Friday, October 24, 2008

"...Things Fall Apart; the Centre cannot hold...."

It was a small box earlier in the week in the local newspapers here and probably in yours as well, “Newburyport Bans junk food in schools”. Hand on my heart, I’ve lived here in Southeastern Connecticut/New England for seventeen autumns and I had to look up, along with Carmen San Diego, where in the world (or, specifically, in Massachusetts) Newburyport is.

My children are now adults so I don’t have a dog in this hunt, as my Texan friend Dave Malone might say, but I can only shake my head when I read this type of news report. We have so overburdened teachers and school systems with roles and responsibilities that we, as children, and our parents, never had to encounter and now we wonder
why Johnny (Jenny) Can’t Read, and instead of fixing that problem we recruit specialists to ask them “and how does that make you feel?”

Show of hands. How many of us went to high school where there was day-care for students who had gotten in the family way? How many of us went to a grammar school where breakfast was served? Now, here’s the trick question: how many of us had/have children where either of those situations, above, exist?

The young people in the schools didn’t cause any of this to happen (okay, the teenage pregnancy part, not so much; at least they’ve mastered rudimentary biology, right?)-we did this as their parents, through omission and commission. No wonder so many of us don’t understand the schools we support with our tax dollars. They have different missions and roles from what we had, and we created those requirements. Now, as I read the news stories on this sideshow, we have parents in Massachusetts angry at what they call the ‘nanny state.’

Let’s pause for a moment, Bay State Brothers and Sisters (and others), with the finger-pointing and remember three of those fingers point back to ourselves. How many fat kids did you go to school with? I used an insensitive term because we all were back then (and incredibly cruel) and, pardon me for being old, we hadn’t yet learned to use language to obfuscate and conceal meaning the way we do now.

We’re all too polite today to look at our children, or yours, and see what is
obvious to others. Obesity puts incredible additional stress on our bodies, stress than can shorten the quality and quantity of our lives. How many dead children do we have to have to realize we have a problem? I apologize. I meant to say “living impaired” children, how politically incorrect of me.

Into all of this we have Newburyport School educators trying their hand at parenting. Again, cynic that I am, in light of so many of our school systems’ successes in teaching basic skills like reading, writing and arithmetic, why do any of us think making teachers Cupcake Cops is either a good idea, or that it will work?

My father was a teacher—I never pretended he was the Dad of the Decade or close (and he wasn't), but he was an excellent teacher. I had an opportunity (even if it was on the receiving end far more often than it should’ve been) to get a close-up look at what teaching looks like when it’s done right. Maybe, of everything he gave to, or withheld from, me, that was his greatest gift. I don’t see how we could get farther away from doing it right than we are now, but we still have the rest of this week, all of next and whatever parts of November and December are left in this part of the school year, so we may not yet have reached bottom.

And in an era where we walk around comfortable numbed by pharmaceuticals like Zanax and parroting mealy-mouthed empty platitudes to one another like “it takes a village to raise a child” (when we really should demand two parents to do the heavy-lifting), we’ve reinvented our schools to do for our children, and badly, what we no longer want to do, or know how to do at all, be parents. And then
Slouching towards Bethlehem, we wonder what’s gone wrong, never thinking to wonder why.

“Blessed are the poor/For they shall inherit the earth. One is better to be poor/Than a fat man in the eye of a needle. As these words were spoken/I swear
I hear the old man laughing. What good is a used up world, And how could it be worth having?”
-bill kenny

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