Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Acceptance, Normalcy are Overrated

“You're mad, bonkers, off your head. But I'll tell you a secret - all the best people are.”

This line from Tim Burton's “Alice in Wonderland” – introduced early on by Alice’s dad, and repeated later by Alice herself – epitomizes a guiding philosophy not just in my daily life, but in my role as parent.

I’d rather be bonkers than normal.

Hopefully this philosophy explains why, 12 years after becoming a parent, I have twin 10-year-old daughters who aren’t afraid to act goofy or be considered “weird,” and a 12-year old son who is fearless of trying anything new.

Worrying about acceptance is a waste of time and energy. Some may consider it a personality flaw not to be interested in “belonging.” But acceptance isn’t really my thing.

My vocation as an opinion writer and humorist is quite possibly an extension of an inherent personality flaw: I get paid to make fun of myself and voice quirky, arguable opinions. In doing so, I hope to make readers think, or at least chuckle or gasp in frustration before calling me a complete idiot. And I’m thrilled when readers react; especially when they disagree.

How can a person know her capabilities if she doesn’t test the limits, personally, mentally, physically and  socially?

If everyone spent his or her life worrying about being accepted, whether by individuals, groups, or political parties, there would be no variation among humanity’s nearly seven billion members.

If everyone were normal, we’d be one big, happy – and agreeably stupid – bunch of androids.

Despite my aversion to normalcy, I don’t think I’m a selfish, social imbecile; I do cherish the value of a good reputation. Given nothing else, a person can forge a path for herself with intelligence and a good reputation.

Nevertheless, I hope people don't consider me “normal.” Normal is boring. The parts of reputation, however, that deserve the most attention, are the parts defined by personal values, ethics, humility, sense of humor, level of compassion, and the wisdom to know when and where to dive into a situation – or back off.

I’ll admit that when I enter a new situation, I stand back and observe for a range of time spanning anywhere from 2.5 seconds to 2.5 weeks, depending on the type of situation, the size of group, the frequency of gatherings, the location of gatherings, and how much beer is poured. On rare instances in which I don’t reach the comfort-level to be my true self, then the group is likely not right for me – or I for it. No love is lost by parting before we began.

It’s not worth it to live a life based on other people’s idea of normalcy.

In being bonkers, however, I have learned that when I’m able crack through others’ outer layer, most folks are not only amused but relieved to be in the presence of someone who doesn’t worry about fitting a so-called “normal” mold.

It's good to be "mad, bonkers, off your head."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Where does all the (school) funding go?

I'm no statistician. In fact, I try to avoid statistics. But some statistics are too frightening to ignore.

A chart developed by The Atlantic and re-published on GOOD.is, compares U.S. states to nations across the globe, based on achievements in mathematics. The chart compares 58 nations to the 50 United States and ranks each nation or state on an equal plane.

Ironically, the state-to-nation rankings aren't what frighten me most. Despite my aversion to numbers, it is the position of each state on the state-to-nation comparison that grabs my attention.

Food for thought: The state ranking 32nd in the above mentioned comparison, California (which would rank at 71 out of 108 when all states are treated nations), receives only 29% of its funding from local sources, versus state or federal sources.*

The highest-ranking state in the above-mentioned comparison, Massachusetts, receives 53% of its funding from local sources, per statistical results released this year for 2008 and 2009, from the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), a div. of the US Dept of Ed.* Incidentally, on the chart from The Atlantic, Massachusetts, were it a nation, would rank at number 17 overall -- behind 16 other nations.

Some may argue that the dismal U.S. rankings may provide as "persuasive a case for national education standards as any currently out there," (per GOOD). If so, however, then shouldn't states like MA (where local dollars presumably lead to better achievement) be concerned about the possibility of nationalizing education?

There's no denying that the U.S. falls behind other nations in rankings for test scores. The greater concern should be that state-by-state comparisons beg for greater attention to how school funds are spent.

In a peculiar observation, if you closely compare observing the above three charts you'll find that the state of Missouri ranks lower than California in the comparison chart in The Atlantic but that Missouri receives a greater portion of its school funding from local sources than Massachusetts. With this possible false-dichotomy of school spending to performance, states and municipalities that effectively manage their funds should be worried about nationalized education.

Where does this place the highest-ranking school districts of the lowest-ranking states?

Coming Soon on the Candid Cameron blog: U.S. students may be failing, relatively, on tests involving rote-memorization. But are we teaching the critical thinking methods necessary for developing life skills that can advance our youth to leadership?

*SOURCES:
Table 1: http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2010/2010326.pdf
Table 17: http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d09/tables/dt09_017.asp

Friday, November 5, 2010

"My Kid is Better than Your Kid!"


"My kid is better than your kid!" There. It's good to get that out in the open.
With most Pleasanton parents holding bachelor's or advanced degrees, we're bound to have a population of children with higher-than-average performance in many areas of life. But as admirable as this statistic may be, astounding achievements shouldn't be our only measures of children's success.
I'm happy for parents whose kids will be Rhodes Scholars, Olympic champions, runway models, professional athletes and maestros – all before the age of 10. Really, I am. But the parental bragging antics can go too far. People tell me the boasting occurs all across Pleasanton.
For instance, when I innocently displayed excitement to a friend over one of my children's good grades, I mentioned that it wasn't the grades that most impressed me but that my child had worked so hard for them.
My friend responded by saying, "Well, (my child) doesn't have to try! He gets straight A's anyway!"
I bit my tongue. If only I'd had the courage to respond the way I wanted to.
"If you think that's impressive," I should have said, "you ought to hear my child's armpit farts! Mark my words, we'll have a world-record holder one day!"
In a "Community of Character," the character is what should count.
Success should not be defined by a predetermined mold of test scores, number of extracurricular activities, and a child so committed to a singular sport that he misses out on new adventures.
It brings a smile to my face, however, when parents praise a child for success that results purely from passion, not the parents' pushing.  For example, my friend Shelley Casey's son, Nathan, runs faster than the wind and also manages to be a down-to-earth, clever 12-year-old with an uncanny ability to make fun of himself. So when Shelley showed good humor in posting Nathan's Hart Middle School cross-country triumphs in her Facebook status, the accolades came in waves. 
Shelley's excitement was for her son's devotion to an activity he loves, and it showed. Nathan, meanwhile, owns his accomplishment with a healthy, amusing attitude.
Another friend, whose children attend Fairlands Elementary and Hart and who asked that I not identify her, said omissions of compliments also are telling.
"I don't feel any competition when my kids either succeed or don't succeed in something," she said, adding that she always tries to compliment someone or their child whenever she can. "But sometimes it seems that it's people who are less secure in themselves who try to live through their children's successes," she said. 
I have to wonder if my friend has a point. I also believe that each of us is the sum total not only of our successes but of how well we adjust after failure. 
The child who can shrug off a bad grade or a poor athletic performance — and learn from it — is better equipped for life's inevitable challenges than the child who is pushed or spoon-fed through every activity and coddled after every failure.
Kelly Lensing, whose children attend Lydiksen Elementary and Hart, notices that some Pleasanton parents seem to propagate social stigmas by worrying too much.
"I've noticed – even with myself – that if parents have a concern that our children will have a negative experience in the future," she said, "then we'll try to protect them from our fear by bolstering them against possible negative exposure. But by giving them scripts to follow, we're actually lending credibility to the viewpoint we fear."
By way of example, Kelly spoke of children of mixed race or those who have special needs and whose parents provide them language to use should they be questioned about perceived differences.
"I wonder sometimes if we wouldn't serve our children better simply by making a conscious effort to remain staunchly in their corner," she said.
Perhaps the parental "one-upmanship" is not unique to Pleasanton. By what measurement does our community rate good parenting or children? Is there danger in rating either?
Although I'm not a perfect parent and have no illusions of raising perfect children, it takes conscious effort to resist the urge to protect my children from reality —even in this hamlet of Pleasanton that we know and love so much.