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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Reeling

I went to do battle with a history teacher of my son's last night at high school open house. I got my power suit on and slicked back my hair, knowing that this woman had no respect for what she perceived as a scatterbrained (yes, she actually called me that) stay-at-home mom. I left that interview feeling like I needed a shower and a dry cleaner.

The woman felt she was on the trenchant edge, instilling in my son a will to tow the mark and succeed. The reality is that she is bullying my son and apparently many others in her class for perceived faults because she believes she can get away with being a schoolroom despot.

I am the product of teachers and have been one myself. I graduated with high honors in a double major from college. So I don't advocate sloughing off in school. Just the opposite. I want my children to succeed and even pass me. I would no sooner champion them for being lazy and ignorant than roll around in a cow pie.

I found when I went, however, that my son's so-called 'daydreaming' and inability to get papers correctly signed by their parent was in actuality not the main problem. The teacher in question wants to show my son R-rated movies (especially Shindler's List).

On the surface an R-rated movie might not look like such a bad thing. There have been movies with that rating that I felt could have shucked a few unnecessary scenes and been a decent movie. Some of those I really wanted to watch (Braveheart, Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven to name a few).

Sure it's just one little scene. There are just a couple of decapitations. They only use the F-bomb three times. You only glimpse the man's rear end for a few seconds. You can't really see them having sex. The excuses go on and on.

Those are entertainment movies written and filmed to titillate and engross us. Dirt sells, you know. Everybody is watching it. It got an Emmy and three Golden Globes. It must be fine.

I think I need to head outside and find the shovel.

What the teacher wanted to do was let a movie babysit my child while she relaxed in the back. She wanted to really bash them in the face with the proceedings of the Holocaust (her words). She felt that THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK and THE HIDING PLACE by Corrie Ten Boom (my suggested replacements) were both substandard movies because they were childish and written for the eighth grade level.  

What?

Has she watched those movies or even read those books?

She said they didn't pack enough punch.

Well I don't know about you but I don't want any teacher punching my children in the mind. I purposefully try to keep evil away from them. I don't need to wallow in manure to know that I don't want any on me. I am perfectly fine with seeing it come out of the cow and smelling the result to know that I'd rather stay away, thank you. She wants to throw it at her students and rub their faces in it.
Excuse me, lady. This is MY SON we're talking about, NOT YOURS.

These people think that parents are brainless puddles of TV-sucking slime good for nothing but birthing people for the state, apparently. And perhaps some parents are. But not all. Some of us want our children to learn the truth. We don't want them filled up with propaganda sensationalized and dressed up as "history".

I find it interesting how one person's viewpoint can so widely differ from another's without even a movie perspective's aid.
Once I was visiting a friend. As I was getting out of my car, I looked down the street. I saw a young man get bitten by a dog. I rushed up to the scene and gave my name and number as a witness. When it came time for the court appearance, I sat behind the boy's family. Up to that point, I had been solidly in the kid's court. 
But then I found out several things: 1. The chubby little recalcitrant creep's parents were egging him on to get as much money as possible by faking an injury. I heard them tell him things to say. 2. A closer observer who had been watching from earlier, witnessed the boy teasing the dog with a stick. Apparently it was an on-going problem. The boy often walked past while running a stick over the fence, which aggravated the dog on several witnessed occasions. 3. The owners had tied the dog in such a way as to render the dog harmless and unable to bite the boy unless the kid was trespassing on the owners' property.
By the time I found out these truths, however, I had already given my statement. I am happy to say that the owners were not forced to put the dog down. They were, however, fined and ordered to keep the dog inside the house. 

Do you see how I changed your view of the boy with three well-placed words? And I'm not even lying. The boy, from his actions in court, demonstrated his personality enough to him to earn the moniker of 'creep'.

There are examples of what lies, "spin", half-truths, and illusions can do to a society all around us. Unless we continue to search diligently for the truth we can be gulled just as are the majority of the lazier, more careless masses. Hence the advent of Snopes. I see people all the time checking with Snopes to divine whether an article is factual or not. Unfortunately there are times when Snopes has been known to be wrong. Apparently the people down there have a price just like many others do.

I personally want my children to know the difference between perceiving evil and in wallowing in it. I want my children to stand up against it and not allow evil to flourish. I personally told them how it felt to be around viciousness such that it made me want to vomit until my stomach was empty.

I've been to East Germany before the Wall came down, with its machine gun-toting guards. I was followed everywhere by those guards. My friend was deported for taking pictures. All of the students with us at that time agreed that they have never felt so completely oppressed as they had at that time and in that place. I could have cut the palpable and very potent feeling of super-condensed evil with a machete. When we got out of the country, every single one of us rejoiced verbally at leaving those feelings behind us.

I've been to Dachau. I've walked the pathways between the barracks foundations. I've seen the piles of shoes. I've seen the pictures of the poor starving scarecrows who survived. I've talked to people who bear the tattooed number on their arms. I do not want my children ever to shut their eyes and allow something like that to take root.

But I also know that a sensationalist movie made to titillate and deaden the senses doesn't work, and especially not at the age of my son. I recently read an article (which was actually first a speech) by Meghan Cox Gurdon, who has been a reviewer for children's books for the Wall Street Journal since 2005. She said:

"Books show us the world, and in a sense, too many books for adolescents act like fun house mirrors, reflecting hideously distorted portrayals of life. Those of us who have grown up understand that the teen years can be fraught and turbulent--and for some kids, very unhappy--but at the same time we know that in the arc of human life, these years are brief. Today, too many novels for teenagers are long on the turbulence and short on a sense of perspective."
And again:
"The trouble is that the first person present tense also erects a kind of verbal prison, keeping young readers in the turmoil of the moment just as their hormones tend to do. This narrative style reinforces the blinkers teenagers often seem to be wearing, rather than drawing them out and into the open."
And:
"Books for children and teenagers are written, packaged, and sold by adults. It follows from this that the emotional depictions they contain come to young people with a kind of adult imprimatur. As a school librarian in Idaho wrote to her colleagues in my defense: 'You are naive if you think young people can read a dark and violent book that sits on the library shelves and not believe that that behavior must be condoned by the adults in their school lives.' "

Books can be intense. How much more potent are movies? The human brain, and especially the teen-aged human brain, tends to believe much of what it sees, at least to a point. Psychological studies on Change Blindness or Flicker Paradigm, have been done in which a person is confronted with the image of a person, which is subsequently obscured by a large mirror or other obstruction. When the obstruction clears, there is a completely different person in similar clothing. The difference is often not perceived by the observer.

The brain tends to continue to perceive the information it was initially given. This phenomenon feeds into the movie business quite nicely. How many of us were afraid of all sharks for years after we saw JAWS for the first time? I was. I have subsequently been swimming with a couple of fifteen-foot long sharks and lived to tell the tale. The movies would have it that all sharks are hideous man-eating menaces, when in fact only a fraction of them are dangerous to humankind.

I don't want my children inured to the fact that evil is very real, very present, and very dangerous. I don't want them to blow it off as a fairytale or an alarmist piece of fiction. The danger is immediate and palpable in some cases. There are very real, very evil people who want to harm us--who are bent on the destruction of mankind. They aren't necessarily clothed in spikes and leather. They probably shoot better than any movie villain. Some of them prance around in regular jeans and t-shirts or power suits. I want my children to know the difference. I want them to know the truth.

So, no. I don't want my children to learn their history from an R-rated movie. Do some actual work and find the truth. Then I'll respect you as a teacher and let you teach my children. Otherwise, the second they get home, I'm going to tell them how it really was, according to my research.


6 comments:

  1. Not to mention that you have set a standard in your family of no R movies. The schools think that they know what is best for your kid. They think they can step above your rules. Makes me so mad. We have the same situation here. Watch the movie or fail the class.

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  2. How angry are you? I see several reasons for a lawsuit. I'm not suggesting that you actually sue her...just the threat.
    Keep track of the examples of bullying.
    Inform her that the leaders of the church to which you belong advocate avoiding R rated movies. Stress that this is a breech of religion, and is trampling on your rights.
    Emphasize that she stereo-typed you because you are a stay-at-home mom.
    I don't understand how she can get away with what she is doing. We aren't allowed to do this sort of thing in Utah. We could lose our jobs.
    And you are right: movies do not accurately reflect the truth. Books like "Man's Search For Meaning", "The Hiding Place". and "Diary of a Young Girl" are true accounts.

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  3. Documenting her offenses is a good idea for the eventuality that I'll have to go change him to another history class. I'm also guessing that she isn't making friends with many of her parents. I sat there and watched as she badmouthed another boy in front of his dad and me, a stranger. Uncalled for IMHO.

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  4. Definitely document it. And you might consider taking this to the principle and the district. Curriculum is determined by the administration and the school board (who are elected).

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  5. Good for you for standing up for your values and your son. We had an incident last year where a teacher felt it was ok to read excerpts from To Kill A Mockingbird and other age inappropriate material to my 5th grader, since she wasn't reading the whole book. I am quite certain there were other books that were appropriate that could have also proved her point.

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