Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Just what are they teaching my kids?

One of the many dichotomies of parenthood is that we stress about what we are teaching our children and question whether or not we are raising them the proper way- only to send them off, for eight hours a day, to be taught by people we have never met, a manner of beliefs and texts the content of which we may or may not be aware.  Basically, as much as we talk about "how we raise our children", a good chunk of that raising is being done by someone else.  And we don't really have a choice in the matter-- unless we want to home-school; and I, for one, would rather have the government brain-wash my children a' la 1984 than do it myself.  As much as I love my children, it's all I can do to enforce a 45 minute homework time every night.  There's no way I could extend that another six to seven hours and still maintain what little sanity I have left.

So, my children go to public school.  And we are blessed that Howard County is still ranked among the top public school systems in the country, so I should be able to trust that the education the children are getting is top-notch.  And I shouldn't have to wonder just what is going on behind school walls...  but I do.

No, this post isn't regarding the math homework that is two grade levels above the last math course I took in college.  That's old news.  There's no way I'll ever be able to help middle schoolers with math homework--  I struggle over the second grade requirements.  And fifth grade Language Arts?  Uhm... now, I won't swear that the terminology has changed... I may have just either A/ never learned it or B/ forgotten it.. .but all I can tell Kayton is... "well, did you read it?  ok.... what was it about?  ok.... uhm.... well.... what do YOU think that means?"   And when it comes to Social Studies I'm eagerly learning right along with them, since social studies in small-town VA circa early 80's is very different from social studies in "Hub of Diversity, Maryland, 2012".   But, no, that's not what this post is about.  That stuff I'm all ok with.  I'm proud of it, even.  I LIKE feeling as though my kids may end up smarter than I.  I sure wouldn't want them any dumber.

However, a few weeks ago Mason and I were driving through Baltimore on the way to a doctors appointment.  It was a nice day, so the windows were down as we drove, looking at the sights, listening to NPR Science Friday, and feeling like life was good.  Then, out of the backseat, comes:  "Mom, Am I colored?"

This was one of those moments when I longed for a good old crank window, since the automatic window wasn't going up fast enough for me.  This was not one of those conversations that I wanted drifting on the wind throughout Baltimore.  Plus, I needed time to think this through and giving Mason a "put your window up- it's getting chilly" command bought me a few seconds.  I got a few more seconds by asking Mason to repeat his question.  It never hurts to be safe, since answering the wrong question can be even more dangerous.  I lost moments of my life a few weeks ago trying to figure out how to answer Kolbie when she asked me why I ate Daddy's peanuts.  (Related-- my mother gave JMahl a huge bag of peanuts on our last visit home, and I ate them all.  Unrelated-- I now lock the bedroom door.)

But repetition didn't change the question, and Mason recognizes evasion when he sees it, so he just insisted on an answer. "MOM- am I colored!!????"
We don't say "colored" anymore. We say "black" or "African-American".
They do in school.
Well... wait... what?  They say "colored" in school?
Well, they said that black people were called "colored" in the olden days, so am I colored?

This, of course, led into an explanation of what is now proper to say (does anyone really know anymore?), but Mason would not be deterred.  He kept repeating it over and over-- and who am I to say he can't call himself "colored" if he doesn't want to?  As he pointed out, "colored" is a lot prettier to say than "black".  Since, again, this came from HIM, people aren't BLACK, they are either colored or NOT colored--"like YOU, Mom", says he, "although you're pink, and pinks a color, too, so you're colored, too."

Once we got the semantics out of the way, I still had to answer his question, which was not nearly as hard-- a simple-- "You're both-- lucky you!"  Then we got to what his real point was:  "So, is Kayton colored?"  (Mason, stop saying colored!!!!  Kayton is both, just like you!"
What about Kolbie?  Is she colored?  (I decided at this point that focusing on the word was what was keeping him going, so I just ignored it and answered, if a little annoyed, "Yes.  She's your sister, too.  So she is just like you.)
But not Micah.
Uhm... Micah is half-Daddy and half-Mommy, just like you, Kayton, and Kolbie-- so she's both too.
No, she's not.  She's the same color as you.
Well, her skin may be lighter like mine, but she's still half-both, just like you.
No, she's not, Mom.  Micah is NOT colored.

*big sigh*  Mason, Mason, Mason.  You are completely undoing decades of civil rights with this conversation.  HEY!-- look at that statue!
(diversion accomplished)

But, no, that was not the extent of Mason's public school education.  A few days ago at bedtime, Mason was not happy with having to go to bed, and decided to be in a bad mood.  (Yes, I firmly believe he makes a conscious decision to be grumpy sometimes.)  I had made the conscious decision to remain in a good mood regardless of his mood, so I put my arms around him to hug and kiss him good night and received a
"STOP!  You can't touch me!"

I laughed-- what do you mean I can't touch you?  I'm your Mother.  I can touch you if I want to.

No, you can't.  They said at school that if someone made you uncomfortable and tried to touch you when you didn't want them to, you had to tell them to STOP and tell someone.

Mason, that does NOT apply to mothers trying to hug their sons.

YES, IT DOES.  At school they said NO ONE could touch you unless you wanted them to.

Mason, they were talking about if someone touches you in a private place or if someone hits you.
Well, you hit me.

I did?  When?
You spank me, and that's hitting.

Well, Son, first of all, I don't spank you nearly as often as I probably should; and second, spanking isn't hitting.
Yes, it is. They said so at school.
Really? Well.  I'll spank you if you need a spanking, and I'll hug you whenever I want to, and you tell whoever YOU want to.  I'm your mother.

I"m going to tell my teacher!!!!!
Good.  Then she'll know that I love you and that I'm a good mother.  And I proceeded to hug him for an overly extended, obviously annoying, length of time, just to prove to him that I could.  Hugging making him uncomfortable, bah!!!  Tell THAT to your teacher.

But all jokes aside, I do have to wonder sometimes if the lessons our schools give our children may backfire on our parenting techniques.  I know everything they say and do is for the safety and health and education of  our children.  I do understand this, but I sometimes wonder if the lessons that need to be learned eventually are sometimes learned too soon; or if the safety techniques necessary to protect some children just cause more problems for the parents of others.

I remember as a child being absolutely terrified of my mother when it came to spankings-- I probably got spanked at least once a day, although my memory may not be accurate.  I also know for a fact that had I told a teacher about my spankings they would have assumed I deserved it-- and I'm quite certain I did.  Heck, I got spankings from the teachers in school-- although I'm still not convinced I deserved those, since it was normally Johnny Nichols getting me in trouble and NOT MY FAULT.  And this is not an argument for spanking or not spanking your children.  I'm not going to say "I turned out fine, so spanking's okay."  (although I did turn out fine-- I think).  And to clarify, I seldom spank my children.  I've spanked Kayton a few times, and it worked so well I haven't needed to spank her since.  Mason?  HAH!  I could spank him for three days straight and he'd get up, turn around, and do whatever he did again.  So, what's the point?

And I absolutely recognize that the versions of truth you get from an eight year old boy are not always the way things really were said.  Kids (especially smart kids) distort things according to their desired results; but I do worry about when a supplied education starts to get in the way of good parenting-- or just, well, when we parents don't KNOW what their kids are being taught.

Spankings and Hugs are one thing.  Diversity and Civil Rights education is another.  I firmly agree that our kids need to learn history, but I wonder sometimes if maybe we are starting this education too early.  At this age, kids see kids.  Recognizing differences is something that is learned from other people-- from parents, from teachers, from society.  Well, let me clarify.  In Howard County-- Hub-of-Diversity, Maryland-- kids are so used to seeing kids of different nationalities, races, ethnicity, and mixes of all the above, that they don't look at the differences.  It IS natural to them.  Is it possible that by teaching these "born into diversity" children about the past, about racism, about segregation, about "colored", that we are stripping them of that innocence before it is necessary?  They have the rest of their lives to learn that "sixty years ago people who looked like you (or looked like your friend) weren't allowed to -----".  Do they need to learn that today?

I don't know.  I don't know, so I trust those who claim they do.  I just go with the flow, answering the questions posed, clarifying the lessons as best I can.  But last night, when four year old Kolbie walked into the kitchen with a smile on her face and said "Hey, pretty white Mommy!"  I looked at my husband, said "You handle this one", grabbed my wine, and walked out of the room, smiling as I heard my ultra-diverse-raised-in-the-Hub-Of-Diversity husband trying to explain why it's not nice to call Mommy "white".