For my regular visitors, if you find that this blog hasn't been updating much lately, chances are pretty good I've been spending my writing energy on my companion blog. Feel free to pop over to Home is Where the Central Cardio-pulmonary Organ Is, and see what else has been going on.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

School, Kids, TV and parenting

I just finishing reading a couple of articles in today's online news. In one of them, a teacher in the US challenged students to go without tv for 10 days, then to cut back on their tv watching to only 7 hours a week. These are all elementary students, up to grade 8. Here's the incident that instigated his challenge.

ESCANABA, Mich. (AP) — Principal Mike Smajda was horrified to learn that one of his first-grade pupils at Lemmer Elementary School had watched "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."

Not long afterward, the boy was playing in a leaf pile with a girl when he suddenly began kicking her in the head. Another boy joined in.

“They felt it was part of the game,” Smajda said. “They both kicked her until her head was bleeding and she had to go to the hospital.”

Smajda can’t prove the R-rated slasher movie provoked the child. But the November 2004 incident reinforced his commitment to an anti-violence program getting under way at his school.

During this challenge, the school found significant changes in the children's behaviour, as well as their academic results. At the very end of the article, this caught my attention.

Smajda plans to continue the program at his school, but says its success will depend more on what happens at home.

“We’re trying to educate parents to monitor what their kids are watching,” he said. “Many of them don’t have a clue.”

The other article, seeming unrelated, talks about how the Liberals are intending to fight the Conservative child care plan, and hope the NDP and Bloc will join them in defeating it. To recapp, the Conservative plan involves giving parents with children ages 6 and under $1200 per year per child. While opponents say $1200 isn't anywhere near enough to pay for child care (true enough), these are often the same people who refuse to acknowledge that parents who stay home with their children are also doing "child care." $1200 a year may be enough to allow one parent to stay home and, in a small way, begins to make up for the penalties single income families are hit with for having one parents stay home. The important part of this plan is that it becomes the parents' choice as to what to do with that money. To the Liberals, this is a bad thing.

The other part of the Conservative plan is to cancel the Liberals $5 billion promise for a "national" day care program (which doesn't exist - day care is a provincial responsibility), and instead offer incentives for companies to open child case spaces at work. Some progressive companies already offer such services, much to their own benefit as well as that of their employees. Parents who are able to bring their children to an on-site day care are welcome to visit their children during breaks. The result has been the absenteeism has dropped significantly, while production and overall morale has improved. Sounds like a win-win situation to me!

The Liberal plan, on the other hand, was to distribute the $5 billion promised to the various provinces, to go to specific government approved day care centres. Such centres are, of course, quite necessary, but only a small fraction of parents who need outside child care can make use of them. Government run on a schedule to meet the needs of your typical 9 to 5'er. Anyone who works outside those hours, and there are many, can not make use of these centres. Also, these centres tend to be available only where there is a large enough population base, which means families who live in smaller communities are also out of the loop. This means, of course, that their tax dollars are helping to subsidize other people's children's day care spaces, yet don't qualify for it themselves.

What bothers me the most when it comes to the child care/day care arguement is the attitude day care advocates have towards everyone else. For starters, they insist that only *they* provide true child care. Parents who stay at home with their kids, grandparents or neighbours who provide care for the children if parents need to work outside the home, privately run centres - none of these are "real" child care, in the eyes of these self proclaimed experts. I recently listened to a CBC radio show that took place Feb. 14. I couldn't believe the contempt the day care advocate had for the Kids First rep (I woman I know through an email list we are both members of). Likewise with the day care worker that phoned in. Hearing her say how her training and courses make her care superior to that of parents was enough to make my stomach turn.

I've mentioned in past posts that I used to work at a day care centre. It was a great centre, filled with happy children who had lots of fun. The workers were great. It was, however, that experience that led me decide I would *never* send any potential children I had to day care. There were children who got dropped off at the centre right when the doors opened at 7:30 am, and they were still there long after my shift ended. I also saw the pain in a child's eyes because she knew that Mom had the day off work and was at home, but she was sent to daycare anyways (this was before parents would be at risk of loosing their spaces if they kept their kids home once in a while). So when I hear the day care advocates trying to say that *they* are raising their own children, and that the day care is a partner in this, I know full well that they are deluding themselves. There is no possible way for a parent to raise their own child when they are actively around that child for only a couple of hours a day. When a child is spending that much time in a day care centre, no matter how great and wonderful that centre is, it's the workers there who are raising the child, not the parents. A necessity for some, perhaps, but parents do themselves no favours by pretending otherwise. In fact, I suspect they know this, and that this knowledge is what's really behind the contempt aimed at parents who choose to stay home.

So what does this have to do with schools and tv? When the principle above is quoted as saying that a lot of parents have no clue what their children are watching on tv, doesn't that prove that parents really can't do an adequate job of raising their own kids? One of things I frequently hear people saying to justify sending kids to day care, nursery school, pre-pre-school, pre-school, kindergarten, etc. as early as possible has been to get these kids into a stimulating environmnet, with all the bells and whistles these centres have access to that the average parent can't afford. It prepares the children for school by weaning them away from their parents at every younger ages, supposedly fostering their independance (I won't bother going into the studies that show the exact opposite is the result at this point), and so on.

Parents, we are told, don't know enough to give their kids the best, and if they really cared for their children, they would send them to trained, qualified and licensed "experts" as early as possible. Obviously, I am in the camp that believes the only true expert of any child is their own parent, yet I can not deny that there are indeed a lot of parents who *don't* parent. Like the parents in the article who let their very young children watch so much tv, but don't know what their kids are actually watching.

And lets face it. Some parents are really screwed up. They have their own problems, and there's no shortage of parents who will sit on their butts watching soap operas instead of interacting with their own children.

You would think, then, that this reality only proved the day care advocates agenda - that children should be removed from their parents and raised by the state as early as possible because parents are too incompetant to raise them themselves. It is my thought, however, that this very attitude is what created these "bad" parents in the first place.

Lets look at the history of child care for a moment. For the eons of human existance, people lived in what were, for the most part, extended families. Most people were also what would be considered self employed. Everyone, including the children, took part in trying to provide for the family as a whole, and the family took part in raising the children. Only the wealthy and the privaliged could afford to send their children to the equivalent of school.

Even a mere 100 or so years ago, about 90% of the population worked for themselves and the remaining 10% worked for someone else. Most people were farmers, craftspeople, etc. Children worked along side their parents, learning the skills and trades they'd need to provide for themselves. Life was hard, and all hands were needed. Childhood was short. Girls were expected to marry and start raising children of their own and very young ages, sometimes barely into their teens. Their husbands were sometimes no older than they were. Life expectancies were short, so it made sense to start early. No one, however, would think that these teens weren't capably of raising their own children and providing for themselves. After all, they've already been major contributors to their families before marriage and already had the skills.

Flash forward to the industrial revolution, and for the first time, the numbers were reversed. Before long, it was only 10% of the population that was self employed while the remaining 90% worked for them. Families were now working outside their homes. At first, it was the dads who left to go to work, leaving the moms at home to care for their children. Alone. Until now, women could rely on family networks to assist with child care. Though rarely recognised, women of the past also helped provide an income through various "soft skills," such as spinning, weaving, etc. Many of these "soft skills" had been replaced by machines, as were many of the traditionally male skills.

As technology increased, so did our worship of all things scientific. Experts emerged in many fields. This was the time when all things scientific and man made was considered superior. Formula was considered better than breastmilk because it was made in a lab. Man made fibers like polyester and plastics were better than cotton or paper.

Our new gods of technology extended to child care. As knowledge of how our growing brains work (much of which is now known to be erroneous and harmful), the push came to have our children put into the hands of trained experts as early as possible. The motives were hardly altruistic. The public school system, as we know it today, was designed not to educate so much as to assimilate the flood of imigrants societies. Likewise, the rigidly scheduled days our children were placed into were designed to ready them for working in the new assembly lines and factories.

As time went on, parents had one "fact" ingrained into them. They must bow down to the "experts," without question, and experts were emerging in all fields. The most obvious were in the fields of medicine, but it also grew to include teachers. The idea that the state, not parents, was best able to raise children was suddenly no longer scoffed at, but embraced. Parents were increasingly told that they were not good enough to teach their children. They weren't capable of raising their children to "reach their full potential." Only fully trained experts were good enough to do that. Never mind that many of their pet theories were as yet unproven. They had university degrees! They were scientists!

Now, after several generations, we find ourselves with parents no long believe in themselves. They truly believe that the best place for their children is in "quality" child care, and that they themselves are inadequate to the task. Worse, it's become true. Having never learned the skills as they grew up, now that they've got children, they don't know what to do with them. Add in the economic reality that so many parents *must* work outside the home to provide an income. Is it any wonder that so many parents don't have the skills to parent?

There are two ways of solving this problem. One is to give back parents their belief in themselves. Give them the knowledge and skills they need to be good parents. Children don't need fancy, expensive do-dads to "reach their full potential." They need time, attention, and a whole lot of love.

The other option, of course, it the one the day care advocates seem to prefer. Since parents are obviously incapable of raising their own children, it's then up to the state to do so. And only government scantioned, licensed day care centres, filled with trained, certified "experts," that operate during day time hours are good enough. Any parent who truly cares for their children, they tell us, would want this for their children.

By implication, of course, any parent who would rather raise their children themselves doesn't really care for their children at all. These parents are the ones who are too selfish and lazy to do what's "right" by their children. These parents must be stopped at all costs.

And this is why the Liberal "national" day care plan, and those who advocate it, frighten me so much.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Big fat lies

The articles and media clips seem to have hit a new high of late - so much so that even my tv deprived life is catching on. They all have the same theme. The reporters, using their "very serious" voices, tell us how North Americans are getting fatter than ever. Obesity rates have skyrocketed. Heart disease and type 2 diabetes usualy tops the long list of illnesses being blamed on our expanding waistelines. Words like "epidemic" are used with abandon.

The images that accompany these reports are always the same. Huge men and women, clothing stretched to the limits, bellies hanging over their belts, arms and thighs shaking and quaking. Images designed to disgust and alarm. The association is clear. The obesity epidemic is filling our world with fat, disgusting people who are ready to drop dead any minute, or cost our health care systems millions of dollars until they finally do, all because of the numbers on the scale.

Judging from these articles and video clips, one would expect to find these horrifying blobs everywhere we turn. So I tried an experiment. I actually started looking for them.

On a crowded bus one day, I surresptiously glanced at the people around me. It was standing room only at this point, so I had plenty to view. Looking at the people nearest to me and my children I saw...

...thin, average, very thin, alarming thin, thin, not quite thin, a bit big, very thin, alarmingly thin, overweight, thin, possibly a few extra pounds... on it went. On that one bus ride, I was probably the largest person there.

On the street, I looked around some more. As the crowds flowed past me, I saw a few more overweight people, perhaps one or two that I might consider morbidly obese. On the whole, I saw more extremely thin people, both male and female, than people who looked like they could stand to loose a few pounds.

Lets try it again. This time, we'll go to what must surely be the favoured haunt of the morbidly obese - a food court in the world's largest shopping mall, West Edmonton Mall. As my family and I ate, I glanced around the packed tables and long lines. Not a single morbidly obese person amonst them. No huge bellies, no rolly polly thighs. A few larger people here and there. Overwhelming, though, the people around us were thin. Once again, however, I found myself alarmed by how many I saw that were not just thin, but looked to be emaciated.

I'm not sure where the media is getting their images of crowds of fat wallowing down the streets and corridors. In the three provinces I've lived in and numerous cities and other communities I've spent considerable time in, I've yet to witness the sea of fat the obesity experts claim we are surrounded by.

So how to explain the numbers? How is it that statistics show we are an increasingly obsese society, yet even a cursory glance fails to corroborate it?

The explaination, it turns out, is in the definition of "obese." As someone who has always been interested in health but, with frequent moves, rarely sees a doctor, I was amazed to discover that the BMI is not only still being used, but that any doctor worth the title actually takes it seriously. Instead, I found that the BMI has become an almost religious document, the scripture used to define what is or isn't healthy, when all it is is a bunch of numbers that has NO ability to determine that actual health of any individual.

A week ago, the subject of obesity and the BMI came up among a group I was in, and it illustrated exactly what the problem with the BMI is. As one woman lamented the rising numbers in obesity and high BMI numbers, another womam piped up to say that, according to the BMI, she was obese. The first speaker was shocked. To look at this "obese" woman, you *might* think she would loose a pound or two, maybe. She is actually rather thin overall. Her only larger body part was around the hips. In other words, she had feminine curves. Knowing just how tightly the BMI defines what is or isn't the "ideal" weight, I was unsurprised that this woman might be considered obese, even though no sane person who saw her would consider her so.

And that's the problem with the BMI right there. The window of what a person's "ideal" weight is is not only incredibly small, but very low. The window of "overweight" isn't much different. The jump from "ideal" to "overweight," or even from "overweight" to "obese" is about as much as some women fluctuate during their menstrual cycles.

The other problem with the BMI is the assumption that there is an "ideal" weight for all humans, and that that number, in and of itself, can be used to determine whether or not a person is healthy. That's right - all 7 billion humans on this planet should have a BMI between 18.4 and 24.9 to be considered healthy. Body structure is irrelevant. Genetics is something to be fought against to fit into that miniscule range. Muscle mass, fitness levels, overall diet... none of these things matter. As long as you fit into this tightly defined category, you are assumed to be healthy. If you don't, then you are risking your life. You are irresponsible. You are weak willed, lazy, unhealthy. You are an object to be held in disgust; the very definition of what is wrong with people in our affluent North American society.

Is it any wonder eating disorders are also at an all time high?