Friday, December 3, 2010

Yes, Virginia, You Will Make Smart Choices

In my mind the most important part of our job as a parent is to try and teach our kids how to make smart choices and direct them to the resources to help them do so.

I'm certainly not one that has made only smart choices in my life but I would like to think that I've learned something from the questionable ones I have made. I try to pass this education on to my kids whenever I can.

I think that a major factor of happiness and success is the ability to make smart choices and learn from not-so-smart ones.

We trust our educators to use their expertise and fill the minds of our children with many things that we can't teach them in their family life. Hopefully, with everything that they learn, the kids will be able to make the smartest choices that they possibly can.

In doing so, we trust that the educators have the ability to make smart choices themselves.

Unfortunately, I don't think this is always the case.

Yesterday afternoon I received a cc to an email from my wife to the vice-principal of our sons' school expressing great dissatisfaction and concern of a poem that was read to the Grade 7 English classes. These are 11 and 12 year olds.

The details that I gathered which are only one (two?) sides of actual events are as follows.

The English class temporarily has an intern working with it under the guidance of the teacher. I mention this because the teacher was present the entire time.

According to my son the intern asked the class how many believe in Santa Claus to which the great majority raised their hands stating that they do.

She proceeded to read a poem titled "The Death of Santa Claus" to the class. This made my son and other kids quite upset.

At some point a remark was apparently made by the intern or the teacher that when the kids get older they'll know more and will understand that there is no Santa.

The poem is about Santa having a heart attack and dying. It's told by an 8 year old boy to his mother who has some terrible news to tell him. I'm assuming that the boy's father has passed away. The boy's friends at school have been telling him that Santa is fake.

I'm not even going to bother pasting a copy of the poem here but if you want to read it try here . Have fun with that.

Maybe it's just me but isn't that horribly inappropriate to tell to a bunch of kids during the Christmas season? Or any time really.

If they are trying to teach the kids about poetry and metaphors and symbolism or make a statement about staying healthy or the health care system they failed.

That's not the message that my kids took away.

And if this crap must be read to them do it at another time of the year! Not during the Christmas season!

Something like this is not for kids the age of my sons. I don't give a damn if anyone disagrees with me. I know my kids.

I guess you can figure out that I was pretty angry when I found out especially upon hearing that it had upset the kids.

I'll make this part of the long story short and say that I left a message and email for the provincial Minister of Education, Superintendent of District 18 education and the school principal and vice-principal to get back to me.
In it I included the above link to the poem.

I would think that the board was a busy place this morning with various people trying to get to the bottom of it.
Eventually I called the school and ended up chatting with the principal.
As expected, he had received numerous calls and emails from parents who were as upset about this as we were.

He told me that "The Death of Santa Claus" is indeed included in the list of materials and stories for teachers to choose for their classes.
Some international expert on middle school material named Nanci Atwell had made the wise decision that this is a good thing to read to kids of this age and school boards have snapped it up because no one thought to say "Uh Nance? Excuse me? I don't mean to question your great expertise but that poem isn't a great choice and quite frankly sucks anyway."
The principal said that it isn't a poem that he would have chosen and will suggest to teachers that they skip over that page of Nanci's material list in the future.

He mentioned that another parent had suggested that they read "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus" to the kids to counter the awful poem.
He asked my opinion and I told him this is a great idea. They will be doing so next week.
Later this afternoon we received the following email from the English teacher.
It turns out this was copied and pasted and emailed to the other parents who had complained as well so the personal touch isn't really there as it appears to be.
It's better than nothing.

Here it is:

Mr and Mrs Scammell
I apologize for this upsetting experience. This poem comes from an anthology by Nanci Atwell, a highly regarded and well published middle school teacher. In the past I've shared this poem with my class because it is a great example of metaphor. This year I passed it on to Mlle P------(the intern) to use because it linked to our memoir theme. The purpose was to demonstrate that memoirs convey emotion and reflect on personal experiences. The poem describes a classic childhood experience everyone can relate to; the 'quintessential moment' as described in the text. In the past I have read this poem in the spring as part of a poetry unit and although the Christmas link seemed like a good idea at the time, in hindsight perhaps it was not good timing. I am sorry. I understand your position and concerns and I will certainly take these into consideration in the future.

What "quintessential moment" is she talking about? Is she referring to a moment when a child stops believing in Santa Claus?
They had already established that most of the kids had not experienced that "quintessential moment" before they read it to them. How could the kids reflect on that personal experience?

In this case this teacher did not made a smart choice and made a bad one. This resulted in a flurry of activity as people struggled to figure out a way to undo the damage that had been done.

I'm hoping that this teacher stands by what she has written and really will take more into consideration in the future assuring smarter choices.

I didn't want to waste space with the awful poem however, I am going to tell the Virginia story.

In 1897 an 8 year old girl named Virginia O'Hanlon asked her father Dr. Philip O'Hanlon if Santa Claus really existed. She had started to doubt if there was a Santa Claus, because her friends had told her that he didn't exist.

Her father suggested that she write to the The Sun, a New York City newspaper at the time, telling her that "If you see it in The Sun, it's so."

In doing this he gave one of the editors, Francis Pharcellus Church, an opportunity to rise above the simple question, address philosophical issues behind it and become immortal with his reply.

Her letter:

DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.'
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?


Mr. Church replied to Virginia with the most famous reply ever printed.

"VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood."

Great job Mr. Church. What a masterpiece.
Is there a Santa Claus? You're darn right there is!

Questioning his existence is not a very smart thing to do. Not a good choice.
Trying to tell a child that Santa isn't real is a very bad choice.

Every choice results in a lesson. Let's learn from them shall we?

Stay well,


Anonymous said...

I question a school board in any province in the great country of Canada for allowing the curriculum to be chosen by a so called "expert" before first reviewing it to see if it is suitable for the students of the school. Edgar Allen Poe's works might be perfectly acceptable in New York or Toronto public schools, but does it apply to the private schools of the Amish? No, certainly not!

This intern should be disciplined for her actions, and the school board should be mandated by the province to choose its curriculum based on something other than the "credentials" of someone in the Excited States! Nanci Atwell should have no influence in Canadian education.


Deb said...

Not only was the poem in bad taste overall, but I don't think it's the school's job to inform their students that Santa is fake. Eventually, we all come to terms with it...(I'm still dealing with the loss.) ;) Seriously though, I don't know why they would provoke such sadness to these children ---and during this time of the year, it brings feelings of hopelessness. Don't we have enough of that already in life? Let the kids believe a little longer...

I appreciate your input by the way over on my post. I truly am grateful. Hope you & your family have a happy holiday season!


Anonymous said...

Totally agree with Deb here. I'm the last one to suggest coddling children and keeping the truth from them, however it is a parent's job to decide when their children are ready to hear the truth about Santa. It is absolutely inappropriate for a teacher (or intern) to make that call.