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Communicating with my kid's school. Dog, orange, sailboat.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A few days ago, Monster's school** posted a little news item on their blog, reporting that some of the high school classes had taken a field trip to Wal-Mart. But not just that they had visited Wal-Mart.

We were informed that they visited this upstanding company to learn about their social commitment and their concern with sustainable development and environmental issues.

Cough. Cough. Gag.

I couldn't help it. I couldn't help myself. I posted a comment suggesting that some critical analysis would make such visits more meaningful and educational. I offered a whole bunch of links for anyone interested in further research (many from here).

But, I did not reread my comment several dozen times to be sure that it said what I wanted it to. And I admit, it came out a bit too judgmental. It wasn't as diplomatic as I would have liked (definitely not one of my strengths, as much as I loathe confrontation). I know that teachers work really hard, and I also know that I can not expect the impossible of teachers here in Macondo.

(We have spoken up about some things before, and we have also kept quiet about so much).

I really meant my comments to be...um, helpful? I don't know. I just couldn't let the 'upstanding company' thing go by without a comment.

I may not be engaged in any great activist campaigns or world-changing projects out here in Macondo, but I thought I could at least try to make a few itsy bitsy spaces for some critical analysis. Offer some alternative viewpoints. And object, no matter how timidly, to multinational companies using schools as privileged entryways to bombard our kids with their barely camouflaged advertising.

My comment has received two responses:
  • One, from a student, saying that going to the supermarket with his classmates was an unforgettable experience (?). Yup, this is a small town, folks.
  • And the other, from a teacher, saying (very politely) that since I had no idea what the objectives of the visit were, I could not really comment on the value of the activity.
And now I have this nervous, sinking feeling in my stomach and a horrible taste in my mouth. (Have I mentioned that I really dislike confrontation?) I need to address his comment, apologize for coming across too strong, but restate my concern.

On one hand, I know that I am on a different planet. I will say 'ABC', and the only answers I will get will be 'dog, orange, sailboat', or 'dksolw.ddoips' or, in the best of cases, '????'.

On the other hand, I live here, this is the Monster's school, I have to at least try. Right? But I kind of want to run away and never face anyone at the school again. I know, I know, what strong activist convictions.

I am sorry that all this happened a week too late to write up my problem for entry in the carnival of natural parenting. This month the theme was to ask for parenting advice, and I could definitely use some:
  • How involved in this do I want to get? 
  • How can I be diplomatic and critical when dealing with my kid's school? How can I introduce social justice and diversity issues?
  • If my son is only in kindergarten, should I just give up on caring what the high school kids are doing?
  • Am I crazy to think that we can offer an alternative, critical education here at home while our kids become part of a mainstream, conservative education system (public or private)?
  • How can I stop feeling physically sick every time I find myself in a confrontation or disagreement? I would so love to feel confident that I could express my concerns or opinions in an articulate and respectful way and not want to run away immediately afterward. (Yes, just a huge little problem I thought I would slip in at the last minute).

**We have never been thrilled about this school. But, despite our efforts, we have not found anything better, and we have found many that are considerably worse. So for now, it is what it is. He's in junior kindergarten, he's happy, he adores his teacher, he has friends. We will whisk him away from here, to more inspiring educational landscapes, before any major damage can be done.


Anonymous said...

I totally get this post. We've been boycotting Wal-Mart for almost ten years, and our family still looks at us like we're insane.

I applaud your willingness, despite a fear of confrontation, to question the unquestioned. I champion and support your resistance to the troubling aspects of the culture in which you are submerged. And I guarantee you, even if you don't whisk Monster and Monkey away to critical thinking paradise, just having parents who engage in difficult questions means he will, later if not sooner, become a thinker who does not simply accept at face value the stuff he's forcefed in school.
You're doing fine. And he'll be fine. And I'm sure it's frustrating as hell. So keep fighting. that sick feeling is an instinct that tells you adrenaline is coming. So, fight or flight.
I vote for fight, but it's way too easy for me to say that, because the people around me are fighting for the same things I am. It's much easier to fight with the crowd than against it. You're my hero.

macondo mama said...

Thank you, Naptime. This comment really means a lot to me. It's easy to lose my bearings, not wanting to fight against everything or waste energy (and anxiety) on the impossible, yet wanting to parent, and also just exist, in a way that is socially engaged and concerned with social justice. It was much easier when others around me were more or less on the same page.

Thank you so so so much for the encouragement!

Anonymous said...

I always thought there was something a little snotty and bourgeoisie about boycotting Walmart. It seems like something upper middle class liberals like to brag about but I don't get it because it's not like you'd shop there anyway unless buying cheap crap makes you feel superior.

Now the Germans hated Walmart and they had to close them all because no one would shop there. I don't think hypermarkets do very well in wealthy socialist countries. I don't picture the French would like them much either, though a French Walmart would be really funny :)

I don't think Walmart is bad. The social structures that make Walmarts popular should be targeted the issue. Figure out why certain demegraphics need to buy cheap crap and then work your way out.

macondo mama said...

Wiffette -

I agree that criticizing other people who shop at Wal-Mart can be snotty and bourgeoisie. It can be. But that doesn't mean that boycotting it yourself isn't also a great idea (and a healthy lifestyle choice, in general). The real critique, though, has to be against the company and its practices, not against its shoppers.

There is definitely a lot of privilege in being able to *choose* to boycott Wal-Mart, and in fact, since moving to Macondo, we have started to do some of our shopping there - something I never would have done in Toronto (and which I loathe).

But I still oppose Wal-Mart. They are still evil and destructive, in oh so many ways. The problem is not just that Wal-Mart is popular because poor people need to buy crap. Wal-Mart plays an important role in narrowing options. They pay poverty wages and undercut and undermine alternatives for producers, suppliers, workers and consumers.

My choice to not boycott is based on 3 ideas: I don't have a range of other options like I would in a more cosmopolitan centre; my other options are also evil multinationals that no doubt engage in the same shitty labour practices and general social destruction; I can't fight every battle on every front and I am also lazy and apathetic.

Speaking of other evil multinationals - Wal-Mart may not be big in France, but Carrefour, which is my only other option here in Macondo, is a giant French monster. I would be SHOCKED to hear that they are any different, although I'm sure that inside France they must be.

Does Germany not have any supermarket monsters at all?

I don't know about anywhere else, but here in Argentina, for example, Wal-Mart is not at all a place for just cheap crap. It's one of the only places to get imported, organic or specialty foods, they have the best produce selection in our city, and the clothes and domestic appliances and all that are the same as anywhere else.

All that said, my real problem of course was with my son's school becoming a Wal-Mart commercial. That's what made me go 'ick', and it doesn't really have all that much to do with Wal-Mart per se.

Flo said...

Mama in Macondo, I think it's very important to engage with your children's educators. It doesn't mean they will agree with you or necessarily change the curriculum, but how can schools reflect their community's attitudes if those attitudes are never expressed?

I think it was a brave thing that you did. And I also think that you're teaching your kids something important by expressing your thoughts and discussing important issues. The worst thing would be if they never learned to question anything and I imagine their best teacher is you.

My son goes to a daycare that I'm generally very happy with. I made a bit of a fuss about the sunscreen that they use though because it has nanoparticles in it.

I know they probably think I'm a bit mad, a bit over the top. But I've explained my reasons. I hope other parents will do the same. And they are happy to accommodate my wishes. I hope that I can change things in the long run.

I know what you mean about that kick-in-the-gut sort of feeling when it comes to confrontation. I always feel my blood pressure dropping and my ears heating up.

I try to keep things lighthearted and that helps. (Though perhaps my jokes only make me laugh, in which case other people might start avoiding confrontation with me.)

macondo mama said...

Thanks Flo. I think you're right about the importance of communicating with our kids' schools. I would find it easier, though, in my own country. I would be more confident in my choice of things worth fighting for (or how over the top I really want to be), and I might even be able to pull off a joke or two. It is very encouraging, though, to know that we are all struggling with things like this.

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