Cancel My Vote

    We don’t vote. At least, not enough.

    In the highest recorded voter turnout since 1960, less than 62% of us made it to the polls in 2008. And that was a major, presidential election which broke ground on many levels. Mid-term elections typically fare much worse; less than half of us bother to send an opinion.

    voteWhat’s of even more concern, however, is that our kids don’t vote.

    While countries across the world send huge numbers of citizens to their polls, the youth of America stays home. In Afghanistan, citizens traveled miles and literally risked their lives (14 people were killed) for the opportunity to vote in their recent elections. Our kids are unlikely to travel to the conveniently located polling sites in their towns for Tuesday’s election.

    I avoid what I consider the obvious minefield topics with my students: religion, politics. It isn’t that I don’t have an opinion or that I don’t want to hear theirs; I do. However, because I work so closely with them –one-on-one- I acknowledge that my influence upon their decisions may be prejudicially weighted -and feel that testing that assumption would be unfair.

    Case in point. The other day, I was working with a student who had to stake a debate position. She chose her side and I offered to play devil’s advocate. Upon hearing my case, she switched sides. I switched my position again; she switched back. She wasn’t trying to be funny, or so fully indecisive.

    Part of her quick abandonment of her stated principles was that at the root of the debate, she really didn’t care much one way or the other. However, when I pressed her, she offered an even more candid reasoning.

    “Which side will have more research material available?” she asked.

    I answered her honestly. She chose what she considered the “easier” route.

    While most of my students might not be so quickly swayed by some of my well-constructed arguments, I’ve edged to their principles often enough to understand how easily I could bring them to another viewpoint. That’s why I leave most of my opinions to myself.

    And apparently, it’s worked.

    For some reason (perhaps it’s the political season) two students with whom I’ve never discussed my beliefs recently asked me where I stood. When I declined an outright admission, they each decided they knew the answer. One said I was most definitely a liberal; the other assumed me a staunch Republican.

    Hmm.

    Good.  I guess.

    I’m not so sure I like the idea that they were both completely convinced that they know me so well and that clearly they do not. Or at least, one of them doesn’t.

    But what I also don’t like is my own dawning comprehension that in all my non-contribution to political discourse with them, I’ve left them to their own devices. To a great extent, I’ve done this with my own children, as well, urging them to make their own choices and come to their own conclusions. Good theory.

    And leaving the lot of them to their own opinions wouldn’t be a bad thing –if they had any.

    I’m not kidding.

    When I try to get any of them fired up on most any topic, I generally fall short. There’s just not a whole lot about which they care passionately. And that worries me way more than whether or not the ballot they cast will support my candidate or positions. Sure, it would nice if they followed lockstep with my beliefs so I was assured my version of “right” decisions being upheld into the political future. But given a choice of a wrong answer or none at all, I think I’d allow them their own mistakes. After all, those who have come before them have made plenty.

    So this week when I make one final effort to implore my kids and my students to vote, included in my reasons will be their constitutionally protected right to disagree with the adults in their lives in a format that gives them equal clout. I’ll urge them to vote with me, even if their vote may effectively cancel my own.

    Yet even as they offer me their earnest assurances that they’ll find a way to make it to the polls or send in those absentee ballots their parents have forwarded along, my cynical self will imagine them hearing my voice as the wah, wah, wah, of a Charlie Brown fashioned cartoon. And rather than cast that ballot and cancel my vote, they’ll allow me and my kind to still lead their future, passing on yet another opportunity to stake a claim on the world which will very soon be theirs.

 

               

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Parental Outsourcing

Desperate for a bit of nostalgia, forgive me this reprint of a column I wrote a few years ago……

    Easy enough to dismiss it as another indulgent American insanity, this newly promoted notion of parental outsourcing. Why not? My tech dilemmas are handled in India, and my 411 query for a local number has yielded a southern drawl at the end of the fiber optics.


    So you’re frustrated with carting the kid to soccer? Hire a teen taxi. In fact, never quite got the hang of the game yourself, whip out the check book and whip the kid into shape with a private practice buddy. Can’t quite fit in teaching her to ride a two-wheeler, no problem. And toilet training, why bother? Someone can do it better.


    My response to the morning show feature on this budding parental trend wasn’t the drop-jaw shock that it may have been just a few short years ago. Even the article on the New York City lab that’s structuring artificial wombs wasn’t shocking so much as it was more of the same. Don’t ask an incredulous, “what’s next?” You can’t even imagine it.


    When I summarized the show to a friend, she jumped at the notion. Driving with my teenager? I’d pay someone to sit in that seat, she insisted. In fact, she seemed eager to pass the reins on a host of the duties associated with raising teenage daughters.


    Maybe we’d all like to give up some of the parental job requirements. After all a stand-in for a few of those dirty diapers or the midnight bout with the stomach bug may have been welcome. I’m sure all our lists would go on. And on.


    But for all the times that hiring a surrogate with all the right answers might have been nice, I can’t help but think of that other price. So I’ll keep the memory of our ineptness at handling a desperately ill baby daughter for its parental baptismal and lesson on life’s priorities. I’ll forgo the grief counselor that would have given much better answers for the mirror of my own feelings in my daughter’s eyes. I’ll welcome the sleepless nights with the twisting and kicking little boy because it was coupled with soft morning cuddles. And I’ll let them scream that they hate their parents because I know they’ll be heartfelt “I love yous” that’ll make it more than worth their hollow negatives. I’ll suffer the teen wrath for all the “no’s” to watch her eyes light up when she got my “yes” to the concert, the party, the dance.

 
    With his incessant chatter are glimpses to the humor and intellect that will turn the boy to a young man. With the endless questions come search and discovery of pieces of my world I’d never have found without him. If I wished her heartache away when her best friend moved out of state I’d also have missed her glowing determination and success at keeping the connection. If I blanketed her angst after being cut from the team, I’d have missed the resilience that I could never really have taught her.


    So the next time I fall out of a tree while helping him build his backyard fortress, I’ll take a moment among the poison ivy and red ants to ponder that it may well be worth it. Making memories, these could be the good ‘ol days he remembers most. And the ones for which I will someday wax nostalgic.

Homework

From the time Michael was in first grade, he and I have had an ongoing battle over homework.

 

In elementary school, he would literally spend an hour seated at the kitchen table telling me all the reasons why homework was unfair. The gist of his argument was that after having spent the whole day working at school, he thought it was unreasonable that he was required to do even more work at home. As well-honed as his debating skills may have become over the years (180 days of school x 10+ years), I wondered how this seemingly intelligent young boy couldn’t see the disconnect between effort and results. The hour –long tirade against homework was to forestall ten minutes worth of busy work in those early years. If he had just shut up and done the work, he would have been off to play before supper and sunset had him stuck indoors for the night. And I would have been granted a modicum of peace from the continual chatter that was the white noise of my life until he turned 14. Instead we did this back-and-forth dance -every day.

 

I was one of the few parents I knew who didn’t meet the return of school with relish. The kids and I enjoyed our summer days –beaches, parks, museums, mountains. Lots of together time, very little scheduled time. Summer was fun; school was not. It returned us not only to a crazily overscheduled family routine, but also to the afterschool argument.

 

When Michael was headed to middle school, I committed parenting mistake number 418. As I had for his sister, I allowed Michael some independence with regard to his school work. I wouldn’t be checking and nagging. At least not until his first grades came out. In the played-out scenario in my brain, Michael would put minimal effort in and receive the corresponding lackluster grades. I would then swoop in with documented evidence of his missteps and shower him with all my grade boosting knowhow.

 

Now that I think of it there was way more than one parenting error here. First, Michael is not his sister. They don’t act alike, think alike, learn alike. I think Alex was six when she correctly pointed out to mommy and daddy that we were walking in the wrong direction of the huge Disney parking lot if we wanted to find our car. She’s a visual learner.

 

Michael, on the other hand, never successfully found his way back to the beach blanket after he stepped from the surf.

 

He’s auditory. Which is good thing in a classroom setting. And a bad one. Because he could learn simply by listening, he could get good grades without much effort. Actually, without any. And actually really good grades –honor roll. I knew we were in trouble when his history teacher offered a heads-up phone call when Michael had studied the wrong chapter for an exam. During the conversation she also alluded to Michael’s poor organizational and notetaking skills.

 

He got a 95 on the test.

 

Again, not a good thing.

 

The evidence I was trying to gather to support the hypothesis that poor effort equaled poor grades was proving pretty elusive.

 

I knew it would catch up with him. I was just hoping for sooner, rather than later.

 

It did catch him. But it was later. In some ways, too much so. Having gotten away with negligible effort for so long, the notion of now spending hours on high school level homework is pretty far out of his mindset.

 

Last week’s homework conversation threw me back to first grade. Rather than doing his homework, he presented a well-built and articulately delivered treatise on why he didn’t want to do it. In fact, why he shouldn’t have to.

 

I’m serious. This is the way he actually thinks.

 

He presented a list of cons -no pros- the last salvo of which was that it simply wasn’t worth the effort because grades are unimportant. Unfortunately, this one might be mine. In rebuttal to his oft shouted claim that all I care about are grades, I have often said that I don’t. And yes, I’ve used that word with regard to grades: unimportant.

 

How many parenting mistakes are we at?

 

More to come.

 

After kicking him and his debate out of my room, with threats, bribes and a bottom-line answer that yes, he had to do his homework, he retreated.

 

Battle weary perhaps, but not war defeated.

 

After days of consideration, he came up with a compromise.

 

He agreed to do all his homework in all of his classes. Except for two. I’ll leave out which two, just not to offend the teachers of those subjects. Let’s just say he didn’t choose Photo and Band. Think the important ones.

 

The interesting thing in all of this is that Michael actually likes to learn. Was a sponge for it when he was younger. With some subjects, still is.

 

Battling a cold and a low grade fever a couple of weeks ago, Michael stayed home from school. Don’t ask me why, but he actually doesn’t like to miss school. Go figure. However, when we talked that night, he told me he’d had what he considered a perfect day. He slept until noon, then woke up and composed two songs.

 

Seriously.

 

The blog’s title should affirm that I do not think my kids are perfect. I can’t excuse Michael his stubborn streak or his oft-skewed way of judging the world around him. But on his legitimate sick day, my son was free to text, facebook, twitter. He could have spent the day watching movies or playing video games. Instead, he made music.

 

So I have to question a school system that uses high-stakes testing and hours of homework as barometers of quality. And I wonder about educational constraints that are so narrowly constructed as to exclude a vibrant learner with a still inquisitive mind. And I worry about a success that defines intelligence more for its conformity than its ingenuity, gives credit for good grades over real grasp and understanding. And makes a kid look at September and the start of school, as Michael told me on his first day this year, as the season of the year when he stops learning.