Monthly Archives: July 2013

There’s Something About (no, Not Mary) Evan

I’ve always been torn between deciding which stance to take about child pathology: learned behavior or genetic link?  I’ve always swayed toward learned behaviour. Wrong or right, this particular documentary confirms my suspicions. 4186-3819When I observe families trying to appease a dangerous, disruptive child, I see a family with few resources and good intentions in controlling the behavior. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, however, and people with few resources in a dysfunctional home, unknowingly victimize their child in a vicious cycle of hate and frustration. In the Frontline PBS documentary The Trouble with Evanwe witness the struggle  11-year-old Evan (surname isn’t revealed) has with Conduct Disorder The family has willingly allowed Frontline to fix cameras in their home, in order to tape interactions with their troubled son. We watch Mike and Karen, Evan’s parents, heap verbal abuse on their son, telling him, ‘I would like to lock you up in a cage and let everybody look at you like you’re an animal’?  “This family is so distraught, we are in such turmoil“, his mother, Karen, laments on camera as she berates her son. She is aware that she is on camera. These are not bad people. They are a family with severe emotional problems and no one to direct them onto a road other than that to hell. Some people probably would conclude that these are bad parents and the child should be removed from their care. However, these people are doing their best with their own demons from the parenting they experienced. Also, let’s not forget that all of the scenes Frontline shows in this documentary are negative and are taken out of context. We see the parents mistreating Evan but we don’t see what he may have done to precede it. We don’t see the abuse that “came into [their] lives” from Evan towards his parents. Perspective is a loud witness and we do not have the full story. One thing in Evan’s favor: he doesn’t abuse his sister. Frontline doesn’t show us tender moments between them, although I suspect there are many.

The trouble with teacher’s colleges (anywhere in Canada I suspect) is that teachers do not receive training on severe behavior disorders in children. They aren’t informed that when children are happy to break rules, disrupt the class, use vulgar language, and generally make the classroom a living hell for students and teacher, there is a deep-rooted problem that is not being adequately addressed. Classroom management too is a strong requirement for a teacher. However classroom management lies within the job description of an educator; serious behavior disorders do not. They begin outside the classroom, years before the child reaches school age. No one tells teacher candidates this stuff.  New teachers may be unaware that the child is in need of special education assistance and that referrals generally originate from the classroom teacher. That’s because few administrators discuss this in the school staff meeting at the start of the year. And seldom will a classroom teacher (who is also not  formally trained at working with disturbed children), take the time to familiarize a candidate with the child’s history and “normal” behaviors. Isn’t forewarned supposedly forearmed? 

Frontline visits a Elora Youth Correctional Centre in Elora, Ontario. It is a lock-up for juveniles withboybox serious behavior disorders. Mike and Karen attend parenting classes there. The young offenders housed within participate in a project called Portage which emphasizes rehabilitation. This is the end of the line for juveniles who are headed to prison if they cannot curb their behaviour. One juvenile offender says in a monotone voice, that when he was young, he had “a calloused ass” from all the beatings his father gave him with a belt buckle his father. Another youth recalls a beating his father gave him with a hockey stick for taking a popsicle without permission. Violent memories are usually associated with stepfathers. Not surprisingly, these mothers are also emotionally unbalanced: some of the teenagers have had or 6 stepfathers. Sadness permeates the damaged group of fathers during group therapy. “It’s weird cause I love the guy,” one young man refers to his own abusive father and tries not to weep. He admits he had sworn to “his mother I’d never be like him. And I turned out to be worse.”Frontline asks the centre’s director, Peter Vanlis, about the early signs that indicate a child is headed for trblog-angry-teenouble. “Most of the problems we see are in or around adolescence…. and …when rebelliousness is no longer seeking for an identity but rather a destructive and denigrating type of event….when drugs replace other types of pleasure for the young person, when theft replaces the value of work…when a young person becomes very aggressive…the parent has ample warning that something is going wrong. Evan exhibits some of these aforementioned symptoms:

  1. bullying
  2. lying
  3. stealing
  4. pouring paint into a teacher’s coffee
  5. drinking beer on school property

Like the youths inside Elora, Evan has never known his biological father. Unlike some of the youths inside Elora, Evan has physantiically abused his own family. In return, Mike and Karen verbally abuse him, “I’m fucking sick and tired of these fucking games, Evan. I go running around all over the city for this fucking shitBecause of the fucking games that you play!” Moments later, Mike admits, “Like, I’m mad at myself right now for losing it, but I fucking go to the bank …you know, like I’ve been from one end of the city, ‘oh yeah it’s fine sir, no problem, we’ll accept the cheque…You’re fucking living on borrowed time, butthead, I’m telling you’“. “We think that kids forget [verbal abuse]. They’re up the next morning and they’re smiling, but kids never forget. And it hurts,” Robart comments later. “Their development’s sapped emotionally…in some ways they’re blocked from maturing properly.” The behaviours, parent and child’s, continue. Inside Elora, Mike learns he has to confront the painful memories of his own childhood if he is to change the relationship he has with Evan. “I was my dad’s pet. We weren’t close..hung..it’s that he wanted me there. To me Evan’s spoiled…He gets whatever he wants usually.”  In reply, Valis states,” most of these parents say we give them everything they want. Nannies, beautiful clothes. In most cases the kids just want a little bit of themselves…mom, dad, a little piece…That’s what parents couldn’t give.” Later at home, Evan asks Mike if he can watch the Super Bowl with him. Mike refuses. He will be watching the Super Bowl in a bar. “My dad’s like an old fart. If I had a dad who was 29 like my Mom, he’d be a lot more active. He’d say can we go play football? But my Dad just sits there.” Mike claims he wants to spend time with Evan but he’s often angry at his son, and he tells him he “just can’t.” Mike lives what he’s learned from his late father. When he was a boy his father forced him to work around the house and farm every day, rather than allowing his son time to play with his friends, since Mike would need to “know how to do this stuff yourself one day.”  Now Evan complains that Mike spends too much time fixing the house to be with him. Frontline asks Evan about the roots of his anger. “I don’t like talking about my feelings or how I feel,” is all he says. When asked if his behaviour is the result of his feelings, helonely1 admits, “sometimes.” 

When Evan gets in trouble at home, he is not allowed to say “the reason was…”, because, his mother insists, “there is no reason.” An intelligent, nice-looking boy, when asked to describe himself, Evan detaches himself from his behaviour, talking in the third person, and using the clinical term “bad choices“. David Jewell, the family social worker, is alarmed at Evan’s increasingly poor behavior. “He could start running away, perhaps getting into alcohol and drugs…perhaps truancy at school, perhaps more aggression.”

Jennifer is a youth at the Elora Correctional Centre. When asked if she worries that when she becomes a mother she will also injure her children, Jennifer reacts by turning her back on the camera. Later, however, she talks to Frontline about her history: “When I was 13 I used to babysit childpunren, and when I got mad I used to beat them up, like my mother used to do to me.” Quite like Mike and his father before him. “Kids your age are the laziest, inconsiderate, thoughtless,  fucking people I’ve ever met in my fucking life!” Mike screams at Evan, then hits him on the back of his head. “And don’t fucking laugh at me!” Karen yells at Mike not to hit Evan, but suddenly she screams at her son, “You want another one? [referring to Evan’s grin]. Stop that!” “I can’t help it!” Evan objects. “Yes you can!” Karen rants. She’s wrong of course. Evan, like Mike and Karen, is living what he’s learned… unless someone sees potential in helping rather than condemning this family.

There really isn’t a profound, lasting change that the classroom teacher will make with an Evan. However, establishing a bond, expecting setbacks, learning the child’s history from the special education team, working directly with the family, are all strategies that will assist the child in succeeding. The bottom line however is there is nothing that can replace formal training and practice before encountering the situation.

Another perspective on The Trouble with Evan can be found here.

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Nothing Learned from Little Jonbenet

Everything a child does is a learning experience. Everything a parent has a child do is a learning experience. Depending on how meaningful to the child, these experiences can have lifelong repercussions. One negative experience in a child’s life can affect him or her well into adulthood, even something the parent forgets weeks or hours later. I’ve never been a fan of baby/toddler beauty tiarapageants. I don’t understand them. Isn’t every child beautiful? If there is a pageant out there that develops self-esteem, talent, intelligent and poise, I’ve never heard of it. Dance recitals or athletics develop children’s self-esteem and inner grace a lot better than a plastic pageant, and they do a lot less damage, if any, to a child’s self-concept.

Television rot like Toddlers with Tiaras (or whatever that creepy show calls itself), and those reality shows featuring children from infancy (seriously) to fourteen in beauty contests are ghastly. Pageants featuring little girls with stiff, hairsprayed do’s, caps for their teeth called flippers (gross), spray-on tans, a pound of makeup , and morbidly obese mothers (a pound of flesh?) dancing and rolling  in the aisles so Baby doesn’t forget her dance moves and lose points, are nothing less than vulgar. I love this video. The little girl is hilarious and, in spite of the makeup and hair extension, acting like a silly child rather than a kupie doll. She has great charm just being a kid. I liked the question posed to her mother, “what happens when the attention is gone?...it is known that depression follows.”  “She’s always had attention,” sniffs her mother. When asked if she will place her daughter into another pageant, the baffling answer is “in a good way.” Well, at least she admits there is a bad way to this senselessness.

The sexualization of children isn’t a positive learning experience. Doesn’t anyone remember what happened to Jonbenet Ramsey anymore? That beautiful little 6-year-old girl who would never live to see her 7th birthday was such a sexual object jonthat she was violently raped and murderedin a testament to her pageant image as one of sex idol, rather than child. Years later, her father, John Ramsey, finally admitted, “it makes me cringe. We were so naive. I now believe with all my heart it’s not a good idea to put your child on public display.” I’m sure this man is grieving heavily for the loss of his daughter, and not long after, his wife, to ovarian cancer. Patsy Ramsey never did discover the identity of her child’s killer before going to her grave; the whole sordid business was a terrible tragedy to have on her conscience as she left this world.

I pity the Ramseys. I cried when I read John Ramsey’s words of regret. Ramsey has released a book entitled The Other Side of Suffering. He has appeared on several interviews including ABC news, Larry King Live, and various daytime talk shows. That family learned their lesson the hardest way imaginable. They did not deserve this pathos. Neither did their little girl. Incredibly, he revealed that an older child, Beth, had died years prior to Jonbenet in a car accident. The tragic trail of death and suffering in this family, it would seem, is unending.

I have no time for parents who continue to put their little girls into these farcical displays of childhood and sexuality. They live vicariously through their children since  they themselves believe they have amounted to nothing. Pageants? I call them Pathetic. toddlerstiarasWhen a woman cannot even embrace the gift of motherhood without having to exploit that privilege, when she has to deny her daughter a normal childhood and forever alter her healthy psychological development, that woman does not deserve to call herself mother. Enough of political correctness. I’m sick of that crap, and it has no place in abusive households who use children as trophies. In the words of the late, great, tell-it-like-it-is George Carlin, “isn’t this just a sophisticated form of child abuse?” It’s time for us to call this stuff what it is: exploitation. It’s time for the government to step in and shut this stuff down. The only winners here are adult vanity and a childhood forever lost.

Hijab in School

I’m currently taking a PQP (principal’s qualification course). The big emphasis in this course is on diversity more than any other issue.  Other issues include sensitivity, allowing other people to lead, working with difficult or marginalized families. It isn’t the type of stuff you’d think lihijabke how to budget for the entire school or recognizing and reckoning with difficult teachers (that’s worse). I thought the administrator in the Hijab in Europe was a prime example of a difficult and dreadfully racist educator. Naturally this script was fiction but the point is not. At least, I’m not aware of too many admins telling girls to remove their hijabs. When she did, I felt naked looking at her. It was an obscenity; she might as well have been taking off her blouse.

Wasn’t it classic when she entered the classroom and her equally ignorant teacher insisted she be treated like everyone else? Pointing that out made her different before any of the other students had a chance to meet her. And when she looked around the classroom didn’t she witness many other types of head coverings? How do you treat someone like everyone else, anyway? I thought we were all unique individuals with our own gifts to bring to the classroom. How backward of me.

Islam instillarticle-1319804-0B952A16000005DC-450_306x423s fear in those who do not understand it.Does that little girl look frightening to you? Do you know that she herself is a victim, not only at school or on the street, but within her culture? All women are, as they suffer the status of second class citizenand are effectively owned by the patriarchy that is the Muslim culture. Would it be so wrong to support this young lady’s need to express herself? Ironically, it was a woman who took away her identification, in a culture that prides itself on democracy. (left: Bibi Aisha – Afghanistan girl who was mutilated by her husband).

Winston Churchill is an icon of mine for too many reasons to list here. However, it is clear to me that this man lacked the ability to see beyond cultural differences between the Western an Eastern worlds. One comment he made was how “dreadful are the curses Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerousbibi-aisha-has-been-fitted-with-a-prosthetic-nose-and-now-lives-in-a-shared-new-york-apartment-daily-mail-17-february-20111 in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic capacity.” Churchill said so many evil things in this statement, and by far the worse was a comparison to Islam and rabies. Oh, Churchill. You do disappoint me. He did, however, support the plight of Muslim women: “The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men.”  (left: Bibi Aisha with a prosthetic nose).

Anyway this movie resonated so loudlywith me I had to blog about it. I teach in the Catholic school system, elementary panel, and I don’t tend to see children wearing hijabs, probably something to do with age. That includes students up to 13 years old. The girl in the film didn’t look much older. Some of the lines were powerful in their ignorance.

The Administrator:

  1. (in response to “I am Muslim”) I am Catholic… Everyone is the same.
  2. We don’t want differences between the students.
  3. We don’t discriminate against anybody.
  4. I think you’d be much prettier without [the hijab].
  5. You don’t want to be the weird one in class do you?

I don’t know which part of her argument was worse, each sentence became more ignorant than the last. I hope this is merely a fiction and doesn’t happen to children in school. I liksafe_imagee to think this is “just a movie.” I know the discrimination in it is not. Racism will always be with us (I probably have my biases too, as much as I hate it, and hate to admit it).  Most teaching staff I know would never make an issue out of the hijab, for legal and sometimes personal reasons. Either way, they have to remain silent, just as the students do. For some, it is hidden discrimination. This doesn’t remove discrimination or make it better, of course but at least children who need to express who they are aren’t humiliated or harassed.

Well, not verbally.