Tag Archives: Politics

Men In Black: Violence is Just Alright With Me!

The Supreme Court has recently ruled that a California law restricting the sale of violent video games to minors is  unconstitutional (Story and commentary here).

I have to admit that the libertarian in me agrees with this decision.  Which makes the internal struggle all the more poignant.

Mainly because the libertarian in me is a purely logical, black-and-white, take-no-prisoners idealogue.

The other part of me- the parent, the educator, the one who works with kids forty hours per week- is horrified.  I would rather have my kid be able to walk into a store and buy a Playboy rather than a game that included the above scene of gristle (of course, logically, a false dichotomy, but emotionally powerful enough to make the point).

I posted my thoughts on this on my facebook page and got replies from all my smug libertarian friends about how it is the parents’ right and responsibility to choose, so, the Supreme Court, was, of course, correct in their decision.

The problem is, in twenty years of working with kids and families, I know that there is a percentage of parents who abdicate that right and responsibility.   Over the past year, I have overheard conversations of 2nd and 3rd graders talking about the carnage they create playing such games as “Call of Duty”, “Assassin’s Creed”, “Halo”, and other such games.  And while the studies around violent TV and video games’ effect on the psyches of impressionable youth come down solidly on the side of “not a good idea to let them play these”… like global warming, there’s just enough wiggle room for the other side to cry that their rights are being infringed.

While the solid empirical evidence is unclear, I suppose that what it comes down to for me is – do we want a world where kids are given scenes like the above as a “plaything”?  Are we ready to deal with the potential consequences ten years down the road?

Yes, I do understand that this is not Armageddon.

It is not the end of humanity as we know it.

But it is one small, tiny, almost subconscious step away from a world of peaceability, community, and non-violence.  We have enough violence and carnage and insensitivity in the world already.  My question is, are we ready to tolerate more for the sake of entertainment?

Disturbing Directions

The California School-Age Consortium (CalSAC) is the largest professional non-profit serving out-of-school time providers in California and is also the state affiliate for the National Afterschool Association (NAA), the nation’s leading advocate for out-of-school providers.  Since its inception 26 years ago, CalSAC has provided California’s  out-of-school-time professionals with a pseudo-professional organization, giving them training, advocacy opportunities, and profession-related services.

Over the past couple of years, however, CalSAC’s general mission has been misguided.  CalSAC has recently shifted is focus away from professionalization and education of the field to other agendas.  Most recently, undue, almost catholic emphasis has been placed on equity, diversity, and anti-bias (or, in the words of some of the most aggressive employees and associates, “anti-oppression”).  While multicultural and social diversity is highly important in the training of out-of-school-time workers, it is not (and should not be) the “main course” of the diet of the professional.

What disturbs me most about the recent trends in CalSAC’s philosophy concerns the professionalization of the out-of-school-time field.  For decades, we watched the struggle of early childhood educators as they reached, struggled, and, to a degree, finally received professional status amongst educators.  This was brought on by powerful non-profit organizations (such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children – NAEYC) and tireless advocates who, for years,  spoke to anyone who would listen about the importance of preschool education and care.  The fruits of those labors have paid off.  Preschool educators are now respected, professional pay is rising, and governments have invested many dollars in the field.  Not surprisingly, NAEYC’s California affiliate, CAEYC, was one of the key players in bringing about this change.

All this happened while the out-of-school field was in its own “childhood” and looking on with hope and expectation that it was next to ride on the professional train.  For a few years in the 80’s and 90’s, it looked like that train might leave the station.

What happened in the in-between time could be the fodder for many more posts, so I will leave that topic unexplored for now.  What lit my fire to blog this post was what I read on CalSAC’s website today.  I will quote pieces, but it is too long to print in its entirety.  You can find the full text of  “The Challenge of After School Staffing” here.

The piece begins by asking the hypothetical question, “What if an industry the [sic] larger than the size of the 120,000-person telecommunications industry one day announced it would lose up to 40% of its workforce this year – and every year after?”  Good question.  The parallel waiting to be drawn here is with out-of-school care/enrichment programs.  The problem with the question is that the telecommunications industry (or any other large professional industry) would never have that kind of turnover.  It would find a way to save its jobs, come hell or high water.  Instead, we’re left to imagine that out-of-school-time is just a lost cause, not really a profession , so let’s look at how to live with 40% turnover.  That’s stinkin’ thinkin’ – especially so, because it is, however subliminal, the main premise of the article.

The article then goes on to describe CalSAC’s initiative which aims to bring in new workers to the field, not as professionals, but as entry-level grunts who are being primed to use out-of-school-time jobs as stepping stones to other related fields (by inference, one concludes that the best way to staff out-of-school-time programs is to bring in these “long-term temps” and just suck it up and accept that out-of-school time will never be a profession in and of itself).  To quote the conclusion of the article:

These workers, in turn, receive excellent entry-level job opportunities that mesh well with post-secondary education schedules and provide an ideal pathway into a job in education, social service, health, business, and a number of other sectors that require the human relations and job performance skills utilized in the afterschool field.

So this great initiative that CalSAC has put forward does nothing to stem the overwhelming turnover that plagues the out-of-school profession.  Instead, it perpetuates out-of-school time as a second-class field: a stepping stone for “real” lines of work such as social service, health care, and business.  All of which keeps the status quo firmly in place and ends up hurting children, youth, and families.

Should the School Day Get Longer?

There seems to be a growing call across the country to lengthen the school day.  Advocates from every political stripe see this as an easy softball issue.  Really, who would be against our kids getting smarter?

Plus, one can hear the clarion call of fearmongering leaders who warn that Americans, after years of statistical gains, are either: 1) dropping out of school at alarmingly increasing rates, or 2) falling behind our industrialized-world counterparts in academic achievement.  This can only mean one thing: we need more school time!

Let’s look at this more closely.  First, the measurement of dropout rates has been a highly contentious issue.  For such a seemingly basic statistic, one hardly knows where to turn.  For instance, the 2000 graduation rate has been pegged in the United States at anywhere between 62 and 88 percent- depending on whose research report you’re reading.  That’s a pretty wide disparity of numbers for something that one can imagine could be easily calculated.  Really… we can land a man on the moon, and yet we can’t figure out a simple statistical datum with a disparity of less than 26 percentage points?

By most accounts, the dropout rate is (and has been for the past 20 years) between 10 and 12 percent with variable spikes and valleys throughout that span.  There has been neither sharp increase nor appreciable decrease since 1990.  This “alarming” dropout rate is certainly no reason to increase the amount of time kids spend in school.

Another tactic used by the panic-of-the-week politicos goes something like this (perhaps you’ve read an article like this before?)…

Headline: American Children Falling Behind Kids in (Japan, Australia, Canada, insert most worrisome country here) in (Science, Mathematics).

What kind of sick sport is this?  Let’s pit the children of the world against each other in academic competition?  What does the winner get?  Really, I’m with Alfie Kohn on this one, when he says that these types of academic competitions and comparisons only lead to a culture that filters down… not only are countries pitted against countries, but states against states, districts against other districts in their state, schools within a district against each other… and ultimately kids against kids.  How disquieting it is to know that my 7th grader is judged, not by the merits of his own learning, but, rather, by how he stacks up against the other 32 kids in his math class.  In his book, The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing, Kohn states (and I paraphrase): if all countries do poorly in terms of academic excellence, what glory is there in being at the top; likewise, if all countries do well, what shame is there in being at the bottom?

Surely, this artificial competition between countries, states, districts, and schools is no reason to elongate the school day.  That this competition may be about money… well, that’s a different question, but I won’t digress in this post.

Many Youth-Development-Based programs operate today, but are being threatened by the spectre of extended day programs that the feds and states have implemented.  In California, this has led to more state requirements and strings attached to funding while weakening some of the strengths of asset-based (Youth Development) programs.  More on this in another post.  The point being that the state (in California and other ‘forward looking’ states) are poised to co-opt afterschool programming to use it to create a longer school day.  This is a nefarious and ill-advised idea.

Schools don’t need more time.  Really- they have our children hostage six-plus hours a day, 180-plus days a year.  Really, if they’re saying they can’t get the job done in that amount of time, why should we, the parents and public, be willing to give them additional time?  Like marketing guru Dale Calvert told me over a decade ago… “don’t wish you had more… wish you were better!”

Fear and Loathing in Kindergarten

Recently, Alfie Kohn came up with a wickedly wonderful bit of satire that you can read about here.

While the piece doesn’t deal directly with the world of Youth-Development based afterschool programs, the import should scare any after-school professional that isn’t already alarmed about the world of institutionalized education taking over the realm of out-of-school time.

It is a little scary that President Obama came out this week with ideas on Education reform– and managed to sound like he would have been right at home in the Bush administration on this one.  Using catch-phrase soundbites such as “tougher standards”, and raising the fearsome spectre that we are being “outpaced by other nations” (is this a winner-take all race?)… Obama has outlined plans that may include lengthening both the school day and the school year.  Heaven forbid that children actually have a childhood.

Kudos to the president for his willingness to put dollars toward Early Childhood Education… but as with all gifts from the government, we must ask, “at what cost”?  While it may sound silly to some, I firmly believe based on experience with federal (and state) largesse, that it will not be long before we have standardized testing in preschools.

And to what end?  Mr. Kohn, tongue not-so-firmly-in-cheek says:

We must never forget the primary reason that children attend school – namely, to be trained in the skills that will maximize the profits earned by their future employers.

Yes, that bit of satire might be much funnier if it wasn’t what was really happening.