Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Quest for Fame is Hurting Kids

I've worked for a long time in the arts. My daughter is an accomplished choreographer who has her college degree in Dance. Her degree plan required Anatomy and Physiology as part of her training. In addition her professors promoted teaching students to dance strong and safely. Many of the moves that we see from children's dance, cheer and competitive teams are not just provocative, they are dangerous.

My daughter and I share a love for dance. When So You Think You Can Dance started, we used to watch and call each other on the phone. At the time she was the artistic director for a rec league level dance company. The problem was the parents. More specifically the problem was the mothers who had watched So You Think You Can Dance as well as Dance Moms. Because of the lack of regulation, and the petty small world that dance consumes, girls were lured to other programs where it was promised they would learn the 'tricks' that would get them noticed. Many of the other teachers were older than my daughter and didn't have the benefit of her background in contemporary concerns in the dance industry. But the Dance Moms wouldn't buy into the idea of age appropriate dance and costume.

The competition industry bears much of the blame for this. It used to be that provocative costumes or actions for young children would lose points. There is something truly disturbing about seeing a seven year old bump and grind. Yet in their zeal to win, win, win, too many dance schools, often run by people who have next to no experience in the academic and professional dance world, are putting tiny children through their paces. Let's just consider for a minute the concept of dancing en pointe. To be strong enough to accomplish this you have to have trained your muscles to support your entire body weight. That doesn't happen overnight. Indeed my daughter's studio required a doctor's xray analysis of a child's ankle before moving them up. That is not the case in most dance schools.

My daughter just sent me a link to a story from Australia expressing many of the same concerns. You can read it here: Ambitious Child Dancers At Risk
Below are some quotes:




Friday, May 12, 2017

Boys, Pain and Silence

I've raised two boys into young men. I am proud of my sons.
And i thank God that my boys aren't growing up today.
I think of the way our society treats boys from kinder through college and it's a wonder they don't en masse rise up and slaughter us.

This year, through the kismet of computer humor, I ended up with an Art One class of 31 students, 24 of them being male. That's fine. It ends up boisterous and we usually take some odd side trips, but it's okay. What is strange is how some of them have attached themselves to me as a substitute Mom. I've had students do this in the past. It's usually not the star students or the worst of the worst, but instead the average kids who have quirky personalities and interests.

One kid in particular seems to enjoy trying to shock me with outrageous comments. He's a handsome kid, tall, but really goofy. He was complaining about not knowing how to pick out a tux for prom. I told him to get help from his Dad. He replied, "If my Dad actually spent ten minutes with me it'd be a miracle. He's an asshole who left my Mom when I was two months old." It was shocking and I told him I was sorry he had to go through that and his reply was "I'm over it," which of course means, he's not. He's hurting, and badly. Hearing this story, another kid stated," My Step Dad is okay, but I'm pretty much just a replacement for my step-brother who died of an overdose." Wow. So that kid doesn't even feel he's important enough to care about on his own merit. Then another boy talked about how his Mom and Stepfather travel and have missed most of the senior events even though he's heading to engineering school halfway across the country in June. What was strange is that as more boys spoke out, others were having conversations over the things they've experienced-one kid had to run away when his stepfather got so mad over a bad grade that he threw him against the wall. Another had friends buy an airplane ticket to his Dad's home when his Mom and Stepdad threw him out. Others were simply ignored over overlooked or acting out just to get someone to look.

People have talked for years about the pain girls go through in school. But girls, in my experience, are more than willing to tell you about it. Boys generally do not. They carry their pain around until it erupts in ways that are destructive to themselves and to others. Counselors, by and large, are dismissive of boys' problems until they develop to the level where students are shipped to alternative school or juvey. The same people who will intervene for girls when they feel threatened or diminished will rant and rail at boys who are experiencing the same emotions, but don't have the same outlets for their pain. I listen to the teacher next door who nurtures bunches of needy girls, but who regularly screams at her class which has many boys in it. I worry because we only have two and a half weeks of school and these boys are showing the type of pain that manifests in binge drinking, drugs, risky behaviors of all kinds. And I fear that the quirky kid who plays jazz and grows bonsai trees or the kid whose father is a radio guy on a large national sports show will do something that will cause me to cry when I see their names associated with some summer tragedy.

Our society, our schools, our nation have failed boys. The push to make things more acceptable for girls has permitted an entire system to ignore the growing problems boys experience. Bullying, learning deficits, special ed and at risk labels are all more often directed toward boys. More boys succeed at suicide. Fewer males than females are in college. We are letting them fall through the cracks.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Ack! Spinners!

I want to offer my sincerest thanks to whatever idiot invented "spinners". As if my high school students aren't distracted enough chatting on their cell phones and playing games and movies on their IPads, now I get to contend with the type of behavior I thought I would avoid in high schools.Right on the heels of Pokemon Go, distantly related to the perils of Pogs, Pokemon cards and Tamagotchi, Spinners were promoted as a way to get ADHD kids to stop fidgeting.

It's a lie.

Instead those same populations, AND OTHERS WHOSE PARENTS PERMIT THESE TOYS, are more distracted, more fidgety, less engaged than they were before. I've seen this before when I found Tech Decks in my briefcase. The same kids who come to class with reams of paperwork for 504, IEP's and BIP's are also loaded for bear with every electronic gadget and toys they can carry. It's a wonder our district electric bill hasn't soared beyond all reason.

As a teacher, please, please, please don't buy these stupid things. Don't let your children take them to school. And don't believe any "professional" who claims these are a cure for your child's lack of attention.

"The alleged mental benefits of the toys have helped fuel their sales, but even a cursory look at the nonexistent science — and the history — of the spinners makes it clear that these claims are specious at best. Fidget spinners weren't created by behavioral scientists with a deep knowledge of intellectual disability nor were they created by experts in a lab; they were first patented by an inventor from Florida named Catherine Hettinger who wanted to promote world peace. She began imagining the spinner while visiting her sister in Israel. What if the young boys throwing rocks at police officers played with something calming instead? she thought. Hettinger's spinner never took off: Hasbro passed on it, her patent expired in 2005, and the spinner toiled in obscurity until earlier this year, when a series of YouTube videos featuring teenagers doing tricks with them went viral."~Time Magazine

Spinner History

Spinners' Questionable Science

Friday, May 05, 2017

Throwing Shade

I've taught for a long time.
I've taught kids who were rich and kids who were poor.
I've taught kids from trailers and kids from mansions.
I've taught white kids who thought they were black, Asian kids who claim to be Mexican and Hispanic kids who are really Americans.
But we have a problem in this country and it comes when anyone thinks how they look entitles them to be treated differently. I'm sorry if this offends, but there are reasons that African American  kids are in trouble more is because in too many cases whatever good lessons they get at church and home are undone by the music they listen to, the movies they watch and the examples they see in their own homes. How can we stop violence in schools if at home it's the norm? How can we expect to see respect given to us from kids who don't even respect each other?

Today, during the misbegotten period known as Block Lunch, I asked several students who were lying, yes you read that right, lying on the floor of the hall blocking the way during lunch to move to allow people walking to pass. See for some reason even though there are ample seats at tables and desks around the building, kids prefer to sit and eat on the floor. Why? No clue. I asked them to sit up and one young man decided to respond, " I don't have to listen to you." Oh really.....it was the wrong day to pick that fight. Then he got others the chime in. I seldom write up kids, mostly because it does no good, but this type of Lord of the Flies gang mentality is disturbing. Kids take up causes for other kids they don't even know based on God knows what evidence. What is more, because of this, teachers and other students are intimidated into tacit approval. I watched these same kids blocking the hall from one of our special ed students who is wheelchair bound. It appears that intimidation is seeping down from universities to high schools.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

The Origins of Selfishness

It has been a tradition in our area to offer an all night after prom party as a safe alternative to parents renting out a hotel suite open to whatever debauched imaginations of teens can compose. Usually these events were held at places like Main Event or PinStax which offer generally wholesome activities like bowling, laser tag, arcade games, etc. It was a nice way for kids who either couldn't afford prom or who didn't go for various reasons to still enjoy a rite of passage.

Traditionally it has been a function of some group on PTSA to make arrangements for this event. Reservations, raising money for scholarship and door prizes take awhile to assemble.  Generally speaking, even if prom itself was stuffy and overly dramatic, most kids enjoyed the after party. Parents appreciated it as well, knowing their kids would be less likely to get in trouble.

Our prom was officially announced. Then it was announced there would be no after prom. Why? As I found out from my inside sources (kids talk...) it was because the PTSA Mom whose job it was decided that since her little babies graduated in January that it didn't matter. I could perhaps forgive this woman if she had been heavily involved in serious work. She's not. She appears to be somewhat of a trophy wife who drives the latest Mercedes and whose children were very, shall we say, elitist.

So if you wonder where this self-centered, I am the bellybutton of the Universe, attitude comes from, look no further than the parents. I feel sorry for the kids still here. What could have been a fun, penultimate and inclusive event is now nothing. It's too late to arrange an event. We're out here trying to teach kids that commitment and responsibility matter and yet their own parents can't even take care of those things they committed to do.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Phone Addiction: It Makes Crack Look Tame

This has been the environment in our home for too long. With three boys and three little machines attached to them like the nuks they held so tightly as babies, I can no longer reach them. Their attention has been stolen by these screens. Their minds so needing the quick fix of their phones, a simple dinner conversation without a flashing screen has become torture.(Article Linked above in first line....)
My response:
I wish more parents were like you. I teach high school. Worse than that, I teach high school in a district that thought it would be forward thinking and educationally sound to have students bring their own technology into the classroom. So whereas phones were forbidden in class except when teachers needed them for online coursework, now phones are on all the time. Students walk down the hallways, earphones snaked under their clothes, listening to what I can only assume is the soundtrack they believe is underlying their daily lives. They secretly text and watch movies in class, necessitating that they have to sit on the floor in the hallways during lunch, with their chargers plugged in, so that they will be able to text during their afternoon classes.

I've been teaching a long time. Instead of increasing depth of knowledge, the impact of phone addiction (for I truly believe that is the nature of this situation) is that students lack social filters and many are incapable of carrying on a rational conversation, much less a supported debate. They are less articulate, less able to write intelligently and are essentially lacking in the ability to focus. The irony is that the imposition of technology is viewed by the educational hierarchy as something to be supported because it can be quantified. What they have not considered is the impact down the road.

Consider this. We now teach young children to read using electronic screens rather than printed books. Electronic screens are constantly moving, causing eyestrain. In prior generations, most children with vision problems were caught in first grade, when they started reading. Young children have no word for eyestrain, they only know that reading makes their head hurt. It's basic operant conditioning that explains why our kids are reading less, thinking less, doing less. I promise you that those kids in China, Russia and Denmark that are kicking our kids rearends in educational benchmarks are not learning this way. It's lazy. And it's turning today's kids into ready consumers for whatever popular fake news comes down the pike.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

This Says It All

I read the following article and found it true. Our students are protected from the consequences of failure by well meaning, but wrongheaded parents, counselors and administrators and as a result we have young adults who are devastated when proven wrong. I believe this fuels much of the angst on college campuses as the main actors would rather die than be shown to be wrong. American Students Don't Know How To Fail