A tirade:

As the school year got under way, a mother wrote about her concerns for her children who attended a private school. She stated that the students at this school were given so much homework that the parents were having to finish it for them, and that over the summer they had been given a reading list to complete prior to the start of the school year. This list required these kids to read four books. The parents’ of the children attending this school were disturbed that the kids had so many other activities over the summer that reading was too much of an interference with their time. I assume that this conflict with extracurricular activities was also what prompted her to be willing to do her children’s homework during the school year.
As I read her complaints, I heard the echoes of her children’s excuses as they, too, whined to their teachers about all the work, and having to read, and I assume, think. As a former educator, I heard these same excuses in all their variations and always placing the blame on someone, or something else. With this parent setting the example of blaming the school, it is no wonder the kids don’t learn to accept the responsibility for their learning. Though this is just one parent’s example, this blaming seems to be the standard for many students in schools today. While this mother’s concerns were about a private school, to which she had a choice in deciding to send her children, it is a sentiment expressed by parents and students in almost any school, private or public.
As I considered the awful fate of these kids as they were forced to read four, yes 4 entire books over the course of the summer, I remembered a mimeographed sheet of paper that I discovered in my high school yearbook from 1968. This single sheet was one of what I can only surmise to have been part of four or more pages as the heading for the single-spaced list for required reading reads “SOPHOMORE YEAR (con’t).” In this partial list there are fourteen authors with several books for some of them including Victor Hugo’s works Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Three titles by William Shakespeare are on the list, and other notable authors include Homer, Oliver Goldsmith, William Saroyan, and George Bernard Shaw. Light reading was also included in the form of Verse by Ogden Nash, The Sketch Book by Washington Irving, The Wind in the Willows by Kinneth (sic) Grahame-yes even teachers made mistakes while typing, and though decidedly not light, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.
The lower part of this page includes the beginning of the list of required reading for the JUNIOR YEAR. The 10 authors in this section include Jane Austin, Emily Bronte, and Rachel Carson along with two titles by Willa Cather. Other authors represented are Balzac and Cervantes. Since these lists are alphabetical and the junior year listing on this page ends with Joseph Conrad, I assume that the pages that follow lead to more reading requirements for the junior class, and the senior list hasn’t even been factored in nor has the freshman list.
No doubt we complained about the list and the number of books we were forced to read, but I can’t imagine that our parents would have read them for us, nor done the reading homework that was most certainly required as well. Without Cliffs notes and movie versions, some students actually read these books, others probably didn’t. Complaints and excuses were likely a common feature of our classroom repertoire, and though not as easy as it is today, cheating was also a part of the school experience of many students. Extracurricular activities, school clubs and after school jobs were prevalent then, jobs maybe even more so, but there were also consequences for our actions, be they excuses for not doing school work, getting caught cheating, being too tired, or in the late ‘60’s, being high. The antiquated corporal punishment represented by the paddle which, happily for many a student bottom, is no longer in general use, was the main consequence, and not something that I espouse as appropriate today. But there does need to be an awareness within the minds of students and their parents that there are consequences. School systems grapple with this very concern, but when rules are set by the teacher and/or by the school but then not enforced, there is bound to be a lack of respect for, or adherence to, those rules.
What are the lessons students today are learning? Valuing reading is probably not high on the list, nor is personal responsibility. Blaming others or having more important things to do other than schoolwork seems to be at the top of the list of lessons being learned, and why not? School administrators from elementary through college are more likely to assuage the concerns of angry parents than to support the teachers who have tried to instill a sense that learning and work is a personal achievement to be valued. Students know that they can manipulate the system and they learn this from parents, school administrators afraid of repercussions and lawsuits, and public figures who refuse to accept the consequences of their own actions. None of these behaviors or trying to manipulate a system to find the easy way out or make a fast buck is new, but maybe if students would read more than four books and not spend all their time with the easy access media formats, they would learn that similar concerns have been voiced throughout time.
Books and literature have sought to question, answer or at least address most of the aspects of the human condition as has the oral tradition and music in all its varieties. Kids will continue to try to wiggle out of a chore if they think there’s a way out, so why make it easy for them? Enforce the consequences. Make reading a priority. Yes, there is a place for Facebook, TV and the internet along with organized sports and other pastimes, but a child’s world includes school and that means the child, not his or her parents, is the one who should be doing the work. Sure, parental guidance and help is useful and often necessary. How great it would be if all parents could be, or had the time to be involved in the education of their children. The work of children with all the sloppiness, mistakes and pearls of wisdom of their age should be the product of their own labors, not that of the parents. If the parent who opened the door to this tirade of mine, would turn off the TV, stop doing her kids’ homework and have them read, or read with them, she and they just might learn something.

Emotional Poison: Sticking your head in the sand

In a letter to Dear Abby, a writer from Wisconsin asked how to handle grief in the wake of so many tragic events that are shown repeatedly by the media. The writer explains that she hasn’t known anyone personally affected by any of the “events” but her heart is weighed down by grief. I found the question troubling, and Dear Abby’s response to this writer was equally troubling. Her suggestion was to “…not remain glued to your television or computer screen…” but to “Ration the input, and the ‘poison’ will affect you less.”
Troubled by both the question and the answer, I make the connection to the academic world in which teachers are asked, even required, to give “trigger warnings”. Students can then decide to opt out if a topic, video, or lesson of any sort is troubling.
To “Wanting to Heal in Wisconsin” and to administrations, faculty and students who demand or comply with the idea that exposure to a certain subject might cause distress or even a traumatic reaction, I say “GOOD !”
To censor oneself from awful tragedies, both in America and abroad, is to hide one’s head in the sand. To refuse to acknowledge or accept the horrors that directly affect someone else should be “…challenging to process” for this Wisconsinite.
Yes, it is possible though not probable, to limit exposure to television, computer, and/or print sources, yet in one way or another tragic headlines will creep into a person’s consciousness. Unless a person retreats to a cave and never emerges again, there is no way to completely avoid the tragedies that occur around the globe. Horrible incidents may be brought on by an accident, a natural occurrence, or by the horrendous acts humans inflict upon one another, but whether someone is directly affected or not does not mean that they are unaffected. Everybody should be affected! Turning off the TV, and ignoring the facts to protect your feelings does not make the incident go away.
Maybe we should not heal, maybe people, like this person who wrote to Dear Abby, should open their eyes to the realities that too many other people face. In any case the tragedies soon disappear, quickly overshadowed by the next tragedy. As I write, our nation has been wracked by the mass murders of club goers in Orlando, by the loss of life of police officers in Dallas, by the shootings of blacks by police, and by the murders that go on multiple times a day. When the number of dead isn’t significant by current perspectives, they are not even deemed newsworthy. Yet these horrific events are paraded through the media. Journalists and cameramen hover like voyeuristic vultures around the scene, yet the stories quickly die as the next tragedy makes the headlines. How soon we forget.
It’s bad enough that horrible events are covered 24 hours a day. Now readers or, more commonly, viewers are inundated with side-stories as media sources suck up every detail, whether these are relevant to the story or not. No longer do news sources report just the facts. And facts are often subjective depending on the source of the news.
Oddly, with all the in-your-face, round-the-clock broadcasts, today’s news is more likely to be censored by entities who decide for one reason or another what the public should know. During the Viet Nam war; for example, the publics’ exposure to the ugliness and realities of this conflict were readily apparent through graphic pictures and newscasts of the devastation. In contrast, the publics’ exposure to the realities and facts of both the Gulf and Iraq wars and current conflicts are carefully crafted to avoid any semblance to the realities of war.
With these thoughts in mind I ask: How do students and the public at large receive and perceive tragic news? From the person who wrote to Dear Abby to a student who expects a Heads-up if a controversial or painful topic is discussed in a class, the idea that material should be prettied-up so one’s sensibilities are not disturbed is a cop-out. The Wisconsinite who wants to disengage or the student who wants to ensure her psyche isn’t disturbed is disturbing in and of itself.
Schools are bastions of information and a dispensary of knowledge for those willing to engage and discern the ideas presented both in and outside the classroom. The broad scope of subjects to which students are exposed should challenge their thinking and open new avenues of thought. A student at the college level must expect that not all subjects and topics will fall into that student’s comfort level. If a student isn’t ready to accept this aspect of college-level work or thought, he does not belong in the classroom. If professors have to consider every idea that may disturb students, then institutes of higher learning would have to put warning labels on class schedules or maybe designate one class as upholding liberal values or another as upholding conservative values. There is no place in advanced education for censorship on the part of school administrations, faculty and/or students.
Whether or not a person attends a college is irrelevant in regards to the ideas presented here. No one should shield herself or himself from the ugly realities of life. To say, as the Wisconsin writer does, that she hasn’t personally been affected by any tragedies is incorrect as evidenced by his or her own admission: “I know that I am not the only person who is confused about how to manage their emotions after national tragedies.” An emotion is an effect. For this writer or for Dear Abby to think that removing the “poison” will change or help anything is just wrong. To build a cocoon around one’s self to hide from an uncomfortable emotion doesn’t make the situation or the feeling go away. Take action. Pay attention. Do something.