When Dad is a cartoonist — and makes lunch

Cartoonist Mike Jenkins makes his daughter’s lunch — and draws an original cartoon on the bag every day. He wanted to “think outside the bag,” said the Richmond dad.

Babar’s Mom: Is read-aloud ‘editing’ OK?

When I read Babar the Elephant to my little daughter, I always skipped the page that shows his mother killed by a hunter. We left the reason for his orphaned state unexplained.

Image result for babar's mother dies

One day, she turned the page herself, saw the picture of the dying mother and was somewhat upset.

Of course, I realized that Babar celebrates French imperialism, but let that go.

On Slate, YiLing Chen-Josephson defends “parents editing objectionable material out of children’s books while reading aloud.”

Maurice Sendak’s Pierre was a favorite of her own childhood. She loved the illustrations, but not the “cautionary” story.

There was once a boy named Pierre
Who only would say “I don’t care!”

One day his mother said
When Pierre climbed out of bed
“Good morning, darling boy, you are my only joy”
Pierre said, “I don’t care!”
“What would you like to eat?”
“I don’t care!”
“Some lovely cream of wheat?”
“I don’t care!”

She was reluctant to introduce her son to “ennui, to disaffection, to insubordination” — even if the alternative was to “defang this book of its glorious mischief.” In her home, Pierre only says “I care!”

Of course, the book made no sense that way. Mom asks: “What would you like to eat?” Pierre responds: “I care!”

It also spoiled Sendak’s narrative arc, which shows Pierre eventually learning to care.

Fellow parents tell Josephson they flip past “outrageously racist illustrations” in childhood favorites.

(See Surprise! It’s Racist! for a review of all the politically incorrect things in classic children’s books: African cannibals, slant-eyed Chinese coolies, etc.

Other parents add make half the trucks female in Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site or say “firefighter” instead of “fireman.”

And sometimes a parent has to go a little farther, making an executive decision that the creatures of the forest loved Snow White not because she was “beautiful and gentle” but because “she worked hard and tried new things.”

One mother was “horrified” to realize that Eloise  is a brat rather than a good role model for her daughter, writes Josephson.

I have to say: The fact that Eloise is a spoiled brat is the point of the whole story.

And Pierre is about a kid who doesn’t care.

For some books, if you don’t like it, don’t read it.

Back to school, the parents’ view

From Sad and Useless: Parents Post That Horrible Moment Their Kids Go Back To School.

Knives, fire and fear at Yellowstone

Image result for yellowstone parkWaterfall at Yellowstone National Park

After observing his eight-year-old son’s anxious approach to trick-or-treating, Jonathan Last decided Cody needed a dash of adventure, he writes in Weekly Standard.

This summer, he took his son to Yellowstone “for a week of camping and communing with nature in all her brutal splendor.”

Neither a free-range nor a helicopter parent, he believes, Last sees himself as “a Predator-drone parent: always watching, but from a distance, often unseen, and able to call in close-air support as needed.”

He gave Cody a Swiss Army knife. He was entranced.

He stroked it, examined it, fidgeted with it. He picked through all seven of its tools, studying them individually, and then splayed them out at once like a peacock. He began inventing scenarios where he might use it: “If a tree falls on our campsite, I could use the saw to cut it apart,” he said. “And if a snake bites one of us, I could use the leather punch to drill another hole so we could suck out even more venom,” he said. “If a bear attacks us on a hike, I can use the knife to fight him,” he said. This last scenario burned so brightly in his imagination that he decided to keep the knife in a sheath on his belt. Just in case.

Even more than the knife, Cody loved the campfire.

He devises needlessly intricate methods of starting the fires. He burns everything he can find—paper towels, sticks, dried pine needles, bits of croissant. One night in Yellowstone he took the cardboard center from a roll of paper towels, stuffed it with pinecones and bits of newspaper, punctured air-holes in it with the corkscrew of his Swiss Army knife, and then dropped it in the fire. His face transformed into something resembling the ecstasy of St. Teresa.

Last told his son how to whittle, cutting away from the body, and how to douse embers of a fire, but tried not to hover.

Every day they hiked. One day, they heard a growl, which could have been a bear — or not. They pulled out their bear spray, listened to see where the growler was moving and hiked on.

After a few minutes, when we were clear, Cody looked up at me and said evenly, “Dad, that’s the most scared I’ve ever been in my entire life.”

And so I told him that fear is natural and that there’s nothing wrong with it. That anyone would be scared in a moment like that. But what’s important is that you put your fear to one side so that you can think clearly and do whatever needs to be done.

His son knows “about the fears that middle-class kids carry around these days — about making friends and fitting in and achieving whatever it is their parents hope for them,” writes Last. But until he came to Yellowstone, “he knew nothing about real fear.”

Mastering fear “used to come as a matter of routine to nearly every boy,” he writes. That was before middle-class parents “turned our country into one gigantic safe space.”

Low-income parents are doing more

Image result for black parents children reading
The kindergarten readiness gap seems to be narrowing, according to new research. Children starting kindergarten are better prepared than in the past — and students from low-income families and Hispanics are catching up, reports Ed Week‘s Inside School Research.

Poor students kept their gains at least through 4th grade, according to reading and math results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, but the gaps did not continue to close after children entered school, (researcher Sean) Reardon noted.

Lower-income, less-educated parents are doing more to prepare their children for school, researchers concluded.

“Parents are more likely to report reading to their kids, playing with their kids, taking them on outings to the library or the zoo,” said Daphna Bassok, a University of Virginia education professor.

Study: Head Start boosts grad rates

Head Start has long-term benefits , according to an analysis by Brookings’ Hamilton Project.

Head Start participants are more likely to graduate from high school, attend college, and receive a post-secondary degree or certification, the study found.

As adults, they’re more likely to use “positive parenting” practices with their children.

Especially for black children, “Head Start also causes social, emotional, and behavioral development in participants that are evident in adulthood measures of self-control, self-esteem and positive parenting.”

Head Start participants were compared with siblings who attended other preschool  programs or none at all.

The analysis suggests that the alternative to Head Start is a very bad preschool, writes Kevin Drum in Mother Jones. “Those green bars . . . show Head Start having a bigger effect compared to other preschools than it does compared to no preschool at all. That can only happen if the other preschools were collectively worse than doing nothing.”

Of course, “doing nothing” means spending time with Mom or Grandma. It’s not surprising that low-income mothers often have to settle for low-quality preschools.

Head Start students in Tulsa. Photo: John W. Poole/NPR

Head Start students in Tulsa. Photo: John W. Poole/NPR

Tulsa’s high-quality Head Start program is producing academic gains in middle school, another study concludes.

“Children who attended Head Start had higher test scores on state math tests” in eighth grade, says Deborah Phillips, a Georgetown psychology professor.  “They were less likely to be retained and less likely to display chronic absenteeism.”

Latino students, including those from Spanish-speaking homes, showed gains. However, black boys did not benefit and there were no gains in reading.

Boston’s preschool success is “percolating up” to higher grades, writes Lillian Mongeau.


Time‘s cover story on Super-Siblings — successful brothers and sisters who didn’t come from wealthy families — features the Wojcicki sisters: Susan is the CEO of YouTube, Janet is a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at University of California, San Francisco, and Anne is the CEO and co-founder of genetics company 23andMe.

Their mother, known as Woj, is a brilliant journalism teacher at Palo Alto High, where my daughter was one of her students.

Stanley and Esther Wojcicki with their daughters

Robo-baby moms become real moms

A weekend caring for a computerized baby doll — a popular sex ed technique — doesn’t discourage pregnancy, according to an Australian study published in Lancet. Girls who mothered Baby Think it Over dolls were more likely to become pregnant than sex-ed students who didn’t get the lifelike dolls.

Costing several hundred dollars, the “robo-babies” mimic “six-week-old infant behavior including crying when hungry or needing changing, or gurgling when rocked and burped,” reports the Wall Street Journal.

The simulators track teens’ parenting, “including whether they are left for long periods in a car seat or left without adequate care, or even whether they are handled violently or incorrectly.”

By the age of 20, 17 percent of Australian girls in the Virtual Infant Parenting program had become pregnant compared with 11 percent of the control group.

VIP graduates also were less likely to have abortions than those who hadn’t cared for a robo-baby.

Many girls said caring for the baby dolls was a positive experience, with family members pitching in to help, said Sally Brinkman, of the Telethon Kids Institute in Western Australia.

I was 13 when my “surprise” (more like shock) brother was born. Naturally, I helped care for him — and not just for a weekend. It sure didn’t make me want to run out and have a baby of my own.

From The Onion‘s American Voices:

  • “Don’t send a thousand-dollar robot to do a bag of flour’s job.”

  •  “Why don’t we just stick to the old-fashioned method of demonizing sexuality altogether?”
  •  “Well, let’s not blame the schools. They’re doing all they can to prevent unwanted pregnancies besides teaching students about contraception and fostering open discussions about safe sex.”

Parents pay $1,000 for a week of kinder prep

For $1,000 a week, a private kindergarten prep “boot camp” will ready the children of the affluent and anxious for the “rigors of kindergarten,” reports Sonali Kohli for the Los Angeles Times.

Teacher Elizabeth Fraley teaches the days of the month to future kindergartners. Photo: Los Angeles Times

KinderPrep director Elizabeth Fraley reviews the days of the month. Photo: Katie Falkenberg/Los Angeles Times

KinderPrep, a summer program in Santa Monica, primarily enrolls kids headed for private school.

Nearly all kids in this demographic have attended one or two years of preschool. But director Elizabeth Fraley insists they need to prepare for today’s academic kindergartens, where there will be “no play.”

In addition to the group session, some of the children “had been signed up for separate one-on-one sessions that cost $120 to $200 an hour,” reports Kohli.

 In addition to writing (with help) and listening to the teacher read a book, KinderPrep students practice walking in single file and packing their materials into folders.
Children listen to a book about animals, then pin pictures of the animals to a board. Photo: Los Angeles Times

Children listen to a book about animals, then pin pictures of lions and polar bears to a board. Photo: Katie Falkenberg/Los Angeles Times

“At snack time, the children could partake in organic fruit, gummies and aloe water provided by the program, though many brought their own food because of dietary restrictions,” writes Kohli. “Fraley said she’s seen paté.”

Kindergarten isn’t just the new first grade, according to promoters of school “readiness.” It seems to be the new college — only with less play.

In my view, some parents are suckers. They read a carefully chosen book every night, feed the kids organic kale, quinoa and edamame salads and pay for the best preschool. Then they think little Aidan needs a kinder boot camp — and perhaps a $200-an-hour tutorial — so he can be the best, darn line walker and month identifier in kindergarten.

My younger (step)granddaughter will start kindergarten in a few weeks. She has a sophisticated vocabulary, a flair for math — and a lot to learn about self-control. She has time.

Poor kids, weak families: What can schools do?

J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, which is said to explain the Donald Trump’s appeal to the white underclass should be “required reading for education reformers,” writes Robert Pondiscio in U.S. News.

Vance writes about his family’s “tradition” of poverty, now made worse by family chaos and drug abuse. His father abandoned him. His mother was a suicidal alcoholic who exposed him to a succession of stepfathers and boyfriends.

Despite “an almost religious faith” in hard work and the American dream, in his home town in Ohio is a place “where 30 percent of the young men work less than 20 hours a week and not a single person [is] aware of his own laziness.”

Most children do poorly in school. “We don’t study as children, and we don’t make our kids study when we’re parents,” Vance writes.

Watching an episode of “The West Wing,” Vance is struck that “in an entire discussion about why poor kids struggled in school, the emphasis rested entirely on public institutions. As a teacher at my old high school told me recently, ‘They want us to be shepherds to these kids. But no one wants to talk about the fact that so many of them are raised by wolves.'”

Given a few years of stability by his Mamaw (grandmother,  the one who set Papaw on fire), Vance made it to the Marine Corps, Ohio State,  Yale Law and Silicon Valley. Most of those he grew up with remain poor.

Books about inner-city blacks, such as William Julius Wilson’s The Truly Disadvantaged and Charles Murray’s Losing Ground, “could have been written about hillbillies,” writes Vance, who believes “our government encouraged social decay through the welfare state.”

In his 2012 book Coming Apart, Murray writes about the economic, social and cultural poverty of the white underclass, writes Pondiscio. He also cites Random Family, “Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s 2003 book about two young women caught up in a suffocating web of destructive relationships, teen pregnancy, drugs, crime and general dysfunction in the South Bronx.”

If there is any theme that ought to have emerged from the fractious state of our politics and civic life in 2016, it is not how divided we are but how deeply and stubbornly obtuse we are about one another’s lives. There is a tendency to sentimentalize the lives of the poor, or to infuse poverty with a false note of tragic heroism. Vance seems aware of this himself, noting in his preface that his object is not to argue that working-class white “deserve more sympathy than other folks” but that he hopes readers “will be able to take from it an appreciation of how class and family affect the poor without filtering their views through a racial prism.”

In an interview with Rod Dreher, Vance says the poor should be seen “as moral agents in their own right,” not merely as victims of circumstance. Better public policy can help, he says, but not much.

That leaves us with the problem: If Mama ain’t functional (and Daddy’s  gone), ain’t nobody functional. What do schools do to help these kids learn?