culture

#motrinmoms, or Twitter and the Beast

Or is Twitter the beast?

For those unfamiliar with Twitter, the number sign is a hash tag used to label “tweets” (mini-posts) similar to Technorati or WordPress tags in blogs.  As you can see from this chart from Twist, the topic du jour for Sunday was motrinmoms.

motrinmoms

In fact, at 8:50 Saturday evening, there wasn’t a single mention.  But only fourteen minutes later, the true power of social networking began to show with 339 mentions of motrinmoms.

All over a Motrin ad.  By the time I saw the first message, the site was already getting overloaded and the advertisement wouldn’t play until the entire site finally went down and Motrin issued an apology.  The ads are no longer available, but A Dad First kindly provided a transcript in case you are wondering what all the fuss is about.  Update: Of course it would be on YouTube.

I’m still wondering what all the fuss is about, but for a different reason.

To start with, we have a rather large company which certainly put a lot of money and research into this ad campaign.  It most certainly was not a spontaneous lightning bolt of inspiration which struck some corporate exec on Friday night and got launched before anyone really thought about it.

researchThey did think about it.  And I’m sure they had focus groups respond.  You know those people with clipboards who stop you in the mall to ask you a couple of questions?  I could almost guarantee they were out in force accosting young mothers at the mall and getting their feedback.  And when I saw the graphic ads and read the transcript of the video ad, I could see what they were going for: a tongue-in-cheek sort of humor that a mom could identify with immediately.  The trouble with humor, however, is that it is easy to miss the mark.  And when you miss the mark, people tend to feel like they are being mocked rather than understood.

Enter the Twitterers.  These are not random young mothers walking through the mall with their children wandering here and there while they were being asked some questions about Ibuprofen.  Instead, they are socially engaged, techically savvy, ideologically motivated mothers who have made a place for themselves on the internet discussing their parenting styles.  Women who have dedicated themselves to attachment parenting, homeschooling or both.  Women who do not take even subtle references to children as burdens lightly.

So they reacted.  Or as some claim, overreacted.

I didn’t suggest that a Twitter protest would save the world – just that outrage is manufactured and misdirected —matthewktabor of education for the aughts, a pretty good education blog, I might add.

And this is the part that intrigues me.  Did they overreact?  Have homeschoolers overreacted to the “homeschoolers are demented” comment made by some comedian on The View?

As I watched this topic trend upward until Motrin responded, my first thought was not “the power of Twitter.”  In fact, my first thought was how much money Motrin saved by the near instant feedback to their advertising campaign.  They did not have to wait until next quarter to wonder why their sales seemed to be declining and to perhaps mistakenly blame the economy.  Instant feedback, a quick and hearty response and all is forgiven with a bit of added brand recognition in the minds of consumers.

But I guess it is all in how you view Twitter and the conversations you find there.  As more and more people commented on the advertising, I did not see protesters marching in front of Motrin’s corporate headquarters.  I saw friends and acquaintances who were talking about what they had for lunch.  And then ask if I’d seen the Motrin ad.

The thing is, I wouldn’t think twice about the vast majority of the comments I have read regarding either Motrin or the demented homeschooler line if they were dropped in casual conversation.  And that is what Twitter is.  Informal, casual conversation that happens to be available for all the world to read.

Nebraska’s safe haven law

babyThere has been quite a bit of buzz recently about Nebraska’s safe haven laws, intended to give a safe place for distraught mothers to drop off their unwanted infants.  These laws are gaining in popularity as people are increasingly horrified at the occasional stories of infants left to die in dumpsters or other unseemly places, but we here in Nebraska were unique in not identifying an age-limit.

So a lot of children were dropped off who didn’t fit the “newborn” status that lawmakers had intended.  Like the nine children aged one to seventeen dropped off by a man who lost his wife a year previously.  Or even the eighteen year old who turned himself in to a hospital.  We’ve even had some come from other states to absolve themselves of their parenting duties, prompting children and family services director for Health and Human Services, Todd Landry,  to quip,

“This is not what we intended when we said we wanted to increase Nebraska tourism.” Omaha World Herald

So the governor called a special session of the legislature to try to hammer down an age-limit.  Senator Ernie Chambers apparently attempted a one-man filibuster, something he is rather notorious for around here.  And yes, that would be the Senator Chambers who sued God, a lawsuit he is apparently considering pursuing even though it was thrown out of court.

The whole situation is upsetting, but I think we may be asking the wrong questions from all sides of the debate.  Many are looking at these parents and wondering “What kind of parent…”  But I wonder why the shock and judgment is saved for those who abandon teenagers.  And as much as it pains me to think what it must be like for those children to be dropped off at an area hospital, I cannot help but wonder what life was like at home with parents who were, for whatever reason, in a situation they no longer felt they could handle.

And what might have happened if they were forced to continue without some sort of support.

Julie of Shanan Trail makes an interesting point in Why Homeschool’s comment box:

When I read the stories of these teenagers (most of whom were dropped off because of behavioral problems — I know at least one has fetal alcohol syndrome) my heart breaks. I think it is terrible for a parent to walk out on their struggling kids. But, the tale is no less sad or tragic when it happens to an infant. Because here is the truth… that infant is going to become an adult adoptee. No one should have their story be that their mother dropped them of anonymously at a hospital somewhere and walked away. And, for the mother… abandonment is a permanent solution to a problem that may well have other solutions. She may be able to parent the child herself and just need help in finding resources. She may feel she needs to place the child for adoption. When a mother places a child for adoption, she is supposed to receive counseling and support. She may opt to create an adoption plan that allows her to have continued contact with a child. For sure the adoptee will have access to more information about his or her past.

I am not sure what I think about safe haven laws in general, but I do think that we are looking at the wrong thing when we begin to focus on the age-limit.  Regardless of the age, we are talking about families in crisis that are in need of intensive support.  And safe haven laws may not work to save the babies they are directed at, anyway.

Sen. DiAnna Schimek of Lincoln cited studies in states with safe haven laws showing that, after passage of the law, as many infants have been left to die as have been left in safe havens.  Omaha World Herald

Murder cannot be prevented by simply providing “another way out.”  There have always been choices other than murder.  I doubt it can be solved by throwing more money at it, or by lessening the stigma associated with teen pregnancy as Senator Chambers desires.

I wish I had a neat little packaged answer, but I fear in this area we are going to be governed by a principle laid out pretty clearly by Senator Arnie Stuthman,

“I felt I was sacrificing, but I thought if we could save just one baby, it would be worth it,” he said. “I think people felt they did not want to see another youngster dropped off in a Dumpster.”  Ibid.

If we could save just one baby…

In exchange we leave families in crisis situations to walk away from their children without any of the underlying problems addressed.  Families which might have been preserved if our state focused on helping families identify community resources set up to provide support, counseling, respite or whatever other needs these families have.  And families which will continue to struggle because you may be able to physically walk away from your child, but the emotional and spiritual toll of such an act cannot so simply be dropped off at your local hospital.

Of the 35 children dropped off since the law was passed, not one was an infant.  But I think perhaps we prefer to simply change the law and pretend that those other families were anomalies rather than a warning of some serious social problems affecting families today.

Hat Tip: NCCPR

Losing their children

Ukraine mapAn interesting story popped up in my Google alert for homeschool, although it has nothing to do with homeschooling.  Still, it is an interesting look at the difficulties experienced by some immigrant communities and raises a lot of questions for me regarding the whole assimilation process, how immigrant families are instructed in American values and what the idea of American culture and values even means.

Over 100,000 evangelical Christians from the former Soviet Union live in the Portland area and the older generation is increasingly clashing with the younger.  In the Soviet Union, they were fined, jailed and put in mental asylums so the community learned to exist by isolating itself.  This has also been an interesting part of the ongoing homeschooling story in Germany as one of the stories to really gain a great deal of international attention involves the so-called “Paderborner Baptists,” an ethnically German group which had relocated back to Germany after the fall of the Soviet Union.  They rejected the values they saw in the schools, isolated themselves and began to homeschool.  They also resisted the state’s pressure on them, and some speculated that the resulting standoff had less to do with religion and homeschooling than it did with a community that had continued to exist by resisting Soviet oppression.

Here in the US, however, we do not have that kind of pressure.  Certainly there is a form of pressure put on immigrant families and their children, but it is of a different kind.  More subtle, not forceful, but still felt.  Some members of the community have responeded by withdrawing into their community, refusing to learn English and by maintaing their “old ways” as best they can.  But in the process, some fear they are losing their children.

The story focuses on Mariya and her family who immigrated here 6 years ago.  She feels helpless as she watches her children stray from her values and reject their heritage.

In Ukraine, she says, she never had trouble with her children.  Now they refuse to go to church or eat the Ukranian food she prepares.  They tell Mariya they will call the police if she disciplines them.  “I have no more hope that anything will change for the better,” she says.  “In this society, you basically have to do what your kids say.”  OregonLive.com

A pastor gives some additional insight:

“Parents think that if their kids get involved in American things, it’s desertion,” Faith Community Church Pastor Robert Rathburn says.  “It’s like corruption of their Russian or Ukranian culture and religion.”  Ibid.

Throughout the article, “American culture” is seen as pulling these children away from their parents, drawing them into our way of life and away from their parents.  Even the title, “Slavic parents lose control of their Americanizing kids” implies as much.  The sad thing is, however, the behaviors raising concern are not part of “American culture.”  The article leads off with an example.

Mariya calls her children’s schools almost daily, or comes to school crying.  Her three teenage sons smoke and drink, even in front of Mariya and her husband.  They go out at night, don’t return home until morning and sometimes disappear for days.  Her oldest dropped out of high school last year; another son did the same a few months ago.  Her preteen daughter ran away from home.  Ibid.

Drinking, drugs and running away certainly exist among American youth, but most of us who have been born and raised here would be horrified to see this kind of behavior in our children, and would also arrive at meetings with the school in tears.  It is shocking, and the parents feel completely powerless.

Later on in the story, we see a glimpse of the real problem.  The parents do not discipline their kids.  Back home, they spanked.  With a belt.  Here, parents fear losing their children if they use this sort of discipline and they seem at a loss for any other way to raise their children.

sadIt is a difficult situation for all involved.  Perhaps when social workers receive reports arising out of these situations, some consideration needs to be taken for the culture they are coming from.  What we see as abusive, many of these families see as normal child rearing.  Education and assistance is needed more than splitting up families.

It makes me wonder exactly what they have been told.  Here in Lincoln, Catholic Social Servies helps to introduce refugees to American culture, teaching them a little of what to expect and specifically outlining parenting practices common in some of their native cultures which can lead to CPS involvement here in America.

In the immigrant population I worked with for a short time, I saw a lot of the same kinds of problems expressed in this article.  I don’t know specifically what they were told when they arrived, nor how they parented in teh refugee camp in the Middle East where they lived before coming here, but I was shocked at how much control children had over their parents and how parents were reluctant to even say “no,” let alone offer consequences for misbehavior.  And they also blamed American culture for seducing their children from their way of life.

But is American culture really to blame?  Somewhere along the line, someone did their job informing these immigrants that certain discipline techniques will bring the state into your home and possibly lead to your children being removed.  But it seems that something that is perhaps lacking is someone to teach them that there are other ways of setting and maintaining boundaries.  That even in America, we don’t allow our children to control us.  And that when our children make bad decisions involving underage drinking, drug use, gang behavior and even theft, we too are devastated.

Instead, they live in fear of their own children calling CPS or the police, and end up covering up the crimies of their children out of fear of the stigma from friends in their community and what will happen if the police get involved.

Religion and abuse

This has nothing to do with homeschooling, but nausea and apathy have pretty much killed my motivation to tackle the task I set before myself this evening…and that is only in part due to pregnancy.  Thanks to COD for this little article which displays both the worst and best of the human spirit:  The girl in the window.

The girl in the window is six year old Danielle, who just appeared there for a fleeting moment one day, years after a family moved in.  No one even knew a little girl lived there.  When officers finally arrived to investigate, what they found left them vomiting and in tears.

“I’ve been in rooms with bodies rotting there for a week and it never stunk that bad,” Holste said later. “There’s just no way to describe it. Urine and feces — dog, cat and human excrement — smeared on the walls, mashed into the carpet. Everything dank and rotting.”

And then there was the little girl.  The one who had appeared for a fleeting moment in a window months previously.  Lying in a bed in a soiled diaper, amongst a stack of dirty diapers and surrounded by filth and human excrement.  At seven, she had been so severely neglected that she was completely unresponsive to stiumuli, including eye contact, touch and even pain.  No one knows whether she will ever be able to live on her own although physically, nothing is wrong with her.

In the end, she is adopted by a loving family who by all accounts is doing all they can for her even though she is far from what they were seeking when they set their hearts on adoption.  Her eyes just captivated them and the rest didn’t seem to matter so much.  She is even beginning to show improvment, responds to people, understands simple commands, is potty trained and seems to enjoy interaction…all things which no one knew for sure she would ever be capable of.

I should have just stopped reading the story at the end.  It was about as happy of an ending as you could get for a story like this.  But of course a comment caught my attention, and I think someone’s moral compass is in serious need of readjustment.  Dormiel writes:

Wait they are saying that the mother had a low IQ and was neglectful so they give her to a family who worship sky fairies? I don’t know what’s worse frankly.

Let me see.  Leave the child to rot in her own feces, or give her to a Christian family who wants to care for her.  Which do you think is worse?

I’d be inclined to pass it off as yet another asinine Internet comment, but I’ve heard others who seem to have difficulty drawing a distinction as well.

So we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible, or that the planets rule their lives, than we should allow parents to knock their children’s teeth out or lock them in a dungeon.  Edge.org

And Nicholas Humphrey is not some random anonymous commenter on a newspaper article.  He was speaking before Amnesty International.

What can homeschooling learn from the political divide?

!@#$%^&* a Snook asks an interesting question that I started to answer in her comment box: What can Homeschooling Learn from Our Present Political Stories? It started with some musing about how Ron Paul seemed to unite extremists on both the left and right behind him over on Spunky’s post NEA endorses Obama. I was never particularly surprised by Ron Paul’s apparent unifying ability at the extremes of both ends of the spectrum, but I’ll get back to that after sharing JJRoss’ quote from “The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics & Religion at the Twilight of the American Empire,” by Matt Taibibi:

The Ron Paul candidacy was an extreme example of outsider politics on the left and right merging…retreats from the mainstream that traveled in opposite directions but were parallel in substance….Both groups were and are defined primarily by an unshakable belief in the inhumanity of their enemies on the other side…

I have not read the book and am only reacting to what was shared. I disagree with the assessment, but I think the surprise that people from seemingly opposite sides of the political spectrum were able to so passionately come behind the same candidate demonstrates something deeply wrong with American politics.

The trouble is, we have all fallen into this “unshakable belief in the inhumanity of [our] enemies on the other side.” Conservatives have cast the liberal as public enemy number one. In fact, they aren’t even really liberals any more. They are God-hating secularists trying to push their homosexual agenda. Conservatives, on the other hand…well, we are “seduced by homophobia and a lust for war.” * Or, as Thomas Frank says in What’s the Matter With Kansas (as if voting Republican were some sort of mental illness), we lack the ability to make “certain mental connections about the world.”

Libertarians have long had a difficult time identifying themselves on the Left-Right spectrum of American politics. Because their political views are not so typically defined by the freedom to/freedom from debate that drives so much of the philosophizing against conservatives and liberals. They embrace both, and the libertarian party has long been split by those who vote Republican and those who vote Democrat. For an essentially libertarian candidate to have united these groups is unsurprising. To have attracted a few people who probably have libertarian leanings whether they realized it or not is unsurprising. Realizing that American political views do not really work along a Left-Right spectrum goes along way in quelling the surprise.

To realize that conservatives and liberals have similar goals shouldn’t leave people standing in the grocery store shocked that a single candidate was able to unite despite seemingly polar opposite political beliefs. We all want liberty. Certainly we define it a little differently. Certainly we see differing roles for government. But conservatives do not want to leave children and the elderly starving in the streets and the rest of the nation without health care any more than liberals want to make us all dependent on the welfare state in order to increase their…I don’t know what exactly. I haven’t quite figured it out because I stopped reading that kind of “reporting.”

What has this all to do with homeschooling? Too much, I’m afraid. Julie left a comment on my post Homeschoolers Threaten Our Cultural Comfort which rings true to the way we often go about advocating our positions.

Well, I think perhaps some of the defensiveness people feel against homeschoolers is legitimate…I started reading homeschool blogs shortly afterward, there are quite alot of entries that more than imply that the only acceptable educational choice is homeschooling.

And if you need an illustration, here is a nice one from the forum over at OneNewsNow (link moved, emphasis and misspelling in original).

My children my choice right? Never will I sacrifice my children upon that alter of mid control and manipulation. I propose bringing against any parent that willing allows thier child to attend a public school up on charges of neglect and abuse. I am raising men and women, not self-centered gender confused diversified evolved sin toleraters.

Is that what we really believe? Charges of neglect and abuse against any parents who let their children attend a public school? No wonder people get a little defensive at the mention of homeschooling. I realize that this is in direct response to the educational anarchy comment by the California Teachers Association, and a few people in the forum were a little insulted by it. But what does this sort of language serve to accomplish?

What certified teacher would read that and be persuaded? What parent of a public schooled child would read that and wonder if homeschooling might be for them? The point of this kind of speech is not to promote understanding, find common ground or really engage the opposition at all. Its sole purpose is to draw a clear distinction between parties and rally supporters behind the “flag.” It is a call to war, not to reason.

All too often, homeschoolers engage the public with the same “unshakable belief in the inhumanity of [our] enemies on the other side” that conservatives and liberals adopted long ago. We engage each other in that fashion, promoting a divide between religious and secular homeschoolers that does not necessarily have to exist. So we are surprised when friendships develop across the divide? As if our views on the origin of life were the dominant theme in our lives?

I am not surprised when I find myself reading secular blogs and agreeing with a lot of what they say. I am not surprised when I find more points of agreement than disagreement with the secular homeschoolers who occasionally participate in the discussion here. We are “polar opposites” to a greater degree than a Republican and a Democrat meeting in a grocery store. But we are parents. With a goal of raising our children in the best way we know how.

What can we learn from the “present political stories?”

Perhaps that we do our own cause a disservice when we march on the public with the same sort of passion that we march on the capitol. That nothing is gained by boxing those we disagree with into a dehumanizing label even as we react to the stereotypes placed on us. That those who appear to be from opposing “camps” very often have similar goals, just a different means of getting there. That homeschooling would get on a little better if we could more effectively engage fellow parents rather than shallow, materialistic people more interested in their careers than their children. Fellow educators rather than purveyors of mind-control and manipulation. Children rather than mindless automatons raised by the state.

* Recorded in Superior, Nebraska by Denis Boyles, p. 14

Update: Dawn at Day by Day Discoveries adds some thoughts.