Back to school

school-backpacks

This week kids across Washington State headed back to school.

According to our state constitution, educating our children is the paramount duty of government. It is the greatest collective responsibility we share as a community.

Of course, there is no lack of debate or dispute over what that duty requires.

Washington State has been ordered into court on Sept 7th by the WA Supreme Court to answer questions about the ongoing impact of the McCleary Decision, which has been fining WA State $100,000 a day for over a year for not making significant progress on special education, teachers’ salaries and a host of school basics.

Arguments over “teaching to the test” continue to brew. School bathrooms have taken center stage in the growing conversations and controversies over gender. The Department of Justice has pointed out the dangers of the “preschool to prison pipeline” where African American children, poor children and foster children disproportionately find public education not a path to stability and achievement, but a process of escalating surveillance and criminalized discipline that results in imprisonment rather than empowerment.

And a recent study by the NW Network and the National Domestic Violence Hotline demonstrates that fear of mandatory reporting to police or CPS by reporters such as school teachers and counselors results in young people delaying or avoiding seeking help when they are experiencing harm.

It can be easy to become overwhelmed by the storms that surround education. But, instead of turning away from the challenges that face our schools, let’s get educated about these challenges and the positions on education held by every candidate seeking office this fall. Let’s make sure we have all our kids’ backs as they head back to school.

News you can relate to

Some stories that caught our eye this week:

The Abuse Of ‘Feel-Good’ Cop Videos “These videos, combined with the countless videos of black men and women and children shot dead by cops, serve to remind us that we should both fear and love them if we want to survive. And if we don’t survive, we have nobody to blame but ourselves—see how capable of not killing us they can be? Anybody who has been in an abusive relationship will recognize this behavior. It’s a raised hand that might be a slap but then lowers for a pat on the shoulder.”

President Barack Obama Says, “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like” “Yes, it’s important that their dad is a feminist, because now that’s what they expect of all men.”

Middle School Students Push For a Gender-Neutral Dress Code—And Win “The loss of educational time disproportionately targets girls,” says Carlson, who’s now 14. “It’s a very embarrassing and shaming moment, to get dress-coded. We’re still doing that to girls in school right now? We’re still measuring their clothes and telling them to change? That seems ridiculous.”

One of the things we have to fear is fear itself

sandy-hookPart of the experience of parenting these days is the constant background noise of worry. News and social media, endlessly fascinated with danger, feed a steady stream of warning about the perils waiting for our children.

After the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, that low hum of worry turned up to full-volume fear for parents across the country. I felt it too, the gut wrenching, full body chill that comes with imagining the worst. But honestly, I was not afraid for my kids’ safety. I know that violence in schools is very rare and that by most measures kids are safer now than ever.

What I did genuinely worry about is the impulse to react to our fear and vulnerability with ever-increasing “security measures.” Armed guards in schools, more locked doors, fingerprints and background checks for parents.

I’m not naive about violence, but my experience has shown me that we can’t keep danger on the other side of a locked door. I know my children live in a world with abusers and rapists. I know that some people do terrible things to children. I know that I can’t tell by looking which man in the park or on the bus would hurt one of them if he had the chance. Just like I don’t know which guy at the gym or which little league dad is beating his wife at home. I live in a neighborhood where it is not uncommon to hear gunshots. Yet I believe that most of the violence is committed inside locked doors by people who belong there.

When it comes to protecting kids from harm by the people they trust, increased “security” is worse than useless. It actually makes our kids—and all of us—less safe. Tight security undermines connection and community—the very things that are most important to kids’ safety, health, and happiness. This letter from a mom to her child’s preschool points out how. My kids’ school, like many, held a meeting for parents about students’ safety in the days after the Sandy Hook shooting. Some of the concern, of course, was about school security, sign-in procedures, etc. But I was grateful that most of the focus was on how to re-commit to strengthening our connection as a community. Resisting fear, breaking isolation, looking out for each other—safety from the inside out.

Grinding at the homecoming dance

My newly minted high school teenagers just attended their first homecoming dance and complained grinding was the dominant form of dancing (video spoiler alert—parents prepare to be perplexed or horrified). I’m glad to know there are some good suggestions out there of how schools can prohibit grinding and promote equitable relationships among teens. Yet, as a parent, talking to teenagers about grinding is difficult and frustrating.

I do it because I want to them to believe in their own power and know that they deserve respect. But talking about grinding with your mom is gross, awkward, and not appreciated. I want to yell “No, no, no! Those boys do not deserve to touch you in that meaningless way!” or something equally unhelpful. Instead, I say things like, “Grinding treats you like a body part, not a person; and he doesn’t even have to look you in the eye.”

While I can’t protect my children—gone are the days I could literally lift them out of harm’s way—I can have influence. I can ask the school why they don’t have a no grinding policy, instruct the DJ to play a variety of music, ask kids who are grinding to leave (not just momentarily separate them with a beam of a flashlight), and openly talk about the policy at school.

I think the attitude “kids will be kids” is an excuse for parents to avoid the whole issue. Yes, you do have to talk to boys about their power, objectifying girls, curiosity and arousal, and the best ways to build friendship and intimacy. Yes, you do have to talk to girls about all of these same things. Oh, so much easier said than done. But if we are willing to initiate a conversation about grinding then hopefully our kids will continue to talk to us about things that make them uncomfortable.