One criticism I see lobbed at atheists is that we spend a lot of time calling attention to Christians who do immoral things, such as Catholic priests who sexually molest children. Why can’t we ever point out the good things that Christians are doing? Well, in the United States, we live in a country that equates Christianity with goodness. Christian and good morals are synonymous. It’s one of those things that goes without saying. Further, atheism is equated with being evil and is extremely disliked. As an atheist who grew up with a very ethical, atheistic family, it was painful to hear people calling atheists “immoral” and “evil” and to use the word “atheist” as a slur, all while beefing up their own moral creds.
When I was a teenager, my mom worked for several years with a nonprofit that focused on preventing child abuse. She taught parenting classes and classes on what child abuse looks. Later I followed in this path, teaching parenting classes to adults who had lost custody of their children due to abuse or neglect. One conflict both my mother and I got into with people was whether or not it was okay to spank children. My mother would point out that my sister and I were never spanked and we were extremely well behaved teenagers. My sister and I were the Hermione Grangers of our schools, we wouldn’t think about breaking the rules. People would tell her my sister and I were naturally good and positive parenting wouldn’t work with most children. Well, now I have a son with autism, and we have struggled with undesirable behavior.
It was a beautiful morning at the playground and Buddy and Sissy were having a good time, when a little girl came up with her mother. She was the type of child I get hopeful about when I see on the playground because she was outgoing and bubbly, two traits that tend to help Buddy come out of his shell and socialize. Like I predicted, she came up and started talking to Buddy. And her mother started apologizing for her.
Recently, an acquaintance told me she heard something about how taking Buddy to a chiropractor could cure him of autism. I told her I was rather skeptical of such things, and that I’m not looking for a cure. Amazingly it was the first time I was confronted with unsolicited cure talk, but I know other parents get it. And I can see why it gets old fast. In short, I’m not looking for a cure or a miracle. My goal is to accept my son. My hope is that others will accept him.
This evening I was walking around the house with Buddy trailing me while streaming my amazing kids music station from Pandora. I managed to create a good balance of kindie bands like Laurie Berkner and TMBG with classics such as Puff the Magic Dragon and other kids songs. At the moment, “The Rainbow Connection” was playing, and Buddy stunned me by talking about rainbows while putting his arms over his head in an arch. I wondered where he’d learned that. But what he did next really floored me.
I want my children to be independent. And while I wish this were self evident, I want my children to internalize moral values so that they do the right thing not because they fear the consequences if they don’t, but because it is the right thing to do. At the risk of being overly simplistic, I’ve noticed that parents tend to fall into two camps, those that believe that their children will do good things and when they don’t it’s because something in the environment is happening that makes it difficult, and those who believe that children will do bad things and that morality has to be forced on children with a very heavy hand. I am vocally and decidedly in the first group.
I just saw this article on NPR on how pre-school teachers are often poorly trained to teach pre-school, and it goes a long way to explaining what went wrong when we sent Buddy to pre-k. His teacher had no idea what was appropriate behavior for pre-schoolers, seemed to have a poor grasp of child development, and was expecting him to have skills above his grade level. Even ignoring the fact that he has autism, his pre-school was not a good environment for him.
I have pulled Buddy out of school and we will likely homeschool him for a few years. It may work so well I may decide to homeschool him the entirety of his school career. Or he may get to a point where he and I feel comfortable sending him to public school. I also had developmental delays that I outgrew when I was 13, and I thrived in junior high. Buddy may be the same way. And right now I’m undecided if I’m going to send Sissy to school or not.
I know some people love homeschooling and are huge enthusiasts. I may grow to love it. As it is, things are too new now and we’re still building our team and finding our momentum. Even if I do fully embrace homeschooling, though, I want to improve public schools.