Friday, September 11, 2009

Mem Fox

Mem Fox writes children's books. I think her books are fairly popular in America...mostly for the preschool age, probably.

The other thing I know about Mem Fox is she controversially spoke out against daycare. That should be interesting.

Anyway, I shall go start my research.

Lord Wiki says that Baby Mem (originally Merrion,) was born on 5 March 1946.

The birthday website says she's a Pisces and a 1 in numerology. I think of the Pisces as being spiritual people. The 1 is the number which deals with independence and leadership.

In Chinese astrology, Fox is a dog. That's funny because foxes and dogs both belong to the Canidae family.

Baby Mem was born in Melbourne. She grew up outside of Australia though...in Southern Rhodesia. I had no idea where that was, so I had to look it up. It's the place that is now called Zimbabwe. When it was Southern Rhodesia, it was a British Colony. When did it become Zimbabwe?

If I'm reading this right, not until 1980.

Mommy and Daddy Fox were missionaries. I guess that's why they moved to Africa.

When Fox was eighteen she moved to England. There she went to drama school.

Did she spend any time in Australia?

Okay. Yes. In 1971, she and her husband moved back to Australia. She'd be about twenty-five then.

Fox and the hubby had one daughter....Chloe. Chloe is now a Member of Parliament.

Fox has this huge passion for literacy. She wants people to READ. I love reading. I think everyone should know how to read. My feeling is though that we shouldn't push each person to be a bookworm. It's not going to happen. People have different personalities and interests. I think instead we should push the various types of reading. Some people might love novels. Some people might prefer comic books. Some might like reading fashion magazines. Some people might enjoy reading technical manuals.

I sometimes say Jack isn't a big reader. That's not really true. He's not a big fiction reader. He's not one of these kids who reads series upon series of books. But he does read a LOT everyday. He reads information. He spends a lot of time with my friend Lord Wiki. Mostly he does research on Mario Bros. He knows about every single character in every game, plus the history of the Nintendo Company. He'll read about other stuff as well. Yesterday, for some random reason, he started researching the Missouri River.

Lately, he HAS been reading books more though...comics and his old favorite chapter books.

Fox took a course in children's literature at Flinders University. I took two children's literature courses...one in college and one in graduate school. I loved them. I loved having the excuse to read children's books. Although now I feel secure enough not to have an excuse. I read them with pride. I think Stephanie Meyer and JK Rowling helped people like me feel safe enough to come out of the closet.

During her class, Flinders wrote her first draft of Possum Magic. Within five years, nine publishers rejected the manuscript. The book was finally accepted by Omnibus Books in Adelaide. They asked her though to make some changes. First, they wanted her to make it shorter. Second, originally the characters in the story were mice. Yeah, don't worry. It had a different title back then. The publishers asked Fox to change the mice into possums.  Make it more Australian.

Fox made the changes. The book became a very famous Australian picture book.

I'm reading the description on Amazon. It looks really cute. It's about a possum who is put under an invisibility spell. Then the characters have to remember which Aussie food reverses the spell.

Lord Wiki says one of Fox's books (Guess What) is on America's list of the 100 most challenged books. These are books that certain small-minded Americans don't want the rest of us to read. There's some great books on this list. It's probably actually an honor to be listed on it.

Shit. Shit. Shit. This makes me so disgusted with certain Americans. Why is Guess What challenged? Because it has a positive portrayal of a witch. What the hell?

If parents want to forbid THEIR particular children from reading books because the books disagree with their religion, FINE. That's their business. But to sit there and try to ban it for the rest of us.... That's so not right.

I feel sick to my stomach just thinking of this stuff.

You know I recently wrote that the one thing that truly bothers me about Scientology is their attempts to suppress the media. But you know....attempting to ban books is really no different. I am SO sick of people trying to force their beliefs on others.

I'm going to look at the book on Amazon...see if there are any interesting reviews.

The professional review people don't complain about the witch aspect. They do say though that the illustrations are weird. These aren't done by Fox, but someone named Vivienne Goodman. The reviewers say the pictures are too eerie and sophisticated for the text.

There are three very negative user reviews. Two are disturbed by the illustrations. One is upset about the positive portrayal of witches.

Fox's book after Possum Magic was Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge. I actually used to own that book. I got it as a gift....I think maybe from teachers I worked with. It's about Alzheimer's disease, I think. I wonder if I still have it. Let me go check.....

I still have it. How funny. All this time we had an extra Australian book on our shelf, and I didn't even realize it.

I don't remember particularly liking the book. I wondered why these teachers were giving me a book about Alzheimer's. It seemed a bit random.

Anyway, let me read the book again. Maybe I'll have changed and like it more now....

I'm done. It's okay. To me, it's one of those picture books that are more for the adults than the children. I think it would be especially meaningful and poignant to people dealing with Alzheimer's or other types of dementia and memory loss.

It's a sweet book, but it didn't leave me with tears or anything.

I'm looking at Lord Wiki's list of her books for stuff that looks familar to me. I think I've heard of Sophie, but I might be thinking of another book. I'm thinking of a story where a little girl gets very angry.

No, this doesn't look like the book I'm thinking about. The Mem Fox book isn't about anger. It's about a grandfather and a granddaughter.

Here is the book I was thinking of. When Sophie Gets Angry--Really Really Angry. It was written by Molly Bang.

I think I'm done with Lord Wiki. Funny. He doesn't even mention the daycare stuff. I thought that was a pretty big issue.

Where should I go next?

I'll go to the Mem Fox website. Fox has a sweet little welcome letter on the front page. I'll read it.

She says sleeping is her favorite activity. I love sleeping too. I love dreaming. I wonder if Fox has vivid dreams like I do.

Fox says she has taught courses for teachers at a university. She also says she's bossy. I think those two things go hand in hand. When I went to graduate school for education, I found the professors to be very bossy. Bossy might be the wrong word though. I can't think of the right word. Maybe opinionated? Yeah, that's it. I find educators to be extremely opinionated. That would fit in with Fox declaring that daycare is child abuse.

Hey, and I'm opinionated. And I once was a professional educator person. This might be hard to believe, but I'm much less opinionated than I used to be....at least in terms of parenting and education.

Fox's most recently published book is about African animals. She said it will probably be the one book that she does about her childhood home.

Here, Fox talks about how there's a rumor saying she doesn't like children. Fox says this is so not true. She eats them all the time. No, I'm joking. Actually, Fox seems really sad about the accusations. She says what happened is she was interviewed by someone when she was really exhausted. She doesn't blame the person who interviewed her much. She blames herself. She says she told the interviewer that she doesn't have a special affinity with children.

I'm not sure how that translates to hating children. A person could like children, but not be very good at interacting with them.

Fox says, What I was trying to convey to the journalist—and obviously I failed spectacularly—was that children’s authors are often able to write well without knowing any children at all, let alone liking them.

I agree with that. I can see how it's possible. Well, I understand how an author can write about children without knowing any. The writer can remember himself as a child. He can use the memories for inspiration. I can't really see how someone who dislikes children could write well for children. But maybe there could be someone who likes children, yet is shy around them. Maybe their way of reaching out is by writing books.

Fox said she also got in trouble for saying she doesn't like badly behaved children...the whining and moaning. I can't say I support her saying that. What child isn't sometimes badly behaved? I think it would have been better to say I don't like when children are misbehaving. Yeah. Neither do I. Does anyone?

Here's her response to the daycare issue. Fox had said she's against very young babies (under three weeks) being put into daycare for over sixty hours a week.

I agree. I'm sorry. I think it's very pathetic to have babies that young in daycare. I think it's horrible. Do I blame the parents? No, probably not. I blame society. I'm guessing in many cases, these mothers are forced to go back to work early. Although I'm sure sometimes the workaholic parents make this choice on their own.

Fox herself says she's a working mother. She went back to work when her daughter was six weeks. I think it was part time though. She talks about the lack of support. She understands that for some families it's not exactly a choice.

If I'm reading this right, Fox herself didn't say childcare was abusive. She quoted someone else who said that. But still...she could have been quoting it to emphasize her own feelings.

Fox did a speech about David Hicks. In one part she says:

What does it say about us that we won’t accord the same rights to David Hicks that are given to rapists, drug pushers and murderers in South Australia? Are they ever left languishing in jail for five years before they’re charged? Are they ever confined in wire cages in all weathers and without privacy? Are they ever allowed only one book a week? Are they every tortured or sleep-deprived in spite of their own allegedly horrible crimes? Are they ever so confined that they don’t see the sky or sunlight for months on end? No, never. We don’t do this because we’re not animals: we understand that civilised people treat prisoners in a civilised, legal manner.
I think she makes some very good points in terms of comparing the punishment of Hicks to the punishment of other criminals. I think her animal comment is foolish though. We ARE animals. We're primates. Why do people keep forgetting that? And why do people use animals as a synonym for atrocious behavior. Humans are the worst behaved animals. We treat our own kind like shit, and we treat other animals horribly as well.

Fox says, If David Hicks were an animal he might have been better off: the RSPCA would have had strong things to say about his maltreatment. We don’t treat dogs as badly as this human being is treated. We’re civilised.

Has she seen how we treat farm animals? Yes, we're civilized, but that doesn't equate to being kind.

Fox's dad had Alzheimer's. I guess that's what inspired her to write the book I own.

This page lists stuff that Fox loves and hates. She likes the usual: family, friends, world peace. As for the less common answers....she likes green paper clips, a clean sink, singing in the car, etc.

She doesn't like brown clothes. I'm not sure I'm a big fan of that either. I prefer black. A little brown is okay though.

She doesn't like economic rationalism. I forgot what that is. I'm guessing it's commercialism, maybe? Lord Wiki says it's free market stuff. To me I guess, it's money over morals. Who cares what's right and wrong. What matters is that our corporation makes tons of money. Yeah, that kind of stuff.

She doesn't like identical letters from a class. I have no idea what that means.

She doesn't like mobile phones in airport lounges. I'm okay with that. I'd rather people talk there then while driving their cars.

She doesn't like right wing newspaper columnists. I'm getting the idea that she's quite a leftie.

It looks like Fox is a nutritionally obsessed person. She's very apologetic that the recipes she shares on her site both have chocolate. I was like that at a time....mostly during my eating disorder days. Now I'm more into the moderation thing. I think it's sad that some schools have made rules against treats at school birthday parties. Or is that just a rumor?

Nope. Here's an article about it.

I'm no longer a fan of the sugar police. Yeah, I think some of us eat way too much of it. But I think we should strive for moderation. I don' t think we should turn a cupcake into the forbidden fruit.

I really liked a recent episode of Arthur we watched. It was all about nutrition. The kids at the school had to figure out which one food would keep them alive on a deserted island. By the end of the episode, the kids realize the assignment is impossible. They realize they need a VARIETY of food. The show talked about the needs for healthy fats, vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates, etc. But at the end, the teacher also brings a cake in to celebrate. The idea is that most of the food we eat needs to be nutritious, but it's okay to have a treat too.

As for her recipes, Fox says....Please clean your teeth afterwards and only make each recipe once every three months! Yikes. That's a bit uptight for my taste.

Here Fox lists her favorite books. I'll look at them and see if we share any favorites.

There's My Place by Sally Morgan. We have that favorite in common.

She liked The Riders by Tim Winton. I like that too.

One of her favorite books is the Bible. We don't share that in common. It's not just that I don't believe in it. I find it quite boring. There are a few good parts....I suppose.

Here's her biography page.

She left Australia for Africa when she was just six months old. In her school, she was the only white child. Therefore, all her friends were black.

Fox has two sisters. One lives in Italy, and the other lives near Sydney. My parents are in Italy now.

She says Possum Magic is the best-selling children's book in Australia. Wow.

Fox says teaching is actually her first passion, not writing. She retired from teaching though in 1996. She cried three times during her last class. If she was so sad about it, why did she leave?

Well, it seems she wanted to busy herself with other stuff. These days, she travels the world and lectures to parents. She's very big into getting parents to read aloud to their children.

Fox has a whole lesson on how to read-a-loud to children. It's very detailed...maybe a little too detailed. I don't know. Maybe some parents need such explicit instructions. In a way, I think it could intimidate parents. It makes reading to a child sound like an incredibly challenging task. From what I've seen....most adults do a fairly good job reading books to kids. I don't think they've had formal instructions. I think for most people, it comes natural.

I just read most of the instructions. I feel Mem Fox takes something fun, simple, and beautiful and turns it into a complicated art form. I can imagine some parents being frightened away from ever wanting to read to their children. Their homes might turn into the daycare I sent Jack to for three days. There the teachers didn't read to the children. Instead, they held up books and used pre-recorded audio tapes to tell the stories.

Fox has a list of read-a-loud commandments. The second one says parents should read at least three stories a day. It's okay if the story is the same one each time. Okay. But what if the child doesn't WANT to hear three stories a day? How is forcing them to listen helping anyone?
Will it make them love reading? I doubt it. It will probably have the opposite effect. My brother-in-law was forced to eat mac and cheese as a child. He grew up with an aversion to it.

At some ages, Jack loved for me to read to him. And I did....probably MUCH more than three stories. At other ages, he hasn't wanted me to read to him at all. A few times, I decided to force him to listen. He looked bored and miserable. I ended up miserable as well. We put a stop to that.

I do agree with commandment five. Read the stories that the kids love, over and over and over again, and always read in the same ‘tune’ for each book: i.e. with the same intonations on each page, each time. I believe in following the child's interests and loves. When Jack was a a baby and toddler, I'd read him the same books over and over. I'm pretty sure I used the same "tune" for each book.

I strongly agree with commandment seven! I wish the director of the Fort Worth preschool I worked at believed in it. Look for rhyme, rhythm or repetition in books for young children, and make sure the books are really short. Thank you. Yes! In NYC, the teachers were great with this rule. We read simple short books to the kids. At the Fort Worth preschool, the teachers would read these long and complicated picture books to the kids. They would take 10-15 minutes to read. It was ridiculous. The kids had four different classes everyday. Each class lasted about 50 minutes. By the time, the teacher finished reading a story to the kids, there was hardly any enough time to work and play.

I think once kids are around five, you can read more complicated stories to them. Even younger kids can enjoy a longer story, but not four times a day. Of course each child is different though. Some very young children MIGHT like sophisticated longer stories, but I think they're the exception not the rule.

In the 9th commandment, Fox says Never ever teach reading, or get tense around books. How can parents not get tense after reading her very didactic instructions?

I really don't like the 10th commandment. Please read aloud every day, mums and dads, because you just love being with your child, not because it’s the right thing to do. Yikes. There's something so guilt-inducing about that statement. Please love your child? I mean hopefully a parent DOES love their child, but I don't think Fox saying that is going to magically transform the parent who doesn't. I feel she's so bossy. Do this, this, this, and that. But do not do it because I told you to do it. Do it because you WANT to do it.

I have to say...I'm finding it a bit hard to love Mem Fox. She reminds me too much of the preschool directors I've worked with. They have these extreme views of working with children, and this idea that no parent could possibly be capable of dealing with children without the director's explicit guidance.

One thing I DO like about Mem Fox is her website. It's one of the most informative official celebrity websites I've encountered.

Here's a FAQ page.

She says the publishers choose the illustrator for her books...not her. That surprises me. I knew for NEW authors, that the illustrator was chosen by the publisher. I assumed though that once you were a success you could pick out your own illustrator.

She said she's not interested in writing a novel for kids, or fiction for adults.

She doesn't like sports. Well, we have that in common. I mean that's not the only thing we have in common. We actually probably have a lot in common. Still, I don't like her that much.

This is funny. Earlier, she said parents should look for books that have rhymes. Yet in her advice to writers, she says DO NOT write your story in rhyme. Prose is more effective. Most editors detest rhyme. What the hell? Is that not a contradiction? Am I missing something here? Anyway, who gives a crap what the editors like? What do CHILDREN like? I think young children DO like rhyme. The books Jack liked when he was very young rhymed:

Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See
Hands Hands Fingers Thumb
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
My First Book of Sushi.


The Sandra Boyton books.....

I think most young kids like rhymes. Not only that, but I remember learning that rhyming books help children learn to read.

I do agree with the sentiments behind this rule, but not the reality. DO ensure that the content of the story will interest both children and adults, not just adults—a common fault which might well lead to publication but will never lead to best-selling status. I think these picture-books-for-adults can become best sellers. Parents buy the books for their children because they (the adult) wants it for themselves.

Here's a piece she wrote about literacy. I'm going to read it.

She talks about the war between phonics and the whole language method. The graduate school I went to was VERY whole language oriented....almost to the point of being fanatical.

I like what Fox says here. There is such a vehemence of belief, by the adherents to the various methods in the rightness and truth of their own particular approach, that to be bold enough to ask critical questions of any of them requires a fair degree of courage. I think that's very true. I'm telling you. Educators are very passionate about what they believe. It's hard to openly disagree with them.

Fox says she's personally an advocate for whole language.

What most of the editorial is saying (if I'm getting this right) is that method is less important than the relationship between the adult and child. I agree with that. I guess I'm contradicting my dislike of her commandment about loving your child. I don't think you can force someone to love a child though. Maybe it's more realistic to say that if you don't like children, you shouldn't be teaching. You can't really say that to a parent though. It's a little too late once the kid is born. I guess we just have to hope that there IS a strong positive relationship there.

Sadly, I think there are teachers who have passion for the subject matter, but not the children. I had a chemistry teacher like that in high school. He seemed to love chemistry. I got the sense that he couldn't stand us...except for the one pretty girl who'd make him blush. I hated chemistry in high school. I'm reviewing some of it now with Jack, and I'm loving it. It's funny how a teacher can totally turn us off from a subject.

When I took children's literature in college...actually it was young adult literature. Anyway, there were students in that class who seemed to be much more passionate about literature than they were about teenagers. We had discussions about it, and they seemed downright negative and ignorant when it came to that age group. What they wanted was not to be with a bunch of teenagers; they wanted to immerse themselves in literature. I can't imagine that think these people ended up being great teachers. I think they'll alienate their students.

Here's another editorial from Fox. She says if she was queen of the world, children would learn to read before they started school. I support her dream in some ways, but in other ways I don't like it.

I think children learn at different paces. Some of them are ready to read when they're toddlers. Many kids are ready to read when they're five or six. Then some kids are late bloomers. They might not be truly ready until they're eight. I hate when educators put pressure on parents and teachers to get kids reading at a young age. Learning doesn't need to be a race.

I do agree with her in that children CAN learn to read at home with their parents. They don't need some magical teacher to bring them into the world of reading. I talked to a mom the other day. Her daughter just started kindergarten. From what the mom was saying, her child was very eager to learn to read. She asked if she'd learn the first day. The mom broke the bad news to her....probably not. The child said something like Okay. Well, then we'll learn the next day.

That child was EAGER to learn. There's no reason her mother couldn't have helped her at home. There's no reason they had to wait for school to arrive. It's just parents have been led to believe that they're incapable of teaching their own children. It's so NOT true.

There's so much I want to say here, but I should probably read more of the editorial first. I haven't actually gotten beyond the first paragraph.

Fox says she's horrified to learn that there are kids in year three who don't know how to read. Does she realize there's actually a popular educational philosophy that believes children shouldn't be given formal reading instruction until they are about that age? I love what this Waldorf website says:

There is evidence that normal, healthy children who learn to read relatively late are not disadvantaged by this, but rather are able quickly to catch up with, and may overtake, children who have learned to read early. Additionally, they are much less likely to develop the "tiredness toward reading" that many children taught to read at a very early age experience later on. Instead there is lively interest in reading and learning that continues into adulthood. Some children will, out of themselves, want to learn to read at an early age. This interest can and should be met, as long as it comes in fact from the child. Early imposed formal instruction in reading can be a handicap in later years, when enthusiasm toward reading and learning may begin to falter.

That's pretty much EXACTLY how I feel.

Fox suggests parents should read to children the day they are born. I don't think we did that, but I do think I started to read to Jack during the first few weeks. I would read him this book called The Big Book of Beautiful Babies. I guess he gave it enough attention to make me continue reading it to him. There was one page that offended me so I'd change the words. Baby good. Baby bad. I think it's ridiculous to label a baby as being good or bad. What the hell does that mean? Anyway, I forgot what words I used instead.

Fox's advice to parents is to have a house full of literacy. This is easier in families with parents who truly LIKE books, magazines, etc. I'm not sure if it's something you can fake. Although maybe for the sake of their children, parents can TRY to like it. Jack was born into a literacy house. I love to read. I love to buy books. I love to go to the library. Tim reads magazines....books sometimes too. Both of us write a lot. The written word is a HUGE part of our lives. We didn't have to fake it at all.

Jack also was born to parents who watch a lot of TV, spend a lot of time on the computer, love video games, and eat junk food. Jack too watches TV, goes on the computer a lot, loves video games, and eats junk food.

Back to parents helping their kids learn to read.... I wish more parents understood that it CAN be done at home. I just don't want them to enforce some kind of time line.

I'll explain how Jack learned to read....or the steps we took that led him to read.

First of all....Yes, I did read to him a lot. However, he LOVED books. He wanted me to read to him....over and over and over. I'm talking about when he was not yet a year-old. Some other babies do not like books. Some babies and toddlers see books as something that you chew. I see no point in forcing them to listen to books. These kid will probably be better off exploring the world in other ways. These might be the kids who learn to read when they're six, seven, or eight.

When Jack was around two-years-old, I did some phonics with him. I would take letter magnets, shake one at a time, and repeat their sounds over and over. Jack loved this. If I remember correctly, very early on he knew which letter had which sound.

When I read to Jack, I would put my finger on each word. I wanted him to understand that there was connection between those squiggly lines on the page and what I was saying. I would read books that rhymed and were predictable. When I read books, I knew he had memorized, I'd pause and let him fill in the blanks. Memorizing a book is GREAT way for kids to learn how to read. No, it's not "real" reading. But eventually, they'll connect the words to what they're saying. They'll know which word is cat and which word is hat. Then later...the next step....is them seeing the word outside of the book and recognizing it.

A few weeks or months after Jack turned three, I read him a Sandra Boyton book. It wasn't a book we read often, but Jack still knew some of the words. That's when I realized my child MIGHT know how to read. Along with that, was a freaky moment at the mall where I thought maybe Jack had read the GAP store sign. I hadn't been sure if it had been my imagination or not.

Anyway, I made some flashcards to test Jack's reading. And yep. My child was already a reader. I'd say for the most part we used the whole language and whole word method. Whole word is where you read word by word more than sounding things out. That's how I read, and I'm a very fast reader. My goal in teaching Jack to read was to get him to memorize words. I personally feel that's the best way to read. It might not be for everyone though. We did do some phonics as well. For that, we used a great website called Starfall.com.

You know what my advise is in terms of learning-to-read philosophies is....Use them ALL. They're all great methods, but I think they work less well when you stick to only one of them.

This all being said....My methods with Jack is not some magical formula that will work on all children. I tried reading to a five-year-old child in the way that I would read to Jack. I used easy predictable rhyming text. The same words were used frequently. I pointed to the words. I paused. I did all the right stuff. To my disappointment, the child did not magically learn to read in the few hours I was babysitting her. She did have fun though. She greatly enjoyed our lessons, and kept wanting more.

That child has since learned to read. I'm not sure if her teachers used a method that better fitted her personality and learning style, or whether that child simply reached the age at which she was more ready to learn.

My graduate school, was strongly against literature they deemed as being not authentic. They were against text that was written for the purpose of teaching phonics. An example of this is SRA. I used it at school when I was a child. I LOVED it. I think it was one of my favorite parts of school. And guess what....I ended up being a pretty good reader. I think it's ridiculous to be completely against any type of educational material. It might work for SOME children.

I'm against preschools forcing children to sit down and fill out worksheets. I think for the most part, worksheets are not helpful. However, an individual child might LOVE worksheets. I definitely think a parent of such a child should buy their kids a bunch of workbooks.

I think it's crazy to suggest that parents do reading flashcards with their babies. But if you have a six-month-old who happens to enjoy it....buy the flashcards!

Okay. Enough of that. Here's an editorial that Fox wrote about racism. She talks about how books published even in the 1990's (maybe today as well?) have racist overtones. There are books about Christopher Columbus that use the words savage and discover. Fox says, It must make white Anglo-Saxon American children feel extremely superior to belong to a race that ‘discovered’ the New World and conquered ’savages’. I wonder how American Indian children feel when they read the same texts....

She talks about how Aborigines are often missing in children's literature. She says In 90% of our recent children’s literature and in our all-too-recent history books we Aussies don’t even give ourselves the opportunity of being racist: it’s much easier for us to ignore the Aborigines altogether.

How does a child, who is not white, feel in the classroom when they are not represented in the literature being read?

This is a bit strange. Fox seems to be trashing her own book....the one that I own. She talks about how all the characters are white. She says it reinforces the western idea of the elderly being separated from us via retirement and nursing homes. It pushes the idea of the nuclear family being the normal one.

Okay. She does explain why she's being so critical of her own work. Fox says it's actually one of her favorite books that she's written. BUT she wants people to look at children's books with a critical eye. She wants us to notice stereotypes.

Fox says, I picked it apart to illustrate that all the books we read, even our favourite books, are politically loaded. Those of us who teach need to be aware of this so we remember to provide affirming literature for all the children in our care, not just for those who belong to the prevailing, dominant ruling classes or sexes.

I think her words are very wise there. I guess the point is that it's okay for individual books to emphasize one race or political ideology. But we need to make sure that, within our library of books, we have variety.

In part of this editorial, Fox says that children should be allowed to read what they want to read. I strongly agree with this. Children shouldn't be told a book is too young or too old for them...especially the former. I think it's okay to say something like that book might be too hard for you. Maybe you should try something else.  But I think it would be wrong to forbid a book because a parent feels it's above the child's age level.

I talked to the parent of a very young child who is already quite the reader. She's not even five yet, and she's zipping through chapter books. How do you find appropriate chapter books for a child that age? By the time, the child is eight I predict she'll be at a high school reading level. Part of me thinks you can't let a child that age read Twilight or Evil Genius! But if her reading level is that advanced, her maturity level is likely be advanced as well.

This Mem Fox website is almost too good. There's too much material. I'm too lazy to go through all of it. I don't want to read a few more things though.

In this editorial about phonics, Fox says something I agree with. When we force poor little reluctant readers to read to us and when we tell them to sound out words they don’t know, instead of simply giving them the word, they tend to read so slowly that they make little sense of the print and receive no joy from it. This is one of the things my graduate school taught me that I DO agree with. I think it's very annoying for children to hear us say sound it out. I believe it's better to give them the word, and then hopefully soon they'll memorize it. I do think phonics has it's place in learning to read, but I don't think it should ever be part of our pleasure reading. When a child is reading a chapter book and asks an adult for a help with a word, it's so much better if the parent just quickly says it. Then later, at a different time, there can be some phonic lessons.

Last but not least....Fox's editorial about childcare. After I read this, I'd also like to read some editorials and articles about this issue....not written by Fox herself.

The words from someone else that Fox had quoted were Mem, when we look back at the quality of child-care for babies at this time in our history, with the terrible ratios of carers-to-children we currently have, people are going ask us how we allowed such child abuse to happen. I agree 100% with this. I understand that some parents HAVE to choose childcare. I do think some childcare centers have good programs. Some childcare centers might provide better care than certain parents might provide. But there are some AWFUL childcare centers out there.

I probably have talked about this before, but I shall talk about it again. When Jack was 3.5, I put him in a daycare camp. Most of my decision probably came from societal pressure. Daycare and preschool is not seen as a choice that some parents have to make because they have to work or love their careers. It is now often seen as something that all children NEED. There are parents of two-year-olds who do NOT have outside jobs. They do not WANT a break from their children. Yet they put their kids in a program because they've been led to believe that if they don't, they're a bad parent. Now I'm not saying there is ANYTHING wrong with a mother wanting some time to herself. If a mother wants a few hours to herself every week and she finds a good center....awesome! But a parent shouldn't be fooled into thinking that her child needs daycare.

I was knowledgeable enough to understand Jack didn't need a forced institutionalized separation when he was very young. Around the time he was three though, I felt that pressure. I thought perhaps we both needed some time apart. I signed him up for a camp at The Children's Courtyard.  These are owned by Australia's ABC Learning Centers. Although actually, when Jack went....it seems they weren't yet owned by ABC.

Anyway, I spent hours reading their websites. I loved what I read. It fit my feelings about education. I visited the school. The classrooms looked like the type I liked. They had all the right materials.

I brought Jack there the first day. I picked him up a few hours later. When I got there, Jack was crying hysterically. The teachers casually informed me that he had been crying for over forty-five minutes. I was quite appalled. Why would they just let him cry and cry like that? I was nervous and naive though. I decided I should give it another try. We went back the next day. Again, the same thing happened. I returned to find Jack crying hysterically. When I came in the classroom, the teacher casually mentioned that Jack might be sick. He felt warm to her. She went to get the thermometer. And yes, he had a fever. Why did she wait until I came to check his temperature?

I should have just signed us out of the program right then and there. I hated to give up so easily though. I called the school and asked if I could spend a day with Jack. During my NYC teaching days, we were taught that parents and children should be separated gradually. In the first days of school, parents often spend a lot of the day WITH the children. As the children became more comfortable, parents were scooted out. Fort Worth schools don't share this philosophy. They want parents out of there as soon as possible. They want parents as far away as possible.

The Children's Courtyard granted my request, but I could tell they felt it was a bit odd. I got the sense that they felt I was overprotective. The teacher herself seemed especially bothered by my pretense. She was patronizingly amused when I had told her that this was the first time Jack was in a program that wasn't of the mommy and me variety. She acted as if I had greatly failed as a parent.

The teacher wasn't just awful to me. She and the other teachers were awful to the children. I was horrified to see the children listen to a recording of No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed. No teacher read to the children. A bored looking teacher held the book up while a tape recorder played. The adorable sweet children stood up and chanted the words to the book. Isn't that's what's expected when you read that story?? But no. These children were scolded, and told to be quiet.

I never saw any positive interactions between the teachers and children. Whenever a teacher talked to a child, it was to scold them or tell them what they needed to be doing. There was no warmth in that classroom. There was just coldness.

It was incredibly disgusting. I felt so sad for these children who were stuck there each day from early morning to early evening. I felt bad for the parents who left their children there, imagining that it was a safe and positive environment. These parents are probably so busy that they don't have the chance to visit and see the program for themselves. They trust in something that should not be trusted.

While we ate together in the classroom, I asked Jack whether he wanted to come back. He seemed fine with the idea of quitting. I went to the office and told them we weren't coming back. They cheerfully accepted our goodbyes. I think we discussed refunds and all that. Not once did they show concern that we were leaving so soon. They didn't ask why. I think if they had a quality program, they would have wanted to know. Are you sure you want to leave? Is something wrong? Do you have any concerns? Is there a way we could make things better for you?

I don't want people to think I believe that all childcare is like this. I'm pretty sure there are excellent childcare centers. My advice to parents though is to look BEYOND the surface. Don't just read a website and peer into a classroom for a few minutes. Spend TIME in there. Visit during a lunch break. Stay a few extra minutes in the morning. Come early to pick up your child. If its' a good school, they'll make you feel welcome. Now if you come too often...that might get a bit creepy and annoying. But you shouldn't be made to feel like a helicopter parent if you occasionally come for lunch, or if you want accompany your child for his first few days at the center.

Okay. I'll shut up. Let me read more from Fox.

She talks mostly about babies. They need frequent love, touch, and interaction. This is very hard to provide in childcare centers because the teacher/child ratios are too large.

We need at one of two things.

1. A parental leave program that allows parents to be home with their children for at least the first year.

2. Lower teacher/infant ratios.

In Texas, the required ratio for infants under a year is 4:1. I don't think that works well. I don't think it should be above 2:1. For 18-23 month olds, the ratio is 9:1. How much time does the caregiver have for each child? I imagine it's very little.

In Fort Worth, we had a new child at a school I worked at. The family happened to come from the same school I had quit working at a few months before. The mother confessed they left because her daughter knew how to write her name and the teachers hadn't noticed. I did feel for this parent. It's awful to know that teacher's aren't seeing your child's progress....that they remain so ignorant. But when a teacher has so many children, it's very hard to notice what child can do what.

Like most parents, I'm super proud of my child. I want other adults to notice how brilliant he is. We had him in a once-a-week class at our local museum. This was when he was about 4-6 years old. The teachers never mentioned anything about Jack being smart. They didn't seem to notice. I don't think they knew much about Jack at all. It was a fairly large class. They didn't have time to notice.

Later, Jack took an art class and a drama class. Both those classes had very few students. I think one had less than seven kids, and the other class had only three. The teachers there figured out pretty much immediately that Jack was advanced. They mentioned it to me right away.

Small classes are SO important....I think especially with younger kids.

In my NYC classroom of 3's and 4's, we had fifteen students, I think. For those kids, we had one head teacher, two assistant teachers, and a student teacher. That worked out great. We did lose the student teacher eventually, but even then we had a ratio of about 5/1. I think for preschoolers, there shouldn't be more than six kids per teacher. What's the law in Texas? One teacher for every fifteen kids. That's CRAZY!

Now here's one of the news reports that came out about Fox and Daycare.

Fox is quoted as saying I don't know why some people have children at all if they know that they can only take a few weeks off work.

I hate to admit it, but yeah....I agree with her. Although I feel people shouldn't be forced into that situation. I think it's so sad if someone wants to have a child, but they can't, because the place they work for won't give them the time off. It's these companies that need to be blamed....NOT the parents.

As Fox points out though, it's NOT always the financially desperate who put their infant in childcare. There are parents who work because they want the lavish lifestyle. It's not all selfish. They want to provide their child with all the necessities....beautiful cribs, stylish stroller, the latest celebrity baby fashions, the whole collection of Baby Einstein videos....

Fox says, But do they realise that child needs love more than anything else in the world? It needs love, time and attention.

The article quotes from two other women...ones with opposing viewpoints.

Angela Conway is a spokesperson for The Australian Family Association. This organization doesn't quite look like my type of thing. They spend too much time stressing that marriage should be between a woman and a man. Blah blah blah.

Kate Sykes is the founder of Careermums...an online support system for working mothers. They push the idea of flexible work hours and all that. I greatly support that. I see nothing wrong with both parents wanting to keep and pursue their careers...even when their babies are young. But it's much better if the hours are flexible. It's sad when both parents are working from 9-5....or longer, and the child is in daycare all that time.

Anyway, although I don't love Conway's organization, I do agree with her when she talks about how daycare has been heavily marketed to parents. I talked about this earlier. Parents should be given the message that it's OKAY for their child to be in a good childcare center. We shouldn't be taught that it's BETTER for our children to be in a center.

Sykes says that daycare has done wonders for her children's social skills. I know children who have never attended daycare. I know children who have attended daycare. I see absolutely no difference in their social skills.

Conway supports what Fox has said, but with some reservations. She says, Childcare is not a good place for babies and we support her in that but we know that many families have elected to put very young children and infants into childcare because of serious economic pressures and ... we need to face up to that.

For the families that don't have economic pressures...who don't take off from work because they love their jobs too much....I bet they have nannies. And I do feel a nanny will provide better care than a center. At least then the baby is getting one-on-one attention. Now if it's an evil nanny....that's a whole other story.

This blogger comes down hard on Fox. It points out that there aren't many babies in childcare in the first place. The writer, a childcare provider and mother, points out that only 7% of Australian babies are in full time childcare. So, it's not an epidemic.

The blogger says In these tough economic times many families need duel incomes just to keep up with interest rate increases and basic costs of living. For many families it’s not about handbags and holidays.

Yes. Fox would be better off criticizing the economic situation rather than the parents.

The blogger says Parenting can be a tough job; a break from your children can be a haven in your week and sometimes another point of view or opinion from a qualified person can be a real bonus. This is one of the benefits that child care can offer - another person gets to know you and your child and that person can help you better care for your child. It’s can be a win - win situation for parents and children. I like how she stresses the parents need over the child. I don't see anything wrong with a parent needing a break. But it shouldn't be presented as the CHILD needing the break.

I do think programs can be great for children and parents....as long as it's a QUALITY program. The problem is there are many programs that are NOT good.

The blogger quotes from the Parliamentary Secretary of Early Education. Who needs another guilt trip? That would be my first comment. The fact that more women than ever are in the workforce, having babies and more children than ever are in formal childcare is an extraordinary vote of confidence in the system.

No. Sorry. Just because a lot of people have confidence in a system....it doesn't mean it's a good system. A lot of parents in Fort Worth have confidence in The Children's Courtyard. Other parents had confidence in another school I worked at...one that had cockroaches in the bathrooms and teachers that bribed kids desperately with marshmallows.

For the most part, I agree with what Fox's views on daycare. I think her mistakes are:

A) making a small problem that effects a minority of children sound like a huge epidemic-type problem.

B) Putting blame on parents. I think there ARE a small number of selfish parents. But for the most part, I think it comes out of economic necessity. And just as there are selfish working parents, there are also selfish stay-at-home parents. There are some parents who drag their children around town as accessories. There's no real love and warmth there.

C) Making any mention of child abuse. We're throwing that word around too often lately.
We can disagree with other people's parenting decisions without calling it abuse. Locking a child in a dark closet, sexually molesting them, beating them, and/or constantly calling them names is abuse. Homeschooling, daycare, leading your child to follow your religious beliefs....those are not abusive. We might not agree with them, but I think we can do so without being overly dramatic and judgmental.

I could probably spend weeks talking about Mem Fox, children's literature, education, etc. But it's almost five o'clock. I still need to exercise, do laundry, take a shower, spend more quality time with Jack, etc. I'm not an abusive parent, but on some days (like this one), I AM a bit neglectful.

4 comments:

Redness said...

You've done it again ... lured me into your quest and enthralled me with Mem ... isn't she marvellous? Thanks Dina for this gem ;)xo

Dina said...

Redness,

Thanks : )

Do I think she's marvelous? In some ways. In other ways, she annoys me. But it's probably one of those Freudian things where she annoys me because she reminds me of myself.

She's an opinionated woman who blabs on and on about what she believes. Yeah. That's just like me.....

~ Jan ~ said...

Awww...Mem Fox is my favourite Australian children's author! I've successfully used her children's literature throughout my primary school teaching career. 'Possum Magic' is my favourite book of all time...but I also highly recommend 'Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge'. Cheers! :)

Dina said...

Jan,

Awesome : )

I'd like to read Possum Magic someday.