Thursday, August 29, 2019

Shouldn't More Children Sue Their Parents?

Whether or not Raphael Samuel of Mumbai was serious about his proposed lawsuit against his parents for birthing him into this world without his consent, or even if it was just a legal exercise to validate his views on antinatalism (a philosophy opposing human reproduction), it still brings up an interesting point.

When we take sexual, reproductive action to create a human life we are generally expected to take responsibility for its development, including:
  • Sheltering it from dangers
  • Keeping it healthy
  • Feeding it so the body can grow
  • Teaching it so it can live independently
But, is that enough? That’s what most animal species provide. As humans, aren’t we expected to do more? I believe traditions dictate such, but of late I have seen more and more stories of parents that are not just neglectful but who are actually antinatalistic. Parents who have children but who have become opposed to the idea. It makes me wonder, why is this trend growing?

I believe many factors are at work here, all contributing to the nihilistic decay of what was once normal. Here are four:
  • There are strong increases in amoral permissiveness, allowing societal norms to be pushed out of the spotlight while extreme and previously hidden-in-shame behaviors become the spectacle. (I do not think anyone’s life path should be hidden in shame, but if it is self-destructive in some way, can we not bring them into the light in a loving way?)  When bad choices (drug dealing, robbery, prostitution, teen pregnancy, quitting school, extreme credit card debt, drunkenness, domestic abuse, etc.) become a sympathetic story, instead of a motivation for being stronger, we tell our children they don’t need to be strong; they just need to believe a story that excuses it. 
  • A spirit of easy achievement is being proffered all across America. Instead of lifting our children’s spirits into lasting self-esteem, it sells them a false bill of goods. True and lasting confidence comes from perseverance that turns into success. When the old standards proved too hard to achieve for newer generations, they became discouraged. So, instead of asking for more effort like we should have, we all became complicit in lowering the bar. (High jumping is about working to clear another inch. It is about technique, timing, and strength. Lowering the bar is not success.)
    • With more and more technology reducing the efforts we ask of ourselves, and of our children, we begin to identify difficult things—not as developmental strengthening exercises—but as things to eliminate. Remembering phone numbers? Following directions? Writing with a pen? Dealing with someone else in a conversation? Being honest at a cost? Doing without some entertainment? Driving a car? These are all some very basic forms of living life, and yet we are creating a society that wants to eliminate them and make everything easier, and easier. Now, I am not saying anything against making things easier. What I am saying is that this pervasive desire causes young people to think life is going to be easy, marriage (or coupling) is going to be easy, and that parenting is going to be easy. Then when reality hits they aren't ready to buckle down and grit it out. Instead, they blame their circumstances and look for a way out. 
  • Parents are unequipped to face the challenges of rearing children in this modern age. They are not ill-equipped.  They are unequipped. What’s worse is that they don’t know it, don’t realize it, and aren’t being told about it. If they were unequipped and someone told them so they could do something about it. 
    • You are going swimming underwater, at night, for an hour. Most people would think they need: to know how to swim, to have a breathing apparatus, and a flashlight that works underwater. If someone shows up without one of these things, someone else will probably say something.
    • You are staying in Milan, and decide to walk to the open market. You will probably struggle if you don’t know Italian, the currency, the customs of bartering, and how to get there. 
    • You are visiting Katmai National Park on the coast of Alaska and go for a walk. Are you prepared? This is one of the most bear-dense regions in the world. Are you ready? Do you have knowledge, repellent, an air horn, or a firearm? Do you even know you aren’t equipped?
  • People are becoming jaded, disillusioned, and complacent. Sure, this has been going on for a long time, but in recent years we have seen it increasing to epidemic levels. With continued mass shootings, congressional power plays, tolerated corruption, asynchronous relationships that reduce conversations to 20 words or less, automated customer service, and a job market that never lets you do what you thought you were going to be doing, people are finding less and less opportunity to really make a difference. Despite uproars, nothing changes. Despite playing by the rules we all fall prey to the cheaters, obstructors, bullies, and systems that probe and squeeze for pennies. This leaves many adults thinking, "If doing things well doesn't make a difference, then why bother?"
    • Part of the problem is the way schools have usurped the authority of parents, practically invalidating their participation in raising the child to a high standard because... parents don't know as much as these professionals. When parents lose confidence in the power of their love and personal knowledge of the child, of their hopes and aspirations to make a difference in their child's life, then they take a seat on the sidelines.  
When we combine these four factors we end up creating a swirling drain effect. We see the water sucking us down the drain, and we have largely decided to let it take us.
  • Our permissiveness for the yuckier things in life has allowed us to think that whatever the drain takes us to is not going to be anything we cannot accept.  After all, we have learned to accept so many bad choices.  How bad can it be?
  • We were told we would be able to swim out of this vortex, but it is a lot harder than we expected. Why should we have to try so hard?  Others aren’t really trying.  Why should I?
  • If this was what we were going to face, why weren’t we trained for it?  Is it too late to learn how to swim against this current? Who is going to teach me?
  • And what if I was able to swim out of this vortex and arrive on a safe shore? What would that gain me? Would anything change or would I just end up back here again? Do I even know how to teach my children to swim? It seems the whole world would rather I succumbed and went quietly down the drain, and I can’t see much point in arguing.
When people who are not prepared to raise children follow the traditions of coupling, reproduction, childbirth, and postnatal care, or just follow their hormones and end up there just the same, the precious child is created and brought into a life that may be a bad experience. When these parents become antinatalistic the children’s experience can become a horror story gone wrong. There are many stories of late where parents kill their children, imprison them, abandon them, abuse them, and ignore them. This isn’t even up to the standards of nature.  Animals do a better job than that. Instead of aspiring to greater and greater child-rearing abilities, our society's predominant trending is toward either acceptable incompetence or antinatalism.

The not-so-funny thing is, most people who read this will say, “So what?” with vacant superiority, not even realizing they just confirmed everything already said. So what? So, if our existence on this planet is to have any chance we will need to change course. We will need to become alarmed and afraid. Like being underwater for thirty seconds without a flashlight and suddenly you realize that you will die if you don’t change something? Like being on the streets of Milan trying to ask for directions to the market and becoming frustrated that you didn’t plan better. Or like enjoying your hike alone on the Alaskan coast when suddenly a grizzly bear rushes at you from out of the brush and you realize you just became lunch.

One place that can start to make a change is our schools.  They own the high ground and have the opportunity to impact everything else.
  • Schools can impact societal permissiveness, not by setting moral standards, but by teaching about how the erosion of standards creates weakness, not victory. Or they can teach how one person's tragic story does not define their own choices. 
  • They can increase the use and reliance of grit, making it something valuable; giving students the confidence and self-esteem that comes with it. (I don't mean more homework. I mean explaining the role of grit, how to use it, when to use it, etc..) 
  • They can include parents in much more expansive roles, both receiving the benefits of parental insights, as well as gathering data on the state of our parenting skills as a community. 
  • Schools can increase the availability of parent education, parent training, peer discussion, and professional help to raise the bar of parent skills to bring the input parents give their children up to a higher standard—more consistent with the future challenges and requirements their children will face.
  • Schools can encourage parents to be stronger, to find successes and to be the authority in their child's life.
Or we can just go down the drain and take our future generations with us.  And if that is our answer, then many more of us should face a court of law for having created children without their consent. After all, have we done right by them?  Looking at the millions of orphaned waifs living in the streets of Sao Paulo, Shanghai, and Mumbai it is easy to see where this trend of lowering our standard of responsibility will lead us, yes even here in the United States. In fact, the National Center on Family Homelessness reports that more than 2.5 million children already live on the streets of American cities.

The gurgle of the drain should scare us. But does it? And if it does, do you know how to swim, how to figure out where to swim to, and how to teach your children to do likewise?

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Improving Education

The Real Question  -  In our opinion, there is no greater priority for our nation's future strength and success than improving the education we provide to our children.  Just as improving the way employees work, decide, collaborate, and communicate greatly improves a company's ability to compete, improving the quality and quantity of our children's education gives the future generations an important readiness when competing in a global economy. 

The real question isn't if we should improve public education or not.  Nor is it asking about what should change.  The real question is, "How will we create consensus and collaboration that drives us into the results we know are needed?"  Too often the story is about factions wanting to derail the improvements so they can have some control.  This is an extremely detrimental and short-sighted approach to improving something so large and important.

The "What" Question is Easy  -  As more and more people become connected and engage in the dialogue of hope, changes, and ideas we see many themes beginning to emerge that incorporate most ideas and leave room for others.  There are core "macro" concepts that will lead much of the thinking, and there are detailed "micro" concepts that will drive the process toward tangible results.

The macro issues are things like managing teacher attrition, student assessments, technology integration and implementation, accountability, and other large challenge areas.  The micro concepts follow the macros, finding relevance, acceptance, and significance in relational context to the macro needs. 

As the discussions grow and generate more involvement the phenomena of cultural change takes over.  Soon we see a hundred ideas become a thousand ideas and trends become statistically significant.  When five people see the advantages of using technology to teach rote curricila as a means of freeing teachers to do more individual instruction, it doesn't become a trend.  But, when two hundred people see it, the whisper becomes a chorus and people become encouraged and emboldened. 

We are now beginning to see stronger and stronger macro trends and micro solutions are finding appropriate grounds to take root in.  The more they can remain rooted in the context of their relevance to macro areas of need, the more these micro concepts can one day bear fruit that will affirm their value as examples of what can and should be done to improve schools.

The "How" and "Who" Questions are more difficult to answer - We are the product of a flawed system  We were all taught that what's in the proverbial box is what's most important.  The teacher or boss points at the box and says, "Enter in and become of what's in there."  We are told to absorb what somebody else believes is important, and if we cannot recite their thinking to their liking - we are called wrong. 

Our leaders show us other ways to go because they looked inside the box and determined there had to be something more.  So, they dared to look outside the box.  They became explorers and pioneers.  They also became threats to the masses who bought into the idea that the box is right. 

Copernicus, Galileo, William Wilberforce, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, JR. and many others who refused the comfort of the status quo, led civilization forward by rejecting the notion that the box contained everything.  As we look upon the status quo of our educational system one cannot help but wonder what else is possible, what exists outside the box of established practices and how might we build consensus. 

The "how" will include a revolutionary insurrection as innovators educate others and the very unsatisfied listen and learn with open minds.  Bit-by-bit new standards will emerge and new ways of knowledge transfer will draw learners forward instead of herding them from behind.  The "how" will include the "who" who take a risk and advocate for something outside the box, for the sake of moving us all forward, for the sake of our children, for the sake of our nation.