Yesterday I was hanging around in the kitchen with my older son, waiting for the coffee to brew, and he made some joking comment about my being oppressed when I was growing up.
I told him I was oppressed enough, or at least women were, in that time and in that place – as they still are in many times and in many places.
Yes, I like to point out and do – often – that it wasn’t a gigantic conspiracy of men against women that kept women down for six thousand years because frankly most men can’t conspire their way out of a paperbag. (I suspect women are naturally better at it. No, don’t hurt me. Just women seem to be naturally more socially adept. But even women couldn’t manage a conspiracy of that magnitude.) And I like to point out – and do – it wasn’t shoulder to shoulder but the pill and changes in technology that liberated women or at least that made attempts at liberation reasonable instead of insane. (Of course, shoulder to shoulder makes for better movies and books, which is why everyone believes it.)
However, as I told the boy, given the conditions biology set up, women were “oppressed” enough in most cultures and in most places. Yes, men were oppressed too at the same time, because this type of shackles is double-sided, but the oppression of women lingered a bit longer than that of men – say a good couple of generations by habit and custom and because humans simply don’t change that fast. Which is why the oppression of women is remembered as such and the men are remembered as being on top.
So I told him in Portugal, until the seventies, women weren’t allowed to vote and, oh, by the way, a married woman couldn’t get a job outside the house unless her husband signed papers saying that they needed it, due to economic hardship. (Which of course, meant the dumb bastard had to sign a paper saying he wasn’t man enough to support his family. Made it really easy on him, it did.) I’m sure there were other legal and economic hobbles that went with that. And I told him of course in many many countries in the world that inequality persists, only much worse.
Which is when I realized he was squirming and looking like he’d done something wrong.
Guilt. My poor kid was feeling guilty of being born male.
Guilt is a useful enough emotion, in small doses and well administered. For instance when I was three I stole some very small coin from money my mom had left on the kitchen table. I don’t remember what – the equivalent of five cents. I stole it to buy a couple of peanuts at the store across the street (they sold them by weight. In the shell.) My mom made it clear to me I’d made it impossible for her to buy her normal bread order when the bakery delivery (no, don’t ask. Delivered. Door to door. Every morning. I missed it terribly my first years in the US, but now they don’t do it in Portugal either, anymore) came by the next morning because she didn’t have the exact change. It wasn’t strictly true. The money amount was so small she just said “I’ll make the rest up tomorrow.” But she told me it was, and how she had to be short a roll. My understanding there were larger consequences for my stupid theft made me feel guilty, and that ensured I never did it again. The same, with varying degrees of justice, managed to instill the semblance of a work ethic in me in relation to school work.
However, the guilt my son was feeling was stupid, counterproductive, all too widespread AND poisonous.
Stupid because he could hardly be held accountable for something that happened thirty years before his birth, even if he has the same outward form as the people who benefitted from an inequity. (And benefitted should be taken with a grain of salt here. Countries in which women are kept down might offer an ego bo for the guys, but they are far less materially prosperous on average. Everyone suffers.) Counterproductive because guilt by definition can never be collective. Well, not beyond a small group like, say the Manson family. You get beyond that and you can’t assign blame with any degree of accuracy. So, going and yelling at my father, say, for “keeping women down” when I was little would be as insane as yelling at my son. Why? Well, because a) he didn’t and wouldn’t (he was raised by a strong woman, practically on her own, while my grandfather was in Brazil, working and grandma ruled the extended family with an iron fist.) b) to the extent he enforced societal rules, it was usually to keep us from getting in trouble with society in general (which, btw, included women. In fact women were the greatest enforcers of “you shall not be seen anywhere with a young man you’re not dating” rule that got me in the most trouble.) c) his standing up and talking given who he was and the amount of social power he had (or in fact didn’t have) would have changed nothing except get him treated like a lunatic.
Sarah Hoyt, “The Sharp Edge of Guilt, a blast from the past March 2010”, According to Hoyt, 2015-06-05.
February 13, 2017
December 29, 2016
Tell me that one about how my home schooled kids aren’t going to be socialized again. I love that one. It’s a hardy perennial. Love that shite. Tell me again about how screwed my kids are because they’re not pressing meaningless buttons 24/7 on an iSlab on their Jitter stream or their FriendFace page.Tell me about how they’ll never be popular enough to be bullied if I’m not careful. They won’t even be eligible to get whooping cough.
Tell me the one about how my kids won’t be able to go on field trips to the museum if they’re not enrolled in school. I love that one, too. It’s totes adorb. It’s my favorite, except for my other favorites, which are my favorite favorites. My children never get the opportunity to be chaperoned by someone on the sex offender registry. Of course that’s better than being left at the museum like the other kid in the same story. I think. Pretty sure. Maybe the kid they left behind actually looked at something on the wall in the museum after the batteries in his iBrick ran out. Hey, could happen.
I’m with you, though; I doubt it. We all know if a school-age child’s iBinky battery runs out of electricity, they immediately lie down on the floor and die.
“Not Homeschooled”, Sippican Cottage, 2015-06-15.
December 24, 2016
If you hurry, you can just get your Santa’s Visit Application in before the deadline tonight!
November 29, 2016
If you engage with [childrens’] interest, you can also help them toward appreciating and understanding the context, most obviously the history and politics, but also the life lessons to be learned from the decision making and engineering, for example the parable of the Panther and the T34 (tldr: “Good enough now is sometimes better than perfect, later.”)
You can even view stories about soldiers and soldiering as workplace adventures, since most of them hinge on office politics and team building.
And, in this context, the violent video games are just another learning tool, for all that they are also fun and a way to let off steam.
The third cost is more nebulous: imagined agency.
Children don’t have a lot of real agency, and, not only is it hard for a child to imagine modern adult agency, it’s also not very exciting.
One of the reasons action stories are compelling is that the main conflict is explicit and easy to grasp, and character agency simple and tangible: you know who Sharpe is struggling with because they are trying to kill each other; and you know he has agency because he has a unit of men, a rifle, and that big French cavalry sword.
It’s just much much easier to play soldiers in the garden, than aid worker, doctor or even adventurer. After a certain age, a child can only spend so long pretending to climb a mountain or pushing through the jungle undergrowth, but they can spend an entire afternoon enjoying a running skirmish, especially if they have those cool laser tag guns that actually track hits.
If you take away the plastic gun (with it’s don’t-shoot-me orange cap), ban Call of Duty, and censor books with guns and explosions on the cover, then — to me — it feels like you’re saying, Don’t imagine making important decisions, balancing risks, or being proactive.
M. Harold Page, “Children and War Toys and Violent Video Games and Action Stories”, Charlie’s Diary, 2016-11-15.
November 22, 2016
“AAaargwannawannaaaagongongonaargggaaaaBLOON!” which is the traditional sound of a very small child learning that with balloons, as with life itself, it is important to know when not to let go of the string. The whole point of balloons is to teach small children this.
Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky, 2004.
November 20, 2016
M. Harold Page, guest-posting at Charles Stross’s blog:
Little Harry blinks at me through his heavy Sellotaped glasses. “What’s that for?”
“It’s a submachine gun,” I say. “It fires lots of bullets.” I mime. “Bang bang bang!”
I’m helping out on a school trip. Normally I avoid volunteering – it’s too easy for self employed parents to end up as the school’s go-to. However this visit is to Edinburgh Castle and my daughter Morgenstern was very keen I should put in a showing…
So here I am helping to herd 5-year olds through the military museum. Morgenstern is nowhere in sight, but little Harry has latched onto me.
“Oh,” says Harry. He copies my mime and sprays the room. “Bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang.”
“Not like that,” I say. “Three round bursts or you’ll run out of bullets. Plus the thing pulls up.” I mime. “So like this: Bang bang bang!… Bang bang bang!”
Solemnly, Harry discharges three imaginary bullets. “Bang bang bang!”
“Right,” I say, “Now, the other side have guns too. You have to use cover… better if you have a hand grenade, of course.”
His blue eyes widen. “What’s a hand grenade?”
So together we have a great time clearing each gallery with imagined grenade, automatic fire and bayonet.
Later on the way back to the bus Harry says, “My Daddy says wars are bad because people get killed…”
Yes, I had in fact spent the afternoon teaching (my best recollection of) World War Two house clearing tactics to the son of a local clergyman and peace activist.
November 12, 2016
So a new entry in the lexicon of mental illness?
Trumphausen by Proxy – when parents instill in their children irrational fears to garner sympathy and attention for themselves.
Comment by “Anna Puma” on “Leftists Ruin Everything, Including Childhood [Warden]”, Ace of Spades H.Q., 2016-11-10.
November 4, 2016
The stories never said why she was wicked. It was enough to be an old woman, enough to be all alone, enough to look strange because you have no teeth. It was enough to be called a witch. If it came to that, the book never gave you the evidence of anything. It talked about “a handsome prince” … was he really, or was it just because he was a prince that people called handsome? As for “a girl who was as beautiful as the day was long” … well, which day? In midwinter it hardly ever got light! The stories don’t want you to think, they just wanted you to believe what you were told…
Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men, 2003.
October 31, 2016
Just before Halloween my husband was talking about kids’ costumes (our favorite was when older boy was a dragon and younger boy a knight, with a plastic-sword-of-smiting brother. Good thing I padded the dragon head) and asked what I’d worn as a little girl. I pointed out we didn’t dress up for Halloween in Portugal and he asked what we did. So I started, “On Halloween night, you go to the cemetery–” and he said “Stop it. No story that starts like that ends well unless you’re Buffy.”
Sarah Hoyt, “Whistling Past the Graveyard”, According to Hoyt, 2015-11-07.
October 28, 2016
In Aeon, Paula Fass discusses an odd social invention of the 20th century that appears to have gone well past its best before date:
Adolescence as an idea and as an experience grew out of the more general elevation of childhood as an ideal throughout the Western world. By the closing decades of the 19th century, nations defined the quality of their cultures by the treatment of their children. As Julia Lathrop, the first director of the United States Children’s Bureau, the first and only agency exclusively devoted to the wellbeing of children, observed in its second annual report, children’s welfare ‘tests the public spirit and democracy of a community’.
Progressive societies cared for their children by emphasising play and schooling; parents were expected to shelter and protect their children’s innocence by keeping them from paid work and the wrong kinds of knowledge; while health, protection and education became the governing principles of child life. These institutional developments were accompanied by a new children’s literature that elevated children’s fantasy and dwelled on its special qualities. The stories of Beatrix Potter, L Frank Baum and Lewis Carroll celebrated the wonderland of childhood through pastoral imagining and lands of oz.
The United States went further. In addition to the conventional scope of childhood from birth through to age 12 – a period when children’s dependency was widely taken for granted – Americans moved the goalposts of childhood as a democratic ideal by extending protections to cover the teen years. The reasons for this embrace of ‘adolescence’ are numerous. As the US economy grew, it relied on a complex immigrant population whose young people were potentially problematic as workers and citizens. To protect them from degrading work, and society from the problems that they could create by idling on the streets, the sheltering umbrella of adolescence became a means to extend their socialisation as children into later years. The concept of adolescence also stimulated Americans to create institutions that could guide adolescents during this later period of childhood; and, as they did so, adolescence became a potent category.
With the concept of adolescence, American parents, especially those in the middle class, could predict the staging of their children’s maturation. But adolescence soon became a vision of normal development that was applicable to all youth – its bridging character (connecting childhood and adulthood) giving young Americans a structured way to prepare for mating and work. In the 21st century, the bridge is sagging at both ends as the innocence of childhood has become more difficult to protect, and adulthood is long delayed. While adolescence once helped frame many matters regarding the teen years, it is no longer an adequate way to understand what is happening to the youth population. And it no longer offers a roadmap for how they can be expected to mature.
October 2, 2016
Published on 1 Oct 2016
In this slightly shorter episode, Indy talks about indirect machinegun-fire and welfare facilities for children.
September 30, 2016
All teaching takes a toll on what’s taught, but high school is wondrously efficient at making interesting things dull. So why are kids forced to go? Well, one reason has to do with child-labor laws. In the middle of the 19th century, kids in most states could stop going to school after eighth grade, once they had learned to read and do a little arithmetic, and they got jobs. They worked on farms or in dark satanic mills, and one by one the states made laws (or began to enforce existing laws) that said that young people had to stay in school so their morals wouldn’t be corrupted and they wouldn’t languish in ignorance and be roped into a life of labor from dawn to dusk and die of consumption before they reached 30. So the government built high schools, lots of them, and the number of kids in high school burgeoned, and blossomed, and ballooned. By 1940, there were five times as many high-school graduates as there were before the labor-law reforms. It was a huge change all over the country, and it required discipline. Squads of truant officers would go sniffing around finding kids who were evading high school, and they threatened parents with fines or even jail time and got them to comply.
What happens if you suddenly have millions of kids in high school who would have been working under the old laws? You have to hire more teachers, and you have to figure out what they’re going to teach. You then get endless debates about cultural literacy — about what subjects should be required. Should everyone in high school learn Greek? What about Latin? What about sewing? Or needlepoint? Cursive? And the schools became bigger. The local schoolhouse went away, and the gigantic brick edifice on the edge of town took its place. James Conant, a president of Harvard, decided in the 1960s that the ideal high school should have at least 750 students. That’s a lot of students — it’s a battalion of students, in fact — and that’s perhaps where it all began to go wrong. The regional schools became meatpacking plants, or Play-Doh fun factories, squeezing out supposedly educated human beings, marching them around from class to class — bells bonging, punishments escalating, homework being loaded on. And yet the human beings who were marching from class to class weren’t being paid. “Review the elements of transcendentalism listed on Page 369.” Oh, and do it for free.
Every day something like 16 million high-school students get up at the crack of dawn, slurp some oat clusters while barely conscious, hop on a bus, bounce around the county, show up and sit in a chair, zoned out, waiting for the first bell. If they’re late, they are written up. Even if they don’t do much academic work, they are physically present. Their attendance is a valuable commodity, because if students don’t attend, teachers and guidance counselors and principals and textbook makers and designers of educational software have no jobs. A huge lucrative industry is built around them, and the students get nothing out of it but a G.P.A. They deserve not to have their time wasted.
And it is wasted, as everyone knows. Teachers spend half their time shouting themselves hoarse, and young adults are infantilized. Their lives are absurdly regimented. Every minute is accounted for. They sit in one hot room after another and wait for each class to end. Time thickens. It becomes like saltwater taffy — it becomes viscous and sticky, and it stretches out and it folds back on itself through endless repetition. Tuesday is just like Wednesday, except the schedule is shuffled. Day after day of work sheets. By the time they graduate, they’ve done 13 years of work sheets. When they need to go to the bathroom, they have to write their name on a piece of paper by the door. If they hide in the bathroom, they’re in trouble. Whole hierarchies of punishment for scofflaws arise — school-supplied iPads are restricted, parents are called on the phone, in-school suspensions are meted out.
What makes all this almost tolerable is the kids themselves. They find ways to make it entertaining. They discover friends and co-conspirators. They rebel. They interrupt one another constantly in search of some tiny juicy Jolly Rancher of surprise. They subvert the system. They learn to lie convincingly to avoid work. The teacher’s aide (sometimes it was me) says, “Are you all caught up?” Kid: “Yep.” Aide: “Did you do that BrainPOP about the flipflap of the doodlesquat?” Kid: “Yep, handed that in yesterday.” One young man I talked to seemed unusually intelligent but downcast. I asked him how he survived his days. He pulled out his earbud, and he said one word: “music.”
Nicholson Baker, “Fortress of Tedium: What I Learned as a Substitute Teacher”, New York Times Magazine, 2016-09-07.
September 22, 2016
I taught all ages, from kindergarten to high school; I taught remedial classes and honors students. One day we factored polynomials, another day we made Popsicle-stick bird feeders for Mother’s Day, another day it was the Holocaust. Sometimes I substituted for an “ed tech” — a teacher’s aide whose job was to shadow kids with A.D.H.D. or dyslexia, or kids who simply refused to do any work at all. I was a bungling substitute most of the time; I embarrassed myself a hundred different ways, and got my feelings hurt, and complained, and shouted, and ate espresso chocolate to stay awake. It was shattering, but I loved it. After a while, I stopped being so keen on developing my grand treatise on educational theory, and instead I found that I enjoyed trying to keep a class going and watching it fall apart. I liked listening to students talk — even when they were driving themselves, and me, bonkers. The result of my 28 hellish, joyous days of paid work (I made $70 a day) was a book, more chronicle than meditation, called “Substitute: Going to School With a Thousand Kids.”
The teachers left me daily assignments called “sub plans” to follow — which I clutched throughout the day until they became as finely crumpled as old dollar bills — and mostly what the sub plans wanted me to do was pass out work sheets. I passed them out by the thousands. Of all the work sheets I passed out, the ones in high school were the worst. In my experience, every high-school subject, no matter how worthy and jazzy and thought-provoking it may have seemed to an earnest Common Corer, is stuffed into the curricular Veg-O-Matic, and out comes a nasty packet with grading rubrics on the back. On the first page, usually, there are numbered “learning targets,” and inside, inevitably, a list of specialized vocabulary words to master. In English it’s unreliable narrator, or ethos, or metonymy, or thesis sentence. This is all fluff knowledge, meta-knowledge. In math, kids must memorize words like apothem and Cartesian coordinate; in science they chant domain! kingdom! phylum! class! etc., etc., and meiosis and allele and daughter cell and third-class lever and the whole Tinkertoy edifice of terms that acts to draw people away from the freshness and surprise and fantastic interfused complexity of the world and darkens our brains with shadowy taxonomic abstractions. The instantly forgettable gnat-swarm of word lists is useful in big-box high schools because it’s easier to test kids on whether they can temporarily define a set of terms than it is to talk to them and find out whether they have learned anything real and thrilling about what’s out there.
Nicholson Baker, “Fortress of Tedium: What I Learned as a Substitute Teacher”, New York Times Magazine, 2016-09-07.
August 15, 2016
Tiffany knew what the problem was immediately. She’d seen it before, at birthday parties. Her brother was suffering from tragic sweet deprivation. Yes, he was surrounded by sweets. But the moment he took any sweet at all, said his sugar-addled brain, that meant he was not taking all the rest. And there were so many sweets he’d never be able to eat them all. It was too much to cope with. The only solution was to burst into tears.
Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men, 2003.