of “No Child Left Behind” since it started. It’s clear to me that essentially saying, “We’re going to make education the same for all kids and make them all perform well” isn’t going to work. I have two major gripes, addressing kids on both ends of the spectrum — and I know whereof I speak. I have a child with Down syndrome whose IQ and certain academic abilities are far below normal. Yes, she is a bright, alert and involved girl who’s eager to work and do lots of things, but she will never grasp certain concepts, at least not well enough to pass a test on par with her non-disabled peers. Though I do want to push a little to see where my daughter’s boundaries (and full capacities) lie, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some real limits to what she can do compared with people who don’t have her intellectual disabilities.

On the other end of the spectrum, I have daughters who do not have that genetic limitation, and they are very intelligent and talented. Problem is, though they have been tested and shown to have high capacities (IQ, academic abilities, creativity, what-have-you), there are no active programs to encourage them as they develop those skills. Our school system in this city has what’s called a Gifted and Talented program (GATE), but it’s essentially just a pretty, shiny sticker to put on my girls’ academic folders. It means absolutely nothing because it has no funding and no activities besides maybe a field trip once a year to see colleges or something similar.

I have to chuckle when I think about the contrast here with my experience in the great gifted program I enjoyed in my middle school years. Here’s why: it was in Mississippi, which many basically consider the educational laughing-stock of the country. But despite the truths and/or misconceptions in that assumption, it provided for the gifted students. We spent a good part of one day per week exploring other parts of our brains, creating and thinking differently. It was challenging, interesting, and lots of fun.

My oldest daughter has enjoyed the fun and creative challenge of the Odyssey of the Mind program.

My oldest daughter has enjoyed the fun and creative challenge of the Odyssey of the Mind program.

Now I find it extremely frustrating to have children who have the need to explore, create and “think outside of the box” but have no program that addresses those needs. My oldest has been lucky the past two years to get involved with a program called Odyssey of the Mind — but only because she had a friend who was already involved at another school. She was allowed to participate in the program by special arrangement, because she attends a different high school in the district. Thank goodness that was allowed to happen. This is a really neat opportunity for her to create, stretch herself, think outside the box, and so on. Now I would like to see my younger daughters involved. But I’m thinking the only way that’s going to happen is if I pay for the program and take charge of it myself. (I may very well do that.) It fits very nicely into what I envision as being a perfect GATE program. Why doesn’t our district use it?

So this has been on my mind for years, literally, and for the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about how to improve things a bit just here in my younger girls’ schools (middle school, elementary). But, again, this is a much bigger problem that’s not affecting just my kids; it’s affecting all the high achievers throughout the country. I read a great piece in the Boston Globe on the topic today, and I sat here nodding my head, shaking with frustration. Why can’t we actually tailor education to different kinds of students with differing natural abilities? Why do we have to act as if students all can be equal if we just say it’s so or should be so? (That’s another topic as well….)

Here’s a great excerpt from the article:

In 2002, President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act, which penalizes public schools that don’t bring the lowest-performing students up to grade level. The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act regulates special education and provides schools with more than $11 billion annually. A provision of federal education law called Title I allocates some $14 billion to schools that have a higher proportion of students from low-income families, to pay for programs designed to keep them from falling behind.

The smartest kid in class, by contrast, is not an expensive problem. A boy or girl who finishes an assignment early can be handed a book and told to read quietly while the teacher works on getting other children caught up. What would clearly be neglect if it happened to a special-needs child tends to look different if the child is gifted: Being left alone might even feel like a reward, an acknowledgment of being a fast learner.

Not surprisingly, programs oriented toward gifted children get barely any federal funding.

Once again, we see a problem that affects kids from varying economic and social backgrounds. There are bright, capable kids from immigrant families, from families that are poor, from families that aren’t well educated. But they could really over-achieve and give back to society in a big way if given extra attention. Problem in our current climate is this: if they were underachieving, they’d get more attention. ISN’T THAT INSANE?

I am lucky to be able to give my daughters lots of enrichment because I’m college educated and well-to-do enough to have the funds to introduce them to museums, good classic films, art, books, etc. I also have time to spend with them. That’s great for my girls. But, as I said in my previous post, it would sure be nice if I didn’t feel I HAD to provide all their enrichment because the schools are shorting them. Given these issues, again, Why can’t education be tailored to kids with different abilities? Why can’t we say, Yes, these kids could use some enrichment and encouragement in their naturally gifted ways? And other kids who have disabilities need special help and concessions, and we need to help them reach their highest potential, but not expect that potential to necessarily be the same as kids who don’t have those intellectual disabilities?

Gah! It’s enough to make a mom and concerned citizen scream.

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A few weeks ago, an outspoken acquaintance was ranting about public education, among other social issues. The married man in his mid-30s (who has no children, mind you) said, “Anyone who sends their kids to public school is a neglectful parent.” Bold — but undeniably hyperbolic — words. And while I appreciated the kernels of insight (far) below them, with many frustrations of my own about public education, I had to disagree for a number of reasons, aside from the obvious point that there are plenty of us very good parents who still are sending our kids to public schools.

Then I was talking with my mom about my grandma, who’s 97 and in probably better health than I’m in, and living in a nice retirement community. She recently fell a couple of times and got an infection, so she spent a few days in the hospital and now is in transitional care and needing a bit more attention, rather than being pretty much independent. My mom has been with her there (visiting from the town she lives in about a 6-hour drive away) and has been outraged at the lack of attentive care she’s been witnessing — and this is with my mom there near her, at a highly ranked facility, and my grandma has very good insurance and financing. We’re not even talking about a not-so-great facility paid for by Medicare.

I won’t go into all my concerns about public education, about health care, about elder care. They’re each deserving of thousands and thousands of words. What strikes me, though, is that as a 40-something woman who has children at home, one daughter about to attend college, and a mother who’s retired and a grandma who’s quite old, I am in that spot of life where there are plenty of people to worry about and take care of on some level. And as much as I’d love to be the kind of person who could home-school my kids, I’m just not. Plus, I still want them to have the opportunities for learning about the world that exist outside my home. And I wish my mom and grandma could live with (or nearer to) me and I could help watch out for them.

We all need safety nets.

We all need safety nets.

Here’s the thing: none of us in our society today is capable of doing it all. In fact, no one ever has been able to “do it all” as we see it in our contemporary society. We have so many opportunities for self-actualization and fulfillment (which can be “bad” or “good,” depending on to what lengths we go to achieve them) and for involvement in the world around us today. But we depend on our public-sector system to provide certain services to take care of our wide and varied needs, like education and health care. Decades ago, extended families lived either in one home or very close by, and they worked together, sharing all the duties. Communities were truly communal; everyone did something to take care of someone else, essentially. Today, extended families are often distant. My mother is 2000 miles away from me, as well as most of my siblings. It’s my job and my husband’s to take care of my children; he provides most of the money from his 40-hour-a-week job to buy what we need, and I carry out many of the functions at home (another blog post entirely, too…). I feel we’re actually blessed to be able to have that setup (I am pleased with it, let’s make a note of that, too); I have flexibility to be able to be there for my girls when they need me throughout the day and to be involved in educational and extracurricular activities. I also am able to pursue some of my own interests, which makes me feel “me” and better able to take care of my family.

“It takes a village” has now become a bit of a trope, but it’s still true. Individuals need systems around them to allow them to live and thrive. Nuclear families best provide individuals with what they need, and extended families best support nuclear families.

So what’s wrong now? I am positive much of it is the breakdown of nuclear families; we have so many single-parent families today. Extended families are just as broken in many respects; some aren’t broken, just distant because of necessity. The basic solution is twofold: do all we can as a society to support the nuclear family, helping and encouraging the formation and permanency of families, and then to make sure the public-sector services are good and dependable. Everyone, every family, needs to know that education is well funded and well run. And families who are responsible for their elder members need to know they will be supported in those vital endeavors as well.

I’m not “for” government running everything. I am “for” programs that will provide help to families, who are the backbone of our society. I am “for” making sure there are safety nets and support systems in place, not to replace the work of families, but to help them do their work better. Because if our families are struggling, our whole society is in a real pickle.

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Photo from Fox 23 News

Photo from Fox 23 News

So I saw this Yahoo news item about a little black girl whose parents withdrew her from a charter school whose dress and grooming policy forbids dreadlocks. Here’s what happened: Tiana, age 7, sometimes wears her hair styled in short, skinny dreadlocks. The school told her she didn’t look “presentable.” She cried on camera about it. The parents chose to take her out of the school and send her to a different neighborhood school, where there is no policy against dreads.

Of course, as the parent of a little 6-year-old black girl, I had some immediate knee-jerk reactions: “How dare they?!” “They must not know how difficult it can be to style black hair.” “That poor little girl!”

But here are the facts: the school is a charter school, which can set whatever policies it feels are best. The policies have been in place for a while, and parents have read them and are aware of them. According to comments from other readers, the school has mostly black students, as well as an “all-black” school board.

So that rules out racism, as well as school leaders not understanding what it’s like to style black hair. What this boils down to now is a parent knowing full well what the policies are (ludicrous as some seem to many of us, including me), ignoring them, and throwing his child to the wolves. When he sent his daughter to school in violation of the rules, he was the one who exposed her to school leadership telling her that she couldn’t wear that hairdo and it wasn’t “presentable.” His actions led to her crying.

Also to note: the school didn’t toss her out; her parents chose to withdraw her because of that hair policy.

Honestly, I don’t quite understand what the school board’s problem is with that particular way of styling hair; it seems neat and not “faddish” to me (a big “fro,” however, I can see as being faddish and more likely to attract attention and therefore distract from schoolwork). But the board must have some reasons for the decision they made. If Tiana’s parents disagreed with the policy, their first responsibility was to go discuss it with the board and even rally support to possibly have that particular part of the policy changed. Then, if the board still stood its ground, the parents would have had a decision to make: either follow the policy, disobey it, or leave the school. In this case, they just went straight to disobeying it.

Schools can be crazy, and school policies can seem completely random. And so many things about rules and school leadership can make ME crazy. But the only thing we as parents can do is to address the policies we disagree with with school leadership and try to make change. If the problems are bigger, we can address those with political leaders. We can then try to raise awareness in the community, in part by bringing the item to the attention of news outlets.

I think in this case, the parents went straight to disobedience of a policy and then whining to the media. I definitely understand their concerns, but they didn’t handle them well.

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Again, in reference to recent hotly debated issues, I’m not going to address gun control. I do think, though, it’s interesting to think about what constitutes true “safety,” or implied or felt safety. I’ve been thinking that most of the safety measures that are being implemented in schools right now, for instance, are really more there to create the illusion of safety than really, truly making our kids completely free from danger during school.

Kids are smart enough to figure this out really quickly, too. I have children at a high school, a middle school, and an elementary school. Soon after Sandy Hook, all three schools immediately started sending home letters and providing recorded information via phone calls about their stepped-up efforts to ensure students’ safety. Honestly, my first reaction on hearing the first phone call message was, “Right. Like changing which gates are going to be open at which times and which will be locked all day is really going to change things that much.” Yep. I was skeptical, and I’m still skeptical a month later.

fenceThe high school started locking more of its gates two days ago. When I picked up my child and a friend at the end of the school day, I heard a good amount of reasoning from the backseat about how they viewed the new policies. Mostly it was this: it’s not going to do any real good. For one thing, the fences surrounding the school are just about six-foot-tall chain-link numbers. My little teen girl has jumped them any number of times (for good reason, let me just say; she’s not a rule-breaker) when she’s been at school outside of regular hours. So locking more gates isn’t exactly going to keep anyone out who really wants to get in.

The kids also observed that the recent threat that actually occurred at the school was by a student, and he had told a classmate about his intention to harm someone the next day at school (I think on a Facebook page). Allowing only students in to a few particular gates in the morning would not have kept this kid out because he belonged there!

The door to my kindergartener’s class is now locked every day the second the kids have all lined up and marched inside. If we arrive even 30 seconds late, then she has to stand outside, knock, and wait for someone inside to open the door. This is the only change I could see as making some kind of difference. The classroom’s only access is that door, and because of the design of the schools here (we’re in California, so the weather’s temperate, so the buildings all have rooms that open directly to the outside, not using any hallways), the room is then secure if the heavy door is locked. There are some smallish windows, but it would be difficult to get in through them. So I think this is the only measure that makes sense, though it stinks if we’re running late. That’s OK, though.

Aside from that, all the gate-locking in the world is like having a basic home alarm system: it helps the most as merely a deterrent to the casual intruder. But someone who is absolutely determined to get in will easily find a way around it.

These are just a few simple examples of how the schools are trying to demonstrate their increased commitment to our children’s safety. But really, it doesn’t mean much to me. Life is impossible to secure. Wacky, random, and tragic things happen everywhere. It’s impossible to fortify ourselves or everywhere we go to a point that we will be completely safe from any threat. Stuff happens. People are crazy. They do stupid, crazy, horrible things sometimes. Yes, it’s good to do what we can to reduce the harm, but so much of what the schools are doing really just seems pointless. I want to be safe, and I sure as heck want my kids to be safe. But neither I nor anyone else can guarantee their safety anytime, anywhere.

That’s the thing: we can talk about gun safety, about gun control and rights, we can talk about making security better in all kinds of contexts. But (yes, TSA) there are always holes in the systems and loose ends and cracks of some kind or another, whether it’s human error or breakable machines, etc. Stuff slips through all the time.

Thinking we can actually keep everyone safe in any situation is just fruitless and ridiculous. We can try. I’m not saying we shouldn’t. But in the end, all the measures in the world are merely an illusion of security. Because life and other people are unpredictable and not safe. We can just do the best we can to go about our business and take care of each other in the meantime.

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