Why Does the “Mockingjay” Sing SO Damned Loudly?

For months, my son had been telling me to read it. Then, in hushed, conspiratorial “you’ve got to read this book” tones, every mom I knew said I should. By last winter, every teen, tween, and mom I knew had. I caved when my other son begged me to too.

Boom. I was hooked. Just like that. I inhaled it more than read it. Three weeks, three books.

Suzanne Collins’ work has haunted me ever since. How is it a book about kids killing kids has gotten under my skin so deeply, and seemingly everyone’s else’s too? What makes it so compelling, so perfect for this moment in our history?

It must strike a cord deep within us.

A mining town—dusty, dirty kids just eking by, resorting to living off the land, base, vile, grubby. District 12—home of the beloved heroine Katniss Everdeen, where parents are in every way powerless to make a better life for their kids. A geographically removed, hyper-privileged ruling class calling all the shots; so much so that they force their citizens to offer up their kids for sacrifice. A sacrifice to ensure the continued supply of materials for their cushy lives. To remind the nation of their fragile grasp on their humanity.

The country is divided into 12 districts, each having a primary product or service benefitting the ruling class—the absurdly posh living in the “Capitol.” Of course, I was not surprised that the Capital of post-apocalyptic America known as “Panem” is nestled in my own beloved Rockies. I can almost picture an uber-privileged, conservative, militaristic upper class rising out of the ashes of a self-inflicted climatic upheaval not too far from of our military bases and Academy near Colorado Springs. It makes sense that Collins would locate the ruling class in a hard-to-reach, easy-to-defend mountain fortress. After all, America did just that when placing NORAD in Cheyenne Mountain.

Even more resonant, though, is how all of Panem regards its most vulnerable citizens—its children—as leverage to ensure obedience, silence, and conformity.

Panem’s children, from 12 to 18, are at the mercy of the state. Prepared from birth for a voiceless existence, without any power to object to the “reaping” of one among them to kill or be killed and every adult petrified to speak out against it.

Once a firestorm of uprising is started in Panem, though, our heroine finds that the answer, the other end of the socio-economic ideology is little better. From oppressive capitalism in which every cost of business is off-loaded (externalized) so that the rich can enjoy cheap products without ever having to see how they’re made, to a culturally uniform, drab, obedient communistic “liberation,” Katniss’ options are so limited as to leave her little choice but madness.

How different—how similar—is Panem really from our own culture, right here and now?

We’re so enthralled by The Hunger Games because it echoes of ourselves on an archetypal level.

My son--in the out-of-doors while we still have it.

The way families are managed has changed in the last 50 years. Today’s parents have a harder time raising their children the way they see fit in ways that our parents never could have dreamed of. Yesterday’s parents, my parents, were the kings and queens of their domain. What they said went, and they meant what they said, and boy did we know it. Okay, I wouldn’t raise my kids the way I was raised, but I always felt my parents were in charge of me–were the final authority over me–and no one else. And if push came to shove in a family of ten kids, as it often did, my parents would have stood up for me and my siblings.

Today’s parents have a harder time raising children without an increased involvement of the state. It’s harder now to raise kids who are robust, vibrant, questioning rebels–in a country created by rebels. Today, children must be obedient to the State (with a capital S) to a greater degree than to their own parents, as expressed primarily through educational institutions whose authority has been growing, and creeping into the realm of the family more and more with each passing year.

Kids that don’t “fit the mold” that schools and society now require are medicated into submission where in the past, many were able to work or play off their energy throughout the day. They must sit for six quietly for six hours a day or more. That’s not new or unusual really, but now they come home to an hour or four of homework. I don’t know about you, but I hardly ever had homework and it was rarely more than 45 minutes. Perhaps I’m aging myself. Where school used to be where children would train their brains to create, invent, build; today they’re taught to be workers–drones that do not question, that can sit for vast stretches of time without complaint. They’re fed the pink slim the rest of us won’t eat, sugar, caffeine, and unpronounceable, barely edible foods and expected to perform poorly nourished. They’re taught to dishonor their bodies by rushing when they need to rest, to sit when they need to run, to be quiet, compliant, obedient little sponges.

All that wouldn’t be so bad or even that different from when we were kids, except that kids intuit that they are being prepared not for lives of greatness, but for jobs in factories or cubes where their hands will ache, their backs will give out, their faces droop and creases take their seat in their furrowed brows.

They know this because they see it in their parents. In us.

Sons watch their fathers slog off to work each day, sit inside buildings filled with florescent glare rather than warm, radiant sunlight; rub their eyes after staring at a computer screen for 10 hours a day. Daughters see their mothers get up, run two loads of laundry, fix lunches, do their hair, answer email, clean the kitchen, then go off to their jobs and come home with hunched shoulders, sighing deeply—then getting up to do it all over again. Kids may be living in McMansions but they sense their parents are collapsing under mounting debt and a loss of a passion to live and create.

Kids know that many of us went to college. They know that merely getting a degree does not guarantee a better life or joy. Not anymore anyway. They understand that they’re expected to conform, to sit quietly and not bother the teacher, to answer questions correctly rather than creatively, to assemble rather than to invent. And they sense, rightly, that they’re being prepared to serve the great monster—the 1% whose lives look so fucking fun on television—or to die trying.

Is it any wonder at all that so many children, boys mainly, seek an alternate reality in video games where they can move, run, shoot, hunt, explore? Why are we surprised that our sons have learned to hide out in a virtual world that is much more alive than the world we now offer them? Frankly, I’m not surprised at all.

On the other hand, children whose parents choose to not let them go to public school—not to participate in societal preparation of kids—are ostracized, treated as deviant, and sometimes even targeted by an ever-more powerful nanny-state that steps in when parents do their job differently than what the government (read: the Department of Education) says they should.

For instance, I have an “unschooling” friend. She is one of the most involved mothers I know. She spends every waking hour with her kids, not teaching them any particular curriculum. They’d be in late elementary and middle school were it not for the fact that they’ve never set foot in a public school. Yet these kids read and do math almost as well as other kids. And what they may not have in skill, they have in gobs and gobs of real world experience—they have been entrepreneurs, town mayors, strategy game champions, jewelers, actors, and inventors. Yet, if she were ever to get “on the radar” of the state, she would surely have to answer to a judge for lifelong truancy and perhaps risk having her kids taken away from her or her kids be forced into a public school.

No state has validated “un-schooling” as a teaching method. Frankly, I wouldn’t do it because I’d worry too much that my kids wouldn’t have the practical skills they need. But I find it difficult to challenge when un-schoolers and home-schoolers seem to get such good results. My point is that even a child who is home-schooled must adhere to a state curriculum and prove they meet the minimum standards of learning at each age level—even if the parent is highly participatory and wants to educate their child in a different way. Each child must be enrolled in something, somewhere. Tracked and tested according to the state’s learning schedule with little or no accommodation for differing learning styles, strengths or weaknesses.

Just a few more examples of an expanding state involvement in the family:

  • Colorado’s Department of Education recently announced sweeping new regulations over every form of education with new rules that prohibit long-standing, well-respected techniques used in Montessori and Waldorf schooling. In hyper-regulating private schools, the state will squeeze out competition for funding by driving out of business schools that use these techniques, thereby channeling additional funds into the state’s educational coffers.
  • Schools advise parents that they must vaccinate their kids, but parents are never told of the risks nor that it is may well be unconstitutional to require their children be vaccinated without exception. Professionals who speak against blind obedience to the growing “Vaccination Nation” are blackballed, or worse, subjected to professional discipline, civil and criminal charges.
  • When parents choose alternate medical treatments for their kids rather than expose them to potentially damaging pharmaceuticals, they’re hauled into court and face having their children taken away from them.
  • When parents grow their own wholesome, untainted, local foods, they’re hunted, stalked, and their home-based herds of livestock seized and slaughtered because they dared to deviate from the corporate food structure.

It is an express goal of every public educational system to create workers for the future. Plain and simple–a workforce prepared for service. That’s been that way for oh, what, 75 years or so. What’s alarming to me is how much more interest the state has in parenting, and how much harder it is to stand up as parents to advocate for what we believe is best for our kids. And–how aware kids are of that. Deeper and deeper the state dives into regulating families, in forming a work force that will do as it’s told, resonating of Panem. State vision and mission statements frequently qualify the “worker production” goal in terms of helping children be successful in a global market. But the increasing authority of the state to involve itself in the family and in the everyday life of the child seems to have had the opposite effect—of creating subdued minds not prepared to innovate, invent, adapt to rapidly changing events.

Not one to be an alarmist most of the time, I’m actually pretty nervous. All the more so because my children are growing aware of the social, legal, consumerist climate in which they live. I’ve been challenged that the state has always been involved in schooling and parenting; that nothing’s changed at all. But I think it has. Our culture has changed, our values have changed. Sometimes that’s in awesome ways (super liberal that I am). But in other ways, it’s anything but awesome. It’s scary.

In every child is a Katniss Everdeen. Or a Peeta Mellark. Or a Gale Hawthorne– kids who want more for themselves than what’s being served up to them now. But unlike the parents of Panem in this mythical future, we need to be careful to not lose the power to give it to them.

Worth fighting' for? I think so.

Beware School Districts Bearing Gifts

Recently I received an email from my sons’ school telling me that the school district was going to give every middle and high school student their very own email account. The email read:

“In addition to streamlined communication between teachers and students, here are additional motivations for the District email initiative:

·Safe electronic communication system with protective internet filters.

·More effective enforcement of SVVSD Responsible Use Policy.

·Student access to digital communication tools, including instant messaging, real time document collaboration.

·Parent/Guardian access to their student s (sic) email account upon request.

Additional information about this email initiative is available on the District website where you can also access District policies concerning student Internet use. Parents and guardians who wish to exclude their student from this initiative are asked to complete the attached opt-out form and return it to your student s (sic) school by December 2nd.”

How nice, I thought.

Reading the Fine Print

But then, I wondered why would the district give children have a new email account when they know that most kids already have them? What’s in it for them? Safe internet access with protective filters. Great. More effective enforcement of the SVVSD Responsible Use Policy. Huh? What’s that? And why would the district give parents an opportunity to opt out? If it’s such a nice thing, they wouldn’t need to offer an opt-out, right?

NOTE: You can click the District’s link above to see the landing page which contains a link to the “Responsible Use Policy” page. That link takes you here: http://www.stvrain.k12.co.us/policies/E/EHC-E-2.pdf

On the last page of that policy was a statement that made the district’s new initiative make a lot more sense, That the things that I do using a school computer or network are not private and that my teachers and District staff may review my work and activities at any time.”

According to this policy, to which all students must agree or be barred from use, the district will have access all content of children’s email accounts—including their chats. Legally, that means that there is no privacy between the children and the school district, staff, and teachers. Anything children write in email or type into a chat, no matter when it’s written, at home or at school, no matter what it pertains to, personal or school-related, can be used as a statement against interest, criminally and civilly.

Did You Say Criminally?

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Yes! But the district’s policy doesn’t say that. It only says that if a student misuses school-owned technology that they’re at risk of suspension or expulsion. The district’s policy statement doesn’t say that kids could be prosecuted criminally or sued civilly, and that the content of their email can be used against them in court, with many of the due process protections of the Constitution waived by parents, inadvertently, by an act of omission—not opting out.

A quick background on children’s due process rights and the 4th amendment freedom from unreasonable search and seizure: kids don’t have the extensive protections against unreasonable searches that adults have. In fact, school officials need only a reasonable suspicion that a child is up to no good in order to search a locker or personal belongings. And a reasonable suspicion can be established by almost anything, and is quite a bit lower of a standard than the “probable cause” standard that applies to adults. Once a child is searched, any evidence found may be provided to police to prosecute the child in either a delinquency court or possibly in an adult criminal court. That makes sense. School officials need to do everything in their power to prevent violence and crime on school grounds and they should be able to search kids’ locker.

However, school-hosted email accounts are less private even than a kid’s locker, which is about as private as the trash left on your curb. The district’s stated goal is to better enforce the responsible use policy. It will not be long before the district discovers something in an email and hands it over to authorities as evidence against a child. The district needs no one’s permission to do that, has no obligation to consult with parents. The requirement for a reasonable suspicion has been waived along with the child’s right to be free of unreasonable searches.

Inadvertent Waiver

When we allow our children to email or chat on an unsecure, non-private email account for which we have unwittingly waived what few Constitutional rights they have, we put our children one dangerous step closer to “game over”. That is because the district’s opt-out policy skirts the prohibition against unreasonable searches in the 4th Amendment and 5th Amendment right to due process by obtaining parental consent to a search in advance.

Combined with the Zero Tolerance policy, the school district has an obligation to report and punish children for writing that is even remotely incriminating. Parents are waiving the regular rules of due process and evidence, which protect all of our rights, without even knowing that they’re making it easier for schools, police, and the DA to make a case against a child than the same would be against an adult.

That means that if we don’t opt out, we are handing our children over to schools and police, giving them power that extends far beyond the schoolhouse doors, into their personal lives outside of school, heretofore the province of parents alone. We give up our superior position as parents and abdicate our responsibility to discipline and guide our children—to the government—24/7. It also means that one little slip, and our child’s future could be over, and it is our own hand that will deliver them.

Picture this: Seventh grader who’s very expressive says something a little over the top to another student on a chat—as they’re wont to do. Teacher, who has a bone to pick with student, reads the chat thread and sees that little something. Teacher hands the transcript over to the principal, who may give that information to the Community Service Officer, who files a police report of harassment against the child. Never mind that the other child may not have even been phased by the communication, or perhaps even welcomed it.

The police have probable cause and evidence against the child. Child is arrested, released on bail, tried and the evidence admitted because the parent gave the district permission to invade the account in the first place. Remember that even one conviction can irreparably damage their school career as well as their prospects for college.

Without this email account, the school district, police, and DA have to go through the normal methods of building a case. They have to take statements, go through discovery, and subpoena the email or chat records to get that piece of evidence admitted—and defend motions to exclude evidence (motions in limine). With this ostensibly “public” email account, they can sidestep many of these due process procedures because of the parent’s waiver of their children’s access to constitutional protections.

You May Want to Waive Your Children’s Constitutional Rights

In all fairness, some parents may want their kids to participate in school-hosted and -regulated email, with the full understanding that they are waiving their children’s already limited freedom from unreasonable searches. Some parents know their kids are misbehaving and wish desperately for intervention from authorities. For those parents, by all means, do so. Just know what you’re doing consciously.

An anonymous member of the district told me yesterday that they don’t believe the district has any mal-intent in providing these email accounts and that they trust the district to not use email accounts against kids thought there are no assurances of that nor disclosure of the risks to children of criminal and civil liability in any of the district’s materials. Also the district member said, “behavior is always an issue in schools”. I agree. And I agree that the kids who are bullying, misbehaving, or worse should have to face the consequences of their actions. But I am not willing to hand my children over to the district or police if they make an error in judgment, which they will, that could easily be misunderstood or blown out of proportion, without the protections of the Constitution I have sworn to uphold and defend.

As a parent, I want my children to be afforded every protection the Constitution gives them, even if they make a bad choice. Especially if they make a bad choice. I will not waive their right to make a mistake and to recover from it. I may not bail them out of jail, but I won’t deliver them in handcuffs either—at least not by mistake anyway. And I’m not willing to leave it up to the goodness of the hearts of school officials to decide whether to prosecute my child or not. Because you know that the first time an incriminating email or chat comes up, the district is going to throw the book at the kid with all the firepower it’s got to make an example of him or her.

The district has an obligation to spell out exactly what the risks are so parents can decide based on proper disclosure. Every parent should make this decision with full understanding of what they’re doing. If you allow your child to utilize the school district’s email system, at this time, anything they say can and will be used against them in a court of law.

You be the parent. Keep control over your children and their online lives. Monitor them, teach them what is appropriate internet behavior. But don’t let the schools do it for you. Here’s the Opt-Out form:

http://www.stvrain.k12.co.us/news/201111140101.pdf

OMG! What Is That Smell?!

Are your kids getting a little ripe? Do they starting smelling a little funky if they haven’t taken a bath in a couple days?

I ask because, around here, as early as fourth and fifth grades, schools are telling kids to wear deodorant. They’re telling elementary aged kids, and I’m sort of paraphrasing, “You smell gross. You need to wear deodorant to school from now on.”

Next thing I know, my 11-year-old son is strutting around the house in a cloud of “Axe – Dark Temptation” spray deodorant—sending me into a tailspin of college memories I’d sooner forget. My son is so taken with the manliness of antiperspirant that he sprays himself with it from top to bottom.

Which one do you think is stinking up the joint?

The last time he did that, I marched him right back up the stairs and into the shower to get that god-awful smell off. I’ve confiscated the Axe and I dare him or anyone else to bring that into my house again. The recycle bin can hold a lot of spray cans.

This stinks on so many levels

First, our kids are hearing from teachers, not just television anymore, that their natural state, their natural aura is offensive. At the age of 10, before they’ve even hit puberty. Don’t our kids get enough messages that they are not okay as they are from every other corner of the world? Can we not just let it go for a few years—at least until they hit puberty?

Second, for the kids that really do smell offensive, empirically offensive, we’re overlooking the causes and going straight to a bad solution. After all, what’s worse than covering up a bad smell with a perfumed one? It fools no one and just makes the stink doubly disgusting.

Some kids-and adults-really do smell bad. But why cover it up instead of addressing the underlying causes of bad body odor? Instead of using the opportunity to address dietary, toxic, metabolic, and floral sources of the offending aroma, we’re telling our little kids to head to the nearest drugstore and pick up a stick of night-club scented deo and bathe in it. Health 911.com’s article here is a good start for pinpointing causes of unusually stinky BO.

There’s a kid that goes to school with my kids. I don’t know who he is or what his name is but the neighborhood kids talk about how bad he smells of both body odor and cigarette smoke. They’re certain this middle schooler smokes cigarettes because he reeks so badly—like Pigpen in the Peanuts comics.  Has no one had a talk with this kid’s parents about how his coating of tar and nicotine are affecting his ability to hang out–the main activity of pre-teens? Surely if the parents knew they’d do something about it. Okay, maybe not but someone ought to try.

Don’t Cover It Up? Figure It Out!

Our natural scent is supposed to be pleasant, even the end-of-the-day stink should not be so disgusting as to make people breath out of their mouth. If we bathe somewhat regularly (for kids) and eat well, we should all smell reasonably good even when we sweat. I wish I’d understood earlier in life how apocryphal one’s personal bouquet is of so many things—good health and romantic compatibility being the top two.

If we cover up our scent, how will we sniff out that we have a toxic build up, or cancer, or systemic candidiasis? How will we know that our partner actually smells good to us and we to him or her? What happens when we find out we really don’t like their natural aroma and that we picked the wrong person!? Our sense of smell can confirm or deny so much about the world around us—polluting the sense with overpowering aromas only deadens our instincts (pun not at all intended) and our awareness of the natural world.

For the most part, our kids smell just fine if they’re eating a healthy diet as close to the source as possible. If they don’t, let’s at least be positive and helpful to each child. Let’s help them pin down the source and fix it–with love and humility. Don’t tell them they make you want to vomit–at least not until they start growing armpit hair. They already have enough to worry about in elementary school.

Formal Education–The Big Lie (Part 2)

By Chuck Rylant, MBA, CFP

(This is my blog’s first guest post, by author Chuck Rylant. Chuck is a former police officer, college teacher, financial planner, and most importantly, a husband and a DAD! This post is a great follow up to my post on mandatory schooling. Chuck put into words some of my sentiments about public education, though as I said, I am an “all-in” parent and do have high hopes for our system and how it serves my children. Chuck’s College Alternative is a fabulous idea and, when the time comes, I hope my kids will consider it! Maybe he’ll even start a company to do just that…hint, hint. Thank you, Chuck, for offering your insight and wisdom here!)

This is the second of two parts. You can find part 1 here.

During grade school, I spent more time in detention than I did in class, but by high school I was a little more successful at staying out of trouble.  I hadn’t really become a better student, but I figured out the game.

During my freshman year I discovered we could cut classes with little or no consequences. There were a few, but by my sophomore year, I had those figured out too.  Soon I made friends with a student aid in the attendance office or had a girlfriend call me in sick posing as my mother while I went to the beach.

Back then I didn’t know as much as I do now, but with the confidence of youth, I thought I knew it all. But now with more experience, “I know what I do not know.”  In other words, now I have more knowledge, but realize I do not know it all.

However, with that in mind, I wasn’t completely wrong back then with my pessimistic view of school.  The reason I spent so much time in detention was because I was bored. I was board out of my mind and had no qualms letting my teachers know it.   For the teachers reading this, I was one of those defiant brats in your class, and to this day, I secretly want to track them down and apologize.

My Strange Parents

I grew up with strange parents and one of the few benefits of an odd upbringing was that I was encouraged to question everything and always be suspect of authority.  As a result, I was wary of what was being taught in school and could not see the point of much of it.

“Why do we have to learn this” was a frequent question of mine. Occasionally the good teachers provided reasonable explanations, but usually I was told to shut up and do my work.  Sometimes it was put nicely, other times it wasn’t.  Growing up with little supervision, I did not respond well to the latter and that almost always led to a visit to the principal’s office.

Now, after having my own children and teaching some college classes, I wish my attitude had been better, but my complaints were valid.  One problem with education is the mistaken idea that all kids should be programmed to fit a predetermined mold, and any kid who doesn’t fit that mold is considered a failure and pushed aside.  This is a mistake. More

Mandatory Schooling for Parents Who Don’t Like the Word “Mandatory”

Perhaps you are one of the many parents who approach parenting not just as something that happens to you, but as a vocation, a sacred duty, a calling. If you are, I like to think of you as “on-purpose parents.”

Whether you planned to have a family or were surprised by it, if you’re an on-purpose parent, you make it your business to raise your kids according to your deepest beliefs, your inner-knowing. You want to raise kids who are awake, aware, creative, civilized, powerful, joyful, giving, self-directed, and above all, free.

On-purpose parents like us want to show our kids how to live a free and abundant life. For us, the word “mandatory” anything feels intrusive and oppressive, after all, we’ve already taken full responsibility for our children. For a grown adult deeply committed to parenting, hearing that something is “mandatory” raises the hackles. Nevertheless, every parent in Colorado must sign an acknowledgment that school attendance is mandatory in this state.

When I signed the acknowledgement, my internal dialogue went something like this, “Hey, who’s raising these kids? Who’s reading every darned parenting book they can lay their hands on? Not you, Ms. Attendance Clerk. Who’s paying the bills? Not you, Mr. Superintendant. Who’s staying up into the night with their child suffering from an asthma attack? Not you, Mrs. School Board Member. Who’s cooking, cleaning, folding clothes, matching socks, kissing boo boos? Certainly not you, Mr. Governor.

The Government Tells Great Parents What to Do

My BFF Alexis, like me, is an on-purpose parent. She’s also an entrepreneur, a go-getter, an inspiration to woman all over the country who look to her for guidance as they reach for their fullest potential. She’s had to make the call about whether to bring the kids with her on her travels or to find someone here to care for them. She decided to bring them with her and show them the world.

And so, the kids have missed a lot of school—really, a lot. Now the school district has served her with a summons to appear for a hearing to force her to sign a contract that the kids won’t miss any more school this year, backed up by the threat of fines or jail. The summons even said the kids are failing to achieve even the simplest of academic goals (despite the note on one’s report card that said she’s doing really quite well).

Wait. What? Forcing? Can they do that? Can a school district ORDER a parent to keep their kids in school?

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