Posts Tagged ‘parental responsibility’

Clarity and indecision

August 19, 2008

This event happened nearly three weeks ago, but it still haunts me.  The event haunts me and my immediate response haunts me because of what each represents.   

My parents live just north of Michigan City, Indiana in Long Beach.  I grew up and attended elementary school in Long Beach, and all the time I lived there — about 11 years — I never saw the kind of behavior I witnessed August 1st. 

My wife and I and our three children visited my parents for a final beach excursion before summer ended and I had to start teaching.  As big sister and I tested the shallows of the sandbar I saw a boy on the beach swing a paddle from the ground into the air and run to his friends shouting, “Did you see that?” 

Behind him I saw a flash of white.

“Did you see that?” he called again proudly.

The flash of white became a gull.  The upswing of the paddle was a return from a downward swing.  The boy had clobbered a seagull on the beach with his paddle.  The gull stood and stumbled and tested its wings.  No luck.  

I swam big sister back to her mother and asked if she saw what I’d witnessed.  The boy made similar inquiries among his peers as they made their way to a beach house. 

My wife had not seen the event, but she watched the wounded bird with me, as I scanned the other families on the shore, looking for another inkling that there was another witness.  As I agonized over what I was to do about this, my wife and I watched the bird hobble about the beach.  How strange that my decision making probably took longer than the boy who actually hit the gull.

The bird was not going to be flying anytime soon, and I appeared to be the only witness.  While gulls can be annoying, this one could no longer care for itself.  Escaping a predator would prove as difficult as foraging for food.

Was I to confront the boy?  Was I to ask for his guardians at the home?  Who was responsible for this boy?  Why did I feel so responsible for this gull?  What would I do if he actually killed it?  Would that be, somehow, better?  Should I call Animal Control?  The police?  Isn’t there a law? 

Two grown women came down to the beach from the same house and threw rocks into the lake as I imagine they contemplated what to do themselves.  They watched the bird, threw rocks, and talked.  I felt some relief to believe there was an admission of the crime in the house, but I wanted to know the punishment.  This bird was now tied to them.  They watched him hop on his one foot and flap his useless wings as they chatted with neighborhood friends.  Then two young boys on a walk decided to add injury to injury by throwing stones at the gull.  The women said not a word. 

I had enough and laid into the two boys who did not necessarily know they were throwing rocks at a wounded animal, but who ought not to throw rocks at animals, period.  All this time I felt I was watching the slow development of three sociopaths.

And all this time I was frozen with indecision.

And all this time my children were watching me and learning. 

I called the police.

I was told there wasn’t anything the officer on patrol could really do. 

As I watched the gull hop his way south, I convinced myself I’d done all I could. 

I see now there were other options.  At the time I knew there were other options. 

Why can we see with clarity what we should do, and why can’t we always do what’s right?

Public schools vs. Private schools (or parental responsibility)

March 26, 2008

In response to the following comment:

“I’m going to play “devil’s advocate” here and would like you, as an educator and parent, to respond.

I work in the public schools. I do not have children. I listen to my colleagues complain about how many public-school parents shirk their responsibilities in raising their kids and valuing education, but from my perspective, so many public-school parents do not have good role models. I’m not talking about the parents’ parents, I’m talking about OTHER parents at the schools.

From what I see, many of the so-called “good-role-model” parents (that is, the ones who read the bulletins, attend parent-teacher conferences and read to their kids) are sending their little darlings to private and parochial schools because, apparently, the public schools just aren’t up to their standards. So, rather than working to make their neighborhood schools better by getting involved, attending school board meetings, running for school board, writing their legislators to demand mandates be funded, etc, they pay the extra jack and drive the extra mile to get their kids out of the public schools, often THE VERY SAME public schools they work for.

Last week, two of my colleagues were wah-ing because their children’s Spring Break didn’t match up to the Spring Break scheduled for our school corporation’s. I took out my tiny violin and shook my head. What are these people thinking and what does it tell the children they are raising? That public schools should not be valued? These kids are going to grow up to be legislators and voters; how will they act towards public schools for which their parents demonstrated such low regard?

People who work for public schools but send their kids elsewhere make me wonder: “why in the name of social justice would you work for an organization you yourself don’t believe in enough to send your own offspring?”

My mother told me that when her father worked for Studebaker you could drive past the Studebaker employee parking area and see a lot of Fords, Packards and Chevys but very few Studebakers. Apparently those workers didn’t believe in their own products; Studebaker ceased production in South Bend in 1963.

We ask public-school parents to value public school education. Do all of us?”

Here is my response: 

Firstly, my children do not attend private school.  They attend a different public school than where I teach because my wife and I chose to live in-between the districts where we taught, so instead of making one of us drive 80 minutes one way, we split the difference.  My kids don’t have the same Spring Break I do either.

I’ve considered sending our kids to private schools because the public schools I’ve come to know are not the public schools I knew as a student in them.  But I don’t know if the fault is with the school, the community, or the student population.  Probably a little of all three if we’re being honest. 

But when I consider private, I realize that the roles my wife and I play in our children’s lives in public or private school will ultimately help determine their success.  Parents who send their kids to private schools are most likely sending them to private schools because they are concerned about their children’s education, so private schools have a tendency to be preaching to the choir when it comes to taking a child’s education seriously.  But regardless of whether you are a parent who has no choice but to send your children to public schools or if you are a parent who consciously chooses to send your children to public schools, you have a responsibility. 

If we’re talking about role models, or the lack thereof, we are not condemned to failure because we haven’t seen success, for there are those who see nothing but success their entire lives who choose to destroy themselves.  These are adults we’re talking about here.  It’s a bit like Cassius telling Brutus, the fault is not in the stars but in ourselves.  Cassius recognizes it’s our fault that we are underlings.  Our fault.  So what does Cassius plan to do?  Kill Caesar.

If you have a child, you have a responsibility to do right by the child.  Sometimes that’s private school, sometimes that’s public school, sometimes it’s the best you can do.  Not every parent has to be the stellar volunteer, and not every parent can attend everything there is to attend.  But as indicated in my entry here, a principal should not have to tell parents it’s important their children attend school. 

If a public school teacher sends his child to a private school, that’s fine; he’s still paying for the public system.  I’m not about to judge the public teacher’s preference, for her private school choice may be religious based, but even if it isn’t, she has the right to do the best she can for her child.

Bedtime Story

February 21, 2008

Sunday night, I decided to break out Just a Bully by Gina and Mercer Mayer for bedtime. I wanted to gauge the response from Boy. I hoped to mine his still developing brain for more specific information about his experiences in preschool. I’ve had better ideas.

When the bigger kid (crocodile) picks on Little Critter’s little sister, I stopped reading and asked, “Does anybody at school pick on other kids?”


“What happens?”

“That crocodile bein’ mean.”

“Yeah, that crocodile’s not very nice, but let’s see what happens.”

When we got to the sequence where Little Critter is bothered on four distinct occasions by the crocodile, I stopped again and asked, “That crocodile isn’t very nice, what should Little Critter do?”

“That crocodile bein’ mean.”

“Is anybody mean to you at school?”

“O – – – .”

“What does he do?”

Pointing to his forearm, Boy says, “He bite me on the armpit — like this.”

On the very next page, Little Critter tells the teacher about his bully. I said, “That’s good to tell the teacher when somebody’s bothering you. Do you know who else you can tell?”


Big sister chimed in: “You can tell Mommy and Daddy.”

Unfortunately, Little Critter doesn’t tell his Mom. In fact, Little Critter suspects Mom knows he’s pretending to be sick, “but she let me stay home anyway.”

Little Critter’s little sister advises her brother to give the bully a punch. Having had his project destroyed by the bully, the bully warns Little Critter he’ll get him later. And at the end of the day, Little Critter and his bully fight in front of the school as the buses are loading.

In 1999, at the advent of zero tolerance policies toward violence in schools, Just a Bully has a faculty member break up the fight, scold both fighters, and the fighters are free to get on the same bus.

After Little Critter’s little sister humiliates the bully on the bus, Little Critter and his sister ride home together on the bus, and as I close the book, I see Boy make a fist with his right hand and start hitting his open left palm.

“What are you doing?”

“I punchin’ the crocodiles.”

“Why are you punchin’ the crocodiles?”

“Them pickin’ on him.”

“What are you going to do if someone picks on you at school?”

“I going to punch them.”

“Son, I don’t want you punching anybody. What else can you do?”

“I going to point at him and say ‘I don’t like that.’”

Well, that’s something.

Yesterday, my wife had a parent-teacher conference at Boy’s school. She met with his last teacher, as Boy’s only been in his new classroom for a month. The teacher asked how things are going for him now, and my wife said, “We ask him every day how school was, and he says, ‘Good O – – – wasn’t there.’”

The teacher said, “Yes, for some reason they just seemed to butt heads.”

They just seemed to butt heads.

What a fanciful world we try to live in sometimes. Maybe by imagining these children are merely butting heads, one can imagine there are no problems at home. If children are butting heads, they just have a personality conflict and there aren’t deeper issues that need to be resolved. Regardless, I’m happy we got Boy out of that classroom.

Yesterday, my wife sent me a link, and I’ve seen it in my research, but I don’t know why I’ve not referenced it before. Boys Town sponsors A search for bully provides a number of articles — updated since the new year: “How to help the victim.” “The Bully, The ‘Bullied’ and The Bystander.” And “How To Deal With a Bully.” Much of the advice is directed to teens as they have the communication skills necessary to be able to make clear the problem. So when bullying is happening in preschool, I think the onus is on the parents and the school. The specific article my wife sent was “Biting, Bullies and Other Bad Behavior at Preschool.” The most important advice is directed at the teachers: Children who are bullying others should be closely monitored.” I’m glad we moved Boy from that classroom, but are there other kids still suffering?