Ben Boychuk is joined by Lenore Skenazy, "the World's Worst Mom" and author of the 2009 book, Free-Range Kids. Ever since Skenazy caused a scandal by allowing her then-9-year-old son to ride the subway home alone, she's been waging a sometimes lonely war against what she aptly calls "worst-first thinking." Recently, Skenazy has turned her biting wit against the emerging trend of "Alcatraz Parenting", which was the impetus for what turned into a fairly wide-ranging interview.
Among the questions we discuss:
• Why isn't her Discovery International reality TV series on in the United States?
• How much has really changed since Free Range Kids was published?
• How did the Etan Patz case change public opinion and the laws?
• Just how bad is the kidnapping problem today?
• Should parents take their kids to parks and leave them there?
• How does worst-first thinking threaten self-government?
• Which do you prefer: "Alcatraz parenting"? "Prisoner parenting"? Or "Panopticon parenting"?*
• What are some really dumb products that parents can buy to provide an illusion of safety for their children?
• "Tooth Prints"? Seriously?
• Is the fear of lawsuits overblown?
• What are some of the most important things children should learn before they are 12?
• And much more!
* This is really embarrassing, but when we recorded the interview, I misidentified the originator of the "panopticon" concept. It was, in fact, Jeremy Bentham. For some reason -- age? a small stroke? lack of caffeine? -- I identified the man behind the idea as John Stuart Mill. (Well, I had good reason: Mill was, after all, a student of Bentham's.) It's especially galling because I asserted with supreme confidence that most people listening to this podcast would know what the panopticon is or was. If you don't, just follow the links. Anyway, I cut that part of the exchange from the interview -- about two minutes in all -- although Lenore's musings on the panopticon remain intact.
Music heard in this podcast:
• "Greatest Love of All," Big Daddy
• "The Kids Are Alright," The Queers
• "I'm Your Boogie Man," KC and the Sunshine Band
• "Overlove," Dio
• "Fearless," Pink Floyd
• "Take a Chance," The Bomboras
Please visit and "like" the Ben and Joel page on Facebook to comment on this interview, as well as to receive regular updates about the podcast and links to our weekly syndicated column with ScrippsHoward News Service. You'll be glad you did!
Programming note: This episode of "The Ben and Joel Podcast" is Vol. 5, No. 11 for 2012. Joel Mathis was on vacation when we recorded this one. I should have posted this sooner, but events conspired against it.
This story in today's New York Times is more than a little disturbing. Apparently educators and adults are working feverishly to keep kids from having ... best friends.
Most children naturally seek close friends. In a survey of nearly 3,000 Americans ages 8 to 24 conducted last year by Harris Interactive, 94 percent said they had at least one close friend. But the classic best-friend bond — the two special pals who share secrets and exploits, who gravitate to each other on the playground and who head out the door together every day after school — signals potential trouble for school officials intent on discouraging anything that hints of exclusivity, in part because of concerns about cliques and bullying.
“I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults — teachers and counselors — we try to encourage them not to do that,” said Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis. “We try to talk to kids and work with them to get them to have big groups of friends and not be so possessive about friends.”
“Parents sometimes say Johnny needs that one special friend,” she continued. “We say he doesn’t need a best friend.”
As somebody who felt -- in junior high, particularly -- on the wrong side of the line of cliquishness and bullying, I've got to say: This is profoundly stupid. It's a weird attempt to create a socialism of friendship -- everybody is everybody's friend! -- that has nothing at all to do with the real world those children enter as adults.
Here's the truth: People gravitate to some people more than other people. I like books, you like books, but Johnny's more interested in football. So you and I hang out, and Johnny finds himself a football-loving buddy. The solution to cliquishness and bullying is not to keep people from sharing interests and sharing time bonding over such interests -- the solution is to teach those kids not to be jerks to people who don't share those bonds.
Because this practice is so at odds with the way people form relationships in real life, I can't help but feel that it's not aimed at reducing cliquishness and bullying so much as it is designed to reduce the amount of time and energy that educators have to spend dealing with cliquishness and bullying. On one level, I can't blame the authorities for that. But on the other, it's very Pink Floydian. Outlawing close friendships at school? You can't have any pudding if you won't eat your meat!
Via Jon Favreau's Twitter Feed comes the most adorable, geek movie parody I have ever seen...
I'm going to start the discussion with religion and spirituality, not because it's the primary reason we homeschool (it isn't) but because it's the reason many (most?) people assume families homeschool their children.
There are a lot of religious reasons to homeschool your children, but the most compelling one for me is that I believe that all education is inherently religious/spiritual. Meaning: Apart from very few subjects (typing perhaps?) you always rely on presuppositions, and those presuppositions are usually tied in some way to one's metaphysics and beliefs about spiritual reality. The idea of delivering some kind of "neutral" secular education is laughable. When you approach subjects like history, language, and science presupposing that the material universe is all there is, you will teach those subjects quite differently than if you presuppose that there is a spiritual realm.
In many subjects, public education is hamstrung by the anti-establishment clause on the one hand, and the inherently religious nature of education on the other. As children grow and their education develops, the material constantly calls out for value judgments. History, for example, is unintelligible if you refuse to acknowledge the religious and political motivations of its actors. How does one teach children about the crusades, the Roman Empire, the Enlightenment, or the wars of the 20th century without expressing SOME kind of moral judgment? Forget ONE, how do you enforce a set of standards for neutrality among THOUSANDS of teachers, knowing that they all come from different backgrounds and carry different spiritual biases?
Some other religious/spiritual reasons we, or other homeschoolers, might choose to keep our children out of the school system:
Also note that spiritual concerns go both ways. If you're an atheist in a district that has decided to teach Intelligent Design in its science curriculum, you might decide to keep your child home. Likewise other faiths.
The parenthetical comment should probably read, "the first in a series that will likely be abandoned about one third of the way through, like everything else I start here," but that doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.
CRywalt left a comment on one of Ben's education posts that included this drive-by piece of snark:
Bad enough we've got evangelical, conservative Christians homeschooling to avoid their kids' learning about evolution or sexual reproduction.
As an evangelical, conservative Christian (I'm an officer in my church, which is part of the Presbyterian Church in America, one of the more theologically conservative denominations) who, along with my wife, has chosen to homeschool our children, I find it disappointing and a bit offensive that this line is delivered without a twinge of recognition that it is simply repeating a convenient stereotype. It belongs on the trash-heap of stereotypes that include, "women who work are putting their careers before their families," and "people from the South are inbred racists."
In the interest of shedding light on the many reasons parents choose to homeschool these days, I will try to do individual posts on these topics:
Not necessarily in that order, and not necessarily exclusively.
Watch this space...
we need an "education" topic pigeonhole around here. imo
" The competition was set up to encourage states to take on reforms supported by the Obama administration. "
Anyone want to tell me how a state with 10% of the population blew this one? WHO ARE THE GRANT-WRITERS RESPONSIBLE? I WANT THEIR PENCILS BROKEN.
Not necessarily because I favor federal funds being taken from states, filtered thru the feds and then generously being returned to us a little at a time. Rather, mostly because you could pluck me out of bed at 3 A.M. and I would be able to write a pretty good grant proposal for federal education funding. These grant-writers are obviously inept.
Present company excepted, sirs!
Daniel Weintraub's new, independent and nonprofit news site is up and running. The mission of HealthyCal.org, which is funded in part by the California Endowment, is "to inform Californians about public health and community health issues, to engage readers in an ongoing conversation about matters ranging from health care policy to land-use, transportation, environment, criminal justice and economic policy, and to show how all of these things are connected."
Joel and I talked to Weintraub about the project back in November. Congratulations and best of luck to Dan, who is a very fine journalist. I hope HealthyCal.org is hugely successful.
The West's insistence on treating children as if they are the same as adults is a losing proposition. The trend was instituted in the late 50's and 60's with the almost-grown-up 18-20 year-old crowd. That worked out, to some degree. But then the drive was on to apply that to younger and younger children. In my day (as a child), it was down to about 16-17. Nowadays, I see children at my school as low as the 5th grade routinely being given the intellectual and social privileges of adults.
I won't claim societal collapse, but I have a hunch a societal "reboot" can't be far off.
Tangina Barrons has joined Carol Anne in the light.
Or, rather, the actress who immortalized the character in three Poltergeist films has gone to her reward. Zelda Rubenstein was 76.
The diminutive Rubenstein did cartoon voice work before making her debut in the atrocious Chevy Chase-Billy Barty vehicle, Under the Rainbow. She went on to roles on television, including most memorably as the sheriff's radio dispatcher in Picket Fences.
But this will be how millions of fans will remember her:
(More Rubenstein clips here.)
At 47, Rubinstein -- a Pittsburgh native, Zaius will be happy to know -- abruptly decided to end her career as a medical technician. She told an interviewer:
“I had no idea what I would do next, but I knew it would involve advocacy for those people who were in danger of being disenfranchised,” she said. “I wanted a platform to be visible as a person who is different, as a representative of several varieties of differences. This is the most effective way for me to carry a message saying, ‘Yes you can.’ I took a look at these shoulders in the mirror and they’re pretty big. They can carry a lot of Sturm und Drang on them.”
Rest in peace, madame.
Good news from Menifee, where parents and school district officials have come to their senses about Webster's dictionary. The Press-Enterprise reports:
The Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary will return to fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms at Oak Meadows Elementary School, a committee of Menifee Union School District parents, teachers and administrators decided Tuesday.
An alternate dictionary also will be placed in the classrooms, and parents will have the option of choosing which dictionary their child can use, Superintendent Linda Callaway said in a statement about the committee's decision at a school board meeting Tuesday.
School officials pulled the Merriam-Webster dictionaries from classrooms last week after an Oak Meadows parent complained about a child stumbling across definitions for "oral sex."
The decision to offer both dictionaries was made by a committee of about a dozen school administrators, teachers and parents. School board policy calls for such a committee to be formed when classroom materials are challenged.
Here's a PDF of the school district's statement on the resolution. I'm pleased that Menifee's elementary school kids will continue to have access to first-rate dictionaries. Their teachers and administrators, however, could use a remedial course in writing simply and directly.
Menifee's absurd dictionary ban made me reach for my own copy of Webster's -- I don't actually have the "controversial" Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary Tenth Edition in my library, but I do have a copy of Webster's II New College Dictionary. And therein lies a short story.
The dictionary was a gift from my late friend Chris Warden, on the occasion of the birth of my son Benjamin. Chris loved the language; he knew I did, too; and so he expected I would impart that love to my first-born. Lord knows I'm trying.
Truth is, I had forgotten where this dictionary came from. And so I forgot what Chris wrote on the flyleaf. Here it is:
To combat consternation
Calm, cool cerebration
A concatenation of confusion
Conspires with chaos, a constant collusion
Yet a conservative confluence
of candor and comprehension
Will compel composure, commute contention
Collect the truth
Claim your faults
A happy accident... and a charming, bittersweet reminder of Chris's wit and wisdom.
Every mid-winter in the Shetland Islands, the residents celebrate their Nordic heritage (the islands changed hands between the Scots and Vikings for centuries early in the fist half of the last millennium) with a fire festival, commonly called "Up Helly Aa" by the locals. It's celebrated in just about every Shetland town, including Scalloway, where my wife's mother was born and her uncle now lives.
The festival — which was first held after the Napoleonic wars — celebrates the end of the "yule season," and has evolved to include a procession of torch-bearers wearing festive garb. Some wear Viking outfits. Some just wear special T-shirts. And some even dress like a Vegas-era Elvis). A good time is had by all — and good times are valuable in such a harsh climate in winter. At the end of the procession, a painstakingly built replica viking galley in the harbor is set ablaze in a spectacular display.
Why am I writing about this? Patience ...
Every Up Helly Aa festival has a leader, the Guiser Jarl (pronounced "geyser yawr-el"), who is something like a grand master in an American parade. The Guiser Jarl selects his court, what's called the Jarl Squad. It is a great honor to be picked for the Jarl Squad. And in Scalloway, one must at a minimum be a resident of the town for at least five years before being picked. Then the Guiser Jarl must like you and award you the honor — at which point you start growing your beard, to the consternation of many a Jarl Squad wife. There are some exceptions, though. And my wife's brother, Buzz, was one of the exceptions.
My wife and her brother spent many a summer of their youth in Scalloway, and continued to visit Shetland often in their adulthood. Buzz, who lives in Alaska, is a long-time friend of this year's Guiser Jarl in Scalloway, Michael Pottinger. So he is one of a great minority of Americans tapped to be a member of Scalloway's Jarl Squad. It was so exceptional, Buzz was featured in a news story about this year's Up Helly Aa on a Scotland TV station.
(NOTE: The Up Helly Aa in Scalloway was special this year because last year's was cancelled. Michael Pottinger's then-one-year-old son took seriously ill and had to be flown to Edinburgh on mainland Scotland for treatment. And the town decided it would be better to not have the festival in 2009 than to pass over Michael's time as Guiser Jarl).
My brother-in-law, Buzz, comes in on the news-clip video at about the 1:30 mark.
I post this here for posterity, and because I think it's cool. And because it makes my home-town Tournament of Roses parade seem downright ... well ... gay. Oh, and that "lucky wee fellow" the Scot news reader mentions at the end of the clip? He's not referring to Buzz ... but to Michael Pottinger's now-healthy son.
Gumby creator Art Clokey has died. The animator and filmmaker had a rough childhood but lived a remarkable life and left an indelible legacy for several generations of kids. He was 88.
If you came of age in the 1980s, you will likely remember a short-lived Gumby revival and, of course, Eddie Murphy's take on the character in the Silver Age of Saturday Night Live. This is what I remember most, though...
"If you've got a heart, then Gumby's a part of you." Rest in peace, Art Clokey.
Those mobster-themed videos are good fun, Ben. But nothing that can compare to The Star Wars Holiday Special, where the unintentional comedy scale redlined ... then exploded. This was the first sign that trouble was ahead for Lucas' franchise, decades before his abominable prequels.
I LOVE the intro, as we learn which "stars" will be sullying their careers by being connected to this debacle. Oh, and the interminably long minutes that tick by with nothing but Wookie language and maudlin music to keep us interested.
This is awesome! Because as soon as I saw Star Wars, I was insatiably curious about what life was like for Wookies on whatever planet they live on. Apparently, it's just like our lives — if we lived in trees, spoke in wails and grunts, and had a cheesy soundtrack running in the background. Oh, and if we were a lot hairier.
A very touching scene with Han, "Lumpy" and Chewy's family.
Oh, and let's not forget the big finish, with a song by Carrie Fisher!
Oh, for f--- sake:
Maura Flynn at Big Hollywood says: "People, we have the means, if we have the will, to topple these charlatans who shamelessly prey on little children. So boycott Build-A-Bear. And, more importantly, tell the world why."
Blah, blah, blah. Yes, it's terrible. Yes, it's manipulative. And thus Build-a-Bear will put some principled conservative moms and dads in the awkward position of having to tell Johnny and Sis, "No, you can't go to Maria's birthday party, because Build-a-Bear sells LIES!"
Are you going to do that? For real?
If this sort of thing bothers you -- and probably it should a little -- then send Build-a-Bear an e-mail expressing your disapproval. Or here's a thought: Watch what your kids are watching on the Internet. If you're doing your job, they shouldn't be encountering that sort of agitprop in the first place.
I can't get enough of the jingle...
Ben and Joel are joined by Lisa Schmeiser, who writes the "Filthy Commerce" blog and is the "Dollars and Sense" blogger for the San Francisco Chronicle -- and contributes to a whole host of other print and online publications too numerous to list here.
Questions discussed in this podcast:
• Are Americans going to be frugal during this recession-stained holiday season?
• Are new credit card regulations a good idea?
• How about simply walking away from your debts?
• Can you save money by going to a cash-only budgeting system?
• What does the rise of Etsy mean for craft producers and buyers?
• Is the "Sons of Anarchy" the best thing about popular culture in 2009?
• Or is it "The Fantastic Mr. Fox"?
• Or maybe the new "Star Trek" movie?
• Or is the new "Star Trek" movie stuck in outmoded sexist thinking from the 1960s?
• And is this the nerdiest Ben and Joel Podcast ever?
Music heard in this podcast:
• "White Winter Hymnal," Fleet Foxes.
• "Where the Hell's My Money," Mojo Nixon.
• "Cash on the Barrelhead," Gram Parsons.
• "Making Up for Lost Time," TJ Kong and the Atomic Bomb.
• "Enterprising Young Men," Michael Giacchino.
The alternate headline might be: "Don't bring a gun to a snowball fight."
(Warning: There's quite a bit of salty language in the video.)
When it snows, people have snowball fights. When it snows in Washington D.C., somebody is going to draw a gun in a snowball fight. Who would have thought it would be a plainclothes detective with an attitude?
Washington's ABC affiliate WJLA reports:
A lively snowball fight on D.C. streets took a dark turn Saturday when anti-war protesters dressed in anarchist garb showed up, and a D.C. police officer pulled his weapon out of his holster.
The neighborhood snowball fight at 14th and U streets was advertised online. By 3 p.m., more than 200 residents converged for the massive snowball fight.
"No one meant any harm, no one meant anything by -- just having fun, it's highly unfortunate," said Tisha West. "We're Washingtonians and we like to play in the blizzard."
But things started to turn for the worse when the crowd -- some carrying anti-war signs and dressed all in black with masks -- began to pelt passing cars. A plain clothes D.C. police detective emerged from a Hummer -- it's unclear whether it was his personal vehicle or an unmarked police vehicle -- after it was struck. The detective began yelling at the gathered crowd. At one point, he pulled back his jacket, exposing his service weapon -- it's unclear if he did this intentionally. That's when things took a darker turn.
That account is roundly disputed in the comments section of that site, and elsewhere. In particular, several eyewitnesses insist the story overplays the anti-war angle -- hard to say. Unlike a G20 summit in March, there is good reason to wear a black ski mask in the middle of a blizzard. Also, the detective didn't merely "expose" his weapon -- he definitely drew his gun. An alarmed citizen, seeing an angry man waving a pistol at revelers, called 911.
Now, is it a good idea to hurl snowballs at moving vehicles? No, probably not. Is the appropriate response to leap out of your car with a loaded pistol and use the color of authority to threaten people who are really just having a bit of harmless fun? To ask the question is to answer it.
From the Washington City Paper story:
Like so many others, Robin Bell heard about the snowball fight at 14th and U Streets NW and decided to go and check it out. He tells City Desk that prior to the incident, a cop car got stuck in the road and everybody stopped the snowball fight and helped the cop get his car out of the snow. "The crowd cheered and everybody was happy," Bell says.
Soon, though, he started hearing people shouting: "Don't bring a gun to a snowball fight!"
"Then I walked over and I saw a police officer brandishing a weapon," Bell says referring to the uniform cop. He says he didn't see the detective brandish his weapon--only the furious aftermath. He says the detective was yelling and "kind of out of control." "It was really strange to see a police officer so upset and angry over what seemed at best a misunderstanding," Bell explains. "At worst, it was some kids throwing a snowball at him."
At one point, Bell says, the detective ran into the crowd and grabbed man whom he thought might have thrown a snowball at him. Bell adds that the detective them put the individual next to his Hummer. Cops grabbed two others. All three were given warnings. "It was ridiculous because everyone was throwing snowballs," Bell says.
D.C. Police say they are investigating the whole fracas, although a couple of off-the-cuff, early statements by management seem to deny what anyone with two eyes and an Internet connection could readily see. (Update, 12/21: Jonathan Turley has an interesting post about the incident, which offers some details about the head of the D.C. P.D.'s internal affairs division.)
If there is any justice in this world, this Detective Baylor will be working the graveyard for a private security outfit at some Recovery Act-funded construction job come spring. But there is no justice...
Update: Here's the Washington Post story on the hullabaloo:
Police said initially that the detective had not flashed his weapon. On Sunday, the officer was placed on desk duty after Twitter, blogs and YouTube appeared to show otherwise.
If the final investigation shows the officer pulled his weapon after being pelted with snowballs, D.C. Assistant Chief Pete Newsham, head of the investigative services bureau, said that "would not be a situation in which a member [of the force] would be justified."
"We have to see what the entire circumstance was," Newsham said Sunday. "But just a snowball fight, not in my mind. That doesn't seem a situation where we would pull out a service weapon."
Meanwhile, Ann Althouse sides with the cop:
The quoted chant is "Don't bring a gun to a snowball fight!" and that sounds funny and fun-loving, but it got me thinking of the encounters with police that we saw in the 1960s when it took next to nothing to provoke shouts of "police brutality" and "pig." And in fact, if you watched the whole video, you heard the shout "F--- you, pig."
(Click "Read More" to see additional videos below the fold.)
Here is a possible twist in the story of Jalen Cromwell, the Taunton, Mass., second-grader who made national news for drawing Jesus Christ on the cross and getting psychoanalyzed for his efforts: Jalen's father, part-time janitor Chester Johnson, played story-hungry journalists for saps. That's what Attleboro Sun-Chronicle Editor Mike Kirby thinks.
"It was a story too good to be true -- because it wasn't," Kirby opines in a column published Thursday. He continues:
The father of an 8-year-old Taunton boy tells the local newspaper that his son, a special needs student, was suspended and ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation after the boy makes a crude drawing of a crucifix, with X's for eyes. The boy, the father says, had been asked by a teacher to draw something that reminded him of Christmas.
The story, naturally, takes off like wildfire. It seems like another example of the war on Christmas, of political correctness gone mad, of the lack of common sense in our education system, of the left-wing overtaking Americans' Constitutional right to practice their religion.
But the more the father -- who at first hid behind a veil of anonymity -- talks, the sketchier the story sounds. Because it's a story that's just too good to be true.
(Click "Read more" below for the rest of this post.)
The father of Jalen Cromwell holds the drawing of the crucified Christ that has caused so much controversy.
That's a trick question. "Contrary to conventional wisdom," writes Chris Woolston at a site called MyOnlineWellness, "there's no surge in suicides around the holidays."
But if there were a spike in people killing themselves in the days leading up to December 25, I submit that stories such as this one in the Telegraph would help explain why:
Dr. Nathan Grills from Monash University in Australia said the idea of a fat Father Christmas gorging on brandy and mince pies as he drove his sleigh around the world delivering presents was not the best way to promote a healthy and safe lifestyle among the young.
Writing on bmj.com, Dr Grills said: "Santa only needs to affect health by 0.1 per cent to damage millions of lives."
He said the image of a healthier Santa could be very effective in promoting a positive message about diet and lifestyle to the young.
Chad the Elder quips: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the public health experts."
Oh, I dunno. I bet with just a little digging, we'd learn that Dr. Grills could be buried under the mountain of coal that Santa has left in his Christmas stocking over the years. Good grief, what a killjoy.