Outrage of the Week: Grammar School Cancels Val Day for “Good of the Students”

Hi Readers — Our darling children, who, we’re told, can’t handle recess in the cold (see this), or waiting outside the high school to be picked up (see this), or babysitting, even at age 14 (see this), and who can’t possibly handle sleepovers (see this) or bugs ( see this) or bible stories (see this), are now being told they can’t handle Valentine’s Day, either.

A Maryland grammar school sent a letter to parents explaining its philosophy, which was reported in the local Frederick News Post:

Romance between students has no place in the elementary school classroom, [Principal Stephanie] Brown said, and the obsession of boy-girl relationships on Valentine’s Day was inappropriate for the school setting.

Another issue caused by the holiday was the exchange of cards, some of which had candies or other treats attached. Brown said she and her staff didn’t want to take the chance of causing problems for students with  food allergies.

So now kids can’t handle friendship, love or disappointment — in other words, human relationships — and the kids with allergies can’t handle not eating the treat handed to them, and of course the school can’t handle a darn thing ever happening to the kids at all. And there you have it: A nice little Valentine to abject paralysis.  — Lenore

Danger! Life ahead!

Lunch Time 451

Hi Readers — Thought you might enjoy this peek at the lunchtime shenanigans at one American school. (Well, perhaps “enjoy” is not quite the right word, but anyway.) A reader writes:

At the beginning of the school year we got a list that forbade nuts and nut products, which is pretty standard these days.  My daughter started coming home from school complaining that she was told her apples should have been “without the skin” and that oranges were “dangerous,” because there is a kid in the school who is allergic.

I contacted the school and asked them to explain the policy. They told me that even though there is no “formal” list, they do not encourage skin on fruit because it could be a choking hazard.  A few mothers and I ignored them and continued to send the kids to school with the normal fruit, skin on, and not cut up. The lunch mothers make the kids feel bad by constantly telling them that this is not allowed, even though there is no formal rule.

The “no processed lunch meat” is another story altogether.  A few of the PTA mothers decided that it was unhealthy, again constantly harassing the kids during lunch by saying so.  Again, the school has no formal policy not allowing processed foods ( you should only see what they serve as a school lunch)!  This whole effort is spearheaded by a few helicopter PTA moms who have nothing better to do.

This is the same school that outlawed tag and does not allow kids out for recess in below 50F weather.  My son attended the same school a few years back and none of these practices were in place.  The school and the principal go along with this hovering because this PTA does raise a lot of money for the school.

In my community, as a full-time working mother, I am in the minority.  Since I and the few others like me can rarely attend PTA meetings (these are not held in a the hours a working mother can make), we have a very weak voice.  Every time we do speak up, we are reminded that while we are out at work, there are mothers who truly care for their children by staying home and being “involved.” They act like good, old-fashioned school-yard bullies.

Honestly, it is not worth the effort to fight with them.  I laugh them off and continue to send my daughter to school with whole apples and salami sandwiches.  I let her play tag all she wants on our street ( thank God, we live in a small development where almost all parents believe in the Free-Range concept).  She is allowed to go out in all kinds of weather and go to her friends’ houses by herself.

She will be out of that school in a year or two… and off to middle-school where my son is now.  That school allows apples and salami, but they have taken other things to absurdity.  One of these days I will post on the concept of “punishment should fit the crime.”  I think that in some of our schools the zero tolerance for violence policy is taken to absurdity, but that is another topic entirely.

Yes it is. Can’t wait! Meanwhile, thanks for this glimpse into the black hole of lunchtime. — Lenore

What foods are permissable in the lunchroom? Photo by Shinyai

The Risk of Avoiding All Risk

In the town of Milford, Connecticut, in 2005, a grandma named Una decided to build a pool. That way her 14 grandchildren could play in it. Except, she worried: One couldn’t.

He was allergic to nuts and there was the possibility that if he and a nut happened to be in the pool at the same time – a tree nut, that is – he just might have an allergic reaction. So to keep him from sitting out the fun, grandma did what any modern-day American does.

She demanded the mayor chop down all the hickory nut trees near her house.

Yes, these trees shaded the street, the neighborhood, the neighbors…. But still, she said: What if? 

Which is exactly how the mayor framed it: What if  that boy did take a swim and did have an allergic reaction? “It really came down to taking a risk that the child might be sick or even die,” he said. And that is why there are now three stumps where the stately hickories used to be.

In his impossible-to-read-without-steam-shooting-out-your-ears book, Life Without Lawyers, Philip K. Howard explains why thinking this way is wimpy and, worse, wrong. In the name of eliminating one possible risk to one possible person, the mayor was blinded to the greater good: Shade for a whole street. Beauty. Oxygen. Home values!

Howard, a lawyer himself, points out that if the mayor followed his own zero risk policy, he would have to start eliminating all the other nut trees in town, too. And all the bees, because some people are allergic. And any kind of public pool or lake because, of course, someone could drown.

If that sounds outlandish, consider the myriad ways in which fear of risk – even tiny risk – is reshaping society every day.

Last year, for instance, after that whole recall of lead-painted toys from China, Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. This law requires manufacturers to prove that almost every part of every single product they make for children under age 12 contains less lead than a Frito. That includes things like socks, bikes, the insoles of shoes – things that very few kids lick, much less munch whole. Rhinestones got banned – they contain an eensy bit of lead. And the sale of pre-1985 children’s books was banned, too – even in thrift shops – because before that date, some printing ink contained lead. So if your child was an avid book-eater, Congress was there to protect ’em.

Like that Connecticut mayor, our lawmakers took a giant chain saw to a tiny risk and didn’t care what they felled in the process. Like, say, reading.

But it’s not just the government that’s gone safety-crazy. It’s us, too. Us grown-ups who used to walk to school, ride our bikes, or sell Girl Scout cookies door to door. Sure, there was some risk, even back then, of kidnapping, rape and murder. But reasonable parents found the risk reasonable, too: The danger was so small that they weren’t going to organize our lives around it. Walking meant active, healthy kids. Selling cookies meant independent, responsible kids — and extra Thin Mints around the house.

But today, even though the chance of danger is still very small (crime rates were actually HIGHER in the ‘70s and ‘80s than now), those same fun things have become “crazy risks” to a lot of parents. That’s why so many neighborhoods are so empty, even in summertime: The outside world is one big risk!

It’s not that I am a fan of unnecessary risk. I love helmets, car seats. I give fire extinguishers as baby shower gifts. But our overreaction to very unlikely dangers is turning us into a nation of nutjobs who see a 1982 copy of The Pokey Little Puppy on par with a loaded pistol.

All life involves some kind of risk – of boredom, disappointment, danger. Try to avoid it and you’ll end up inside, staring out a street lined with stumps. And by the way, your kids will be inside, too. Driving you nuttier than a hickory tree. — Lenore

Of Peanuts and Pedophiles

You’ve probably read about the new, possible cure for peanut allergies. One very hopeful study at Duke ( http://tinyurl.com/cmbh39 ) found that by administering first a dust-size speck of peanuts to an allergic child, and then a slightly larger speck and so on and so on, you can sometimes train the child’s immunological system to stop violently overreacting.  It is wonderful to think that for some people, this may be a cure at last. But it’s also wonderful to think of the peanut story as an analogy to, of all things, stranger danger.

If a child is allowed to explore the world – a little at first, under loving surveillance, but more and more as the years go by — that child’s chances of overreacting to small, everyday risks diminishes. The child is gradually developing street smarts.

But what if that’s not allowed to happen, because the parents have been brainwashed by cable TV and what have you, into thinking their child is never safe out of their sights?

In my  book I write about a grandma who was in her allergist’s waiting room when a boy of about three came up to her and wanted to look through the magnifying glass she was using to read her newspaper. (Gotta love those newspaper readers!)

The grandma was delighted to show the boy, but instantly the kid’s mother swooped in and literally carried him off, saying, “He’s got to learn early NOT to talk to strangers.”

“Strangers” apparently including even little old ladies in waiting rooms. With allergies.

Think of that grandma as a tiny speck of peanut dust: The perfect introduction to the world of strangers. Just a tiny smidgen of the unknown, presented in a safe, controlled environment.

If we don’t let our kids interact with the world at all — if every stranger is considered a pedophile (and a quick pedophile at that, who can run out of a waiting room with a three year old under her arm), we are not doing our kids any kind of service.

We are making them, essentially, allergic to life. The world should be their oyster. Instead, it’s their their peanut.  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                               — Lenore