Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Or Else

"Well, my child won't be like that."

Are there any more hilarious words to come out of the mouths of not-quite-yet parents? Many an actual parent has enjoyed the spectacle of non-parents making pronouncements about a child they haven't even met yet, combined with criticism of the parenting skills of people whose children are actually here.

"Well, I would never let my child get away with that. My child will eat exactly what I put in front of him."

"My child will certainly not still be wearing diapers at that age."

"My child will never, ever behave like that."

"With what we now know about cognitive development, I will have my child ready to read and analyze 19th century Russian novels in their original language by age three."

As all actual parents know, this kind of predicting is hilarious because, as it turns out, children are less like programmable toaster-ovens and more like actual independently-functioning live human beings.And for real live human beings, developmental milestones come when they come. You may have your heart set on recording Junior's first steps before his first birthday, but he's going to walk when he's ready to walk.

These developmental milestones are not really negotiable. Your thirteen-month-old child is not sitting there on his butt because he has decided to Fight the Power and Stick It To the Man. You can certainly help his development either by providing the positives of help and support and a loving, safe environment. But in the end, he's going to walk when he's ready and able to walk.

You know what won't help him walk? Threats.

We've seen those parents. They're so invested in being right, so frustrated that this child who is making them look foolish and ineffectual by not delivering on their "Not my kid" pronouncement, so angry that their will is being thwarted by this child. So they go to threats.

You are going to do this, they say, or else.

Or else doesn't work, not really. It never has. History is filled with proof. You will switch to being right-handed instead of left-handed, or else. You will convert to the True Faith, or else. You will stop falling in love with the Wrong People, or else. The most you can hope for is compliance. Or else never gets you real change.

Or else only gets you compliance if it's possible. Grow a foot taller, or else, is a waste of energy.When compliance is not possible, we can expect to foster anger or resentment or a deep sense of personal failure or a complete loss of respect for us, and for our stupid, impossible demands.

So where do you think it gets us to turn to the eight-year-olds of America and say, "You must be able to read as well as we say by the date we pick in the spring. Or else."

What do the state legislators who passed "reading guarantee" laws imagine was going on-- that a great pack of third graders were out there perfectly capable of reading, but just refusing to learn out of laziness and spite, waiting for someone to kick their little tushies and get them in gear? Did they imagine we are awash in a nation of elementary teachers whose attitude is, "I don't really care if my kids learn anything. I'm just in this for the money and the recess."

Why not a height guarantee law? Let's guarantee every parent that their child will be forty-five inches tall or we will keep flunking the kid till he grows properly. Let's flunk any child is over or under weight according to the growth charts. Let's flunk any left-handed kid until he finally switches to the proper hand.

Or else is a terrible way to raise children. Having expectations that are so rigid that you have already mapped out the child's life before you meet the child-- that's no way to parent, and it's certainly no way to run a school system.


  1. Once again, you nailed it. Students are individuals and are going to act individually, and have, in response to the tests, as some have tweeted that they just marked anything, or based their latest essay on Sponge Bob. I am starting to think that if there is any one force that can put a stop to this education reform train wreck, it is middle to high school age students.

    In addition, the education reformers make no allowance for the fact that there can be a one year difference in actual age among students in one grade level. That is a tremendous difference developmentally.

  2. I agree that you bring a thought process that is in line with classroom teachers, and exposes the lunacy of reformers.