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Today’s Advice

Occasionally it occurred to me that as our kids went through their preschool years, they exhibited pretty much all the major psychiatric disorders. Obsessive-compulsive (“I will only use the pink plate!”), delusional (“I didn’t draw on the wall, my baby doll did.”), hearing voices (“My imaginary friend told me”), depression (“This is the WORST thing that ever happened to me!”).
Perfectly normal kids go through periods of kleptomania, compulsive lying, obsessive tics like hair-pulling, violence toward their peers, etc.
I’m not sure what it means. Do you? Perhaps we have to work through out all those things in order to get our brains ready to settle down and be boringly sane. Some of us, I guess, don’t make it that far.
It occurs to me that the way we run our schools and many other services for kids, we really want it to be neat and simple, like a factory. First you melt the metal, then you pour it into the mold, then you let it cool, then you remove the mold. Then voila! Fully formed human! How hard could that be?
The No Child Left Behind law actually requires schools to get all children proficient. According to Wikipedia: NCLB requires “100% of students (including disadvantaged and special education students) within a school to reach the same state standards in reading and mathematics by 2014.”
Problem is, as we all know, we are not all the same. By definition, the average means that there are people above the average and below. No matter how you try to enlarge the average, there you have it: people above, and people below. Some kids are never going to read well. Some kids are going to hate math till they’re 15 and get obsessed with fixing cars and realize that they need some math. Some people are going to live lives which are perfectly suited to having a basic literacy in reading and math. Some people — hopefully our presidents and doctors and at least some of our lawyers (joke) — must have a higher level of achievement in reading, writing, and analysis. Many of our great scientists cannot write a readable letter to their parents. Some of our great writers need other people to balance their checkbooks.
The very kind young man with Down’s Syndrome who has helped me to my car with my groceries does a very good job. He has mastered chitchat — “How are you today?” — and social graces, waiting till I opened the trunk and then asking where I want my groceries. He earns his wage, yet he has, I assume, not made it up to the average in reading and math. Who cares?
The worst thing you can accuse a politician of is not caring, so perhaps laws like NCLB are their way of making sure we all know that they care about ALL of us. No matter that some of us will not be proficient in reading no matter how many afterschool tutoring sessions. They care, and thus we MUST become proficient. Their re-election depends on it.
It seems like there are two competing forces in American culture. On the one hand, we live in the first country to be founded on the principle of individual liberty. On the other hand, from Puritan times we’ve had this strong desire to force our communities into conformance. The former has allowed us to make some of the most amazing scientific advances in the history of humanity; the latter has kept many people from their pursuit of happiness.
Everything has a trade-off. Being a kid is fun, but once you’re ready to become an adult there are some kid things you have to give up… like your imaginary friends.* Teaching your kids to follow their creative impulses may allow them to invent an amazing cure for cancer, or it may just allow them to be domineering monsters. How can you know?
People are incredibly complex things. As soon as someone tells you they’re not, cross that person off your list of people to listen to. That’s my advice for the day. An e-mail list about homeschooling gifted kids that I subscribe to was set on fire the other day because some blogging moron wrote a piece called “Your child is NOT gifted.” She simplified the process of making children behave well into a simple “you didn’t follow this rule” formula.
Don’t take it to heart. Forget about her. Our children are such weird, creative, and complex bundles of molecules, we’ll never figure them out. Faced with that reality, how can you believe anything but that you’re doing your best, each day that you’re faced with a new reality in this crazy business of raising children?
*ps: OK, so I won’t actually advise you to give up your imaginary friends…they can come in handy.

Posted in Parenting.


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