Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sins of the father

When Ben was 4, we had a conversation about the differential workload between mothers and fathers, and how the situation was improving, but not yet equal. I explained that Ben's dad was a much better dad than his father was to him. He vowed then to be a better father again. As a mother trying to raise sons to challenge the patriarchy, there's not much more I could have asked for.

Ben's grandfather's name was Ross. He was an alcoholic who was frequently violent, especially when his family was young. And yet, he wanted to be a better father than his father had been. Ross told the story of seriously considering killing his father when he was 8 or 10 years old because of the violence in their house. He knew it was wrong. Nevertheless, he grew up to repeat it, if not quite as viciously as his father.

Crash, by contrast, has broken the cycle far more effectively. He isn't violent, but his language still includes violent rhetoric. The ghosts of fathers past still linger in his first reactions, despite his own force of will stopping him from acting on those impulses. Feminism gets some of the credit for this too. Ross knew the violence was wrong, but society as a whole didn't really back that up. He was brought up in Broken Hill, where women were decorations, not people. His conditioned responses had only his will standing against them, while Crash's have his will and that of a society that is finally beginning to condemn violence as a response to anger and frustration.

I feel a deep sadness for Ross. I don't know the history that precedes his father, or how many generations this legacy has affected. However, I have hope for the future. The sins of the father need not continue to be visited upon the sons. Understanding and compassion hold the key. Anger is necessary to recognise the problem, but it isn't enough to stop it repeating. Ross had every reason to be angry with his father, but without trying to understand him and identify why he did the things he did, Ross ended up repeating it. Crash still has habits of thinking that were influenced by the way he was raised. However, each time he gains more insight into his father, each little bit more he understands, he gains more power. Understanding doesn't excuse, but it's a hell of a lot easier to break habits whose origins make sense.

My kids have a massive advantage over the generations who preceded them. They are being raised by people who understand how our patriarchal society fucks with men, as well as women. I want them to be angry about what has gone before them, but I want them to direct the anger to the world that allowed and encouraged it. Another man in Ross's position might not have repeated his father's behaviour, but Ross in another time and place might not have either. We are social creatures, and our job is to create a society that makes it easy to break the cycle. We can never be responsible for another person's actions, but no person's actions take place in a vacuum. If we are to be an inclusive society, we have to be able to support the Rosses of this world, as well as those people who have been able to break the cycle on their own.

There is no argument I hate more than "I went through that, and I survived without ever doing X". As much as I admire the folks who can say that, it is completely unfair to those who a hellish childhood has broken. The problem is not that the kid failed to rise above the turmoil in their lives, the problem is that we failed to help them do so. As a society, we are damn lucky that many kids manage to do it themselves, but it doesn't excuse us for failing those who can't find the strength or the way.

The way forward is not through blame, but through understanding what went wrong. The only way to stop something happening again, is to understand why it happened the first time and what needs to be done differently to stop it happening again. You can tell a person not to lash out violently until you're blue in the face, but it you don't tell them what else to do, and how to control the emotions that drive it, no punishment or consequences will ever stop them.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

DUFC coming soon!

I'll be hosting the Down Under Feminists Carnival for April - showcasing posts from Aus/NZ feminist bloggers during March. I've just finished a secondary teaching degree, so I may show a slight bias towards education and young people-related submissions, but I won't go so far as to say it's the theme - if it's good, I'd love to include it!

The standard procedure to submit posts for the carnival is to submit them here. At the moment, however, Blog Carnival is refusing to let me register, so please email me your submissions as well, if it's not too much of a trauma - I'm not sure if/when the problem will be resolved. My email is ariane @

So, get reading and submitting! I'm not at all daunted by this task. Not at all. :)

UPDATE: Blog Carnival has allowed me to register, and the submission form is working again. So, have at it!

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Rudeness in the classroom

Yesterday Ben (9), in a fit of melancholy induced by many dramas, announced that, on top of it all, his teacher had taken his handball off him. Ever one to leap to my children's defence, I asked him what he'd done to get her to confiscate it. He'd been tossing it in his hands while the teacher was talking. Well, no freaking wonder, thinks I. I explain to him that pretty much all teachers are going to think that tossing a ball around in the classroom is extremely rude. Ben has some difficulty understanding why, since he was listening more carefully than usual while he's tossing the ball around.

This kinda throws up a red flag. Lots of kids listen and think better when they've got something to occupy their hands - particularly kids with ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorders. This doesn't apply to Ben, but it's a perfect example of why considering the needs of kids (or indeed adults) with disabilities is actually about accepting diversity generally. It's not some grand gesture made out of the goodness of the heart, it makes the world a better place for everyone, regardless of whether or not they currently fit the category of having a disability.

What this teacher should have done, was ask Ben why he was playing with the ball. She should have considered that he may listen better if his hands are occupied, and offered more appropriate options that don't distract the other kids (because tossing a ball in the classroom is always a Bad Idea)*. She should have considered that not everyone is the same. Of course, almost no teachers would do that. Most think of accommodations for kids with special needs as a separate category, that they only need think about when someone hands them a file explaining a child's diagnosed situation. We really need to change this.

This was no big deal for Ben, we discussed it, we discussed other options for keeping his hands busy, and today he apologised to his teacher and asked for his ball, which was returned. However, if Ben had been a child with undiagnosed ADHD or Aspergers, or a kid who doesn't fit any boxes so doesn't get the "protection" of a diagnosis, this could have been a Very Big Deal Indeed. Teachers (and all of us) need to consider diversity all the time, not just when a kid is stamped and approved for special assistance.

Last year, I did an assignment about what I'd learned about teaching, as a result of having a child diagnosed with Aspergers. In the assignment, I quoted the blog post I wrote the day after he was diagnosed. To bring the whole incestuous thing full circle, the video that constituted the "physical" part of the assignment is below. The take home message, though, is that what I learned is that we need to understand kids, not just manage their behaviour, and that this is true of all kids, not just ones with labels. And, perhaps more importantly, this is actually the easier path. Working with a kid is a lot easier than working against them, even if it involves a steep learning curve when you first meet them in your class.

It needs to be said that I understand teachers already have too much to do, and I think some serious changes need to be made to give teachers more time to do all the things they need to do, but that's a rant for another day. In the meantime, any steps we can take in this direction will help.

This conversation need not have happened at the time she took the ball, it could have happened in a quiet moment later.