Thursday, May 24, 2007

Home again (edited now that I've slept) and still livid

I'm home, footsore, and exhausted. When I wasn't sitting in meetings I was running to them (or trying to find them). The food was good, the campus was beautiful, and I enjoyed chatting with my colleagues. Our very kind CPD decided I needed a tour yesterday evening and he took me for a drive, showing me all the old buildings and some of the surrounding neighborhoods. To be honest, that was probably one of the better hours I spent there. I am extremely glad to be home with my kids and husband and am glad the annual conference is annual.

The most useful (really the only one) was the morning's session which concerned including children with disabilities in our program. The speaker himself had Muscular Dystrophy--was smart and funny and said a lot of relevant, thought provoking things.

The other sessions were boring, largely about politics and back-slapping, or just didn't apply to what I do. By the way, I can't draw, but I am a first class doodler.I have five pages of doodles to prove my disinterest. I am now known for my pictures of cabins and mountains. I wonder if they're valuable.

One session succeeded in infuriating me enough to put down my pen at least for a while and I haven't decided how to respond to it yet.

Some bigwig at the university decided that they needed to measure the impact our youth organization has on the children and youth in our state--whether we're meeting their needs, etc. They put together a 300 question survey targeting kids from fifth grade and up(ages 10 to 18) and created a separate one for parents to fill out. Then they asked several people from different parts of the state to collect the data from local schools and the youth in our organizations. I did not participate because it was time consuming and I'm generally struggling to do my job within my allotted hours.

I didn't see this survey until Wednesday morning, when they passed it out to the uninitiated. I confess, I was only half-paying attention when one of my colleagues, who hadn't participated either, slapped it down in front of me. "What does that have to do with what we do?" she hissed. She pointed at two pages of questions that quizzed the children and youth about their sexual development in intimate detail as well as their sexual preferences.

I was floored. I couldn't quite believe what I was reading. I looked from my colleague to the page and back. She was right. This did not belong in an impact survey.

When they allowed us to break to discuss the survey among ourselves, I asked one of the specialists at our table what in the world asking children detailed questions about their sexual development and sexual preferences had to do with the goals of our organization. She replied that we had to know whether or not our organization was helping to prevent "at-risk" behaviors (such as being sexually active). Of course I wondered why their sexual preferences were relevant in light of that statement, but I didn't even try to explore that. Again, keep in mind, this survey was directed at kids, ages ten and up.

So what did the parents think of this particular section of questions? I asked.

"Oh. The parents never saw it."

Of course not. The parents were given a survey that was maybe a hundred innocuous questions that were nothing like what their kids are being asked. The parents assumed that their series of questions reflected the one their kids were seeing.

The specialist justified the invasion of privacy and evasion of the parents' right to choose what subject matter their children were confronted with, by saying that when parents did learn about the questions, it was a great way to get them to talk to their kids about taboo subjects.

When we returned from our break, someone else in the room asked the researchers to explain the relevance of this line of questioning and they said almost verbatim what the specialist had told me. One of them confessed that some children had gone home and told their parents and that several parents were upset and that some school districts had even turned them away because they were uncomfortable with those two pages.

When quizzed further, they admitted that some kids didn't bother to finish the surveys and that they had to extract and infer information concerning the unanswered questions based on the ones the kids did reply to. By the way, they offered the kids small cash prizes and pizza to take the survey.

They quickly glossed this all over by raving about the results and how it's going to be long-term and that they will track the children's development until they hit nineteen by sending them more surveys to fill out.

There is so many things wrong with this scenario I don't even know where to begin.

Parents trust our organization with their kids, because we are a long-lived successful structure that provides them with a wide variety of enriching experiences--leadership, hands on activities, character building etc. They trust us to not invade their privacy or put their children in uncomfortable, compromising positions. They believe us when we tell them what our plans for their children are.

To not give them the opportunity to decide whether they wanted their children answering these questions or not was violation of that trust.

What in the hell was the university thinking?

Tomorrow I will take on the religious right in this blog and the crew of adults who've taken over VBS in my absence this year. I will talk about this because my twelve year old is in tears for not being allowed to wear his customized Vacation Bible School t-shirt because he wrote "Angels and Demons" on it. It was taken away from him before he could finish it by an adult who was upset by it. I asked him why he'd written those words and he replied, "I was going to draw a picture of Angels and Demons fighting for our souls." He teared up and added, "They told me to express myself."

Is the whole world going crazy?


Scotty said...

Wow, Mary,

As someone looking in from the outside, I can only say that there (a) seems to be a tinge of homophobia in the line of questioning, (b) seems to be a level of deception towards parents that is disconcerting to say the least, (c)seems to be an invasion of privacy dressed up as 'concern', (d) seems to be a form of harassment dressed up as 'concern',(e) appears to be a double standard insofar as touching kids is concerned (physical touching is taboo but verbal touching in the guise of a questionnaire is okay?), (f) appears to be double standard in terms of freedom of speech/thought/expression (no offense intended, Mary, but don't you guys fight hard about the constitutional right to express yourselves freely?)

I must admit to some curiosity regarding your statement regarding the taking on of the religious right, and in all honesty, while I respect every individual's right to have a faith, I think it is the hypocrisy, the homophobia, the intolerance and the generally limiting nature of a lot of the world's faiths that make me appreciate being an agnostic at times. I simply try to take people as they come, regardless of race, color, creed, sexual orientation, political/religious belief, etc.

It's the most basic interpretation of 'treat others as you would wish to be treated', you know?

Again, just, wow; I look forward to reading more, Mary - I might not be as livid as you are but I must confess to being a tad gob-smacked.

It reminds me of a saying I heard once...

We rarely, if ever, discriminate on the basis of someone's eye colour; why then, do we find it easy to do so based on their skin colour? Gimme a reason, any reason, eh?

Interesting article, Mary, and I look forward to reading more.

Laura said...

Mary, that's shocking. I hope it hasn't upset you too much. Someone recommended Matthew 18:15-and-on-a-bit to me today. Just thought it might be of some help xxx

Mary O. Paddock said...

Hi Scotty and thanks for commenting. My husband is of the mind that I should quit over this. That would be financially disasterous. My CPD reminded me that academia is a largely liberal machine with little regard for traditional values. He's chosen make his peace with this fact. I haven't.

"Taking on the religious right" refers to witch-hunting conservatives whose knee-jerk reactions brought my kid to tears because of a single word on a t-shirt. This is the kid who reads his Bible every night--voluntarily and with no prompting from his father and me--who is still seeking us out for prayers at bedtime. He wants to be a teacher when he grows up. I'd say an interest in demons is the least of my worries with that one.

My oldest, who helped organize and run VBS this year (following in his Mom's foot steps, but I'm not going to point that out), tells me that in a private meeting the director asked all the volunteers to pray for my twelve year old's soul. Good grief.

Hi Bookish,
Thanks for the scripture. 'Guess a blog isn't best place to rebuke someone whose wronged you is it? :)