Saturday, October 24, 2015

A few words in defense of Halloween

There are a lot of pumpkins in my house
Since my kids have grown up surrounded by my love for the spooky, they're always baffled when someone disapproves of Halloween. Throughout the years, they've all had friends whose parents don't allow them to observe Halloween. I've always felt so sad when this happens:

Me or my kid: "What are you gonna be for Halloween?" 
My kid's friend: "I'm not allowed to dress up." OR "My family doesn't do Halloween" 
Me: "Boo." (With all due respect). 

The various reasons given for this boycott over the years have also always been baffling to me: 

1. Halloween encourages involvement in occult activities, witchcraft. 
2. It's the devil's holiday. 
3. It's pagan worship. 
4. It exposes children to evil and hell and other dark things. 
5. The bible says to avoid dark, voodoo magic. 

It's been a while since I or one of my kids had one of these kinds of experiences, I think because my youngest is 13. This happened more frequently when they were younger. But it happened again recently, so I googled it to get more info. I'd never really researched it before, and oh, my!  Some people are very serious about these things. They really do believe that if they allow themselves or their kids to participate in Halloween, they will be in danger of going over the dark side. It's perceived as a real threat. 

So, a few words in defense:  For my family, Halloween is about candy and costumes, and decorating and parties. It's about laughter and friendship. It's about tradition and sharing. It's about imagination and creativity. It's about hours spent thinking about what to dress up as and then putting the costume together, together. It's about the warmth of lights and candles. It's about posing for pictures and framing them. It's about silliness and smiles, and make-believe and adventure. It's about recreation and relaxation, and community and camaraderie. And all this is why we've stretched the celebration and observance of what used to be one night, October 31st, into a whole month-long treat! 

I want to be clear that I'm not making fun, trying to change anyone's mind or judging in this post. I respect other's points of view. I especially know how hard it is to raise kids, and I'd prefer parents to err on the side of caution any day.

But I want to assure all Halloween phobic parents out there that none of your fears actually come true. My kids have tried. They've tried to conjure up spirits and cast spells and commune with witches and enter the dark side. They've tried every form of magic, voodoo, and ouji board machinations they can think of. They are really smart kids, ingenious really, so I think that if it were possible to go over to the dark side, they would have achieved it. But, alas, for them, on November 1, they are still the same old goofy kids they were before. Except a little happier, and maybe, just a little magical. 

There is nothing dark or evil going on here
Read more about the Barkhurst Halloween here:  

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Missing the Point

Back in July I went to San Francisco and while I was there, I decided that I need to write a book. The purpose of the trip was a conference through the National Council for Community & Education Partnerships for a college/career program called GEAR UP. My nonprofit is a GEAR UP partner with our local school district. We work with 360 students to help them navigate all the challenges on the path to graduate high school successfully. There were lots of great workshops at this conference, but 2 particular sessions back to back, got me all fired up. First was (yet another) session on "Parent Engagement" followed by a session on how to “revamp, renovate, and reinvigorate,” the educational system in America. I couldn’t stop thinking that the presenters in session 2 were missing the whole point of session 1: without parent engagement, the system is nearly always going to fail. 

During the system revamping session we heard a lot of theory. We heard about lots of books and research into how students succeed or why they don't. We heard about promising programs and approaches to engage and motivate students. In the end I was left with the nagging suspicion that they were all ignoring the root cause problem of inadequate parenting. For decades, the education system has been swimming upstream against a current that is going to take it completely down eventually unless something changes positively with regard to this root cause.   The entire education system teeters on the premise, once valid, that parents will get their kids to school. That parents will ensure kids study. That parents will insist that kids respect their teachers. When the system breaks down, it's because the parenting linchpin is faulty. The system can work and work and work and theorize and pilot and innovate itself to death, but until it accepts that it can't work around the broken parenting system, no real progress can be made. Only band aids will continue to be put in place, often expensive band aids.  There are no true answers that don't involve proper parenting, unless the next step for the education system is to evolve into a 24/7 boarding school. 

There was so much PASSION at the conference around helping kids succeed in school and life. And so much talk around about how to work around inadequate parents. Most of the many "parent engagement" workshops I have attended over the years are historically weak, and the efforts ultimately futile because the goal with parents isn't ever to teach them how to be good parents, but how to do specifically what the school wants them to do for their kids at a moment in time. We want to give parents tasks instead of tools.  And we don't start early enough to teach parents how to be good parents.  The current drive for more pre-K programs is a painfully inadequate response to all the not-ready-for-Kinder 5-years olds showing up in public schools.  In a few years we will start to look backwards even more to develop a program in response to all the 3 and 4 years olds showing up not ready for pre-K.   

We've let the education system get this bad by refusing to accept that the root cause of student failure is actually insufficient parenting. It's not the teachers, or the textbooks, or the facilities or the school polices or student motivation that is the real problem. If we resourced all the reasons parents lack parenting skills at the same level that we have endlessly and fruitlessly resourced the education system, things might be different. Why don't we see this?  This is what I need to research and think more on, but I suspect it is a combination of helplessness and judging.  We develop school based programs because we can control what happens in the school.  We don't develop home based programs because we have so little control over what happens there.  Control and access.  Plus we tend to ruthlessly judge poor parenting - as if everyone should just know everything the minute that baby arrives. 

Shortly after I attended this conference and was struck by a desire to learn more about the breakdown between parenting and the education system and write about it, I saw a video on Facebook called “Technology has high jacked family dinnertime. Watch Pepper hacker reclaim it.” Basically, the parents in this video appear to have no authority over their kids’ use of smart phones and tablets at the dinner table so they must resort to using a device that surreptitiously interrupts service - a device disguised as a pepper shaker.  Pepper shaker as parent.  It is no wonder that schools are having to feed, clothe and discipline kids today.  If parents can’t make kids put away their phones during dinner, how can they be expected to make them do their homework?  Or even go to school at all?  If this is the future of parenting, America is doomed.