Monthly Archives: June 2012

Who Is the Adult Here??

School Sunscreen Ban Leaves Student Severely Sunburned

Darling Husband brought this story to my attention the other day, certain that I would want to blog about the obvious idiocy involved.  This is just one more story in which schools have come up with some ridiculous policy that defies common sense, and children are paying the price for it.  Am I heartless, cold, and without compassion for not being outraged by what happened to these 2 girls (ages 11 and 9)?  Not at all.  I’m just way beyond being surprised by such stories; in fact, I’ve come to expect them.

My response is simply this: Was no one willing to act like an adult?  The closest thing I can find to adult behavior in the incident is that of the girls, who apparently approached teachers looking for relief.  Too bad the teachers, who were busy applying their own sunscreen, provided no help to the girls.  Are the teachers the villains here?  The school administrators?  The school’s insurance company?  If you read some of the comments responding to the story, the Mom was to blame.

I ask:  How many of these stories do we have to hear before we simply say, “Enough!” and follow what common sense tells us?  What would it have cost this mom to send her kids to school with little bottles of sunscreen in spite of school policy?  What would have been the risk to the teachers to just have the girls hold out their hands and then squeeze a blob of sunscreen into their palms to put on where they needed it?  Yes, I’m calling on people to defy authority.

In more crass terms, “Grow a pair!”  Are we so afraid of lawsuits that we abandon good sense?  What is the worst thing that could have happened if the girls’ mom had sent the kids to school with their own sunscreen?  Maybe the girls would have been sent home for having unauthorized “prescription medication.”  Or perhaps the teacher who shared sunscreen with students would be suspended.  The difference, however, would be that the news headlines proclaim, “Students (or Teachers) Defy School Ban on Sunscreen.”  Notice the action word “defy?”  Less “Woe is me,” and more, “I’m taking a stand.”

I guess I’m just tired of people complaining about how silly all of these policies are without doing whatever it takes to change things.  Why do parents willing give schools so much power?  In a battle of wills concerning the well-being of your child, should you the parent win?  The news report linked above cautions parents to carefully check each individual policy on sun protection for every daycare, camp, or trip your kid participates in this summer.  Sadly, most parents have scrambled to farm out their school-aged kids to multiple “camps” during the summer months to substitute for the babysitting that schools provide.  So now they’re supposed to schedule doctor visits to generate permission slips for everything from sunscreen to personal water bottles to insect repellant.  Ridiculous.  If there will be bugs, pack bug spray.  What’s worse: the overspray from Deep Woods Off that some kids might breathe in or the Lyme disease your child contracts from a tick bite?

It’s no wonder I can never get an appointment at our doctor’s office.  They are all booked up with parents seeking notes for their kids.

Why do parents put up with this?  These are the same people who will make a restaurant server sob with apologies for daring to bring a regular soda instead of diet; or verbally crucify an umpire or coach at the Little League field; or tailgate you for half a mile while waving a vulgar gesture at you for daring to merge in front of them on the interstate.  Fear of confrontation doesn’t seem to be the problem.

Inexplicably, though, when the school crafts a policy that defies all common sense, it’s the 11th Commandment.  No sunscreen; no peanut butter; only dull, worthless scissors allowed; only plastic cutlery that can’t cut through butter.  If the school puts it in the handbook, parents become as docile as lambs.

Today, a bottle of SPF 50; tomorrow, full-size bottle of shampoo at the airport.  Oh, wait.  Tomorrow…built-in GPS to track your car’s excessive speeds and fuel consumption.  What?  We already have that?  Tomorrow…

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My Dear Graduates…

It is a near universal truth that graduation speeches are dreadful.  They are full of clichés and platitudes which actually tell the graduates and the well-wishers absolutely nothing.  All of the, “Remember the time when’s” might be good for a chuckle, but they don’t really cause the wheels of your mind to start turning.  Neither do, “seize the day,” “not an end but a beginning,” “believe in yourself,” or “follow your dreams.” You would think that a valedictorian with a weighted GPA of 6.75 would figure this out and come up with something better.  Perhaps they are too burned out by that point.  I’m not sure what the keynote speaker’s excuse is.

I recently had the privilege of attending graduation at the US Naval Academy.  Nearly 1100 of America’s best and brightest were being commissioned and sent, some of them, into harm’s way.  This was a time to celebrate their perseverance through the toughest route to a college degree and their commitment to serving their country, as well as to inspire them.  Every 3-4 years, the President speaks at the ceremony.  Lucky for us, he graced the Air Force Academy with his presence this year, and we were spared.  Instead, the class of 2012 heard from the Secretary of Defense.  He didn’t have much to tell the graduates that they didn’t already know.  After spending their summers out in the fleet experiencing various naval career paths (Marines, aviation, submarines, surface ships), they had a pretty good idea of what “A Typical Day in the US Navy” looks like without Leon Panetta spelling it out for them.  Another distinguished speaker, rather than coming up with his own material, he used the old Baz Luhrman Sunscreen routine.  I suppose it’s possible that the members of the class of 2012 are too young to be familiar with this gem.

The most valuable words I heard came in a brief statement before the swearing-in of the about-to-be military officers.  They were told to protect their integrity, since it cannot be taken from them, but it can be surrendered.  Amen to that.  I wish that little sound bite could be broadcast by every news outlet in the country.

Sadly, the speech given by the class president was embarrassingly mediocre.  I say embarrassing because he managed to shape the first half of the speech around a “Hunger Games” theme.  Very high school, in my opinion.

I think I’m probably fairly typical in that I cannot remember the speakers at either of my graduation ceremonies, let alone a word that they said.  Perhaps if I had heard a commencement address like the one given by David McCullough, an English teacher at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts, I might have given it my full attention.  McCullough does not rely upon clichés.  He certainly does not tell the graduates what they expect to hear.  And he uses big words and wry humor.  I leave you with some great quotes from the speech, but do read the whole thing to your graduate.

       You are not special.  You are not exceptional.    Contrary to what your u9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you… you’re nothing special…

“But, Dave,” you cry, “Walt Whitman tells me I’m my own version of perfection!  Epictetus tells me I have the spark of Zeus!”  And I don’t disagree.  So that makes 6.8 billion examples of perfection, 6.8 billion sparks of Zeus.  You see, if everyone is special, then no one is.  If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless…

We have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement.  We have come to see them as the point — and we’re happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole.  No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it…  Now it’s “So what does this get me?”  As a consequence, we cheapen worthy endeavors, and building a Guatemalan medical clinic becomes more about the application to Bowdoin than the well-being of Guatemalans…

As you commence, then, and before you scatter to the winds,…[r]esist the easy comforts of complacency, the specious glitter of materialism, the narcotic paralysis of self-satisfaction.  Be worthy of your advantages.  And read… read all the time… read as a matter of principle, as a matter of self-respect.  Read as a nourishing staple of life.  Develop and protect a moral sensibility and demonstrate the character to apply it.  Dream big.  Work hard.  Think for yourself.  Love everything you love, everyone you love, with all your might…

Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view.  Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.  Go to Paris to be in Paris, not to cross it off your list and congratulate yourself for being worldly.  Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion–and those who will follow them.  And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself.  The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special.

            Because everyone is.

            Congratulations.  Good luck.  Make for yourselves, please, for your sake and for ours, extraordinary lives.

 

 

 

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