Mother developed a credibility gap years ago when she started saying things like "it hurts me worse than you" and "this is for your own good." She came up with these statements on any number of occasions: occasions when I got grounded, had to memorize Latin, had to clean my room, remove vast amounts of makeup, turn off the television, stay home and do homework. There was no limit to the things that seemed to hurt mother worse than me. There were, needless to say, bitter moments back then.
Back then was before the craziness, before we went into a bizarre, permissive episode in education in which we decided it was all right not to read, all right not to think, all right not to push our children to achieve their best in school and out of it. I first saw it some years ago when the elementary school principal warned parents of incoming students at the first PTA meeting not to push their children in school. "Let them develop at their own pace," she said, confidently. And I remember looking at my squirming 6-year-old son and reacting to the principal's assurances precisely the way I reacted as a child when my father, driving the car on trips across Europe, announced he knew a shortcut.
The schools and the educators made it easy onus. They taught it was all right to be laisserfaire parents and many of us believed them. We stopped making children do homework and we stopped making them take tests and we stopped insisting that they learn to read and write an English sentence, and we gave them calculators for Christmas and cars for their birthdays. We turned on the television, left the teaching to the teachers and went on vacation.
Now, teachers and administrators, confronted with children who have been developing at their own pace for the past 15 years, are beginning to realize we've made a terrible mistake. Sharon Klompus is one such teacher. She says that some of the students she sees in her remedial reading program at Langley High School in the most affluent section of Fairfax County are "like jelly." She says they are "so passive." Klompus has no children of her own but she has a 3-year-old friend she sees on weekends and she says "he's like a sponge" absorbing learning. Then she goes to school and sees her students and wonders.
"I wonder watching his developmental process what the hell happened to these kids? I watch these kids and I don't want him to be one of them in 17 years. Nothing was demanded. I think that's what happened to these kids."
Klompus does not have all the answers, but she has some of them. Like many people, she blames television for what has happened to children's minds but she also blames the parents and affluence and educators and a system that entrusts to generalists - the average elementary school teacher - the teaching of reading, one of the most complex skills there is to master. Elementary school students are not learning to read and this has provoked the new phenomenon of "remedial reading teachers in high schools and now in college, which is absurd," says Klompus.
"The elementary school teacher does everything. She is the math teacher, the health teacher, the science teacher, the reading teacher, Jesus only had to deal with the spiritual. We are taking on too much." Klompus would take the reading teachers out of the high schools and intermediate schools and send them, the trained teachers of reading, into the elementary schools.
Television, says Klompus, contributes to producing passive children. She calls it the 10 minutes to 11 syndrome Disaster is imminent from 10 p.m. to 10:50 P.m. every evening - prime time teen-age viewing. Then, at 10:50 the hero (or heroine) comes rushing in to rescue reality from the jaws of the television writers. Students raised by television "do not believe anything bad will happen to them," says Klompus. "They don't believe they won't graduate. It's a very uncomfortable feeling standing there and looking at a kid who won't graduate Thursday night."
And then there are the parents and the general affluence and the basic fact that it's easier to say yes than to say no. "We're not training kids to work any more," says Klompus. "I had one parent call me and complain that her daughter wasn't motivated. She's a psychologist. What does she expect me to do?
"I say take the car away. Don't feed them. Do something drastic. Hit them where it hurts. Parents are asking how to discipline their own children. They're giving up their rights to the school system. I don't even have any children.
"I think we're talking about a generation of kids who've never been hurt, never been hungry. Maybe they were denied the car Saturday night. That's the worst thing that's happened.
"They have learned somebody will always do it for them. Instead of screaming 'go look it up,' you tell them the answer. It's easier. It takes tremendous energy to say no to a kid."
Yes, it does. It takes energy and it takes work and what Klompus is saying is it's time for parents to end the vacation and come back to work. It's time to take the car away, to turn the TV off, to tell them it hurts you worse than them. It's time to start telling them no again, and that it's for their own good.