Tag Archives: debate

Are Public Schools Discouraging Excellence?

grades

My son is in first grade and this is the standards-based grading system his school uses. Do you see anything that bothers you? We got his report card last week and it took me a few days to really put my finger on it, but I finally figured out what wasn’t sitting right.

You can fail but you can’t excel.

Does that seem inadvisable and fatalistic to anyone else? Right from the start — before they even take their first test — the message is “you can fall short of the standards but it’s impossible to exceed them.” The very best mark you can get is to meet expectations consistently, which I think is very, very wrong.

To be clear, I don’t blame teachers. They’re given a system and told to operate within it, and I know for a fact many of them don’t like grading systems like this one. The explanation I was given in my son’s case is “Well if they’re exceeding expectations they already know everything and should be in the next level.” Sorry, but that makes no sense. You can have a student who exceeds expectations but isn’t quite ready for the next level of work. And conversely, if someone receives an “N” for not meeting the standard, does that mean they should be automatically dropped down to a lower level? No, of course not.

From my brief time as a parent of a school-age kid combined with my years of covering area school systems for the newspaper, there seems to be a concerted effort to raise low performers into the middle. And don’t get me wrong, that’s a good thing. However, it seems to be coming at the expense of high-performing students.

Gone are the days of academically talented and gifted programs at elementary schools. But more troubling than a lack of resources is a lack of recognition. The grading system in place at my son’s school doesn’t even provide a classification if you’re an advanced student, essentially making excellence an impossibility. So while some kids are told they’re not making the grade, the ones on the other end of the spectrum will never hear they’re exceeding expectations.

That’s not right, because it’s counterproductive to make excellence the enemy while raising the bar on mediocrity.

I know some of you are thinking I’m some blowhard parent longing for the days of traditional report cards, but that’s not totally the case. I like some of the changes that have been made, specifically the emphasis on observation with continuous feedback. I think that is much more helpful at accurately gauging progress than a traditional letter grade based off a mash-up of homework, attendance, and test scores at the end of the year.

I’d like to find a way to dovetail the standards-based system with traditional grades and come up with some kind of common sense solution with set guidelines that determine grades. And I’d also like to stop discouraging advanced students — however unintentionally — by recognizing their achievements instead of focusing on getting everyone to the middle of the pack.

It’s the same reason I’m disappointed there are no longer 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place prizes for the annual Science Fair, how we don’t keep score at athletic events until kids reach double digits, and how my son told me he doesn’t need to try hard at sports because all the games end in a tie and everyone gets a trophy. Instead of letting kids explore the thrill of success and learn from the mild pangs of disappointment, we tell them all they’re the same. Everyone is tied. Competition is bad and success will come just from being there.

We’re doing kids a disservice with that mindset.

Let’s continue to work with the kids who need extra help, but let’s not be hesitant to point out excellence. In fact, let’s do more to foster it and let it bloom.

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Adrian Peterson, Child Abuse, And Why It Doesn’t Matter If That’s How You Were Raised

peterson

It is never acceptable to beat a little kid bloody with a weapon, because that is always child abuse.

I can’t believe it’s 2014 and I have to spell that out for people. Yet in the wake of star running back Adrian Peterson’s grand jury indictment for reckless and negligent injury to a child, it’s clear there are grown men and women out there who still think it’s OK to strip leaves off a tree branch and whip a 4-year-old until he bleeds. To stuff leaves in his mouth. To cut him on the legs, thighs, buttocks, and scrotum. To whip him between 10-15 times, leaving defensive wounds on the poor kid’s hands that were still readily apparent even a week later when photographs were taken.

What Adrian Peterson did was wrong. That’s fact, not opinion. And yet, for so many, they don’t accept that. Why?

I’ve been told it’s a southern thing. A cultural thing. A black thing. A religious thing. I’ve been told it’s the only way to make sure children are raised to be respectful. I’ve been told if more kids were disciplined like this, there would be fewer school shootings and spoiled children. But mostly, I’ve been told this kind of corporal punishment is acceptable because the parents who do it were raised this way themselves. And after all, they were whipped and they turned out just fine.

Want to know how I know they’re wrong? Because they still think it’s OK to take up weapons against children and beat them bloody.

If this is part of your southern culture, then your southern culture condones child abuse and needs to change. If this is because you’re African-American, then the black community needs some serious internal reflection and a change of heart, because this is wrong. And if this is how you were raised, well…I’m sorry for that. But just because your parents made a terrible mistake out of ignorance, doesn’t mean you have to continue the violent cycle.

Because that’s the thing — your parents weren’t perfect. They made mistakes, probably because they didn’t know any better. Some of our parents smoked while pregnant because the dangers of smoking weren’t well established yet, or didn’t use car seats because the safety standards weren’t in place. Our parents didn’t have the wealth of information available to us today, so why repeat mistakes made out of ignorance when we know better now?

NFL analyst Cris Carter — a black NFL Hall of Famer no less — said he was whipped as a child when disciplined. However, he chose to parent a different way. Watch this.

Cris Carter learned from his mom’s mistakes. But the saddest part of this whole fiasco is Adrian Peterson believes he didn’t do a damn thing wrong.

When Peterson was asked how he felt about the incident, he said, “To be honest with you, I feel very confident with my actions because I know my intent.”

If Adrian Peterson thinks he turned out so wonderful because he was whipped with various objects as a child, just imagine what he could’ve accomplished if he hadn’t been physically abused. And I’m sorry, but when it comes to putting our kids in danger with physical violence, ignorance is no excuse.

And let’s not forget, this is a TEXAS grand jury that indicted him. If I had to pick a state that would likely be the most lenient on a parent engaging in corporal punishment, Texas would top the list. Yet here Peterson is, facing charges. And boy do I hope he’s found guilty.

Also, please don’t let Peterson’s defenders turn this into a public debate on spanking and government intrusion in our lives.

This isn’t about spanking because Adrian Peterson didn’t spank his son. I can count on one hand the times I’ve given my oldest a swat on the butt, mainly because he was attempting to run toward the road or trying to tear off the electrical outlet cover after putting his hand in the dog’s water bowl. And even then, it wasn’t the force that made him cry it was the stern “NO!” that accompanies the light spank.

That’s in stark contrast to Peterson, who reportedly took the time to fashion himself a switch and proceeded to beat his small child bloody with it by hitting him more than a dozen times. A grown man who smashes into offensive linemen and linebackers for a living, whipping a small boy who he’s supposed to love and care for. How anyone can defend that is beyond me.

Allow me to bottom line this for you. If you think hitting your kid with a stick until he bleeds is an acceptable form of punishment, you’re a bad parent. And, more than likely, you’re engaging in a criminal act. Your culture, race, ethnicity, and upbringing don’t matter in this instance. I don’t care where you’re from or what color you are, because when you decide to whip your 4-year-old with the branch of a tree, you are committing a crime. And I hope you face the same charges Peterson is facing.

But mostly, I hope it doesn’t get to that point. I’m hoping this will be a wake-up call to the parents who still condone this kind of nonsense. I’m hoping people realize you can raise respectful kids without beating them with tree branches and household objects.

Times have changed. And they’ve changed for the better. So stop abusing your kids.

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Stop Criticizing the Ice Bucket Challenge

donate

Apparently it’s not enough to do good deeds anymore, unless you’re doing them “correctly” or for the right reasons.

Perhaps you’ve participated in the now infamous ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, in which people video tape themselves getting a bucket of ice water dumped on their heads, donate, challenge others to do the same, and then post the entire thing on Facebook and other social media. You probably did it, donated, and felt pretty good about yourself, right? Well wipe that smug smile off your face, because some people think donations that come via marketing campaigns and viral memes are negative.

Yup, that’s right. You’re donating incorrectly and for all the wrong reasons. You big jerks.

Nevermind the fact that as of August 20, the Ice Bucket Challenge helped raise $31.5 million (and growing) for ALS research. Because (and stop me if you’ve heard this in the last couple of weeks) it shouldn’t take Facebook and videos of ourselves getting buckets of freezing cold water dumped on our heads to donate. We should donate because it’s the right thing to do, not because we’re guilted or pressured into it by friends, family, and social media, according to the critics.

Look, if someone had told me a month ago that I’d be showering myself with freezing cold water and donating to charity because of it, I would’ve mocked them. In fact, I was so dubious about the Ice Bucket Challenge that I held off on doing it, even though I had been repeatedly nominated. I only did it after I found out the challenge had actually led to a spike in donations.

Because here’s the thing — it doesn’t matter how or why people donate. It just matters that some good is being done.

Same goes for this story making the rounds, about a bunch of Starbucks customers in Tampa who started a “pay it forward” campaign, in which each person paid for the coffee of the person behind them. Hundreds of people in a row performed the good deed, but it ended when one pompous blogger intentionally broke the streak because the Starbucks baristas had begun asking each customer if they wished to continue the streak. To him, that violated the unwritten rules of good deed doing because it was more peer pressure than anything else.

Bullshit. Utter bullshit. Because good deeds are good deeds, even when they might have been prodded into existence by a little guilt.

Who among us hasn’t taken our kids’ fund raisers to work and hit up coworkers? Ever dug a dollar out of your pocket at the supermarket because the Scouts/Cheerleaders/Pop Warner are having a charitable drive? Volunteers man phone banks and make calls to raise money for charity as well.

If you gave to any of these, you’ve done something good. Something worthy of celebration. So what if you felt some pressure from social media to donate to ALS? I bet a lot of people knew nothing about the disease before they did the challenge and donated. And so what if a barista asks you if you want to buy coffee for the person behind you? First of all, you can always say no. There’s no shame in that. Second, I’m hoping knowing about “pay it forward” will prompt people to do it more often.

The world is so fucked up right now. Whether it’s racial tensions exploding in Missouri, another truce broken in Gaza, beloved actors committing suicide, or journalists being beheaded, we’re under siege from bad news. The world strikes me as off kilter and our humanity has never felt so fragile.

So in the face of all that, I think it’s pretty abhorrent and ill-advised to sit there and criticize things that are helping people.

No one deserves a medal for doing the Ice Bucket Challenge. Our donations don’t make us superheroes and we shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back and be done with charitable giving and random acts of kindness, simply because we took part. But you know what else people who give to charity don’t deserve? Condescending and misplaced scorn from people who have nothing better to do than knock people doing something positive.

In a fit of irony, those railing against the millions raised the “wrong way” for ALS are guilty of the very same narcissism they allegedly abhor in others. So let’s criticize actual problems and misdeeds, and celebrate the fact that for a little while, we all came together and did something positive.

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Parents: It Is Never OK to Change a Diaper at the Table

diaper

I want you to imagine you’re at a restaurant, with your kids, and a man walks inside holding a paper bag.

He orders some food and sits down at a nearby table. Then, without warning, the man opens the paper bag and you see it is full of shit. Yup, that’s right. I’m talking actual human feces out in the open where you and your family are eating. He closes the bag up quickly but you’ve already seen it and the smell of piss and crap is now wafting through the air. Outrageous, right? If you’re anything like me, you’d complain to the manager immediately to have this guy removed. Human excrement in a dining area? Disgusting!

Now, replace the man with a mother and the paper bag with a diaper, and that’s exactly what happened in Texas earlier this week.

Miranda Sowers and her three daughters, including a 3-month-old, were at a neighborhood pizza joint when the infant dropped a stink bomb in her diaper. Sowers went to the bathroom, but there was no changing table. Not wanting to pack her family up, she decided the best course of action was to change her diaper right there at the table, on one of the chairs, near where other patrons were eating.

Understandably, people complained to the manager and Sowers was given her food in a to-go container and asked to leave. Yet amazingly, she felt SHE was the one who was wronged, and ultimately decided to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, as well as alert the press.

Let’s get one thing straight — what Sowers did is disgusting and wrong.

Not only is it unsanitary to introduce feces to an eating environment, it’s also incredibly rude and unnecessary. There were other people eating around mom and her clan, yet because she was displeased with the lack of a changing station (a reasonable criticism, by the way), she went ahead and polluted everyone else’s lunch that day.

It is never the right move to open up a poop-filled diaper where everyone is eating. Ever. Excrement + Eating Area = No. Yet when I put this story on Facebook, I had an even bigger surprise — a number of parents defending Sowers! Check out some of the comments:

I think we should not judge since mommies have baby brain at 4 months pospartum (sic).”

The restaurant needs to take care of business and put in changing tables, or have a sign that says don’t bring your kids here.”

I changed LO at the booth in chipotles on out (sic) way back from NC because they didn’t have a changing table in the bathroom. Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.”

 I would’ve done exactly as she did. And then never go there again, because obviously they don’t think parents make up enough of their clientèle to warrant a place for their childrens bathroom needs to be met, even though I’m pretty sure it is a health code violation to not have a changing table for this exact reason. She was right in reporting them. Maybe the dumbass in charge will figure it out.”

Wow. I mean…WOW! I’m not stunned and speechless often, but the fact that anyone was defending this mom and blaming the restaurant, well…it threw me. A lot.

Now let’s get down to brass tacks.

I don’t think it’s out of bounds to politely inquire as to the absence of a changing station in the bathroom. Key word: politely. But that having been said, restaurants are not (and should not be) required to cater to one certain group. If you don’t like it, you have the option to dine elsewhere and if enough people speak with their wallets, the message will be received.

But the main thing I want to talk about is regarding where she should’ve changed the baby absent a changing station in the bathroom.

Moms may not realize this, but the one thing dads get really good at really quickly, is learning how to change a diaper in suboptimal conditions. Because even when you find a restaurant with a changing station in the ladies room, chances are there isn’t a matching one in the men’s room. So we need to make it work however we can, and that ain’t always pretty (or easy).

So what should Sowers have done when forced to think like a dad? The easiest thing to do, if it applies to you, is go back out to the car. I’ve changed diapers on every seat and in the back. It’s easy, it’s only messing up your own stuff, and you’re not bothering anyone else. If you don’t have a car (or the car isn’t available for some reason), then I would try the bathroom counter. If that’s not feasible, then you suck it up, throw the changing pad (yes, she had one with her) on the cleanest part of the floor you can find, and make it quick.

What you should never do, under any circumstances, is introduce human fecal matter into the same vicinity where people are eating. And if you do have an unfortunate mental lapse and proceed to be rude and disgusting, you should not blame the restaurant. The restaurant is not responsible for you or your kids, and it is not responsible for how you dispose of dirty diapers. That is YOUR responsibility as a parent.

When the hell did some parents become this entitled?

Having kids doesn’t mean the world should cater to us. It doesn’t mean every business needs to be prepared to meet our needs. And it certainly doesn’t mean we have the right to gross people out with our kids’ bodily functions during meals, simply because we didn’t plan ahead.

Upset about the absence of changing tables? Leave.
Need to change a diaper? Find a way to do it that doesn’t affect everyone else.
Feel unwelcome? Find a more family-friendly restaurant.

But don’t screw up in a mind-bogglingly discourteous way and then turn around and blame someone else for your stupid mistake. That’s the kind of stuff that gives all parents a bad name. We’re better than that.

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An Open Letter to My Son About Closed Minds

prejudiceDear Will,

Today you came home near tears because someone told you two gay people can’t get married because it’s wrong and gross. Your aunts are gay and your cousins — who you love with a wonderful ferocity — are a product of their very much legal marriage (Massachusetts has had gay marriage since 2004). When someone insults your family, it hurts. You hurt right now, and I’m sorry for that.

I’m also sorry that it’s not the first time, nor will it be the last.

I absolutely despise having to tell you about this ugliness at such a young age. Last year, when we stopped going to a certain area business because they were casually tossing around racial epithets, you had questions. And rightly so. That’s how I ended up describing the evils of racism to a 5-year-old. And now you’re faced with more ignorance and ugliness. And this time it’s that much harder because it’s from a friend.

I want you to know right up front, I’m proud of how you reacted. You told them (I’m using the incorrect pronoun to avoid repeatedly saying he/she and to avoid singling anyone out) gay people can get married in Massachusetts. You used your aunts as a valid example. And you told them the most important thing is that two people love each other when they get married.

Will, your friend is only 6. They might think marrying ANYONE is gross, or they might not have had anyone explain gay marriage, or — and this is the scary part — they might have parents who truly do believe it’s gross when two people of the same sex pledge their lives to one another.

Unfortunately, you said this person didn’t want to be friends anymore after your argument. It’s my hope that, because you’re 6, something shiny will distract you both and you can go back to being friends with this incident a mere afterthought and anomaly. But I’d be lying if I said these kinds of differences don’t leave a trail of broken friendships in their wake.

I know you tried to explain the truth to this kid. I also know you were extra frustrated because you knew you were right. And you are right. Gay people can be legally married, your aunts are legally married, and as long as two consenting adults love each other there is no reason they should be denied the right to marriage.

But at some point, the sad fact of the matter is you’re going to have a friendship strained — and ultimately broken — by intolerance.

Will, sometimes I forget you’re only six years old. I say that because your wisdom, empathy, and compassion for others far exceeds the limited number of years you’ve graced us with your presence. You are kind to every living thing — even apologizing to the worms we fish with when you put them on the hook. That’s why I hope you continue to do what you’re doing when  the road gets rocky.

Remember, some kids are brought up in an environment of hate and intolerance. That doesn’t make it right or excusable, but if that’s all they know then you need to keep that in mind. Salvage the friendships you can and never burn a bridge unnecessarily. But if a friendship becomes truly toxic, it’s OK to extricate yourself from the situation. Never be afraid to surround yourself with love and positivity, because you are a bright light my friend.

And the world needs you to shine.

I watch you, you know? Even when you think I’m not looking, I am. I’ve seen you on the playgrounds and at birthday parties, and I love what I see. You have a refined and razor sharp sense of right and wrong, and you don’t just stand up for yourself — you stand up for whoever needs it. If someone is being isolated, you play with them. If someone is being made fun of, they’re met with a “HEY! THAT’S NOT NICE!” It is one of your finest qualities, and to possess it at such a young age is astounding.

Please never stop standing up for what’s right.

As you get older, the easiest thing to do in those situations is nothing. No one likes to be made fun of and the quickest way to become a target for bullies is to come between them and their prey. But guess what pal? Ironically, the quickest way to bring down bullies is to stand up to them. It’s not easy, especially when the bully turns out to be someone you thought was a friend. Remember, as Edmund Burke said, “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Continue being a good kid who stands for something and resides firmly on the side of what is right and just. You’re amazing and I’m the proudest father in the world.

Love,
Dad

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