Tag Archives: parenting

A Healthy Skepticism About Medicine Shouldn’t Deter You From Vaccines

We interrupt this blog for a public service announcement.

medical trust

 

Here’s what I get — the 21st century U.S. medical establishment is not all that trustworthy. HMO’s sometimes limit testing and doctors prescribe unnecessary drugs. I am not a doctor, or any kind of expert, but I have read enough doctors’ opinions to have a healthy skepticism that the number of ADHD and anti-depression prescriptions being written seriously outpaces the actual instances. I think they are over-medicating and misdiagnosing regularly.

True, funny story: one of my son’s school’s staff asked my wife what medications he was on. When she said “none”, they were visibly shocked. We don’t know whether this is because our kid is a complete exception to the rule, or because they assumed that he was drugged because he’s such a sweet-tempered kid, or both. But it is disturbing. This isn’t a special ed school. Kids should not be spending five days out of each week on drugs without very good reason.

So I think a skepticism regarding modern medicine is a healthy thing. I follow my doctor’s instructions, but I’m picky about who I choose to be my doctor. And I do ask questions. I’ve had doctors do things like recommend a month in bed when my back went out — the opposite of good advice — and another that left a stitch in my back and denied it — I had to see another doctor to get it out.

So, when it comes to vaccinating your kids, well, yes, pay attention. The number of vaccinations recommended today is about four times the number required in the mid-seventies. Get a pediatrician that you trust and work with them. There might be circumstances that justify varying the recommended schedule a little bit — the Doctor will have a much better perspective on that than you will. But here are two things that should be completely obvious to anyone who isn’t ridiculously self-deluded:

  1. The established, half-century old vaccines like the Measles, Mumps Rubella vaccine are extremely safe, and your children will be safer if they take them, as well as mine.
  2. This isn’t about laws and Government and family rights. This is about civilization and social contracts. We vaccinate our children because we live in a society, not a vacuum tube.

There’s a curve here that, at one end, has accepting anything a doctor says as fact; not far from that end, having a healthy skepticism; and, far on the other side, deciding that you are more of an expert than 1000 doctors with PHDs. It does take work, research, and thought to determine what is BS and what is real. But parents have an obligation to tackle those questions, to seek good counsel, and to not let paranoia be your guiding light. Because believing that you are protecting your child, or anyone else’s, by skipping the established vaccines, is pure paranoia and ridiculous ego. You owe it to your children to be more reasonable than that.

Graphic by me, CC No Attrib.

Why the TSA Groping is a Big, Big Problem

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Photo by Raymond Mendosa

I’ve been pretty horrified by the new TSA security procedures since I first caught wind of them.  The Boing Boing blog has been doing excellent coverage of the fiasco, providing the best examples of how damaging these new exposing and groping procedures can be to innocent Americans, and why crossing over from threat detection to threat assumption policies is bad, bad, bad for our democracy.

I’ve also been hearing the backlash against the complaints.  A number of people had relatively painless holiday travel experiences last week and are now saying it was all a lot of hype.  But I continue to consider a level of terrorist prevention this extreme to be more likely to traumatize more Americans than the threat they’re protecting us from will.  It’s not about the 95% of the population who, like me, can pretty much shrug and say “I don’t care that much if you photograph me semi-nude” or, “I can tolerate a little more radiation — it’s not like this is the only place I’m exposed to it” or, even, “I get that you’re going to touch my private parts and that this isn’t molestation, you’re not enjoying it either”.  It’s about the rape and molestation victims, past and future, as well as the people who, for personal or religious reasons, can’t minimize the trauma of being exposed to or groped by strangers.  Not the majority of us, but a very significant minority,

So then I see an article like this, which has the top TSA official basically saying to parents (like me), “don’t explain to your children that what the TSA agent is about to do to you is necessary, but should never, ever be tolerated by strangers when Mommy and/or Daddy aren’t right here with you and it isn’t absolutely required for security reasons”, but, instead saying, “tell your kid that the TSA agent is just playing a harmless game that involves touching you”.  Because strangers touching children’s genitalia is, of course, no big deal and the priority here is to make sure everyone is calm and smiling as they submit to these procedures.  Months later, when lecherous Uncle Eddie wants to play the same game, well, Mommy and Daddy know about this game and said it was okay for the TSA agent to play, so they’re not going to consider this a problem…

Security at the cost of the humiliation of abused adults and government approved molesting of children terrorizes citizens.  It doesn’t make us more secure, even if it’s not a “big deal” for most of us.  This is a government-sanctioned human rights violation, and we really shouldn’t tolerate it.

The Offensive Bardwell Defense

Is it 2009 or 1954?

You might have read about Keith Bardwell, a man out of his time, who, throughout his 35 year career as a Justice of the Peace in Louisiana, has steadfastly denied marriage licenses to interracial couples. For their own good, of course. And for the good of any children they might bear. Some might consider Bardwell an old coot who means well, when he defends his cruel and discriminatory behavior as being based on his concern that interracial marriages generally don’t last, and that it’s cruel to subject children to a world where they will be pariahs to blacks and whites alike. But I can’t listen to his defense of bigotry with anything but an understanding that he has a choice. He can “protect” children from the hate he perpetuates, or he can stop being hateful.

Clearly, Bardwell doesn’t get out much, if he thinks that life for interracial couples and children is all that bad. Apparently, he can’t — or won’t — imagine a culture like the SF East Bay, where my wife, son and I live happily amongst many other interracial families and suffer no more or less discrimination than most of our single or multi-cultured peers. But I’m not buying his racism dressed up as concern for the children defense. I suspect that all of Bardwell’s good buddies, including a State Attorney General who passively condoned his illegal actions, generally agree that hey, we can deal with multiple races, as long as they don’t cross-pollinate.

It’s striking to me that Bardwell’s defense is based on the usual trifecta of bigoted justifications: He “doesn’t believe in mixing the races in that way”; he doesn’t believe that interracial marriages will last, questioning their validity (in relation to single race unions); and he seeks to protect the children. This sounds a lot like the recent Proposition 8 campaign in California, which amended the state constitution to ban gay marriage, not because there’s anything wrong with gays — “We love them!” the Prop 8 backers exclaimed — but because they don’t approve of that sort of union, and it’s not valid, and, if we condone it, we’ll harm the children.

Unlike Bardwell, who had his rationalizations for racism at the ready, the Prop 8 types look like they’re grasping at straws. Asked by a judge to explain exactly what the threat that homosexual marriages hold for heterosexual unions is, an attorney for the Prop 8 coalition admitted that he didn’t know. But, he protested, there might be a threat! We can’t allow two people who love each other to be treated as equal with two other people who love each other because, um, well, there might be some unforeseen consequence for the other people!

My son’s first exposure to racism came a few years before we were planning to teach him about it, when we attempted to stay at a cliff-side inn on the Oregon coast, only to find that another family had gotten down to the beach before us and had taken the opportunity — after seeing my dread-locked wife — to etch, in large letters, “N I G G E R” in the sand, in plain view from anywhere up the bluff. We had to explain to our four year old why we had to leave the nice hotel and get back in the car. Because of the bad people; the ignorant ones, who will insult and threaten us for irrational reasons.

He’ll run into this again. In fact, we’re certain that he already has run into subtler forms of racism. But he’ll suffer less of it than I did, as a Unitarian boy growing up somewhat ostracized in a school where 75% of my classmates were Jewish (unaware, until I was older, of my Jewish roots). I clearly remember the single lunch table where the black kids sat, bused into our 99% white school from Boston. I comforted my interracial friends who were beaten by other kids for being too light-skinned; or stopped by the police for being too dark-skinned in their own neighborhood. There’s still plenty of this type of racism around, but there’s less of it than there was, and it’s easier for us to shelter our son, appropriately, from it.

And it beats what our parents went through. My Jewish heritage was a secret because, after being chased out of the Netherlands by the Nazi’s, my mother and her parents shed their religion like a blood-soaked frock. My wife’s grandmother and aunt signed the earliest petition in what became Brown vs. the Board of Education, and lived through the firestorm that signing that petition incensed in the white community. We are both still very much products of a history of discrimination, and it tempers who we are and what we want for our child.

But we have hope for the future, because, while I don’t find age and naivete to be justifications for discrimination, I do see the generational trend that seems to be eradicating it. It is a better world for my interracial son to grow up in than it was for his racial parents. But it will be an even better one if we work, actively, to resurrect a media that used to pride itself on not taking sides. And we can’t tolerate the Bardwell’s and the Prop 8 bigots who are so sure of their superiority that they can easily justify denying others the same rights and privileges that they have. This is the world that my son is growing up in, let’s make it one that he’s welcome in.

Why We Homeschool

homeschool

Warning: This entry is a little off of the usual nptech topic. Feel free to skip if you only come here for the geeky thoughts!

The decision to homeschool our kid wasn’t a slam dunk, but it was the right one. We made it after thoroughly investigating everything — our son’s learning style, both through the school system and via our local Children’s Hospital; every public, private, and non-public school within about a six town radius; and conversations with educators, administrators, parents and other experts. Given what we now know about how our son learns and what options are out there, we aren’t guessing that this is the best route.  We’ve verified it.

But we are constantly questioned about the decision.

We are conscientious, aware parents who value our son’s education and happiness highly (just like you!) and we have identified and followed the path that will work out best for him.

There is no need to be offended if your child’s best environment is a different one, like a public school.

There is no need to be panicked about his psychological well-being:  He has lots of friends, makes new friends easily, and is well-behaved, polite and happy.

There is no need to worry about our qualifications:  We know what we can teach him and we know where to find museums, extra-curricular programs and classes, qualified tutors and other external resources in order to get him what he needs.

Do we have opinions about public schools, and what they’re like under the testing-obsessed No Child Left Behind act, in a system where the key educational decisions are made by the middle-management bureaucrats and local politicians?  Sure.  But our opinion isn’t that children can’t succeed in those schools.  It’s that children who are conducive to that learning environment do well, and we have it on good, credentialed authority that our kid won’t.

Do we think our curriculum, which mixes standard K-12 materials with lots of trips, history and science classes, arts, gymnastics (circus school!) and hands-on activities is, in many ways, superior to the brick and mortar experience?  Of course! We can do a lot of  training that is targeted to our son’s learning style, as opposed to mostly desk-bound training generalized for a 20 to 40 child audience.  We appeal to his creativity, and let his interests guide an appropriate percentage of the curriculum. Schools can’t afford to provide this level of individualized attention and responsiveness to their students.

Are we sheltering and insulating our child from a heathenous, corrupting culture that would steer him away from the path of God and righteousness? No, we own a TV and he watches it.  And we rest pretty heavy on the heathenous side of the scale in the first place.  We are protecting him from a lot of character-building bullying, peer pressure and anxiety, but we are extremely reassured that he has plenty of character all the same.  My friend Jane has a joke about this:  “Yeah, in order to give my  homeshcooled kid the school social experience, once a week I take her  into the bathroom, beat her up and steal her lunch money.”

I think that last one is the big one — I think a lot of the well meaning questions about socialization (a word that every homeschooler has ample reason to simply loathe) boil down to a concern that our child won’t be able to cope as an adult because he missed out on the sheer brutality of spending five days a week with a slew of other children, experiencing all of the social confusion and frustration that they experience and inflict on their peers.  Our kid experiences self doubt and frustration.  He knows what it feels like to be criticized, and he can be critical of others.  He might not get kicked and ridiculed with the intensity that we were when we went to public schools; he might remain a quirky, individual who doesn’t take fashion cues from The WB; but homeschooling him has not resulted in some sort of avoidance of human doubt and discomfort.  In that, he’s a lot like every other kid. And he’ll deal with it, learn from it, and become an adult that shows no external signs of having been homeschooled.

It’s just getting to be a bit much, being constantly questioned about something that we did the work to identify as the right thing for our child.  It is not an affront on society.  It’s what’s best for someone who we not only care incredibly about, but are actually responsible for.  So, please, if you know us, have a little faith — we show pretty good judgment and intelligence in the other things we do, why would we be any different about something as important as this?

Succession Planning

This post originally appeared on the Idealware Blog in September of 2009.
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Idealware’s blog is not the best place for me to talk about my kid.  There’s Facebook and Flickr> for that sort of thing. But I want to talk about him anyway, and open a discussion, if possible, about children and the nptech community.

My career is in nonprofit technology (nptech). My plan is to continue working for nonprofits (or, if for profit, a for profit with a mission and a socially beneficial bottom line) until I retire or expire.  While my ten year old boy’s stated goal is to become a NASA engineer, and that’s great, I want him to understand why I chose my path of purposeful work and understand what’s involved in it, should he, at age 15 or 25, decide that NASA isn’t the only option.

A few year’s back, former NTEN CEO and current MobileActive CEO Katrin Verclas suggested adding a program for teenagers at the annual nonprofit technology conference. This is a brilliant idea. We have a great opportunity to educate children in the work we do: advocating for social justice and good; raising funds and resources in order to act effectively and independently; and collaborating in a  supportive community to accomplish our varied, but sympathetic goals.  Whatever our children end up doing with their lives, we have something worthwhile to teach them.

When I was a teenager, I was active in a youth group called Liberal Religious Youth (LRY). LRY was an independent group affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association, but it was not a particularly religious group. The themes were more along the lines of addressing social concerns and building community. At ages sixteen and seventeen, I was creating flyers, renting facilities, giving presentations, leading sessions, planning menus and taking a leadership role that prepared me far better for my current career than high school actually did.

When I look at our nptech community, I see a similar environment, where our commitment and excitement regarding our work is bolstered by a natural adoption of supportive camaraderie and peer development. We definitely model something of value to our high school age kids who will face career choices and challenges like ours. We can develop a mentoring program that passes on our expertise in resource management, activism, fundraising, community building, nonprofit technology and social media as a social activism tool. This would provide them with an early introduction to the skills that will be needed when we retire to continue the important work that we do. As much as a grant, donation, or volunteer effort, this is an investment in our work and our world that we should be making.

I want my son to develop his skills and community with socially-conscious peers and mentors.  I want his generation to be more effective than we are at solving problems like poverty, pollution and social injustice. It’s not enough for us to try and save the world. We should be prepping the next generation to keep it protected.

Who’s with me?

Horton Homeschools a Who

As anyone who has kids, was a kid, or was an adult who has the good sense to read great kid books knows, Horton was an elephant who heard a tiny voice on a speck of dust and sought to protect the infinitesimally tiny population therein. His antagonist in Dr. Seuss’ classic “Horton Hears A Who” was a sour kangaroo who maintained “A person on that? … Why, there never has been!”. Not to belabor the obvious, but we have Horton representing imagination and free thinking, and the kangaroo preaching narrow-mindedness and suspicion.

So, I took my family to see the movie yesterday. The movie takes the ten minute tale and strrrreeetttccchhess it into a 90 minute film with mostly topical humor. As father to a homeschooled son, I was pretty offended by one joke. Early on, the haughty, over-critical kangaroo, voiced by Carol Burnett, protests that Horton can’t be allowed to spread these horrible lies about tiny people, that he’ll corrupt the youth with his overactive imagination. But her little kangaroo will be all right – “he’s pouch-schooled”.

This promotes the sad, but popular stereotype of homeschool parents as over-protective and narrow-minded. It’s this type of stereotype that, last month, led a three judge panel to rule, in a case of possible domestic abuse, that children can’t be homeschooled in California unless the primary parent doing the homeschooling is an accredited teacher.

Three judges ruled on one case of possible neglect and abuse, and then took a giant club and swung it as wide and far as they could, hitting every one of the estimated 200,000 homeschooling families in California. We aren’t abusing our child; we aren’t hiding him from the world — quite the opposite! What we’re doing is working as hard as we can to provide the educational environment that he will soar in.The state government should respect that.

I’m blogging this because it’s the tip of a very large iceberg. While homeschooling wasn’t our first choice, public school isn’t an alternative that we would consider, even if our kid was one of the minority of children whose learning style meshes with that educational model. The No Child Left Behind Act is ravaging our school systems, and creating an environment where fear and threats determine the curriculum, much as fear and threats have dominated our political arena in the George W. Bush years. Children are taught to pass tests, and the ability to test well is a skill unrelated to the ability to think.

The kangaroos are in the classroom. What kind of world will my child grow up into, if all of his peers are taught only how to memorize, not to imagine and discern?