The other day during an in-service training at work, one of the administrators was demonstrating different classroom activities meant to help us move away from lecturing and whole-group instruction and toward differentiated and small-group instruction. One of the activities involved putting up signs in four different areas of the room that said "Agree," "Strongly Agree," "Disagree," and "Strongly Disagree." The idea is that the instructor makes a statement relevant to some part of the lesson, and the students move to stand near one of those signs. Then you mix up the groups and have them try to convince each other.
The statement that we had to agree or disagree with was "Parenting classes should be required for anyone planning to have a child." I know that's something people joke about and throw out after stories of particularly bad or stupid parenting. And I think most people kept their thinking about it at that level, because every single faculty member moved to either "Agree" or "Strongly Agree," except for me and one other guy. He's new this year, and I'm pretty sure single and childless as well. As I walked over to "Disagree," he was sort of waffling between staying there and going to join the crowd, but as I stood firm he said "I think I'm going to stay here."
We were running short on time, so we didn't do the part where we switch groups and try to change each other's minds, but I imagined incredulous questions being hurled at me, and what I would say. Things like "Who would teach those classes and set the standards for 'good parenting'?" To which I imagined replies like "Well, it would just be basic things. Things that anyone with sense would agree on." But I could list several debatable things that some people might include in that "common sense" category, like that all babies should be born in hospitals, or that every child should be vaccinated with every new vaccine that comes along, as early as possible. That spanking works. That there could possibly be one way of parenting that works for every child and every family.
Maybe it's because of the way I feel so micromanaged at work lately, but I've been thinking a lot about what a travesty it is when everyone gets treated like the weakest link. The one-size-fits-all standardized approach to education, work, parenting, life...it's a myth and it's hurting us. Where is the rugged individualism? Where is the American belief in individual freedom and choice, even if that means some people make bad choices?
There's a church down the street from my house with a sign that says "Every home is a school. What do you teach?" When I saw all those teachers standing over next to "Agree," I thought about how our whole society is a parenting class. As a society we have an incredibly strong tendency to censure certain choices. What sitcom doesn't have an episode about kids who breastfeed for too long, moms who live vicariously through their daughters, dads who get too worked up over their sons' sports, spinster aunts whose mothers ruined them and grown men who can't cut the apron strings? Every legal drama shows us children killed by their loving but deluded parent's wacky belief in faith healing or natural medicine or fear of vaccines or experimental child-rearing techniques. We get plenty of messages about what is expected of us as parents, what is and is not acceptable.
The idea of requiring parenting classes is no different from any other band-aid approach to a social problem. Giving away our power to instituions is not the answer. I like to believe that in a real conversation, there would have been far fewer people agreeing to that idea. Because if we're all taught some faceless entity's idea of good parenting/teaching/whatevering, and we're all held to a single standard, maybe there will be fewer people falling below the bar, but there will also be fewer rising above it.