Sunday, September 21, 2014

Where I Am Right Now, Thoughts on Moving and Where We Are Planted This Year

Moving to a new community is always interesting, and each move brings with it challenges, joys, sorrows, and struggles. The community where we are planted for this year is no exception. It is interesting, challenging, but also has some good. One thing that’s added to the mix this year is that the city we live in, in the greater Cleveland area, is, on some measures, one of the most liberal cities in Ohio, maybe even the country. We in our family have been known to call it the USSR of (our city name). It’s definitely the most liberal school system we’ve ever encountered. It is also a totally IB-infused curriculum from elementary to high school throughout the entire school district. Those of you who love that curriculum, please don’t be offended or feel the need to convince me otherwise, I’m glad for those who like it, but that wasn’t actually a draw for us. I wouldn’t choose it for my kids if I’d had a choice. At least we really, really, really love our church, even though it’s kind of a drive to get to it several little cities over.

That said, there are some great things about this community and school system, IB and all. I’ll start with that before I get to my rather short point. First of all, this is probably the most diverse community we’ve ever lived in, and that is a really good thing. I love that my daughter is completely race-blind. She truly wants to befriend anyone that will be her friend, whether black, white, brown, or whatever, we are all descendants of Adam, created in God’s image. I love this for my kids. May their tribe increase. I also think it’s great that they get to meet people who aren't necessarily just like them and don’t think like them. I am very encouraged by the discussions we have at home as they work through what they believe and why they believe it and learn to embrace the faith as their own and also learn to respectfully discuss issues with people who hold very different beliefs. Our Sunday School class is studying the book of Daniel, and last week we discussed the balance between being resolute in our convictions and what we hold to be true, and know to be true, and respectful in how we seek to follow them and talk about them. I found it quite helpful in light of some things we face daily. 

Another thing I like about the schools here is that academically they are quite rigorous, and when I went to the elementary school open house, I liked some of the strategies they shared for how they are teaching math and reading and other things. Musically we could not ask for better education. Both of my boys have top-notch private lesson teachers. And the band totally rocks. 

That said, there is a feel here, for lack of a better word, a kind of smug sense of self-righteous superiority that pervades the atmosphere here that I find a little creepy, and it’s mostly from the IB stuff. First of all, people are NUTS about scores and tests and stuff. One of the first things high school parents ask when they meet me is, “What classes is your son taking?” And there is an underlying arrogance about whose kid is taking the hardest classes. It’s creepy.

Then, another thing that defines our experience here is that there is a group-think mentality I find off-putting, even as they stress characteristics like independence and learning to think critically. However, listening to my older boys talk when they come home from school, there’s a subtle subversiveness to the learning to think thing. It’s great when they learn to think ‘critically’ as long as it matches the teacher’s liberal bent, and as long as their reasoning sounds like good little communists socialists liberals globally aware IB students in the mold approved by the curriculum, but my very conservative, very Christian sons are finding that their contributions aren’t always what the teacher is looking for, and sometimes aren’t very welcome. They haven’t had any outright negativity, but they have been told, “Yes, well, we won’t be going there,” with certain discussion topics. 

Case in point, my high schooler’s text book for Honors English is The Bible As/In Literature. I wasn’t thrilled with that choice, but what I have been thrilled with is listening to the things my son has been telling me as he’s asked me questions and we’ve discussed things and as he’s been sharing in class. He said there is one boy who now asks him, “What do you think about that?” after certain discussions, and he’s able to open up the Bible and show him there is so much more to what they read than the curriculum line they are given in class, which definitely is subversive to our high view of the Bible. That’s been pretty neat to watch. I kind of feel like, if they choose a book like that for a high school class, then they invite the discussion. You use our holy book for your text, don’t get mad if a Christian kid goes deeper with it than you maybe intended. While the Bible is literature, and great literature at that, it is so much more than just literature, too, and if we’re really going to be tolerant, he has just as much right to share his insight as the atheist kids who are so antagonistic to his view. TRUE tolerance implies disagreement. So, all that said, I’m pretty excited to see God working in this situation and how my sons are learning to make a reasoned defense for what they believe. Even when they may not speak up in front of the class or directly to the teacher, other kids notice and they listen to them and even ask them. I’m also planning on giving him the book I’m reading just as soon as I finish it, which is Jesus Unmasked by Todd Friel. After being exposed to the discussions in his English class and the discussions we’ve had at home about those discussions, I’m very excited for him to read Todd Friel’s most excellent look at how all of the Old Testament points to Jesus, finding Jesus in the types and shadows of the Old Testament. The timing of that book coming out is spectacular for our family. My son will get to see how truly awesome the Bible is, how inspired and how much more its message is than what was discussed in class. I pray daily for my children in the midst of all this.

Which leads me on a little rabbit trail. What I see very much here in this community is the classic liberal redefining of tolerance. Tolerance today is not actually tolerance. To be ‘tolerant’ according to the common wisdom of our whacked out culture today means to be totally accepting of everything, and especially of everything that we might be prone to voice any disagreement about, if that makes sense. It means calling evil good and good evil. It means nothing is EVER wrong, unless it’s something that doesn’t mesh in lock-step with the prevailing secularist view. THAT is wrong and intolerant.  These days, calling something wrong is just about the biggest cultural sin you can commit. Problem is, it just doesn’t work. I’m supposed to be totally accepting of homosexuality or evolution, for example, but my view is taboo and ignorant. Tolerance only goes one way in the tolerance-not tolerance camp. TRUE tolerance, however, is acknowledging disagreement, but believing you don’t have to be disrespectful or go to war over the disagreement. TRUE tolerance allows for people to strongly hold their beliefs and convictions, strongly defend them, on all sides, and learn to coexist peacefully in spite of disagreement. That’s when true dialogue can happen, too. A truly tolerant person will not insist on everyone else changing everything they believe or going against their strongly held convictions just to suit them. However, that’s not the culture in which we find ourselves.

So, anyway, back to the point all this was leading up to, last week I went to the elementary school open house, and during the principal’s remarks at the end of the evening, she was discussing the new program they’ve implemented for recess. It used to be, she said, that you would have a group playing football, very competitive, which led to arguing, a group playing kick ball, also very competitive, and then everyone else. Well, now they’ve done away with the football and kickball, because the competitive nature of them was not good, in their opinion, and implemented these non-competitive games that can include everyone. No more bad competitiveness. And it really was presented as if the problem was that being competitive is a bad thing. So, we spend all day teaching these kids group-think, then we don’t ever let them think it’s ever okay to compete at all. We all have to get along, and we can’t ever compete. Being competitive on the recess field is BAD. I think that’s unwise. It’s not bad to be competitive, per se. What about teaching them to be competitive in a sportsmanlike way? Rather than making competitiveness an evil, why not teach how to do it well, and offer the non-competitive games, too, as an alternative for kids who don’t want the more competitive option?

I get that they are trying to crack down on bullying and trying to build team work and cooperation and diversity. Those are admirable goals. I just disagree about how to get there. Teaching the wrong view of tolerance isn’t it - that just breeds a whole new kind of bully, and neither is obliterating any semblance of competitiveness. There needs to be balance. Teach kids to compete as sportsmen, teach real tolerance - the balance between being resolute and respectful, and teach proper competition, and I think we’d have a better mix. Just going around chanting the IB characteristics all day doesn’t make them true, it just makes for a creepy kind of group-think, parrot environment. (Just ask my daughter who came home in tears on Friday because of the ‘mean girls’ (my term) at lunch. Those ‘IB learners’ weren’t acting very ‘open-minded’ or ‘caring’ toward the new girl. My mama bear instinct grizzled up a little as she told me about it and I had to swallow it and talk her through it wisely.)

When I got home from that open house and was telling my husband about all this, it suddenly occurred to me: “Maybe that’s why the high school football team is 1-3 so far this year.” Growing up in the SEC south, this whole being on the always losing team is a new experience for me, I must say. ;-) When you spend their whole elementary school years telling them competitiveness is a bad thing, don’t expect a winning high school team later. Just saying. 

At least the band rocks half-time. :-)

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