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Monday, December 27, 2010

A survivor story

"An apple," my daughter responded decisively, when asked what she wanted to color.  She was two, and we were bored, and I recently subscribed to Enchanted Learning, a website that offers coloring sheets.  I hadn't realized how educational it was (okay, the title should have been a giveaway… but, in my defense, I was expecting more coloring sheets and less book reports), but we were still enjoying it.

Apples were, of course, very easy to fine.  A is for Apple, after all.  There was a whole little book of A words: Apple, Ant, Alligator.  After coloring, the child could staple it all together and make an alphabet book.  What fun!  My daughter could make her very own book.  I printed it out and handed it to her and she happily sat at her little table and began coloring and chatting about how she loved apples.  "Do you know what letter that is?" I heard myself saying.  "That's an A.  That's a big A, and that's a little a.  A says 'ah' like in 'apple.'"

And then the panic set it.  What had I just done?  I was introducing her to letters.  For two years I had shielded her from any television that might be considered educational (I do admit to a good deal of Animal Planet during the worst of my pregnancy exhaustion and morning sickness), I had read her no alphabet books.  And, obviously, nary a Leapfrog toy had passed the threshold of our house.  All of my friend's kids knew their ABC song and could identify most of the alphabet, and I sat smug in my daughter's ignorance.  She had better things to be doing than educational things.  But here I was, introducing her to letters.  I may as well have been putting her behind a desk, rapping her knuckles with a ruler, and making her memorize the Gettysburg Address.

Why was I so worried?  Well, all the usual reasons.  Nothing destroys a love of learning like pressure.  Children learn everything they need to know through play.  Let children enjoy their childhood: they have plenty of time to do adult things like reading.

And all of these are perfectly reasonable reasons.  But what do any of them have to do with giving my toddler a worksheet that says A is for Apple?  A worksheet that she asked for?  The problem is that, like so many things, many posters on MDC take a logical and just idea and bring it to its illogical and ridiculous extreme.  To go through my concerns:
Of course pressuring a child to learn things that she's not developmentally ready for is going to be counterproductive.  But is showing a preschooler the alphabet really pressuring them?  Some posters would say yes.  One poster was so offended that her son's preschool did a running "color of the week" activity, and had him sing songs that taught body parts (I assume "head, shoulders, knees and toes") that she pulled him out and has been unschooling him ever since.

And, yes, play is deeply important for children's development.  And, in early childhood, it is all that they need to learn: it's how they learn basic facts about the physical world and how they work out the social aspects of life.  But, no, a child in 21st century America does not learn everything he needs to know through Legos or dress up.  A young child, okay.  But you hear on MDC, in all seriousness, that 11 year olds learn everything they need to know through play.   I don't know exactly where the divide lies, but it exists.

And the idea that you can't be both literate and carefree is an odd MDC myth, very Waldorfian in nature.  I won't go into it here, but there are Waldorf Survivor support groups, and I'm sure there will be posts about it here.  Waldorf is a philosophy that is deeply suspicious of any knowledge of child development, and actually quite counter to a great deal of what we know about the ways that children learn.  Basically, a child is born part angel, and it takes 7 years for all of their cells to die and be regenerated as earth cells, and when they lose their baby teeth that's when they're fully earthly and can learn how to read.  Angels are illiterate, apparently, so if you teach your part angel child how to read… well, I'm not sure what happens.  But it's bad.  But When I learned to read, it didn't mean that I stopped playing with my dolls or running around the backyard.  Was that true for you?  I didn't think so.  The MDC myths about learning how to read deserve their own post here.

At the time I gave my daughter her apple coloring sheets, I was so wrapped up in the MDC theories of education that I was actually feeling guilty about introducing her to something that might vaguely be construed as being educational.

The root of this problem is that everything about MDC is anti-intellectual.  There is fostered a belief that scientists are trying to poison our children through vaccines.  That Bill Gates practices eugenics.  That a young woman giving birth alone in a closet is more qualified than any trained OB.  It's bad enough over on the discussions pertaining to science, but it's downright horrifying to see this anti-intellectualism on display in the forums about education.  Poster after poster doesn't trust teachers, but won't educate their children themselves.  Children are expected to learn from their environment, but aren't given an environment where learning is encouraged.

To anyone reading this, I would encourage finding a happy medium.  Don't force your 3 year old to do hours of worksheets: but, really, who does that?  Introduce them to everything, and see what sticks.  It won't hurt them, I promise.  Understand that a lot of the mythology about delayed academics is either based on bizarre interpretations of Christianity, or a deep anti-intellectualism that looks down on education or training, or is based on some deeply flawed conceptions about the history of education.  Recognize that children are little sponges, that they'll absorb what they want to when they want to… but you have to give them material to absorb.   


Sunday, December 26, 2010

More MDC vitriol: nursing while pregnant

I tandem nursed my boys -through pregnancy and for a year and a half afterward.

And in retrospect, nursing during pregnancy is NOT NATURAL. Is it harmful and yicky and whatever? Meh, jury is still out. But it is definitely not natural.

My evidence?
1.  there are seriously strong taboos throughout the world against nursing while pregnant.

2. From my personal experience and from the experience of most woman I know who nursed during pregnancy, it HURTS. The milk dries up, the milk changes in flavor, and the nipples are sensitive and it is just blergh....

3. A number of women (but not all) also felt revulsion towards the nursling. My revulsion towards my older child was so strong that it was entirely a cognitive exercise to keep nursing. I did it - more because my older child had such strong anxiety that I knew weaning him would be harder/more painful than continuing but I would never do it again.

Now, here is the thing - on MDC, when you feel something strongly that agrees with their agenda, the advice is
"honor your body" or "listen to your mama instincts?" But if your feelings do not align with the agenda, such as with nursing while pregnant? the advice is to buck up and suck up or you will be labeled  a" bad mother" (or selfish or lazy or any number of nasty terms that = bad).


AP is harmful to children

I have strong philosophical and scientific objections to AP as currently promoted by MDC, as an incredibly harmful and dangerous approach to raising kids. While I have objections based on AP being harmful to mothers (the mommy=martyrdom assumptions are overwhelming), I am going to focus this argument on how it is unnatural and harmful to children.

Attachment Parenting, as currently promoted by MDC, is focused exclusively on attachment between child and mother (with lip service to father). Mothers are encouraged to never leave their babies or children EVER, even with other loving caregivers, because it is seen as potentially undermining the attachment. Anything that is potentially separating mother/child is seen as dangerous to the attachment, such as setting behavior expectations, night weaning, or anything that the child sees as unpleasant.  In the extreme, mothers are told to even school their children at home, partially to avoid breaking the attachment between mom and kids.

But in fact, the mother/child dyad doesn't really need much help. Hormones from birth and nursing and instinct and cultural expectations for mothering behaviors already prime mothers and babies to be attached to each other.

So what attachments need support? The attachments will non-full time caregivers.  Dr Sarah Hrdy in her book, Mothers and Others and in her other book, Mother Nature, offers very good evidence that the cause of our current evolutionary state (big brains & hyper social) is because of our ability to become attached to people who are *not* our mothers.

Think about it. Babies are so fragile for a really long time. In the standard environment of evolutionary adaptation (EEA), it would be physically impossible for a mother of a newborn to gather enough calories to support herself and her newborn AND protect herself against predators. Her survival and that of her infant (and any other children, especially in a world of high maternal mortality) require reliance on other people for survival, i.e. alloparents. Women who did not have this support were much less likely to have children who survived to have their own children. Women who did were much more likely to have surviving offspring.

Humans have created many interlocking strategies to gain this support, including:
* the ability to form new family groups out of unrelated people, and create family relationships with non-blood relatives (adoption, marriage, "brotherhoods", "sisterhoods", clans, etc).
* high levels social and status awareness, so that women can negotiate support for themselves and their children from others within and outside their families.
* very early social skills in infants (such as social smiles) and receptive hormonal responses in adults so that these non-mother adults are encouraged to fall in love with the baby, and therefore are more likely to help care for the baby. We see this also in our love of baby animals.
* regular customs of shared care-giving throughout the world in every culture.

However, unlike mother/child relationships, these non-parental relationships are more fragile and more contextual. The child has a larger burden to maintain and support these relationships, and a great deal of childhood is spent learning how to get along with others, negotiate and compromise, and work together to problem solve. In a world of high maternal mortality, the better a child was at developing his/her own positive relationships with his/her community, the higher likelihood of the child's survival after the death of his/her mother.

In light of these facts, AP should be more about supporting NON-mother attachment, since attachment is not a zero sum game. The more attached a child is to a community of people, the more the child has the ability to create new attachments and negotiate those attachments in a healthy way. The attachment with family is strengthened by additional attachments because it gives the child experience with new attachments and hopefully an appreciation for the family attachment.

A child who does not learn to to create, promote and negotiate attachments outside of a small family circle is essentially socially crippled, especially since we still all rely on our larger communities to thrive and succeed. Some children are more naturally adept than others, but just like any other skill, there is a baseline level at which all children will need in order to succeed. Experiences with Asperger's and Autism, which are essentially social skills deficits (among other elements) show us both how the lack of these skills can hurt children as well as how much kids are capable to learn about social interaction even when their natural abilities are compromised.

Day care, preschool, moms day out, playgroups, clubs, religious education, summer camps, and even school are all places many children learn to form and negotiate attachments outside of their families. To deny your child access to these places because they are anti-AP is in my mind, the absolute opposite - it is anti-attachment to keep your child's social world focused on the mother.

And it is harmful to the child and to all the people your child will interact with over his/her lifetime.