Archive for the ‘Revision’ Category

To have and have not — persuasive revision

March 17, 2008

Who has and who hasn’t?  It’s not easy to tell. 

It’s no surprise to the average American that there is a significant gap between the haves and have-nots in our country.  Because of financial hardships it’s politically risky, bordering on personally foolish, to ask for people to approve higher taxes for schools.  However, the quality of a school district reflects on the quality of a community.  If the community supports its schools, property values reflect that support.  Far too often, however, we look at the schools in our communities and assume they are better off than they really are.

As the economy suffers, so too does the public school system.  Districts all over the country are evaluating and reevaluating programs for their quality and importance.  Many valuable programs face cuts and as programs do, so do the teachers involved in those programs.  As states try to balance their budgets, school funding is cut, and California is just one example.  Michigan, where I live, and Indiana, where I work, suffer their own financial problems, yet meanwhile Michigan’s Governor Granholm and Indiana’s Governor Daniels are pushing for full day kindergarten across their respective states. With the newest tax plan in Indiana, The Indianapolis Star reports that local governments and school districts now face “a reduction of revenue and cuts in services.”  With limited financial resources, how do such programs get paid for, and where should a district focus its attention to best serve those who have and those who have not?

The cover article of the March 2008 neatoday — “Mind the Gap” — addresses the technological gap present in society today.  The article illustrates the clear difference in haves and have-nots.  The opening paragraph of the article describes a family in Virginia with three children who each have their own computer in their respective bedrooms.  The article contrasts the Virginian family with a young man in Mississippi who has no computer access at home and must drive 40 miles every day to research colleges and apply for student loans at a community center. 

The article describes what communities and individuals are doing across the country to help narrow this tech gap, and I applaud the efforts of those like Andrew Rasiej, “who advises members of Congress on the use of the Internet in politics and policy, [and] is an advocate for universal Internet access.”  However, where does supporting universal Internet access put other programs that actually educate children?  While great and useful and an aid to students who would otherwise be left behind technologically, does universal Internet come at the expense of programs in early elementary education that focus on literacy and math skills?   Is it the responsibility of schools to address this technology gap? 

The school district where I teach is, admittedly, technologically wealthy.  The grants that have been written to provide teachers and students with the smart board technology, computers in every classroom, on-line attendance and report cards, and Writing Center could fill a room.  Because of our technology, we are assumed — by those inside and outside our corporation — to be a wealthy school district.  However, our socio-economic demographics have changed over the past decade, and this trend of diversification will only continue.   We prepare ourselves to teach and reach an increasingly socio-economically diverse population while continuing to provide all students with the diverse academic offerings we have always provided.  I think my district realizes that technology is not always the answer to reaching all students.  The gap in education should be bridged earlier, and it is the achievement gap, not the technology gap where we wish to focus our attention.  That is why we are offering all day kindergarten at more elementary schools next, and our goal is to phase in all day everywhere by 2010.

The offerings of all day kindergarten for next year were decided based on the greatest need for early intervention as measured by the schools’ free and reduced lunch percentages.  One school identified as a participant in next year’s all day program faced percentages of nearly 40 to 50 percent free and reduced lunch.  That’s around half of the student population and their families attending that school qualifying for free and reduced lunch.  We may have a hard time meeting our 2010 goal with the new property tax law in Indiana, but there are still things a voter can do to protect his community and his schools.

It’s nearly May, and that means for a lot of you – not just Hoosiers — that you’ll have an election dealing with bond issues and millage requests, and you may even find yourself voting for school board members who value the programs important to you.  When you find yourself at the polls, wondering if you should vote for or against the raise in taxes or millage that will provide for your school, don’t assume that just because the school has written the grants necessary to provide bells and whistles for the children that they are a rich district.  Consider all the information available to you, do your research and decide what’s important, for the future of your community counts on it.      



“Let’s put on a play” — Explanatory Revision

March 4, 2008


Despite being a community theater actor, I am consistently awed by the work put into a local production that local people stage for local audiences, and my experience in mid-February at South Bend Civic Theatre (SBCT) confirmed such high production values with its latest Studio Theater effort, John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, A Parable. 

Premiering off-Broadway in 2004, and awarded the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and four 2005 Tony Awards, including Best Play, SBCT’s production of Shanley’s play illustrates SBCT’s efforts to stage current, significant, award receiving work for local audiences.  As a sometime actor for SBCT, I shamefully admit that until I sat in the audience for Doubt, A Parable, I had never consciously considered the diverse efforts put into any production but the ones I participated in. 


Most plays produced by SBCT begin with the play selection process.  Letters are sent out to prospective directors in late spring, soliciting suggestions for the Play Reading Committee.  This means for Doubt, A Parable that it was only two years removed from its critical accolades, and such a well-received script is oftentimes unavailable for community theaters so early in its life; in fact, Executive Director of SBCT, Jim Coppens believes SBCT’s production was one of the first community theater stagings of Shanley’s play.


Once a play is selected for the next season, SBCT builds its schedule.  Plays and musicals get directors, and directors learn their time slots and venue.  No longer confined to producing and fitting everything in a 19th century firehouse seating 77, and now able to choose between an intimate black box studio space and a larger auditorium, Doubt was appropriately slated by the Play Reading Committee and SBCT Board for the black box.


The black box affords greater intimacy with the play for the audience, and much like the former Firehouse space, where the action can literally occur inches from the face of the audience, such proximity demands the attention to detail technical wizards like David Chudzynski and Matt Davidson consistently produce.  As a result, the first technical meeting often comes next.  While these technical meetings are largely a mystery to me, the art that Messrs. Chudzynski and Davidson — and the volunteers they lead — manage to create, amazes and astounds and can go woefully unnoticed as the pieces which slowly appear over the course of rehearsals, suddenly become whole in the week before opening.  From establishing subtle lighting nuances and finding impossible sound effects, to creating a painted floor that looks like real hardwood, there is tremendous work done by a crew sometimes exceeding the size of the cast. 


Many of the directors I work with indicate casting is anywhere from 90-99% of their work, and I think they’re often just being kind having reflected above on all the cats they have to herd.  Auditions can begin 4-7 weeks before a show opens, and once a show is cast, rehearsals can run, depending on the director, anywhere from 5 nights a week for 3 ½ hours a night with “homework” to 3-4 nights a week 2 hours a night.  Despite having wanted to act in SBCT’s production of Doubt, A Parable, I believe the director, Jim Coppens, cast his show well, for the title includes the words A Parable, and the very presence of those words indicate John Patrick Shanley had more going on in the text and in his head than the tale of a priest suspected of sexual abuse in 1964. 


You see, the complexity of Doubt and its parable means the cast had to make choices, and Shanley does not make their decisions easy, as Shanley never makes clear for the audience whether the priest has made advances on the first African-American student to attend St. Patrick’s, or he has innocently sought to care for, protect and shelter this student from the potential prejudice of the parish and community. 


The cast’s choices begin subtly.  Sister Aloysius (played by Jean Plumhoff) sets the conflict in motion by establishing doubt in the innocent mind of Sister James (played by Dana Vagg), encouraging her to watch for anything untoward in the behavior of Father Flynn (played by Matthew Bell).  Yet as the play progresses, there is no text indicating with clarity who is right or who is wrong.  We don’t see Flynn alone with the boy.  Any sense of guilt or innocence comes from the actors’ performances.  There is no admission of guilt and no vindication of innocence.  Without a clear confession, how can there be certainty?  This play asks the audience to draw their own conclusions.  I will not spoil yours with mine, but I will say that my interpretation came thanks to the strength of Matthew Bell’s performance and the circumstantial evidence as presented by his initial accuser Sister James to his inquisitor Sister Aloysius.


Not until after the play, however, did I realize the efforts and choices these actors had to make.  For even if the audience chooses not to judge Father Flynn, Matthew Bell – the actor — must know what Father Flynn’s intentions were to the young boy, Dana Vagg – the actor — must know whether or not Sister James truly believes Father Flynn’s proclamations of innocence, and Jean Plumhoff – the actor — has the arguably the hardest choice to make, for she must know why Sister Aloysius experiences doubt in the end.  After the play, SBCT offered an opportunity they do not offer enough when they invited the audience to remain after the show to discuss the play with the cast and director.  As a result of this conversation with the cast, I reflected beyond my end of show conviction about Flynn’s guilt (or innocence) to a realization that even were I right about Flynn, Shanley’s parable is less about Flynn than it is about Sister Aloysius’ conviction that Flynn was guilty and the action she takes to remove him from the parish. 


John Patrick Shanley’s parable premiered off-Broadway a little over a year after the invasion of Iraq and Colin Powell’s evidence to the United Nations that Iraq clearly had weapons of mass destruction, nearly two years after President Bush spoke to the UN about Saddam Hussein’s “Decade of Deception and Defiance,” and approximately three years after Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in his staffer snowflakes, “Go massive.  Sweep it all up.  Things related and not.” 


We trust those with power and authority.  We trust them to be honest.  We trust them to protect us.  Sometimes there are things they cannot tell us, but when they deceive us, they shake our faith.  Sometimes doubt can strengthen our faith as we choose to reject temptation, but sometimes doubt brings down what we previously believed to be pillars of authority:  our parents, our teachers and schools, our church and our government. 


Not only did South Bend Civic Theatre’s production of Doubt, A Parable open at the start of Lent, SBCT also slated it for an election year.  There’s a lot more going on behind the scenes than you might be aware from when a play is submitted to the Play Reading Committee to its closing night performance.

 But Doubt, A Parable isn’t finished.  You have one more opportunity to see this production: 

“South Bend Civic Theatre is pleased to announce the upcoming Indiana Community Theatre League Festival 2008, “Sharing the Spotlight” to take place in the Wilson Mainstage Auditorium on Saturday March 15, 2008. Six community theatres from throughout Indiana will each present a different (abbreviated) play for adjudication by two nationally renowned judges, Mary Britt and Morrie Enders. An awards ceremony and brunch will follow on Sunday March 16, 2008 in the Holiday Inn, downtown, South Bend.This will be the first year South Bend Civic Theatre will host the event in its new home at 403 N. Main St., South Bend. Past years’ competitions have garnered SBCT numerous awards including first place honors for 2007’s The Gin Game, which went on to regional competition. South Bend Civic Theatre is honored to be hosting and “sharing the spotlight” with the best community theatre Indiana has to offer.The schedule is as follows:Block I: 10:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Elkhart Civic Theatre, “Smoke on the Mountain”
South Bend Civic Theatre: “Doubt, a Parable”Block II: 2:30-5:00 p.m.
Community Theatre of Terre Haute: “Variations on the Death of Trotsky”
Kokomo Civic Theatre: “See Rock City”Block III: 7:30-10:00 p.m.
Muncie Civic Theatre: “This Song is Your Song”
Community Theatre Guild (Valparaiso): “Letters Home”A limited number of tickets will be available to the general public the day of the event for $10 per Block or $25 for all 6 Productions. Walk-up sales will be available March, 15 only. Check or cash only. (Sorry we cannot accept credit or debit cards for this event.) For more information please call 574-234-1112.”




Accredited Preschools

February 28, 2008

One way to have avoided some of our preschool problems might have been to do a little more research.  We failed miserably in looking carefully, but it can be quite daunting finding a preschool when the price is right, it’s close to home, and you assume that all preschools are alike and you’re not quite sure what to look for.   

Quite frankly, I’m not sure we could have afforded much better, especially when I see the names of preschools within a 15 mile radius of our home that are actually accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).  Only one accredited school is in the town where we live, and that is the school Boy is eligible for next year (eligibility is based on age).  Next year’s school is part of our school district and the curriculum builds the foundation for the Begindergarten and Kindergarten curriculum in our district (things like zoo-phonics, which is a strange animal for this high school teacher).  Then again, the location we chose for Boy this year made similar claims about the preparation for Kindergarten; however, it is not NAEYC accredited.   

Now I’m not saying NAEYC is the gold standard, yet accreditations and certifications from an outside source are signs that a school is doing more than self-evaluating.  Sometimes we need outside eyes to help us see something about ourselves that we might not have otherwise noticed.   

Our family has learned some lessons about school this year, and only through those experiences have I discovered where to find out the information that we needed at the beginning of this year.  When Little Sister’s old enough for preschool, provided her mom wants to let the baby out of the house, we’ve got some resources to explore, and as I find them, I will be sure to share them.  Today, here are two:  

NAEYC sponsors a website.  Negotiating any governmental website can be daunting; however, I think the most useful link is going to be the accreditation search.  There are other links, some for schools seeking affiliation and accreditation with the NAEYC and some for parents trying to find out what the NAEYC and its accreditation process is all about, and the one that caught my eye  is  There are lots of pdf’s to search through too, and my Adobe is unreliable, but if you sift through more at NAEYC’s site, leave a comment and let us know what you’ve found to be valuable.  

I consider it a little ironic that I learned about NAEYC and its accreditation program through pamphlets I picked up at Boy’s school titled, get this, “Media Violence & Children” and “Helping Children Learn Self-Control.”  For information on why this is ironic, take a look here and here.     

The second source comes from another pamphlet I grabbed that looked promising:  “Promoting Educational Achievement for Children Early (P.E.A.C.E.):  A Child Care Expulsion Prevention Program.”  P.E.A.C.E. is affiliated with the Riverwood Center, a county specific organization, and the United Way. 

Boy has not been in danger of expulsion, but his bully has, and P.E.A.C.E. shares why my community, and any community really, has reason to be concerned about Yale’s studies  regarding the alarming rates of preschool expulsions.  Beyond recognizing that “social and emotional competence of young children predicts their academic performance in 1st grade, over and above their cognitive skills and family background,” and that “young children who act in anti-social ways are provided with less instruction and less positive feedback [which leads them] to like school less, learn less and attend less,” P.E.A.C.E. suggests a link between poverty, inadequate prenatal care, child abuse, and participation in childcare 40-60 hours a week as risk factors for children.   

Because of these risk factors, P.E.A.C.E. “provides consultation for parents and child care providers” for preschool aged children who exhibit “behavioral or emotional challenges that put them at risk of expulsion for childcare.”  In other words, even day care centers, including “anyone who directs or works in a day care setting” is eligible for free services through this program, and services include training for providers and families.  P.E.A.C.E. is only available in my county, but as indicated above, the program is associated with the United Way, so if you are struggling with the kinds of problems we have faced as a family, you might consider contacting your local United Way to see what programs are available for you.  The United Way, after all, does emphasize its program “Success by 6.”   

For me, I plan to contact the name on the pamphlet and share our story.  I will be sure to share what comes of that conversation here.   

So What? — Narrative Revision

February 21, 2008

Listening to Norman Lear discuss his creation of Archie Bunker on NPR as my son struggled with a preschool bully, I considered the line that distinguishes bully from bigot.  It’s a rather thin line.

Consider Reverend Fred Phelps’ protesting of American soldiers’ funerals with placards reading, “God hates fags.”  At one point in my life, I’d have laughed with friends at the signs as we watched smaller, weaker, weirder kids suffer wedgies and nipple twisters in the locker room after gym class, becoming inert with anxiety if bully or victim got too close to my locker.  It was not safe to stand up for those guys, for the bully would question my manhood, call me gay.  Despite these anxieties, it did not prevent me from using that same epithet and developing prejudices against those whom I simply did not know. 

The ease with which we observed some peers’ effeminacy or eccentricities may not have put my friends and I in Archie Bunker town, but our ignorance had us on the right road.  In our privileged, sheltered community, it was easy not to know the real world, and not knowing the real world affords easy stereotypes and prejudice.  Had I remained in the dark, I can’t imagine the person I would be, but two friends created a sense of acceptance for the differences of others no church, politician, teacher or parent had been able to instill.

Kath and I had dated for two years when I learned my first lesson.  She’d witnessed my friends and I laughing and creating jokes about peers and their sexuality.  She’d accused me of homophobia, and I admitted she was right.  On Christmas Eve after our first semester of college, she and her sister were talking and a man’s name came up in conversation.  Kath asked, “who’s that?” 

Her sister indicated this was their older brother’s boyfriend.  I could feel Kath shrink in the chair beside me at this information.  My mother had told me of rumors that her brother was gay, but Kath had not spoken those words directly to me, and I knew she now felt obliged to say something.  She turned to me and said, “we have to talk.”  We bundled up to take the dog for a walk, and as we left the house it felt like we were in one of those spy movies where the protagonist knows his house is bugged, and he has to tell his girlfriend how much danger they truly face.             

“My brother’s gay,” she said.           

“I gathered as much.  Why didn’t you tell me before?”           

“You’ve made it pretty clear how homophobic you are.”           

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

But that night was the first time I asked myself, “where did that homophobia come from?”  After all, I didn’t know any gay people.  I learned in that moment that her brother’s sexuality had no impact on how I felt about his sister.  Nor did it have any impact on how I felt about her brother.  In that moment I knew that it never would have made any difference when I received the information, and it therefore made no difference now. Of course I’d be okay with her brother being gay; after all, I wasn’t.

Six years later, my friend Joe continued my shift from ignorant to enlightened. 

I first met Joe as a junior in high school.  A local actor, Joe was brought in as the assistant director of the fall play to coach acting skills to those of us with no training.  Only seven years older than me, this adult let us call him Joe, and his proximity in age made it seem as if he connected with us on a level no other adult we knew could or would.  As the fall play wound down, he expressed a desire to direct a play called Voices from the High School the next year if the powers that be would let him.  He told us passionately about its subject matter, and I thought it sounded great; it dealt with drinking and death and adolescent insecurity.  Though it also included scenes addressing homosexuality among high school students, and at the time I didn’t know any gay people. 

Near the end of my senior year of high school, Joe starred as Alan in Lanford Wilson’s Lemon Sky on the South Side of Pittsburgh.  It was my first time into the South Side; it was my first time seeing a play in the round, and it was the first time I observed a character struggling with his sexuality.  The play ends with Alan kicked out of his abusive father’s home because he does not sleep with women.  I thought it was extremely powerful, and I was impressed with Joe’s ability to play a character so unlike himself.   

After high school graduation, I stayed in touch with Joe.  I remained in town for college at the University of Pittsburgh, and since Joe was in town too, we got together every couple months to go see a movie and grab a bite after.  That first semester, we talked about Kath and school, and his shows, his job, and the dates he rarely went on.  His dating life was so dry that one night I recall him dropping me off at my parents’ house, and he said, “You know I’d consider being gay if the thought of having sex with a man didn’t disgust me so much.”

I don’t remember how I responded; possibly with silence, but most likely it was a grunt of agreement, for at the time, while I considered myself homophobic, I really didn’t know any gay people.  I knew people who I thought were gay, but I didn’t hate them, or even not like them, and I certainly wasn’t afraid of them – Kath had yet to tell me about her brother.

Through my undergrad years, Joe and I continued to talk about our relationship woes; his were markedly absent, and mine were consistent.  Joe never questioned my choices, so even when I broke up and got back together over and over with Kath, he would bear both my tears and delight.  I remember his pained tenor when I called him late one night out of a Dungeons and Dragons session; I was convinced my life was over, sobbing and in shock, and he offered to leave his friends at one in the morning to talk to me.  I passed that offer and others to come as my relationship collapsed, but I am forever grateful for his ability to remain unbiased when it counted and protective when I needed it most. 

We continued to see films together, and now that I was old enough to drink our film experiences were usually accompanied by a beer or two after.  I recall distinctly one evening in 1994; we went to see Interview with a Vampire, and as we crossed the parking lot to the bar under the chilled November, starry sky, a carload of teen boys drove by and called out, “Fags!” 

Intimidated and unnerved, I could only say to my friend, “Well.”

“Punks,” murmured Joe.

And we said no more about the incident as we entered the bar.  Yet, it bothered me.  Somehow, I wanted the opportunity to respond.  I have no idea what I would have said, but I was full of conflicting emotions.  What made them think we were gay?  How dare some stranger shout something like that at just anyone?  Then again, hadn’t I done the same only a few years before?  How often had I called out an epithet to someone I did not know?  I let it eat at me, yet an idea stuck for the remainder of the evening; maybe Joe’s gay. 

That winter, I came full circle and assisted Joe with what I could on the musical at my high school alma mater.  He left early one evening for a rehearsal of his own, and when I asked him what play, he responded with, Hairdresser On Fire.

Didn’t sound like anything I’d have any interest in seeing, so I asked if he’d be bothered by my not seeing it.

“No, it’s not the greatest of scripts.”

After the run of the musical, I picked up a local events paper.  There was a review for “Hairdresser.”  However, the headline included the words Queer Theater.  I read the review, but I never said anything about it to Joe.  I don’t recall anything from the review itself, but again that bizarre notion of Joe being gay was there, and this time I couldn’t quite shake it.  However, despite my impression, and despite the ease with which I felt I could talk to Joe, telling him I thought he was gay when I knew he wasn’t could have been irreparably damaging to our friendship.

Another year went by; another high school musical came and went, and we found ourselves at Houlihan’s, drinking wine at the adult cast party.  I have no idea how much we drank that night, but it was enough that we called another friend to pick us up and take us to another bar where we switched to beer.  Upon our arrival, we each had a pint.  At one point our friend excused himself to the Men’s Room, and Joe and I sat, sipping our beer, when he asked me if I had a quarter.

“I don’t know, let me see.  Do you need to make a call?  I’m sure Greg can drive you home.” 

“No, I’m fine.”

“Here’s one.”

“Flip it.”

I did.

“Is it heads or tails?”


“Mike.”  It was a statement.  As if he was affirming for himself that he was indeed talking to me.  That I was sitting next to him.  In the next instant I became that kind of self-aware you remember from grade school when you didn’t do your homework and your teacher called you to the board.  My world slowed down as if I saw every detail of an accident, seeing how to stop it from happening, yet powerless to do anything.  If my world slowed, I can’t imagine what it was like for Joe when the next words seemed to crawl out of his mouth, “I am gay.”


Greg returned from the restroom. 

There it was.  Seven years of friendship.  And this person at the bar sitting beside me . . . never . . . changed.  He was still my friend.  I don’t know how I responded outwardly.  But I realized while I thought I knew Joe was not gay, I had back-story that told me otherwise. 

I couldn’t stop thinking about what had just transpired.  Did he really tell me he was gay?  Was he just kidding?  Is he trying out for a new role?  Has he always been gay?  I came to realize that one of my closest friends had to keep a secret from me for seven years.  In doing so, he may have very well been keeping himself from the truth as well.  I became more and more impressed by his courage, flattered by his faith in me, and happy for my friend.  He didn’t have to lie to me anymore.  He could be who he was.

That weekend, Joe and I met to have drinks and talk.  In the space between when he told me and we were able to speak face to face again, I thought and eventually realized my adolescent anxieties of being labeled gay were so . . . adolescent.  How arrogant does a heterosexual person have to be to think that a gay person would actively pursue someone who isn’t.  Consider for a moment how humiliating it is for a heterosexual to be turned down by someone of the opposite sex.  Now multiply that humiliation by the fear a homosexual must face in his or her daily life of intolerance, and add to it the burden of pursuing someone whose chemistry and biology just doesn’t work that way and therefore would have no interest, and you might begin to have an idea of how self-important a heterosexual is who fears a homosexual pursuing him or her.

When we talked, he told me he was just now telling his friends, though he had known for years.  I was saddened by his personal struggle, and while I was happy for him, I became worried for him too, for far too many in our society feel it is in their power to judge and exact punishment on their fellow man because their fellow man is different from them.  Think of the Fred Phelps’ of the world.  Those are the people my God condemns.  Joe and I have become closer though we live much farther apart.  He served as best man at my wedding and is my first born’s Godfather. 

These friends and their lessons taught me to be both more and less aware of differences and how unimportant they are.  They inform how I behave and what I believe.  Without them, I would not have been able to handle some of the most difficult challenges and questions I’ve faced as a teacher.

Before I had children, a guidance counselor where I teach told me she needed to speak with me privately.  As I walked in her office, she asked me to close the door.           

“Am I in trouble?”             

“No.  Sit down.”           

I did.           

“A student spoke to me in confidence the other day, but since it directly involves you, I felt you should know.”           


“I don’t think this student is even in one of your classes, so it was a little strange.”           

“Okay, who is it?”           

She told me, and I informed her I knew the student from Student Council.           

“Well he told me that you came out to him.”           


“He also told me he’s shared this with another student.”

“Let’s just hold on a second.  I don’t want to know any other details.  First, my wife will be happy to know I’m not gay.  Second, I don’t want you to tell him I am not gay, and if anyone asks, it’s nobody’ s business.  I don’t want to know who the other student is that has been told that I’m out because I don’t want to feel the urge to correct him or her.  My sexuality does not matter because it shouldn’t.” 

A student asked me later that same year, “What will you do if one of your kids is gay?” 

“One of them is.”

“You don’t have any kids.”

“My students are my kids until I have my own.” 

While he thought about that and began wondering which of his classmates is gay I said, “I don’t know.  Hopefully, it won’t change the way I look at my child.  But as I’ve said all year, you can’t say with confidence how you would behave in any given situation unless you experience that situation.  You can’t say you hate someone or something you don’t know or have never experienced.  You never know, and if you think you do, you’re going to get knocked down a few pegs.  I can say that I will love my child, and I hope I will not have to worry about how society will treat her or him.  What would you do?”

I may not be perfect, but I’m no Archie Bunker.  Though I may be just as curt, for if a student were to ask me that same question today, I have an even simpler answer:  “So what if they are?”




Cause for Concern

January 30, 2008

What is the problem?

How do you gather evidence that a three and a half year old is being bullied at pre-school?  It’s not like his memories are clear.  Getting accurate information from one that age is difficult.  Any reference on any particular day could be a reference to an event that actually happened that day, or the kid could be reliving the same event over and over again in his mind.  He threw a rock in the lake and it made a big splash on one day, and when you ask him six months later what he did today, he threw a rock in the lake and it made a big splash.   


But after this past New Year’s, when Boy returned to school from winter break on a Monday just fine, yet on Tuesday was so upset his mom had to take him home, I started to get concerned again.  A three and a half year old should not be afraid to go to school, but was he afraid?  Maybe he just had a great time at home on vacation.  Heck, it’s not like I was chomping at the bit to get back to work.  When mom picked him up on Wednesday, she found out Boy had nearly pulled a bookcase over on top of himself (where was the teacher, and what was Boy doing yanking on a bookcase), and then on Thursday it all hit the wall.  The ouch report indicated the kids were walking down the hall, holding on to their loops and O___ bit Boy on the hand.  There were no toys involved, so it was not a sharing issue. Admittedly, Boy has the power to annoy, but the kid bit him hard enough for me to see it six hours later when I got home from work.


Some folks we spoke with said, “Get him outta there.”  But why should my kid be the one who has to leave?  I want him to be able to learn how to deal with these kinds of problems.  I want him to be able to assert himself.  I also don’t want him to bite, punch, kick or “hurt him’s bones.”  At the same time, no child should be afraid to go to school.  If at three a child no longer wants to go to school, that’s an ugly looking 15 years on the educational road ahead. 


Is there a solution?

The next day my wife talked to the director of the preschool center.  They offered to move Boy to another class away from Biter.  He was in the 3-4 group, and they could move him to the 2-3.  Well, that’s something, I thought.  The director also indicated she’d meet with the other child’s parents.  Again.  Last time it seems there was a discussion about violent video games. 


The father said to the director, “Oh, you’re one of those people.” 


My wife got the impression that they would probably expel the other child.  What do those 15 years on the educational road ahead look like for a kid who gets expelled from pre-school?


What are you prepared to do?

When m – – – – r f – – – – r is spewed from the mouth of a child in a 3-4 year old classroom, there’s a problem.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve said those words, and I’ve said them in front of my kids, but not as a part of my everyday vocabulary.  We have no video games at home.  But is that the solution?  Yeah, there aren’t any video games, but the kids have way more time in front of the television than I did as a kid.  I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that I admit I’m not a perfect parent, and I don’t want to tell another parent how to raise their kid, and I don’t think the schools, county, state or feds should raise their kid either, but when your kid bites my kid and there’s clearly a problem, I want you to be willing to find a solution beyond criticizing the director of the center for hating on you because your kid at three or four enjoys shoot ‘em up video games. 


Were I the parent of a biter, and evidently an habitual one, I know I’d want to find out what’s going on.  In fact, that’s what I’m trying to do, and I’m taking steps to make the situation a little better for my kid.  What are you doing? 


It’s not like there aren’t options, though in early education some of those options are limited.  Look at it this way, if the other kid is at preschool as long as my kid, there’s 2 and a half hours of contact time for the teacher to have with the kid.  That’s not a long time to observe what’s going on.  Plus, when you’re lead teacher for 3-4 year olds, how do you watch a single kid for suspected behavioral issues when you’ve got 5-10 other kids working with permanent colors, glue and simultaneously wetting their pants. 


The reason I ask is this: 

MSNBC did a story yesterday morning showing correlations between bullies, victims and ADHD.  As an adult who didn’t know anybody with ADHD growing up, but as a teacher after the diagnostic boom in the early 1990’s I’ve been suspect of some diagnoses in the past, but I must say it’s an issue that holds more water for me.   Regardless, early behavior problems need to be monitored by the school and the parents because the earlier you can catch a problem a kid’s dealing with, the earlier you can help that kid and maybe make her life a little easier. 


See, according to the article, kids with ADHD symptoms are “four times as likely as others to be bullies.”  But it gets worse.  “[C]hildren with ADHD symptoms were almost 10 times as likely as others to have been regular targets of bullies prior to the onset of those symptoms, according to the report in the February issue of the journal Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology.”  These aren’t American kids they studied either.  The study was done in Sweden, and I’ve got a hunch the problem is bigger in America than in Sweden.   


What does the study mean?  There’re a couple possibilities:  The ADHD kid may just be a jerk, or “it might turn out that the attention problems they’re exhibiting could be related to the stress of being bullied.” 


Linda Carroll interviewed Harvard professor William Pollack for the story, and while he doesn’t necessarily contribute anything a rational adult couldn’t figure out for him or herself, he does point to the urgency of the problem.  First, you have a hard time learning when you’re afraid.  I tell you, after some creep spit on me in middle school it got real hard for a long time for me to want to go to school.  Second, Pollack reminds us that bullied kids often turn into bullies.   


So what do we do?  Medication for ADHD, the story reminds us, doesn’t treat aggression.  It helps a person focus, it doesn’t deal with depression or anger.   


What am I prepared to do?

More than anything, the story starts to look like every other piece of parenting advice out there.  You’ve got to look for signs.  You have to communicate with your kid (and at three that’s a tall order).  You’ve got to look to the school for help and advice when they let you know your child is a problem, and if they won’t help you, maybe you need to find a new setting for your child.