If You Listen to Liberals About Education, You Are a Bad Person

Earlier today I saw a link to an article by Allison Benedikt titled If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person. With a catchy title like that, I couldn't resist following the link in order to read what the author had to say about parenthood.

Before I continue, I should point out two important facts: 1) my children's formative years were spent in a mixture of both public and private education, and 2) at the time that Ms. Benedikt published her editorial piece, neither of her children were old enough for school, so any of her admittedly-judgmental opinions were made from the relative safety of someone who has never had to face the harsh realities about the topics which she was discussing. Ms. Benedikt's self-admitted ignorance at the hands of public educators provides little evidentiary support for her thesis statement, and unfortunately she is too blinded by her own hubris to realize it. No - it is not the well-meaning parents of children in private school who are bad people, it is self-righteous and judgmental people like her who are bad people.

I vehemently disagree with Ms. Benedikt's overall premise; it is not the parents who have realized that public education is a failing system who are ruining one of our nation's most-essential institutions – our present educational system is ruining itself. Most parents with school-age children are all-too-aware that public education is depriving their children of knowledge that is necessary to succeed academically. A perfect example is when the overly-vocal and seldom-intelligent actor Matt Damon abandoned his idealistic rhetoric demanding public education for everyone else and placed his own children in private schools. At some point in the not-too-distant future, Ms. Benedikt will be faced with the choice of whether to sacrifice her own children for the sake of her principles, or to choose what is best for her children based on her maternal instincts.

I also passionately object to anyone who insists that I should not turn my back on any failing system and subject my children to a negative environment in the hopes that the system will improve for future generations. My children are not a social experiment, nor am I willing to gamble with their lives. I do not care if Ms. Benedikt and her ilk intend to fix the schools of the future if the methods to achieve those goals cheat my children in the present.

By the way, each of my three children started in public school until my wife and I realized how poorly they were being educated. After three failed attempts with public schools, we moved each child into private school for their primary education to give them a better foundation, and then we returned them to public schools for secondary education. This system helped each of our children immensely, all of whom have now graduated college and embarked on successful careers.

Without getting deeper into an unintentional political rant, this private versus public school debate illustrates much of what is wrong with most socialistic policies; many "public" institutions fail because they become so weighed down by unnecessary bureaucracy that they can barely serve their primary purpose. Public education is not failing because parents are pulling their children out; public education is failing because we do not pay our educators enough, and we do not provide adequate resources for our schools. While it is true that our taxpayer dollars are simply not paying enough to take care of all society's educational expenses, we also have a system that is so top-heavy with needless bureaucrats and inundated with policies which occupy entirely too much time. As a result, our nation is not seeing a sufficient return on investment. What's more, the measures that the Department of Education has implemented to standardize education and hold teachers accountable for their results have been complete failures.

But that being said, here are a few of my grievances with the various excuses that I have personally heard from public educators:

  • Overheard from public teachers: "We cannot be expected to teach your children everything; parents need to be involved, too." I whole-heartedly agree with this statement - parents MUST be involved in their children's education; this should always mean that parents are involved in their children's studies at home, and this might mean that parents should volunteer at their children's schools if that is possible. But I have seen this statement used as a cop-out by far too many public school teachers who wasted our children's valuable classroom time with unnecessary endeavors and sent our children home with a mountain of homework after receiving no classroom instruction, thereby leaving the parents as the sole educators. If this is to be the case, then why do we need teachers? Why shouldn't I just homeschool my children and dispense with the transportation to and from school so my children can meet with a disengaged educator?
  • Overheard from public teachers: "We cannot be expected to personalize education for your child." The implication here is that your child is left to fend for himself or herself academically. This is a classic example for one of the primary causes of public education's many failures: people are individuals, and everyone learns differently. In our society we are REQUIRED to accept everyone's individuality – it's what we call DIVERSITY. It doesn't matter what color skin you have, whether you are a man or woman, which religious beliefs you embrace or reject, etc. Everyone is a distinct person, and we must accept their uniqueness – which SHOULD include each child's learning style. But apparently our societal adoption of tolerance and diversity does not extend to public school educators, who appear to have adopted "sink or swim" and "one size fits all" attitudes toward individualism. How barbaric and antiquated can these "teachers" be?

I'll get off my soapbox now, but I'd like to discuss one final point – as I mentioned earlier, Ms. Benedikt's children are not yet old enough to attend school, which prevents me from taking any of her self-righteous drivel seriously. In my opinion, her lack of personal experience in this matter disqualifies her from passing judgment on parents who actually have to decide what is best for their children; close-minded and emotionally detached fools with no personal stake in this debate should be ineligible to weigh in on the issue.

Adventures with the Tooth Werewolf

My oldest daughter just reminded me of something that I hadn't considered in years: when my children were young, my wife and I raised our kids somewhat differently than other parents. If you know me personally, then you're well aware that I'm not revealing anything surprising by that admission.

But let me explain what I mean: every parent has to choose which traditions they want their children to experience, and which traditions they want to skip. For example, some parents let their children celebrate Christmas, while other parents might not let their kids participate in Halloween festivities. My wife and I decided that Christmas and Easter were great, albeit with no Santa Claus and no Easter Bunny.

Now I know what many parents are thinking, and you can put the phone down - my children are all grown and you can't call Child Protective Services just because my children didn't set cookies by the Christmas tree in hopes that St. Nick would drop by.

But we had one tradition that we didn't skip, we just changed it a little; instead of the Tooth Fairy, we had the Tooth Werewolf. That's right, instead of Tinkerbell, we had Timberwolf.

I don't know why I chose to raise my kids with the belief that a big, hairy wolf snuck into their room and absconded with their baby teeth, but what's even more surprising is that my wife let me do it.

In all actuality, my children knew that it was me - I made sure of that. But it was pretty amusing when they would tell their friends that the Tooth Werewolf was coming to take away their teeth.

By the way, after a few successful years of the Tooth Werewolf, I decided that he needed a friend, and I invented the Easter Vampire.

Years from now, someone might need therapy. Winking smile

What I do not admire...

A friend of mine recently posted the following news link to Facebook:

Atheist teen forces school to remove prayer from wall after 49 years

He accompanied the link with a statement which stated that he admired the young girl for standing up for herself despite all of the misfortune that has come her way. While I strongly object to the hostility that has been directed at her, I do not admire this girl; not because I might disagree with her, but simply because this is yet another symbol of what is so often wrong with this country. While I strongly support standing up for what you believe in - or in this case what you don't believe in - do not mistake self-centered motives for moral courage.

At sixteen, you are convinced that the world revolves around you. (I have just raised three teenagers, so I am speaking with the voice of recent experience.) The question here is not whether the state is cramming religion down someone's throat - which it clearly is not - but whether an entire community should be inconvenienced for the self-interested attitudes of a single detractor. This solitary malcontent is asking for her community to discontinue a half-century of tradition, and she is demanding that thousands of previous students, parents, and faculty look the other way while she forces the world around her into a mold that is custom-fit for her and no one else; how immature.

There are so many things in contemporary society for which we are asked to look the other way if we have an objection; simply flipping through a magazine or turning on the television will provide ample material for one person or other to raise a protest. You might agree with their objections, or you might disagree, but we live in a free society where you do not have the right to never be offended. In our culture the generally-accepted answer is for the complainant to avoid what offends them; we do not require every publisher to pander to the wishes of every objector. If we managed to remove everything that offended any individual person then we would have nothing left to look at or listen to. (For example, I can't stand country music, but I don't sue Nashville in order to force them to stop cranking out album after album of music that makes me want to hurl.)

But that is not the case in this situation. What is taking place here is that a single student has raised an objection out of self-centered desire; perhaps it is a desire to get her way, perhaps it is a desire for attention, or perhaps she has ulterior ambitions in mind. In the end, it really doesn't matter. If you read the "prayer" in question, there is nothing in it that should be offensive to anyone; it is not forcing religion on anyone - it is simply a call to be a better person:

"Our Heavenly Father,

"Grant us each day the desire to do our best, to grow mentally and morally as well as physically, to be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers, to be honest with ourselves as well as others. Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win. Teach us the value of true friendship. Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West.

"Amen."

Since when is being good offensive to anyone? Is it because she wants to violate the thoughts of goodwill that are expressed within those few words? Does she find it threatening that someone wishes for her to aspire to be better than she is? (Note: You may choose to believe in God, or you may not, that's your choice; but that's actually beside the point in this scenario.)

What is extremely revealing of her attitude is her cause for atheism; when she was ten years old, God didn't do what she wanted, so she decided that there is no God. It's an odd coincidence that the source of her disbelief was a similar situation to her current predicament; when the school voted to keep the prayer banner in question, she lost faith in them. If her parents had opposed her outspoken position, she would have undoubtedly lost faith in them. If the courts rule against her, then she will lose faith in government. This is a bad set of precedents that she is establishing; she wants the world to bow down to her demands, and if they don't comply, then she will simply complain to someone else until she gets her way. Ultimately, it's a bad signal to society when we do so.

This is where she is the most wrong; we live in a tolerant culture, and tolerance means accepting the fact that someone has a right to a conflicting opinion. This is true for religion, politics, sports, entertainment, etc. No one should be allowed to force everyone else to agree with them. So I reiterate my earlier statement: do not mistake self-centered motives for moral courage.

A Few Thoughts on my 27th Anniversary

When I was a child, there was an excitement that preceded Christmas as it approached each year. I am sure that most everyone knows what I mean by that statement; whether you are longing for Christmas, Hanukah, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, or even if you are an atheist that participates in some form of secularized holiday celebration. There is a sense of childhood excitement that surrounds the season; it could be the gifts, the decorations, the music, or a host of other contributing factors.

In a small way, I experience something like that feeling each week of the year; every Wednesday night for the past decade or so, my wife and I have had "Date Night." I do my best to never schedule anything that conflicts with this tradition; and as each Wednesday comes around, I look forward to going out to dinner or a movie with my wife in something of that same good-natured attitude of child-like expectation that I used to have at Christmas.

Date Night is a recent endeavor for us; which is unfortunate, but somewhat unavoidable. Both Kathleen and I went directly from living at home to being young, married, and poor; and soon after that we became parents. We were great friends in High School and our first year of college, but we jumped forward several years almost overnight; and as a result, we went from being children to being parents with barely a chance to discover who the other person really was.

Please don't misunderstand me - parenthood was a mixed blessing of training and teething, schooldays and sporting events, chaos and concerts, happiness and heartaches; and I would not trade a moment of my joys or sorrows as a parent. (Well, maybe I could do without the memories from one of my daughter's first boyfriends - and he knows who he is. Angry smile ) But that being said, Kathleen and I missed out on the opportunity to explore who we were as a couple all those years ago; which is why I enjoy each week's rediscovery that long before I loved my wife, I actually liked my wife.

There is a wonderful scene in the musical Fiddler on the Roof where the main character, Tevye, asks Golde, his wife of twenty-five years, "Do you love me?" I didn't fully understand this scene when I was younger; I simply thought that it was amusing.

<br /><a href="http://www.youtube.com/v/h_y9F5St4j0">Fiddler on the Roof - Do you love me?</a>

But in recent years, Golde's responses to Tevye's simple questions have impacted me differently.

"For 25 years I've washed your clothes,
Cooked your meals, cleaned your house,
Given you children, milked your cow.
After 25 years, why talk about love right now?

"For 25 years I've lived with him,
Fought him, starved with him.
25 years my bed is his;
If that's not love, what is?
"

I truly loved my wife on the day that we exchanged rings and we both said "I do" before our friends and family. The reasons why I loved my wife on that day are still there: she has an odd sense of humor, we complement each other well, and she is my best friend. But the trials and tribulations that we have endured together over the past twenty-seven years have changed the dynamics of that relationship.

In our marriage vows Kathleen and I promised to love each other for richer or poorer, for better or worse, and in sickness or in health; and we have endured each of those seasons in due course over our many years of marriage. It is precisely that collection of experiences that has bonded us together in ways for which a night out every week could never substitute; in much the same way that veterans of a war are bonded together in a way that supersedes the love between the closest of siblings.

Two years ago, on our twenty-fifth anniversary, I gave Kathleen a framed portrait that contains our wedding photos and the following quote from Mark Twain:

"Love seems the swiftest, but it is the slowest of all growths. No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century."

In many ways that sums up my feelings: I loved my wife when I was nineteen for as much as I understood that concept at the time; but now that I am somewhat older, and perhaps somewhat wiser, I love my wife in ways that I couldn't possibly have understood back then. I tell Kathleen every day that she is my favorite person; and because of that, every week may not be Christmas, but just the same - I look forward to spending each week with her all the more.

Proud Microsoft Dad Moments

This past August my middlest daughter married her fiancé in a small ceremony that was as unique as the two of them. That being said, one moment of entertainment occurred during the service when my daughter recited her self-composed vows by reading them from her Windows Phone.

As a Microsoft Dad, this was too amusing to keep to myself, so I forwarded a photo to some of the folks in the Windows Phone division, and the story was picked up by the Windows Blog team, which published my daughter's description of the event as "First Person: With this phone, I thee wed"

"The wedding was in a little white chapel, up against a mountain, near the ocean. We wanted a simple, elegant wedding that represented us. We went through all the different weddings we'd seen - do we want to mix the sand? light a unity candle? - but we decided that wasn't really us. So we cut out all the things that weren't really us, and wrote our own vows.

"My phone is the thing I always have on me, so when I needed to write my vows I used Office on my phone. Whenever I thought of something I wanted to add, I could just jot it down. When it came to the day of, I thought maybe I should write it on a piece of paper. Then the minister said, 'Why not just read it off your phone?'

"My husband didn't know I was going to read off my phone. He said his vows off paper, and when it was my turn I looked at the pastor and she pulled out my phone and handed it to me. Everyone laughed - it made it a little more lighthearted, so we weren't bawling.

"My husband laughed, because I'm on my phone all the time, and he's on his. So I'm sure he wished he had thought of it. Now the vows are saved on my phone, and every time I want to go back and read them, I can. Meanwhile, his piece of paper is floating around somewhere - I don't even know where it is."

(photo: ©Rebecca Calvo Photography)

I Must Have Grown Up at Some Point, but I Don't Remember When

My middle daughter turned 24 last week. This was a significant occasion by itself, but it was made even more significant because I had just walked her down the aisle only three weeks earlier when she married a great guy from Vancouver, BC.

It seems like only yesterday that I was teaching her how to brush her teeth, how to ride a bicycle, and how to write an English paper that didn't sound like she was talking to one of her friends on the telephone.

Momentous events like these will often motivate you sit back and wonder where the time went. It's been nearly thirty years since I became a "legal adult," but I still don't feel like I'm a "grown up." I still want to believe that my dad is the grown-up and I am just some long-haired kid from Arizona.

But it's easy for me to do the math - in a few short years my oldest daughter will turn thirty, so I must have grown up at some point; I just can't remember when.

Smile