Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Port Townsend, Washington

This week I'm at the Centrum Writers' Conference in Port Townsend, Washington. Port Townsend is noth of Seattle on the tip of the peninsula overlooking Puget Sound. It's really beautiful here, the weather is cooler, and currently the rain is doing a slow dance with us. Check back next week when I'll be filled with energy, ideas, and lots to kvetch about. Click comments below!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Valuing Children

Please click comment at the bottom of this essay and express your opinion.

This morning I took Stella and Brando, my Humane Society Specials, to the dog park for their hour of running, chasing tennis balls, and playing. A family without dogs wandered in. A man and his wife (evidently) and three little boys who were probably two, three and maybe seven. My dogs have never been around children. Their only reaction when I’m walking them on a leash has been to bark wildly and go into their bucking bronco routine when they see little kids. My own fault, no doubt. I’m not alpha male enough. When one of the little boys ran towards my dogs, I told the man I didn't know how they would act around little kids. He was pretty blasé. When I said I certainly didn’t want the kids to be bitten, he looked surprised. He obviously hadn’t thought of that.

At least ten other dogs roamed the park, and he apparently didn’t know any of the dogs, their reactions, or their owners. Despite big-time liability insurance, I would never get over the guilt if Stella or Brando bit a child. Stella is Australian Shepherd-ish, and aggressively herds if I let her. I didn’t want her or Brando snapping or nipping to get the little boys to form a circle, so I put their gentle leads on them and we left. The parents seemed sanguine about the possibility of their kids being bitten. Does this mean they don’t value their kids? Probably not. But the parents didn’t show that they cherish their boys, either.

I sometimes think we don’t really value children in the United States. For some they are fashion accessories: "Look at my cute child; look at my new Prada purse." We say we want only the best for our children, certainly. But that applies as long as it isn’t too much work. We don’t want to be bothered by them or the people who care for them (in whatever capacity).

When I was a child (here we go, old fart stories), if I misbehaved away from home (I was a perfect child so that seldom happened), I knew my parents would punish me. (One time my dad used a board to spank both me and my sister, although as I think about it she was in another room and she may have gotten off lightly.) Today, if a child misbehaves, it is someone else’s fault. "The teacher needs to give each of the thirty children in class more individual attention. The rules are wrong. This perfect child would never do that. The system is has it in for a particular child for whatever reason." It all adds up to the fact that we frequently don’t love our children enough to make them live up to pretty minimal standards. We give in for fear that children won’t like us any more.

And no doubt that is a rational fear. There were times I didn’t like my parents (particularly when my dad spanked me with a board), but I always respected them for doing the best they could with the resources they had available to them. Despite all their flaws, and my own, they raised me to be a reasonably responsible, generally functional adult.

Children are not necessarily supposed to like their parents. Parents are certainly not supposed to be their kids’ buddies. The parents’ job is to turn children into responsible, mature human beings and then help them move away from home.

In a larger context, we see Americans’ disdain for children in our educational systems. In Illinois, as in most other states I suspect, each school district raises money to educate children by assessing local taxes with the state chipping a few bucks into the pot. Each local district then raises taxes based on the wealth of that district. In the North Shore suburbs of Chicago, real estate values are astronomical and the amount spent per pupil in individual districts can be as much as five times what districts in poor, downstate Illinois districts spend. A teacher who makes well over $100k is not unusual on the North Shore. (I hasten to add that well-paid teachers earn their compensation.) Teacher salaries, on the other hand, top out at far less than half that in poverty-stricken areas of the state. The disparity means that rich kids get better educations than poor kids. No good teacher is in it for the money (or the vacations!). But no teacher can afford to work at such a salary and still pay off college loans, provide a decent house for a family, and still put food on the table.

Children from wealthy families, in general, already have greater opportunities. They have books and magazines in their homes, they travel, they get tutoring if the children even appear to need it, they have better nutrition, better health care, better lives over all. They have parents who both push them and value education. Many poor children don’t have any of these. If society cared about children (as opposed to “my child”), this would change.

In Illinois, the governor recently proposed universal children's health care, despite their parents’ income level. In a recent issue of the local bi-weekly rag, a columnist suggested that we can't afford to provide decent health care for children. Why, the next thing we would have to give them is adequate nutrition in the form of breakfasts. And what would it cost us? I was flabbergasted. Gob-smacked. If we don’t provide adequate health care and nutrition for children, what will it cost us? Their brains cannot develop properly, and we create an underclass. How much more than breakfast or healthcare or education does it cost to keep a prisoner? How much does it cost if we don’t develop every person to live at his or her potential?

Perhaps the columnist was exhibiting not-so-subtle racism. Perhaps this is an idea she didn’t think through. But she was so facile when she wrote it that she obviously believes children (other than her own), do not deserve a chance. She decried the cost of providing nutrition and health care for the children of Illinois whose parents cannot already provide it. I think we could divert cash from Halliburton and the War (Conflict? Unrest? Invasion? Crusade? Politicians’ Pocket Lining? What do we call it these days?) in Iraq to more than take care of poor children in Illinois. Indeed, in every state.

It is time that we become the global village that it takes to raise a child. That doesn’t necessarily mean we throw money at them although judicious applications of cash work well. It does mean that we talk with children (and young adults), protect them, set limits for them, give them opportunities, read to and with them, help them learn, advocate for them and cherish our children, all our children. They are the future. That’s trite, but also true. Children are the future. Children are our future.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Happy Independence Day

Please share your thoughts by clicking comment at the bottom of this post.

Happy Fourth of July!
Our citizens have fought for freedom for well over two hundred years. I pray we soon have our Constitution returned to us and that these freedoms are not gone forever:

Equal justice under the law without partisan politics making some pigs more equal than others;

Three branches of government instead of a fourth vice presidential office which is neither executive nor legislative, but which operates in an opaque hidey-hole;

A president who transparently vetoes laws he thinks (Hell, I’d be satisfied at this point with one who could think!) are against the best interests of the nation instead of attaching statements that declare he’d do what he damn well pleases;

Presidents who are elected fairly instead of appointed by the Supreme Court or win through Chicago style politics – vote early and often, let the dead vote, pay for votes;

Freedom of thought, especially in our mail, conversation – including electronic conversations – without reprisal;

Freedom of speech and dissent - without being branded a traitor;

Freedom from intrusion into our bedrooms and doctors’ offices;

Freedom to have the truth told to us rather than outright lies from our highest elected officials on down.

Freedom from fluff in the news media when important events occur (Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan are NOT more important than national security).

I applaud and honor the Service Men and Women who make enormous sacrifices to keep our nation safe and free now and in the past (including my father and my father-in-law! Let light perpetual shine upon them). God bless them, us and this whole United States.

Next week: Why don't we value children in America?