Because I’m Camera Crazy

Because I’m Camera Crazy


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  • It would be one thing to teach Hamlet because even in that tale there is a grand lesson about the danger of despair. Lord of the Flies is itself a cautionary tale that speaks of the reality of fallen human nature and the necessity for civilization.

    But so much young adult literature is not about rising above; it’s about wallowing in divorce, suicide, darkness, and despair.

    In addition, a steady diet of even Hamlet and Lord of the Flies is not healthy; it needs to be balanced. Shakespeare wrote comedies in addition to his tragedies.

    I think you’ve hit on it with reference to the martyrs. It is not the torture that fascinates us, but their calm and faith and resolve and love despite it all.

    It is not the darkness that should move us, but the spark of light within it.

    What moved me most in Schindler’s List was not the death and brutality, but the end where Schindler realized how much more he cold have done and the reassurance of the Jews who assured him he had saved so many.

    Our fallen nature does not define us; the image and likeness of God within us does.

  • This is the moment when the parent needs to read the teacher the riot act.  Homeschooling is great for those who can do it, but it is simply the act of protecting only your child.  What about the others whose parents can’t or won’t step in? I have had some pretty nasty problems with my son’s school this year, and even if educational philosophies don’t change over it, at least maybe they’ll consider that they might get another crackpot like me one day, and consider carefully what they say or do with the children.  That teacher would have learned to rue the day my child ever set foot in her classroom.  As would the principal, etc.  And I’ve got the authority of advanced degrees and college teaching experience to back me up, which would have made them hate & fear me even more.  Of course, my child would have known from the beginning that I would support him against any injustice done to him in the classroom.  There needs to be a network of parental questioning and support for the child in these cases. Period.

    And I used to disapprove of others’ politics infecting my literary enjoyment.  It is just something that students need to come to terms with in their own way.  I’ve carried it with me—I won’t entertain Marxist literary criticism in any of it varied forms.  So I create my own lit crit!

    As for morbidity of subjects—it’s what you do with them that counts.  I WANTED existentialism in high school.  Who doesn’t love HamletLord of the Flies is a perennial favorite.  There is a certain amount of hope involved in acknowledging the darkness, as if by recognizing it for what it is we are able to label, hence control it.  The material wasn’t the problem in this case—the method was.  Read “Musee des Beaux Arts”—W. H. Auden understood:  “About suffering they were never wrong, the Old Masters…” Or “In Memory of W. B. Yeats.”  I find it disturbing when my students aren’t moved by the darkness. Not that I want to make them cry, but I want to make them understand.

    I remember being made to feel guilt in the youth group setting. It was a very different kind of negative, and eventually drove me from religion altogether. But as for fascination with morbidity, what about all of those martyrs’ tales?  I guess the attraction is that they died in witness for God and not because we are fascinated by the pain they endured? Who was it who was flayed? St. Blaise?  With wool combs, nonetheless? And he is the patron of textile workers? wink

  • FYI—I did post a comment on the blog written by the English teacher who performed the experiment. It has to do with informed consent for psychological experimentation and trust in the teacher-student relationship.

  • I understand homeschooling is not for everyone. For some people it’s not possible, for others it’s simply not attractive. But it’s what I feel I’m called to do for my family and this story is another example of why I feel that calling. I don’t want my child to become another person’s experimental subject.

    I do agree that someone needs to stand up and tell such teachers they disapprove. But I fear it will do little good. I think the sickness in our schools is bone-deep and radical reforms are needed because the problems are foundational. The understanding of what education is for is flawed. Where public school curriculum is still good, it’s riding on the capital of a previous system, but mostly it’s based on a materialist and relativist understanding of the world.

    Most Catholic schools are little better as most of them have lost their sense of identity and are little more than a Catholic veneer over a public school curriculum. Just look at how their textbook choices mirrors that of the public schools.

    I know whereof I speak as I spent 8 years in a Catholic school where the only real Catholic content or worldview was segregated to religion class and four years at a public high school. 

    Not that we shouldn’t work for change, but we should understand that changes need to by systemic and institutional. I doubt that any amount of intervention with a single teacher will do very much good. She’s likely to just write you off as a crackpot parent and continue on her merry way unless all or at least a majority of parents banded together. And even then I think the best that you could hope for is her dismissal. If she has so little respect for the personhood of her pupils, nothing external is going to change that. That requires a change of heart which cannot be accomplished from without. The best you can do is talk to her and pray for her, but if she’s not open to listening, you won’t make much of a difference. You may make her hate and fear you; but you can’t make her love the children or change her attitude towards them.

    Maybe I’m too cynical, too scarred by my experiences as a student and as a teacher and as an observer. I’m glad there are parents who are willing to get involved and to fight. That’s just not my style and I think that doing my best to educate my own children is the part I’m called to play in the fight.

    I think that the time for stepping out on your own and fighting the establishment usually comes later than junior high or high school. By the time you’re in college or grad school you are more likely to be able to identify and withstand other’s political agendas. If you’re a strong personality. I always have had a tendency toward far too much awe of teachers and authority figures. I find disagreeing publicly very difficult and distasteful. One reason I stopped my schooling after getting my MA. I just couldn’t stomach the politics.

    But very few children have the same capacity and maturity to withstand a concerted assault on their sensibilities. And why should they? Why should they be subject to competing forces with parents teaching them one set of values in the home and teachers imposing another set at school?

    And I think that the insistence on reading literature through one political lens or another is a symptom of a cultural sickness. Great literature is great because it teaches us about the human condition. Homer, Shakespeare, Dante, Milton, they speak timelessly about what it means to be human. By reading them only through political-colored glasses, imposing our own values upon them instead of listening to what they have to say, we diminish ourselves. Then the relativists are right and comic books and ladies’ magazines are just as worthy of study as the classics. If we aren’t going to listen to what the great works have to say, why bother reading them at all?

    I know most of my high school English teachers had very little concept of why we read certain works, why great literature is great. We had shallow cliffs notes discussions and vocabulary quizzes and my imagination was if not impoverished after reading them, then it was still not enriched. I had a teacher who loved Jane Austen, but had little knowledge of how to impart to high school students why Austen is great. Sad to say, I hated reading Pride and Prejudice and had to wait until college to rediscover Austen’s wit and keen insight.

    Maybe you wanted morbidity in high school. That’s fine. I have no problem with that. But obviously not all kids do. Why should it be imposed on them? I don’t have a problem with Hamlet (though I disagree with an existential interpretation of the play) or Lord of the Flies. But I don’t think they have to be taught as lessons about how bad humanity is. And I do think there should be a variety. We read A Midsummer Night’s Dream in high school as well as Romeo and Juliet and Julius Ceasar. We read The Once and Future King and Jane Austen and all sorts of things. I don’t even have a problem with looking at the darkness. But it should be seen as part of the whole not the lens through which we look at everything. Auden’s old masters understood suffering as part of life, not the most important thing in life. There are miraculous births even if the children don’t want them. But it seems like the new school only wants to look at the suffering and doesn’t acknowledge the miraculous. And that’s where I have a problem.

    If students fail to be moved by human suffering, by the dark things, I doubt it’s because they have not been exposed to the existence of evil. I think it’s more likely that they are numb and the dark is what they have come to expect. They don’t even know how to look for the good. They don’t believe in heroism or courage, or at least don’t expect it.

    As Domenic says, it isn’t the suffering itself we admire so much as the courage and hope and love of people who bear up under the suffering.  Suffering is only novel when it moves us to compassion. But I think a steady diet of of the kind of fare that is fed to kids nowadays can actually blunt the edge of compassion. They get enough blood and guts and horror at the movies (Just think of the popularity of films like Saw.) we need to counter that trend to glory in pain.
    If teachers were giving students martyrs and suffering heroes, I’d be all for it. It’s the images of senseless violence and cruelty that I deplore.

  • Actually, that might be what an adult gets from the martyr.  Adolescents—I’m not so sure.  I agree about young adult literature of the pre-teen self-help variety, and have posted on such things on my blog. I think we’re basically agreeing about the darkness. However, sometimes it is for us to determine where the light lies within otherwise dark works. I never liked Shakespeare’s comedies, but I was never a Shakespearean. Literature alone is not going to either infect or cure the soul, though it can help, and sometimes in unexpected ways. But the young adult trash you mention is not literature.  Still, I think that this teacher had some good materials, but bad methods.  My husband read many of these same works simultaneously in high school, with a smattering of Marx and Machiavelli (at a Jesuit high school, for what that means—one can never tell how that will register).  They were dark, but he learned much about political philosophy.  So we really can’t blame the literature, and the light, as I’ve implied, comes from unexpected places.  Sometimes we have to plunge down in order to be able to see up. ASk Dante.

  • Don’t get me wrong.  I totally respect your choice to homeschool.  But making this “Reason #152,903” suggests that it is right for everyone, and that it’s the only right response to this situation.  I don’t have a rosy view of education either, but I do believe in change, and that it has to start somewhere. Gee, Melanie, you’ve made me feel (and look) optimistic. I didn’t think that was possible! wink But I’m a fighter, and I did pursue the Ph.D. in spite of the politics. I just made my own methodology.  Whether I get hired remains to be seen. I do feel that you’re attributing too much evil to the choice of works, however.  Even Clockwork Orange has as much merit as a dystopia as other notable dystopias.  That’s not to say it’s on my syllabus!

  • I’ll agree that the methods are to blame rather than the material. The same material in other hands, and with the proper leavening of lighter fare, would probably be fine.

    But from the student’s comment and from the last comment by the teacher about sending them off in the world with a notion that there is goodness too, I concluded that the diet is unrelentingly dark (and I will admit that some of my reaction is not specifically to this teacher but to the fact that she seems to be yet another element in a larger pattern). 

    In Persuasion Anne Eliot counsels Capt. Benwick that he should moderate his literary diet. Too much romantic poetry is only feeding his melancholic disposition. I think this is a sound bit of advice. Dystopian literature and other literature which explores the dark places of the human psyche are not bad in themselves. But as with many good things, too much of them can harm the soul. As parents and teachers we should be concerned that children’s literary diet is well-balanced. I know from personal experience, having read myself into a funk before, that what you read can have an inordinate influence on how you perceive the world.

    I think A Clockwork Orange is a good work, but it’s unclear whether they actually read the book in addition to watching the movie. The movie was originally rated X and even if she edited it, I think it’s far too heavy for most high school students.
    Again, it may be ok for some, but I wouldn’t put it on a syllabus because I doubt most would be ready to grapple with it and I think that in a classroom situation, as opposed to one-on-one, one should use caution. If one is going to introduce students to dystopian literature, 1984 might be a better choice for high schoolers.

    Dante is actually a good case in point. In high school we read just the Inferno. Purgatorio and Paradiso were dismissed by our teacher as “boring”. So how well did we really understand Dante’s worldview? I would argue not at all. To understand Dante, one must see the harmony between all three parts. To read only the first part of the book is to misrepresent the way the world is.

    It is true the literature is not to blame. Each of these works in itself is not necessarily a problem. But the syllabus as a whole, the unrelenting insistence on looking only at the darker side of human nature shows at best poor judgment and at worst a twisted understanding of the role of literature in forming the imagination. I don’t blame the literature. But I do blame the teacher for glorying in the fact that her choices make students cry.

    And part of the problem is that they come to the high school experience having been feed a steady diet of young adult trash and then these great works of literature are treated as if they were more of the same.

    Maybe I am spending too much time on the choice of works, but the issue of curriculum and what books should be taught when is one of my great interests.

    I’m sorry if my title suggested some kind of homeschooling imperative for everyone. I only meant it in the sense of counting up all my reasons for homeschooling. That’s one of my personal missions for this blog: to record and explore why I want to homeschool. Alas, it seems this is one of those areas where we parents tend to get defensive, comparing our choices to those of other parents. But here, because of the very nature of a blog, I just write from the hip, I can’t stop to qualify everything I say every time I write about homeschooling.

    Maybe at some point I will dive back in to academia. I think of myself as being on a long hiatus from higher education rather than as having given it up altogether. Right now, I’m directing my intellectual energies toward exploring homeschooling instead. I don’t think I would be capable of juggling both little children and school (either studying or teaching) but that’s just me. I know plenty of women who have done admirably at being both mom and professor.

  • I also read Dante excerpts in high school—only the Inferno.  But I read all 3 in a grad class.  I must say that while the philosophies of Purgatorio and Paradiso are interesting, the most moving dramatic moments do occur in Inferno.  But to read the work in so narrowly does obviously violate the spirit. (My Inferno nightmares opened my questioning about whether the Church was indeed right on many things I had previously doubted—like the necessity of Baptism. It wasn’t the Paradiso that did that!)

    Syllabus rationale would be interesting in this case, as I can’t think of any high school non-electives that allow for such a narrow selection.  If an elective, then they should have had some inkling of what they were in for in terms of text selection.  I’m teaching a special intro to lit. with a fantasy theme this summer, which I’ve done before, so the students know that when they come on the first day, and if they don’t like the fare, they drop.  I know high school is not so flexible, but if it’s an elective, there should be some choice involved.  I guess we could be seeing AP here, but I’m not sure this would help them pass the exam…

    I’m rather banking on the idea that I can do mom and professor.  Academia does get pushed back when there are little ones to tend to—hence, no conferences for a few years now! And a consistent regimen of Freshman Comp so I have less prep! Now, I know I could not be mom and professor and homeschooler.  I was considering a post on that subject, but don’t want to alienate any homeschoolers, whom I respect greatly (so long as they do the homeschooling with the proper dedication—as my mother was not able to with my siblings;  I am convinced of the seriousness of most of the bloggers I read who homeschool, though!)

  • My 4 cents here:

    1) My sister has dealt with many homeschooling families where the child did NOT receive a good education.  She teaches early child ed and had to do some serious repair jobs on the kids.  She is hostile to homeschooling.  I rarely hear these stories from homeschool folks. 

    2) Since I taught a different crowd, I am not hostile to homeschooling because I have seen just as many people who received a great education.

    3) I am public school educated and received a top notch, but secular, education.  My parents religious educated me at home.  I then went to a religious college.

    4)Many homeschoolers trash public education with Reason #######.  I don’t buy it.  There is NO one size fits all for education.  I say this to die hard homeschoolers.  I say this to die hard public ed fans.  I say this to die hard Catholic school fans.  Do what works for your child.  But, don’t dismiss the other forms of education to justify your own.

  • RCM: on point#4 you’ve ignored Melanie’s explanation that “Reason#” means HER reasons, not reasons applicable to everyone everywhere.

  • It’s a matter of syntax, “Reasons to Homeschool” not “Reasons I Homeschool,” and I do believe it is an overall justification, not just a personal one.  So RCM’s point #4 is valid. Having said this, though, it is one response to the situation, as Melanie and I have both agreed (I think) after some confusion, and I’m sorry to have opened the can of worms, since that’s wasn’t really the overall point of the post, as I see it!  smile

  • So is Melanie lying when she tells you what her intent was? Maybe she doesn’t carefully parse every phrase as she writes it.

    She would not write “Reasons I Homeschool” because she doesn’t homeschool yet since our daughter isn’t even one.

    I suppose she could write “Reasons I plan to homeschool”, but who knew she’d be called out on it?

    When you make a shopping list, do you write “Things I have to buy” or “Things to buy” or even just “To buy”?

  • Dom, you are intentionally misrepresenting me. There is a sense in which even one’s personal justifications are general.  Or doesn’t she think that others could use the same justifications?  Point #4 is also valid because is IS a strategy that is used by many people in the way suggested.  I don’t think your defensiveness is necessary.  I’ll sign off now to avoid getting under anyone else’s skin. 

  • Of course, I think other people could appreciate my reasons for homeschooling or else I wouldn’t have posted them. One reason I blog is to share my ideas. But I do try not to preach or tell other people what to do. In fact I’ve addressed the topic of parents comparing ourselves to others on several occasions.

    I do realize it can be a fine line between passionately sharing your ideas and implying that what works for you should work for everyone; but if I cross it, it is not intentional. I obviously feel passionately about homeschooling and that passion is going to come out in what I write. 

    And I write quickly and often distractedly, having to keep an ear and eye open for a roaming baby and with frequent stops to change diapers and get snacks etc. I don’t carefully proofread what I write or parse it to make sure I’m not going to offend anyone. If I did, I’d never get anything posted.

    That said, I welcome discussion and even friendly debate. Being challenged helps me clarify my thinking and hone my ideas. 

    But I would appreciate it if people took my clarifications at face value. When I explain what I meant, that’s what I meant, even if my words might seem to convey something else. And that’s the difference between friendly debate and people getting their feelings ruffled.


  • RCM,

    There’s a difference between “dismissing other forms of education to justify your own” and pointing out certain issues with other forms of education and explaining how those problems that you see with a particular form of education are part of your reasons for your decision.

    Looking at public education, I simply have so many philosophical and methodological problems with it that I simply could not send my kids to a public school. But I’ve stated before that I don’t think there’s a one sized fits all approach to education.

    All parents must decide for themselves what works for their individual families. The Catholic Church clearly teaches that parents are the primary educators of their children. And I take that to mean that each family must decide for itself how best to educate their own children. For many parents that will mean delegating part of the educational responsibilities to third parties and I don’t have a problem with that. (Though I do think that many parents over-delegate and are neglectfully unaware of what their children are being taught.) Heck, even many homeschoolers delegate at least some parts of education to others. It’s all a matter of what works for your family.

    However, by your logic it seems we could never publicly discuss our reasons for choosing what we do if those reasons involve a negative reaction against some aspect of another form of education. I think such discussions are valuable so long as we all avoid comparing ourselves to each other and getting defensive about our parenting choices.

  • I certainly have heard my share of home school horror stories. My sister is dating a guy who was home schooled and did not have a good experience. He’s challenged me on my reasoning and really pushed me to clarify my thinking.

    One thing that I wonder about homeschooling situations that don’t work out well, though, is how different would the situation have been had the child been sent to a public or private school?

    I know we can’t really know the answer. But at least in some of the specific cases I’ve heard about, I can’t help but think that the same issues would have still been there had the child been sent to a school or would they still have fallen through the cracks.

    After all, the family dynamics are still the same. The parents are still a primary influence and if that relationship is bad, what chances do the schools really have? Learning disabilities may or may not be handled better in schools than in the family. Special ed classes can sometimes actually aggravate behavioral problems.

    I think of the stereotype of the homeschooled kid who shows up to college and is socially awkward though academically advanced. And I wonder would that child really have been any less awkward if he’d been sent to school? It’s hard to say what is the cause of social awkwardness. It’s easy to blame homeschooling but I’ve also known plenty of awkward people who are products of both public and private schools. How much of the problem is really with the methodology and experience of homeschooling and how much is simply scapegoating?

    I’m just very skeptical about the idea of schools being the saviors of at-risk children. I know it can and does sometimes happen; but I don’t think we should count on it. 

    I am in complete agreement that the child’s educational needs should determine the kind of education that child receives.

    But as for me, I think the best way to tailor the curriculum and the methodology to my child’s needs is with one-on-one instruction from someone who has known her since birth and who can customize the educational experience to her particular needs and the freedom to change directions when something isn’t working.

    How can teachers in traditional schools have the time or freedom to give the kids in their care such attention? How can they get to know the children in their care when they get a new class each year? Those are my concerns and I’d be curious to see defenders of institutional schooling address their take on these issues.

  • Good point, Domenico.

    You have the right to explain why you want to educate your child the way you choose.

    There are pros and cons to every educational decision.  I have known families who have chosen all three (public, home, Catholic) for their children.  I honestly do not know what I will choose for my daughter (and future kids).  It is something I think about quite often. 

    For every public school horror story there is a horror story for a home schooled child.  The difference is that in public school they reach more students, versus in a home the damage is limited to a family, and thus is often not seen or heard about. 

    At the end of the day, it will really be my child’s needs that will determine what education style she receives.