Focusing on What Matters

There’s a great book out there called “Culture of Fear” by a guy named Barry Glassner. The title says it all and refers to us: the United States. Mr. Glassner points out in the book how all of those nagging suspicions you’ve had about parenting or life in general are true: life is not as dangerous as the main stream media is making it out to be.

In my own book, IMHO, I dovetail Mr. Glassner’s research with an anecdote told to me by the preeminent authority on social media: danah boyd. (No, that’s not a typo. She spells her name as ee cummings did.) danah’s anecdote comes from a British researcher (and this works because our societies mirror each others fairly well from the perspective of parenting). This researcher noted that 100 years ago (give or take a few years) children would travel an average distance of 7 miles from their homes. Generation after generation into our modern era, that distance has shrunk, to the point where, as of the beginning of this century, the average distance a child is allowed to travel from his or her home is closer to 400 meters.

What’s happened in this time that has spurred parents to restrict the unsupervised movement of their children so much? Has the world become that much more dangerous?

Ask Barry Glassner and the answer is an emphatic “no.”

What has changed has been our exposure to information. And within the last decade, while the exposure has not changed, the speed and frequency certainly has. We know within minutes if a child has been abducted in Atlanta, Georgia, even if we live in Berkeley, California.

What does this information do for us? Does it help the child who was abducted? No. The family of the child? No. It does, however, increase the awareness and anxiety that parents have regarding losing their own children. That distance the child used to travel from the house unsupervised just got shorter.

But we thrive on bad news. And news organizations prey upon it, which creates an ironic quandary.

We are in a cycle where the information we receive accentuates the negative, and more often than not the negative is hyperbole: information of events that are relatively unlikely to ever happen to any one of us on any given day. Child abductions. Shark attacks. Home invasions.

Education reform.

What?! Education reform.

Think about it. This isn’t much an odd twist. Our attention is so misdirected on so many other issues, why would that not be the case for education reform?

How many of you really know teachers in your districts? How many of you really know administrators? How many of them are really that inept, and how many do not have the best interest of kids in mind?

Maybe, just maybe, our society has become so twisted by the onslaught of information that we’ve lost sight of something that made America so great before: neighborhoods and community.

Do close-knit neighborhoods and communities come with other problems? Absolutely. But one positive element that came out of these structures were how more than one set of eyes – eyes that you were not paying to look (like educators or child care providers) – were always watching. Was there anything worse than being caught doing something wrong by a friend’s mom or dad?

The fallout from getting caught by a neighborhood parent was be terrible.

Today, in many communities, you hesitate to say anything to other parents because you risk offending someone: sticking your nose where it is not welcomed.

Maybe education reform starts not only in the home, but in how we relate our home(s) to all of the homes and families around us.

When you talk to people you trust, don’t you find that most of them are just trying to struggle through this journey the same way as all of our peers? We each may go about it a little differently, but we’re all hoping for the same result. So why would that be any different for the strangers in your neighborhood?

It has nothing to do with “can’t we all just get along,” and more about “we’re all in this boat together.” So to overuse some more clichés, let’s make the best of it, all pull in the same direction (it’s a row boat after all), and make some decisions to make sure we’re all headed in the same direction.

Imagine the change in education (and our lives in general) then!