The blame game cant help kids
As a columnist writing on family issues, I've had a fascinating ride this past year, punctuated with some riveting revelations.
I knew from the beginning that to put integrity on the page, I would have to get to my own truth. What I didn't know was how many truths of others I would uncover along the path of telling a story.
I feel great honor in knowing that the people I interviewed for stories felt enough trust to ride the magic carpet of exploration together. We often seemed like two children telling secrets up in the apple tree. Out would pop insights and curious revelations that all too often ended with the request to 'please don't quote me on that.'
I kept those secrets in trust, even though the burden of them weighs heavy. But I've noticed that the one who carries too many secret truths becomes a cynic. So I'll offer up these insights without betraying the messengers.
The most important truth I've learned is this: Even with our technologically sophisticated superhighway of world knowledge at our fingertips, we have failed to free ourselves.
We put our children in gender straitjackets. Our girls quietly observe what they must do and how they must look, sound and act to fulfill our expectations of who they should become as women, and they must swallow those expectations whole.
The pilot lights of their spirits go out. They shuffle through adolescence, lose weight, curl, crimp, wash, polish and weigh their bodies, knowing that they are admired for the same criteria used to measure the value of an automobile. It is best to be sleek, sexy and comfortable.
Our boys must be all male, but with cool exteriors. We expect them to bury their sexual and aggressive impulses Ñ while we whet their appetites with explicit violent and sexual images in movies and videos. We socialize and medicate away their curiosity and natural instincts to hunt, gather, fly or fight, to merely sit and listen.
If kids act like adults, they are considered good children. If they act out Ñ like children Ñ they are treated as adults, receive adult punishments and lose their childhoods forever.
We build more institutional beds, pass laws mandating longer sentences (i.e. Ballot Measure 11) and then throw them a bone called the Oregon Youth Authority, which is intended to develop individualized plans for reformation and to keep young offenders out of adult prisons.
We then shave down the bone by decreasing financing and resources just when the juvenile system is bulging with more and younger offenders who stay longer and have more complex mental health issues.
We too often fail to teach our kids the skills they need to have healthy emotional lives, and then we punish them for not having those very skills.
In the rush to wean children, we send them out to play on the busy freeway of technology, where they learn what they will through games found on PlayStation, Game Boy and the Internet.
Instead of facing the truth that our public schools are big, impersonal, institutional warehouses with outdated models of learning where we keep our kids while we chase the buck, we blame everything else.
And, in the blaming, we spend more time testing students instead of allocating more money to make schools more tailored to the individual student, with lower teacher-student ratios: places that would give our youth the human connection that has been removed from their lives.
And then we want someone to explain it all to us Ñ as long as it isn't too painful.