Category Archives: Kids

Sesame Street a Political Platform

     I watched Sesame Street when I was little.  It helped me learn my numbers and letters.  I think it taught other important lessons, such as tolerating those who are different, the uniqueness of an individual person, and the need to stay true to one’s principles.

     I liked Bert and Ernie a lot.  My brother and I recognized ourselves in them.  (He was most like Ernie, and I was most like Bert.)  I think their stories showed my brother and me that we could get along in the same bedroom if we could understand and accept each other’s differences. 

     Some folks want Bert and Ernie to get married. Come on!  It’s a kids’ show.  It should be about the ABC’s and about recognizing squares and circles (and differentiating between them) and about counting cookies.  It should not be about the great same-sex marriage debate that the adults are hashing out and voting on. 

     If Sesame Street wants to introduce a male-male couple or a female-female couple, big deal.  But what good will come of having two puppets who have been friends and roommates suddenly reveal that they are lovers and are getting married?  (Since Bert and Ernie have always had twin beds, it would make it hard for them to have been lovers, anyway.)  Do we really want little children to assume that any two guys or two gals who live together are actually lovers?  Or is it still okay for them to think that two males or two females can be just roommates?  What about their future–will they make the wrong assumption if they live in a college dorm or have roommates in an apartment?  And do we really want them asking questions about how a male-male coupling even works–when they are still riding a tricycle and making mud pies?

     Why sexualize and politicize a great children’s show?

Planned Unparenthood Losing Ground

Seven states have cut funding to Planned Parenthood so far.  The total cut is almost $54,000,000.

I am tempted to say that it is a victory for pro-lifers, but that is not quite right.  That would be playing into the pro-choice trap of describe this as a matter of “politics.”  It is really a matter of saving the life of unborn children, and so it is a victory for them.  It shows that some people are willing to speak for them, since they are not able to speak for themselves.

States have to cut something out of their budgets, and the killing of babies is a good place to start.  The state should be protecting innocent life, not taking it.  It should uphold the rights of the smallest, not favoring those who trample on those rights.

Missing It

      Talk about missing the forest for the trees!  Talk about ignoring the elephant in the room!  Talk about any other figure of speech that is apporpriate!

     Some people were pretty upset by an anti-abortion sign in New York.  They apparently are not upset about abortion, just about the sign.  The sign has been taken down, but abortions continue.

     Here’s what doesn’t make sense. . .

     Al Sharpton said that the sign depicted black women in an unfair way.  What is he talking about?  Does he mean that the sign implies that black women get abortions at a higher rate than white women?  But that’s true.  And extremely sad for those who care about the life of all babies, regardless of their race.

     If there is nothing wrong with abortion, as Al Sharpton apparently believes, then there is nothing wrong with the fact that more black babies are aborted by percentage than white babies.  So how does the sign depict black women in an unfair way?  If their procurement of abortions is not a bad thing, then the sign is not disparaging in the least.  If fact, it might be something to be proud of, since it shows that “undesirable people” are being prevented from being born.  (I do not consider anyone undesirable, but the pro-abortion folks seem to.  Isn’t that what “unwanted” really means?)

     If there is something wrong with abortion, on the other hand, then it ought to anger everyone, especially black people, that 60 percent of pregnancies of black women in that city end in abortion.  The sign should be the least of their worries.  The fact that abortion is more common among black people in that community than giving birth to babies ought to make Al Sharpton more upset than any sign does.

     Please, please, let’s return to some sanity.  Let’s have more concern about those babies and their mothers than about a sign.  Let’s stop and think about what has become of our humanity instead of thinking so much of who might be “offended” by something.

     It’s fine to get offended, but let’s get offended by real evils and not by signs.

Kids and Their Weapons

     These cases always attract my interest.  A boy in Virginia has been suspended from school for shooting plastic beads with a pen case.  When I was a kid we used tiny wads of paper–usually soaked in saliva.  I confess that I have shot them in school at least once.

     The boy should be suspended.  Please, please, please do not accuse me of condoning his behavior.  Adults cannot let disruptive behavior occur in a school setting without some sort of consequences applied to the child.  Such behavior must be discouraged.

     However, the boy was eventually suspended for a whole year, the police were called in, and he was charged with crimes.  It is a bit extreme, don’t you think?

     He was eventually given a ten-day suspension, which seems fair.  The punishment was enhanced when somebody read in the handbook that the consequence for using a weapon in school was a mandatory one-year suspension at the minimum.  In other words, zero tolerance trumps common sense once again.

     A policy approach that was meant to keep kids from gunning down their classmates has become a reason to severely punish kids for acting up a bit–the way almost every kid has acted up from time to time.

     In addition to my aforementioned crime of shooting spit-wads, I once shot rubber bands at a classmate when I was in high school.  I think that she fired first.  We both got a short detention, and the teacher giggled about the incident.  She had to punish us, and we accepted our fate humbly, but the teacher was sincerely amused by our antics.  I would be too if I saw a highschooler doing such a thing.

     Who’s right?  Should the Virginia boy have been suspended for a whole year?  Should he have been charged with crimes? 

     A law enforcement officer said in regard to the boy’s charges, “Assault is assault is assault.”  Really?  So a boy blowing a plastic BB at somebody is the same as conking them over the head with a tire iron?  I don’t know if the officer has children, but I wonder how she would feel if her own child got a bit carried away and did such a thing.

     I think that one problem is that we no longer expect parents to discipline their kids.  In my day, you would get a suspension or a detention for such a thing, and your parents (at least my parents) would make your life so miserable that you would think long and hard about acting up again.  Well, you would at least try harder not to get caught next time.  If it happened in public, the police might escort you home, and you would get what-for.  What has changed?

Things I Wonder About

     I wonder. .

  • how it is that people can be relieved, excited, and emotionally touched whenever a premature baby overcomes difficult obstacles to survive, yet think it is fine when women have babies at the same stage of life killed and forcibly removed from their wombs.  Talk about cognitive dissonance.  Does being “wanted” or “unwanted” change the nature of the being in question?
  • how it is that people can want to know the sex of their baby at earlier and earlier stages, when some of the same people argue that an aborted fetus is not a person.  If it is either a boy or a girl, then it is a person.

So Random

     My teenage children use the word random in a way that really annoys me.  Have you heard teenages use it in a nonconvential way?

     The way I first learned it, and the way I still use it, is to mean “not having a predictable pattern or sequence.”  When I first learned to write computer programs, I used a random number generator to create visual effects, such as snow falling, or for certain features in games, such as a virtual roll of the dice.  Radomness relates to things like picking out names from a telephone directory in no particular order or like dealing the cards in a poker game.

     The first time I heard my son use it in a new way, we were watching some mind-numbing teenage movie in which a boy on a skateboard slid down a railing and crashed into the sidewalk below.  “That was so random,” said my son. 

     “What do you mean?” I said.

     “It was random.  It was lame.  He had no reason to do that.”

     I replied, “That’s not exactly what the word random means.”

     “What are you talking about?” he asked.

     “The word really means something happening by chance.  For example, the exact spot that the boy would land when he fell could be thought of as random.”

     “Dad, that’s really random.”

     “What do you mean?” I asked again.

     “What you said.  It was random.  Like, it didn’t follow anything.”

     So, apparently, random can describe a non sequitur, as well as a stupid act done without reason.  Mind you, what I said did follow from what my son had said, but let’s not bother with the facts for now.

     Apparently there is a show on the Disney Channel called “Sonny With a Chance,” and in that show the characters are part of a fictional TV show called “So Random.”  The fictional show-within-a-show apparently includes skits featuring absurd situations.  There doesn’t seem to be much randomness, just a buch of nonsense.  (I’m not opposed to nonsense, I just do not think that it is necessarily random.)

     I have several problems with the new definitions of the word random.

     1.  When kids encounter the word in a math class or in a statistics class, they will have a difficult time understanding the traditional meaning.  They are likely to get confused, as kids are wont to do anyway.

     2.  It seems to be very subjective.  I have heard a group of kids argue about whether something was random or not.

Kid A:  My mother made me eat breakfast this morning.  It was so random.

Kid B:  That’s not random.  My mother makes me eat breakfast every day.

Kid C:  I really like scrambled eggs.

Kid B:  Dude, that comment was so random.

Kid C:  No, it wasn’t.  We were talking about breakfast.

Kid A:  Whatever!  This whole conversation is totally random.

     3.  There are already words to cover the meanings that they have in mind, such as senseless, pointless, unexpected, and irrelevant.  It wouldn’t hurt the kids to learn a few more words, espcially useful ones that are just right for their purpose.

     What do you think?  Have you heard people use the word random in these new ways?  Does it annoy you?  Do you even care?

My Parents, My Kids

     Every parent makes mistakes, some worse than others.  I am generally happy with the way that my parents raised me, although I have thought a lot about the mistakes that they made.  I don’t bring up their mistakes, because they did so much that is right, I would rather not make them feel bad by criticizing them.  Sometimes they bring up their mistakes, and when they do, I let them know that I have no hard feelings toward them.  I sincerely don’t.  However, I think about their mistakes, because I do not want to make the same mistakes.  Unfortunately, I have made other mistakes as a parent.

     Being a parent has allowed me to see how difficult it is.  As I mentioned, I have made mistakes along the way.  How could I hold my parents’ mistakes against them, when I have made mistakes myself?

     One of the mistakes that my parents made was giving their children hardly any freedom to voice contrary views.  They were actually pretty inconsistent with it.  At times, they asked us for our opinions and accepted whatever we said.  At other times, they would get quite irritated, or even angry, if we said something that was different from what they believed.  It did not promote peace in our home.

     I remember when I opposed the death penalty as a freshman in high school.  When I mentioned it to my step-father, he got quite animated.  Unfortunately he did not take the time to explain his view and give reasons for it.  He did not hear me out.  He simply spewed out irrational statements like,  “So you think it is okay for somebody to murder another person.”  Naturally I became more entrenched in my own view–but held it secretly.  (Eventually I became convinced that I was wrong, and now I am in favor of the death penalty for reasons that I realize others do not accept but that satisfy my own understanding of justice.)

     I have tried very hard not to make that mistake with my own children.  As my regular readers know, I have definite and strong opinions about things, but I never force them on my children.  I never just throw platitudes at them.  If I want to teach them something, I state my view and explain why I hold it.  I listen when they have a different idea on something.  I hardly ever argue with my children, as I have found that it is counterproductive.  The only times that I argue are when I happen to be in a cranky mood, which I always regret and always try to make amends for.

     I ask two things of my kids.  If we are discussing an issue, I ask them to explain why they hold a certain view.  I want them to be able to back up whatever they say with facts and reason.  Saying, “I’m not sure why I think that,” is acceptable to me, but I challenge them to try to figure out why.  I will sometimes offer reasons that their view might be right to help them formulate a basis for it.  The other thing that I ask of them is to listen to me as much as I listen to them.  If I think they are in error, I will tell them why and will ask them to think about it.  As soon as it devolves into a petty argument, I say, “It’s fine if you disagree with me.  Just don’t give up considering other views.”

     This approach is true even for religious matters; in fact, I feel it is even more important when it comes to religious matters.  My wife and I have taught our kids what we believe, and we hope that they adopt our beliefs.  However, we realize the futility of forcing our beliefs on them, and they know it.  A religious belief must be arrived at freely with no compulsion; otherwise, it has no validity at all.  I would honestly rather have my children reject Christianity outright for stated reasons than for them to pretend to accept it to please their mother and me.

     When it comes to religious matters, my wife and I do not always agree or completely agree with each other.  We make sure that our kids see that.  Then they can choose to accept their mother’s view or my view or to formulate one of their own.  Seeing that their mother and I disagree helps them to see that it is okay for them to disagree, too.

     Now, there are non-negotiables in our home.  We have family rules that my wife and I have enacted, and that the kids have had some input on as they have gotten older.  Nobody in our family, parents included, is allowed to call people names or put people down in any way.  We do not hit people.  We address the things that we are angry about rather than ignore them or take them out on others.  At times, our children have childishly argued about such rules, but these particular things not open to compromise.  We tell them that they might not agree, but that they must comply.  We tell them that if they decide that it is okay to live a different way when they are adults, it will be up to them, but that their mother and I cannot live in a home where there is hostility or fear or constant tension.  We will not live in a home where people mistreat each other or simply take each other for granted.

     Our approach has worked fairly well.  Our kids tend to be open with us, since they do not fear that we will lash out at them for disagreeing with us.  My older daughter likes to debate issues with me, and she seems happy that I hear her out and challenge her gently.  She thinks she might like to become a lawyer.  Our children feel safe, and they realize that our family rules are in their own best interest, because they offer them protection and outward respect.  Nobody screams at anybody else.  Nobody insults anybody else.  And nobody ever hits anybody else.  And nobody gives or withholds love based on other people’s conformity.  Love is free and unconditional in our home.  We love each other even when we are very, very angry with each other or when we think somebody else is completely wrong about something.

     There was a lot of fighting in my house growing up.  I’m sad about that, and it is another mistake that my parents made.  They were not as assertive as they should have been about keeping us kids from hurting each other.  It has caused my brother and sister and me to have trouble getting along even as adults.  My own children genuinely like each other and enjoy each other’s company.  I am happy about that.  Of course, they sometimes get on each other’s nerves, and they need some time apart, but they are truly happy to be each other’s siblings.

     Despite my mistakes, I have done a few things right.  I thank a lot of other people, and I thank God, for that fact.

Raising Our Kids

     I have written on these topics before, but a recent online discussion has caused me to think about them again.  I am writing primarily about the education of children, but I think it involves the broader topic of caring for children, since education is one aspect of providing for the needs of children.

     Before answering any questions regarding how children should be educated or how they should be otherwise cared for, two more fundamental questions must be addressed:

  1. To whom do children belong?
  2. Whose responsibility is it to provide for the needs of children?

     It is my belief that children, like all human beings, are essentially different from what we normally call property.  In the strictest sense, they do not belong to anybody–at least not the way that a car or a house can belong to somebody.  When we talk about children belonging to somebody then, we are talking not about ownership, but about relationship.

     My views on this matter are informed by my Christian faith.  Human beings are the property, as is everything else, of God and God alone.  That is my rationale for opposing slavery.  It is also why I oppose any notion, explicit or implicit, that people belong to the state.

     In a statist society the children (and the adults, too) are essentially property of the state.  Everyone belongs to everyone else.  Each person is everyone else’s responsibility.  “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”  It seems like a nice system when you first hear about it.  It seems fair.  However, it has become abominably unfair and cruel in most of the societies where it has been practiced fully.  Enough said on that matter.

     In a free society the children belong to their parents.  It is the parents, after all, who produced them.  Therefore, it is the parents who have the responsibility to care for them.  I would go so far as to say that the parents have a duty to care for them.  The parents should not demand that somebody else care for their children; neither should they insist on taking care of somebody else’s children.  Parents in need can ask for help, and help can be freely given.  Experts with good ideas can offer advice and suggestions, but parents must be free to accept or reject the advice and suggestions.

     The discussion that I referred to had to do with home schooling.  One of the participants in the discussion offered a quotation that mentioned socialization.  I think it is important that people understand what that word means and what the concept actually is.

     I have heard some parents confuse socialization with socializing.  For example, one mother that I know said that she was sending her daughter to preschool for socialization.  She really meant that she was sending there to interact with other children.  (I suspect that she was really sending there to give herself a break, which I can fully understand.)  Other parents have told me that they were sending their formerly home-schooled kids to a public school to get socialization.  They meant that they wanted them to rub shoulders with kids from other backgrounds. 

     Wikipedia has a good article that explains socialization very well.  It does not mean interacting socially with other kids.  It means being acculturated or learning the norms of the society around you.  When educationists write or say that children need to be socialized, that is what they mean.  They are not saying that they need to spend time with other kids; rather, they are saying that kids need to be taught how to be good, productive members of the greater society.

     On the surface that is fine; however, I suggest people deeply on the matter.  If your children belong to you, what values (or rather, whose values) do you want them to learn?  Whose socialization do you want them to receive? 

     More and more we seem to have two disparate societies in the United States.  Label them as you wish:  leftist versus rightist, modern versus traditional, secular versus religious, blue versus red, urban versus rural.  We certainly do not want our children socialized in the same way.

     Unfortunately for those in the second camp, which I will call “traditional,” the public schools are mostly run by people in the first camp.  Their worldview is irreconcilably different from ours.  Many teachers are still in the “traditional” camp, but they are being increasingly influenced (and sometimes forced) by education professors and by interfering politicians to adopt more “modernist” views and values.

     So, however much a “traditional” parent might want their kids to socialize with a wide range of fellow students, he or she should ask whether they want their kids to be socialized in a system that opposes many, if not most, of their core values.  For example, I want my children to be tolerant, and I have taught them to be so.  However, I do not want them to practice tolerance as defined by the “modernists.”  In fact, they themselves are not likely to be tolerated by the folks in that camp, though I expect my children to be tolerant of them.

     I could list many other examples of where I differ from modern secularists (and modern liberal religionists).  I do not want my children to be taught that humans evolved from animals, that they are mere biological machines without souls, that God has nothing to do with our daily lives, that they are born to be cogs in the machine of society, that they only matter if they have a good quality of life, that there are too many of them, that they are a cancer in the ecology of the world, that they have caused global warming, that they should arbitraily believe in themselves or have self-confidence, that all religions are equally valid, that Islam is a religion of peace but Christianity is a dangerous religion, that there are no ethical absolutes, or that they must determine their values without reference to their parents’ values.

     I feel fortunate that my children have not attended public schools.  I am not absolutely opposed to sending them there, but it is not my first choice.  I certainly would not send them there to be socialized, however.     My wife and I will take care of that, thank you very much, and we will enlist the aid or our church and of our trusted friends.  If I were to send them to a public school, I would work over time to counteract the values that they would be taught there.

Cracking Down on Seven-Year-Olds

     A seven-year-old girl in Portland, Oregon, had to close down her lemonade stand because she did not have the $120 license that she was required to have.  I don’t know about you, but the entire affair makes me think of an absurdist play.

     Did you ever sell lemonade to passers-by when you were a kid?  I did.  Do you recall any of your patron getting sick from drinking your wares?  I do not, although I admit that it is possible for somebody to get sick from homemade lemonade.  I have even bought lemonade, and other things, from the makeshift stands of neighborhood children, and I do not think  I have ever gotten sick from it.  How about you?

     Let’s do the math.  For her to even pay for the license, she would have to sell 240 cups of lemonade.  Why bother?  And what were the inspectors teaching the poor dear?

     I think that they were teaching her that Mommy was wrong.  Despite what Mommy said, hard work does not actually pay off, since government officials want to take your earnings from you.  They were also teaching her that nothing can be fun and innocent; there is danger lurking everywhere, and without Big Brother to protect us, we would all get hideous infections and die–from drinking a cup of lemon-flavored water.  And they were teaching her that adults are not able to make good decisions for themselves; they need other, supposedly wiser adults, to help them decide whether it is safe to drink a little girl’s lemonade.  In other words, people are too stupid to choose whether or not to drink risky lemonade.

     Little Julie got the idea from a cartoon on television.   Well, kid, I guess that you’ve learned not to trust everything you see on TV.  Despite the cartoon’s homage to a longstanding American tradition, it is a terrible, subversive, dangerous thing to sell lemonade.

     From the other participants at the gathering she also learned some things.  She learned that you should stand up for yourself–that you should assert your rights.  She learned that there might be a way to get around absurd government policies.  She learned that there are a few sensible adults out there.  She learned that most people are considerate and helpful and willing to stick up for the underdog.

     The county health supervisor said that laws must be enforced, no matter how old the perpetrator is.  So if a four-year-old grabbed a candy bar from a shelf in a store, should the police cuff  him, haul him down to the station, and book him?

     He also said, “Our role is to protect the public.”  Well, I’m the public, and I think it is my role to protect myself.  I know in my heart of hearts that I can do a better job of it than a Grinch who wants to shut down a little girl’s lemonade stand.

     As the mother observed, “They don’t trust us to make good choices on our own.”  Sad, but true.  Especially in the “land of the free.”

Encourage, Don’t Badger

     I saw something sad a few days ago.  I was part of a basketball game in which some seventh and eighth grade students played agasinst some adults.  I was one of the adult players.  The kids did really well, because they had been well trained.  At the halfway point, the score was tied.  Everyone seemed to be having fun.

     Then one of the parents of a student just had to step in.  During the break, he started coaching his son, who was the captain of the kids’ team.  He didn’t just give him encouraging words and a quick pointer or two.  He went on and on, telling him what he had done wrong and suggesting several things that he and the team needed to do.  I have seen this father over-instruct his son before, and it is not a pretty sight.  It’s not exactly abuse, but it is not too far from it.

     Parents, teachers, and anyone who has frequent contact with children, please go easy on them.  Yes, teach them new things, but take it slowly–one step at a time.  And encourage them by telling them the things that they are doing right and by assuring them that they are capable.  For every negative comment you feel it necessary to make, balance it with several positive ones.

     One thing that I have learned is to be careful even to phrase my critical comments to kids in a positive way.  Instead of saying “you should not have tried to take the shot when one of your teammates was in a better position,” it is better to say “be sure to pass to your teammate if he is open and can make the shot.”  They mean the same thing, but one sounds better and goes down easier for the recipient.

     It’s hard to deal with children always in the right way.  We adults bring in memories of how our parents and teachers dealt with us.  We let our own personality, especially our emotions. color our interactions with kids.  We sometimes live vicariously through them.  The Golden Rule would serve all of us well in this arena of life.  We know that we enjoy heaps of praise with tiny sprinkles of criticism rather than heaps of criticism with meager little sprinkles of praise.  Let’s do to the kids as we would have other people do to us.