Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Nate Fisher case is still in the news

As a follow-up to yesterday's post, I found this posting on a blog called, The Beat. It is a posting of the facts from the mother in the Nate Fisher case. After reading it, I now have some of my questions answered:

Here is what she wrote:

"I am the mother of this student. I can tell you the facts on our side of this, and you can make your judgment from there, but at least your facts will be right.

My daughter arrived in her English class on the second day of school, (the first day was used for books and roll taking ect)

Since she was not in the school system the year before she was not assigned a summer reading assignment before arriving in her new high school.

Her brand new English teacher asked her to stay after class so he could give her an assignment to read over the labor day long weekend and give him an oral report on the next school day. He gave her a choice of 5 books, 4 of the books were about civil war, the lone ranger and Tonto and military fighting. One book was about shooting pool, or so she thought - This would be Eightball (issue #22). The teacher pointed out eightball and told her this is the one he thought she would like the most. He also told her it might have a little bit of mature content in it.

She said okay and put the comic in her bag and off she went. - The comic stayed in her bag until Saturday when we were all driving in the car heading to a family picnic - My younger children and a friends child are in the backseat with my daughter and I hear a strange giggling coming from the back. Any parent knows the kind of giggling I’m talking about (the kind where you should immediately ask what’s going on). So I said to the group of children - “what’s so funny you guys!” So the kids reply - We are laughing at the reading assignment from her teacher - “The two kids are doing it” - So I said - Give me that!

I took the comic from the kids, and I started reading it.

Now let me tell you, I am not shocked by much, but the first page I turned to was the fluffy blue bunny page - and I was shocked. Why would this teacher think my 13 year old would want to read this! I could not imagine what this teacher had in mind with my daughter by giving her this comic. I was fearful that I knew what might be on his mind!

Also let me tell you that when I went to the police and the school, we were not on a witch-hunt - we weren’t out to get anyone fired and we were really hoping this was all a big mistake. We thought possibly that maybe some kid stuck this in his classroom as a joke and that happened to be the one she picked up thinking it was about playing pool.

I showed the school and the resource officer what was given to my daughter and they were very surprised, this is not part of the allowed reading material for teachers to give. They said thank you and we will be in touch later and let you know what we find out.

So the afternoon goes by and my Daughter gets off the bus, I ask her what happened in his class that day and she tells me that - He pulled her aside after class and asked her how reading that comic made her feel.

She told him that she really thought it was disgusting and inappropriate and he said yes, I told you it might be a little bit mature.

Well when I heard this, I was really disgusted. What can I assume in this day and age was this teachers motives?? I put her back in the car and I went back down to the school. I asked to see the principal again and I told him what was said to her after class.

Now I want to say - this next piece of information was just what I was told by the school - I didn’t hear the teacher say this personally.

I was told that the teacher gave it to my daughter because he thought she would like the material. But - He said he had it as a college graphic Adult reading assignment in a college class several years before.

That was a college class he signed up for and he knew the course material. Not something handed to him by a teacher in high school and told to read.

`Again, I would like to STRONGLY attest to the fact that I am not against mature reading material being discussed in a classroom setting. I have no problems with nudity, violence, or any other topic discussed in a setting that promotes learning. Had this piece of material been given to the class as a whole as an assignment on modern day graphic novels and the literary benefits of them, there would be no problem.

There would be no problem because it would be part of a curriculum, clearly meant for learning.

Had the teacher suggested this graphic novel to my daughter, advising her that it is of mature content, and asking her to obtain it on her own with her parents consent, then I would have no problem with it.

This is where I have a problem. This teacher gave my daughter, and ONLY my daughter, a graphic novel of mature nature, without the knowledge of the administration, as an extra curricular assignment. This was done after class to my 13-year-old daughter. Yes she was 13 at the time of the incident. She has since turned 14. That may help to alleviate any confusion about her age. In dealing with these situations, parents these days can’t take chances. I will never know this teachers true intent, but I do know that he is at least guilty of extremely bad judgment.

I do not have the blind faith to assume that everything is OK. My duty is to protect my children. I will not compromise that."

Now, I still walk away with the same conclusion:

One of our jobs as parents is to make sure our kids are safe. I certainly understand this mother's reaction to do everything possible to protect her daughter. I am sure she was fuming and shocked - especially being new to to town - wondering how this could have happened.

However, at what cost and to what extremes do we go to protect our children? Isn't it also our job to be good role models for our kids, especially when they are teenagers and they judge our behavior so scrupulously? By rushing to the police, and notifying school officials, she denied the teacher any opportunity to explain himself. He was guilty way before he even had a chance to prove his innocence, or at least his poor judgement. This was a perfect opportunity for a Parental Teaching moment -- to demonstrate how adults work out differences by gathering facts, communicating, trying to understand both sides of an issue, and in this case, realizing that people, even teachers are human and they make mistakes.

Forgiveness would have been much better lesson to learn.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Controversy in the Classroom - Everyone Loses

If there is one thing I’ve learned from being a parent, it’s that there are always two sides to a story and the truth usually lies somewhere in between. Whenever an argument erupts between by kids, I am captivated time and again by one's ability to win my support of their version of the story, only to hear an equally compelling saga from their sibling . I believe that such is the case of Nate Fisher, a popular English teacher and an unnamed student from a local high school. Fisher resigned last week and the student, from what I have read has been suffering at the hands of her peers.

In the same manner that I try (often unsuccessfully) to understand the true facts of a disagreement between my kids, I have tried to understand the facts of this story. Here are the simple facts that I believe are indisputable.

Fact #1: A teacher gives a freshman student (female) a suggested book for a project. The book is a graphic novel.
Fact #2: The parents of the student find the material inappropriate
Fact #3: The book is written by, Daniel Clowes, an award-winning graphic comic book writer
Fact #4: The Teacher is placed on Administrative leave
Fact #5: Word gets out that the teacher is facing trouble and a Facebook group is created in support of the teacher. Communications get nasty, with the student being targeted and the site is closed down.
Fact #6: The teacher resigns and the student becomes the target of harassment
Fact #7: Everyone loses

We don’t know much more than this, but here’s where it doesn’t matter what we know or what we assume: The grey area of disagreement over perception can inflict such unfortunate pain on its victims. I don’t know the student, her parents or the teacher. However, there is no doubt that both sides of the controversy present compelling arguments..

First, the teacher. I will draw my own conclusion and refuse to believe that Nate Fisher’s intentions were impure or that his goal was to make the girl uncomfortable by giving her “pornographic material”. He’s a young teacher who, I imagine, if he’s a good English teacher, follows literary trends and reads works by up and coming authors. Graphic novels can be edgy, but the author he chose isn’t scum, he’s an award-winning, graphic novelist who has been acclaimed by Time Magazine and the New York Times. Did he demonstrate bad judgment by offering the book? Perhaps. We don’t know the conversation that transpired between him and his student before giving her the book. Did he warn her that the material may be too mature for her? Did he suggest she get permission from her parents first? Should he have first gotten administrative permission to hand the book out to a student? Isn't it really is our own personal perceptions about whether this material is inappropriate? Is this book, or books like it, to become the Catcher in the Rye of our time?

As a parent, I understand our desire to protect our children. We trust the schools to keep our kids safe, both physically and psychologically. At a minimum, we expect zero-tolerance bullying policies, environmentally safe buildings and teachers who will be respectful and supportive of our children’s needs and learning styles. I can accept that these parents believed that this teacher crossed the line by handing their child this book to read. They may even believe that she was violated in some way. Nobody should be judging them or their child for this belief. They have every right to their feelings. What we don’t know is how they pursued their claim. Did they go directly to the teacher? The principal? The Superintendent? Or the Police? Did they want Nate Fisher fired regardless of an explanation? Did they really want him to lose his job over this?

In the same way that my kids believe their version of the events that lead up to an argument is the only acceptable view, for every reader that is offended by this material, there will be another who finds it perfectly acceptable for their kids. Had Mr. Fisher given this book to a different student, whose parents perceived the content differently or approached there concerns by a taking a different course, there quite possibly could have been an entirely different outcome. He may still have his job, and a student may have been introduced to a new genre of literature that she may never have known about if not for this teacher.

So what are we left with? A young teacher, who’s career may well be over before it even began, a student, who will have to navigate the jeers of fellow students, and parents who in hindsight may always wonder if they did the right thing.

I wonder what Nate Fisher has learned from this experience and if he finds something positive to take away from it. Maybe he’s matured a bit, but I hope that he doesn’t become cynical and will give up teaching altogether. My wish for him would be to find a school where he is appreciated and he continues to be a positive influence on his students. I am sorry that he had to resign as a result of this controversy. His untapped potential will never be realized by these students.

As difficult as life has become for this student, I hope she realizes that her parents were acting in her best interests. Whether she even believed, in the first place, that what they were doing was right, she should be proud of them for speaking up if they believed something was wrong. Kids are resilient, and hopefully, she will discover things like the value of true friendship from those who have stuck with her through this ordeal, self-confidence when she finally walks back through those school doors, and pride in herself that she survived such unwelcome criticism. It’s hard enough being an adolescent, dealing with all of this as a freshman has got to be horrific.

And the parents, while I may disagree with the outcome of their actions, I applaud their strength to stand up for what they believe in. Being a strong role model, especially when it is an unpopular choice takes a lot of courage.

I guess we really don’t know the end of this story. I wish the end could have been this: all the parties sat around a table and they discussed what they perceived to be wrong and to be right about the events. And then, they all agreed that some mistakes were made, no maliciousness was intended, and that they are all working for the best interests of our kids. Apologies were made and second chances were given. And then, they would all walk away from the table feeling like winners, that they had beaten the stereotypical “he said, she said” scenario, and had come together to work towards a positive resolution for all. That would have been the best role modeling for our kids after all.... and there would have been no losers.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Teens, Tweens and "Gossip Girls"

The "Gossip Girls" is premiering tonight at 9:00 pm on the CW Network. My teenage daughters put it on their list of new shows to watch and they are making sure to TIVO it in the event that it comes through with the success that all the hype has been promising. I also have a tween, who I am positive will not be watching it.

Although I have never read any of the books from The Gossip Girls Series by Cecily Von Ziegesar, they are undeniably a sure bet for a TV hit - just read the reviews of the books on Amazon! The books are addictive. They feed every fascination that teenagers have towards sex, money, fashion and power. They follow the lives of high school students from a prestigious private girls’ school on the upper-east side of New York City.

For teenagers reading these books, I want to assume, that they are old enough to separate fact from fiction - or at least I want to believe that they are mature enough to have already established their own values when it comes to many of the issues these books raise. Hopefully they read them, or now watch them, with a bit of humor, and not an “oh my gosh, I wish that were my life and these girls are so cool” reaction. After all, the books are aimed at an audience of 18 - 34 years olds who have moved beyond high school and can reflect back on that period in their lives.

In an article in the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times this past weekend, entitled, “My So-Called Gossipy Life”, the reporter, Ruth LaFerla shares a private screening with four tweens, 12 and 13 year olds, who live and attend private school on the Upper East-Side. The frightening point of the article is that these girls were completely suited to view the pilot. They identified and could relate to the characters - the sex, the drugs, the cattiness and the overindulgence that permeated the show. They are 12 and 13 years old!!!

How is this okay for 12 and 13 year old girls? As much as my 12-year old daughter would love to watch the show tonight, and I am sure many of her friends will be talking about it in school tomorrow - it won’t be happening. At her age, she is nowhere near ready to take on the issues that this show presents. It’s not that I need to shield her from it, well actually I do --- she’s 12! It’s my responsibility as her parent to give her the time she needs to mature and develop at an appropriate pace. It is unfair to expect her to be comfortable being exposed to things such as “tempestuous encounters, Viagra, and downing martinis like they’re snapples”. Talk about pressure, she gets enough of that from her peers, she doesn’t need it from me as well.

How sad for these tweens from the Upper East Side and what a challenge for their parents who are raising them in an environment that is so saucy, that it makes for great TV viewing.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Will that Stuff ever go Away? ...on being a girl today

I remember the exact moment I discovered that I was going to give birth to a daughter. For a split second, while staring at the cloudy image of my little girl on the sonogram monitor, my heart sank. I instinctively turned to my husband and said, “Oh, she is going to have to deal with all that stuff”. He looked at me like I was crazy. “What stuff?” He was thrilled. Our three-year-old son would have a little sister to play with and we would get to experience the joys of parenting both a son and a daughter.

Seventeen years and two more daughters later, he now knows what I meant – he understands the “stuff”. As much as things have changed since I was a teenage girl growing up in the 1970’s so much has stayed the same: there still exists the emotional growing pains of female adolescence and the drama that so insidiously undermines all of our parental instincts, the enticement of the media to wear just the right clothes that adorn a perfectly shaped unattainable body and the peer pressure to be the most popular kid in school no matter how hurtful it can be to yourself or to anyone else who gets in your way, even your best friend.

And my daughters are yet to confront some of the biggest stuff, which I faced as a young woman growing up in the 1980’s: to stay home and raise a family, to enter the work force or to try to find to some perfect, impossible balance between the two? If they choose to work, will they find the best care for their children, and how about their salary, will they still be making less than their male counterparts? If they decide to step out of the work force will they find personal satisfaction without the societal benchmarks of job promotions and salary increases? Will they be able to come to terms with the fact that they are dependent on somebody else for their food, clothing and shelter?

I opted to stay home to raise my children and I love my life. I wouldn’t change a thing if I were to start over again. However, despite the voracity by which I have embraced my role as a stay at home mom, I sometimes wonder if I have done an injustice to my daughters. When they were younger they would tell me they want to be doctors and teachers and librarians - even a fast food operator at the McDonald’s window. I would wonder, why wouldn’t they want to stay home and raise their kids, don’t they think that what I am doing is important too? Now, as teenagers, as they think more seriously about their futures, they tell me how I have the best life - I have no boss, no schedule, and the autonomy to pursue causes and do work I enjoy on my own time.

This is all very true. I am lucky and very fortunate. And I love that I have been home all these years with my kids - to experience every part of each of their lives. There is not a moment that I look back with a touch of regret. Just sometimes I wonder. What if I had pursued a career in Child Advocacy? What if I had put in the number of hours my husband has put into his career? What would I be doing now?

So my daughters, all three of them, will face similar decisions sometime in their lives. Just like all of us, they will survive the absurdity of female adolescence and they will grow up to be contributors, in some form, to this world. The way I see it, that “stuff” will never go away and as women we will probably be forever trying to figure it out.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The New Wonder Pill of the 21st Century

I was getting my hair cut today, browsing through an issue of US weekly when I came across an advertisement for a birth control pill called Yaz. What struck me was the ad itself. It showed a teenager who looked to be about 16 years old in workout clothes in a boxing stance, punching the words "Fatigue", "Bloating", "Moodiness", and "Acne". On the next page, the headline asks: "Ready for Birth Control that Goes Beyond?". Reading further it states that Yaz goes beyond the rest by treating the emotional and physical premenstrual symptoms - irritability, moodiness, feeling anxious, bloating, increased appetite, fatigue, headaches and muscle aches. Now tell me,  what adolescent teenage girls doesn't have all these symptoms, (premenstrual or not) who wouldn't want to find a way to abolish them?

My dilemma is this: I am completely in favor of teenagers practicing safe sex - and I am a proponent of the the Pill as an important and necessary means of birth control (along with condoms, of course), but I am beginning to question the ease by which doctors are prescribing the Pill for non-contraceptive purposes. It seems to me that it is being billed as the Wonder Drug for young women. 

I speak from experience. At my 17 year old daughter's  annual physical this summer, the pediatrician was quick to suggest that she go on the Pill, to "possibly reduce bloating, treat the little bit of acne that crops up once in a while, reduce her cramping, regulate her cycle, perhaps reduce her blood flow". I was shocked! We are talking hormone therapy just because she has some discomfort and a few pimples? I understand if there were real medical indications for prescribing this type of therapy and I know there are many people who truly suffer from heavy menstrual cycles and cramping and even really bad acne - and being on the Pill is a necessary option.

However, I wonder what % of our teens are on the Pill, not for contraceptive reasons, and not because they suffer really debilitating symptoms - but because they are just a little uncomfortable or even now, with the introduction of Lybrel, just don't want to be bothered with a period at all. Just because a medication has been approved by the FDA does not make it safe. Think of the number of drugs that have been pulled after FDA approval, does VIOX ring a bell?

I started doing a little research. Do you know that there are now chewable birth control pills? The manufacturers claim that it's for women who can't swallow pills, but come on, who are we kidding, who are these really marketed to? The ad for Yaz (consider the name itself), is marketed to a teen audience not even looking for birth control. Take a look at these really cool pill cases. Trust me, these are not for you and me.

I realize that today's pill has a much lower dose of estrogen than the pill 10 years ago. I understand that there is a laundry list of benefits that the Pill has to offer from reduced premenstrual and menstrual symptoms to lowering the risks of certain cancers and increasing bone density. However, we cannot forget that it is still has risk factors, such as potential increase in breast cancer, blood clots, strokes and heart attacks, especially with women who smoke. We also don't know the effect of long term use of these oral contraceptives. 

Despite the fact that she told me "1/2 of her high school is on the Pill, and it's no big deal", my daughter decided not to go on the Pill - not because the doctor went over the risks and benefits of taking it so that she could make an informed decision. It was because I explained to her that it really was a big deal - and she needed to make an intelligent and informed decision. I know the day will come when she chooses to go on the Pill, but at least, I hope, it will because she has weighed the risks and benefits and decides that she will take it to avoid pregnancy or because for some reason it is strongly recommended for a medical condition. To ease some crampiness, reduce or abolish her period all together, give her clearer skin? Is it really worth the risk? 

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Best Laid Plans

Today. Today is the kind of day that typifies the life of any stay-at-home mom. For the last 2 days, I had organized myself with meal planning, house cleaning, chores and meetings so that I could spend today writing - something I am trying very hard to carve out time to do. 

I woke up this morning, knowing that by 9:00 am, I could sit down for 4 hours (luxurious to many, especially with young kids, I know), before I had to do some quick chores, prepare dinner and get one of my kids to a doctor's appt and deal with after school activities. At 8:00 am, I get a call from the high school nurse, my 17 year old needs to come home, she is having eye trouble. Our eye doctor, who's office has moved 30 minutes away, can see her - we arrive by 8:45. Home by 10:00. She goes to bed and since I am already out, I decide I will do my errands so that MAYBE I can still carve out some writing time when I return. Just as I enter the grocery store, I get a call from my middle schooler who forgot a notebook (her school is right down the street from the grocery store). I go home, unload groceries, go back to her school to drop off her notebook. When I get home, I decide to prepare some of the dinner ahead of time because again, better now, then I can extend my writing time further into the afternoon. In the middle of the preparations, I receive another call - from our optical shop, my daughter's eyeglasses are ready (which we needed to have rushed because she had lost her other pair and clearly the extended wearing of the contacts contributed to the abrasion of her cornea). So, again I get back in the car to the optical shop (which is located equidistant between the grocery store and the Middle School) before they close for lunch.

It is now 1:00 and I am finally sitting down - I have exactly 60 minutes, before I need to leave again to get my daughter to that doctor's appointment, which originally was the only commitment on my calendar today.

Here is my question: How do families where both parents work do it? and what about single parents? I was available to do all that I did, and yes, my writing will now have to wait until next week (tomorrow is filled with commitments and forget the weekend), and yes, I am frustrated and annoyed - and I better hear a thank-you from both kids - but I didn't lose work hours and I wasn't docked any pay. I know if I was at a job, my daughter probably wouldn't have gotten her notebook and she would have lived with the consequences and wouldn't forget it a again - or would she? Would my daughter have not gotten to the eye doctor today? And how would have I felt if I just couldn't have helped her? Relieved that I didn't have to be hassled? Guilty because I couldn't do that one single thing? And am I doing my kids any justice by being available all the time? Enabling them to forget notebooks or even having their needs taken care of immediately and so easily? I guess my point is that as parents we all face the same dilemmas and it's our circumstances that dictate how we deal with them.

I have always believed that we make our choices, or sometimes life's circumstances make our choices for us, and we do the best we can do. After all we are only human, and if we are lucky, we get to be parents, and in that journey we have no way of predicting where each day will take us. As mothers, we are no better off if we stay home or if we work - we are only winners if we are happy with our choices, even if somedays, we may wish we had taken a different path.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Parental Growing Pains

Since some of us are sending our kids off to college around this time of year, I thought it would be a nice idea to have my first blog entry (EVER!) be about what I've learned since my son went off to school.

He left for college a week after his eighteenth birthday. That was almost 2 years ago. I marveled at the ease with which he seamlessly glided through the transition from being a stereotypically clumsy adolescent dependent on us for his meals, clean clothes, money and once in a while for emotional support, to a legal adult directing his own course. I was thrilled for him and couldn’t wait to share his enthusiasm and hear about his classes, his new friends, and his observations and experiences of his new life as a college student. Only it didn’t happen.

We barely heard from him. When I sheepishly gathered the nerve to call him I would hang-up, disappointed by our one-sided conversations and his one word responses to my questions. What had I done wrong? It felt so forced, so unnatural, so awful. Had he been waiting all his life to leave? I was dying for information. My daughters would communicate with him on Facebook or AIM - and I would breathe a sigh of relief, knowing at least that he was safely at his computer somewhere on campus. He would occasionally email my husband, asking for some advice or a quick read of one of his papers. But I got nothing.

I have no memories of how my parents felt after I left home. By the time I left for college, my mother and I were great friends- best friends. I have to believe that she missed me terribly but it never even dawned on me to ask. After all, I was the one leaving, growing up, moving on – it was all about me and my new found independence…my new life. It’s a strange notion, that our first act as a newly knighted adult could be to show concern or compassion for our parents, but instead we choose, subconsciously to behave as a child. Developmentally, I guess it makes sense. It’s like reversion back to the egocentric world of a toddler. Everything revolved around our own wants and immediate needs. But just as a toddler is trying so hard to assert some independence, so is our adult child.

What is it about turning eighteen that suddenly transforms you into an adult? Kids turn eighteen every day – I turned eighteen 30 years ago and I am sure that I must have been waiting with youthful anticipation for my 18th birthday to arrive. But quite honestly, I don’t remember. I became an adult overnight. I could vote, I was legally responsible for myself and back then I could even buy alcohol. It wasn’t all that life-changing. I registered to vote, I opened my own bank account, acted as a responsible citizen, had a glass of wine or beer once in a while and soon graduated from college. The years passed quietly. I got a job after college, got married, went to law school, and had kids. Turning 18 was not a major turning point in my life. In fact, from this vantage point, it was pretty unremarkable. I have to believe that it was no different for my son.

But being a parent of child who has turned eighteen, is very significant. I am astounded that 20 years have passed so swiftly and my son is an adult. Turning eighteen is a really big deal and it was a major turning point - in my life.

So, two years later, this is what I have learned. Patience. I am a different parent to my son than I am to my three daughters. I want to believe that it is not because he is a boy but because he is my first. I have learned by now that patience is the best virtue any parent can have. It serves you best when your kids are young and you are attending mostly to their physical needs and it serves you best when they are older and you are attending mostly to their emotional needs. I learned throughout these times that if I wait long enough, “this too shall pass”. And this too, has passed.

There were times over the past two years, when I would become impatient and believed that I needed to approach this milestone differently - that I had to be proactive about building the foundation for a new kind of relationship with my adult child or I would lose him. But, I decided instead to trust my instincts, and trust my son. He needed his space. We had him for eighteen years and we taught him all we could about growing up to have an inquisitive mind, an open heart and a generous spirit. And lately, I see him coming back in bits and pieces - a gift for my birthday this year, an invitation to come watch him run in a track meet, a trip to our house with his friends for dinner, and an entire car ride home from school last Spring with non-stop conversation, just him and me. It seems like baby steps but that’s okay because he can take all the time he needs. 

I remember when he was turning four, my husband said to him, “You’re growing up too fast, you can’t be turning four already!” and his response was so clear: “You have to change numbers, Dad, that’s the deal”… He was pretty wise, even back then.