Diapers and Dragons

Friday, November 20, 2009

I've Only Had Two Hours of Sleep and I Don't Do This Stuff Well on Eight

I was a...difficult child. Strong willed. Rebellious. Contentious. Many people would assert I haven't changed much.

I am trained in public speaking and debate. It's part of my secondary certification.

I coached Forensics for four years.

I was a building representative for our teacher association for three years.

I have gained a reputation in my district as a well-spoken, strongly-opinionated professional who is willing to challenge the administration and speak up for teachers and students. In recent and on-going debates with administration over some proposed changes to the English courses to which the English teachers are unanimously (for once) and strongly opposed, teachers from one of the other high schools specifically asked their department chair to make sure I was part of the committee. My own building had already made sure I was on it.

I'm known in my literature classes for leading challenging discussions in which I often play Devil's Advocate. I stir the pot. I work up my students. I get them going in debate and then sit back and enjoy.

All this and...

I Hate Conflict.

I know. It doesn't make sense. But then, I never claimed to be logical.

There's a reason I rarely post here about highly-charged and hotly-debated topics. Several times I've started writing posts on topics like breastfeeding, working moms, elections, education...and then I've usually ditched the posts or scaled them waaaaaaaay back.

I was even nervous about writing my post on post-partum depression.

Then yesterday I got all brave and stuff and actually wrote a fairly impassioned post about education budget cuts. And as the pointer hovered over Publish Post, I hesitated. Did I want to go there? Did I want to open myself up to the varied responses I knew I could get? After all, I know I have readers from all over the political spectrum with all sorts of opinions on things like government spending and education.

I gulped and hit the mouse button.

The good news is that I haven't been flamed. I did get an anonymous comment that was kinda sorta bashing public education, but at least it was supportive of teachers. I also have had an interesting email exchange with another reader, but I knew that one was coming and he's respectful in debate, so I've handled it okay.

But the truth is that whenever I get into debate about these kinds of topics, the ones where people feel so strongly and so oppositely, the ones where at this point people have pretty much taken their stance and are very unlikely to be budged, my stomach hurts. This is a sort of conflict with which I do not deal well.

Partly this is because when it's a topic that becomes so personal and which polarizes people so much, I often find myself in the odd and unpleasant position of standing in between the poles. This means I see and agree with aspects of both sides and therefore please neither. Another reason is when I sense the sheer futility of arguing these points when doing so apparently does nothing to change minds and instead just creates hostility--well, I just want to throw up my hands and walk away.

The harsh reality, from where I stand, is that these issues are so complex that there are no easy answers. People on either side must disregard or dismiss or eliminate crucial elements of the situation in order to hold their position to be The Truth.

Breastfeeding vs. Formula? So many women passionately believe that Breast is Best. For the most part I agree. But what about the women who, for whatever reason, cannot produce milk? What about the women who are HIV positive and must avoid breastfeeding? What about the women who, for very personal reasons, choose formula instead? Why must we demonize them and assume their children will, of course, be less healthy, less intelligent, and less advantaged than those who are breastfed? And then how do we deal with breastfeeding in a society that largely views it as obscene and/or sexual and private--certainly not something to do in any public setting?

Working Mother vs. Stay-at-Home Mother? How about making it about the Parent, not just the Mother? What about figuring out what is best for the parent, the children, and the family as a whole? What about situations in which there IS no choice? Why assume that every working parent is neglecting her/his child or doing a poorer job of parenting? Why assume every SAH parent isn't really "working" and is wasting his/her education? Why attack each other at all?

Private vs. Public Education? What about providing options? What about making sure everyone is educated but still have choices about what is right for each family, each student, each individual? What about seeking equity (which is NOT homogeneity) in education?

Conservative vs. Liberal? What about those who lie in between, who perhaps want to see less profligate and irresponsible spending of taxpayers' money, but who still believe strongly in social programs, social justice, and social responsibility? What if we agree with certain points on each side? Why must everything be labeled one or the other?

That's just a taste of my internal conflict. Some may think I'm a fence-walker, unwilling to commit myself to one side or another. I don't see myself that way. But then, there's another area where debate will do little to change anyone's mind.

I guess I'm frustrated. In some ways it would be far easier to be firmly in one camp or another. That's not my reality. I wish I dealt better with this sort of debate, too. I may be strong, independent, and opinionated, but when the topics turn personal, I find myself struggling not to burst into tears. I take comments too personally and struggle to differentiate between debate and confrontation.

There's a reason I often feel it's simpler, safer, to just stick with poetry.

11 bits of love:

The Kampers said...

oh how very similar we are! I had a similar reputation when I was teaching and I am like you...I HATE CONFLICT! I don't like writing posts about all that divisive stuff either. And I too fall in between on many things...why can't we just all get along!?

sAm said...

IMHO - being able to see both sides of an issue (or being a "fence-sitter) shows much higher intelligence and deeper thinking that goons that spout uninformed blather. For what it's worth. And btw - I LOVED your post on public education in Michigan & funding. It's a bunch of crap right now, isn't it? Keep up the good work!

Nicola said...

I thought you handled the debate brilliantly yesterday. Due to your first hand experience you were able to give an insight and point of view which was coherent and informed.

I agree with you about the whole conflict thing tho. I love a passionate debate. I love to teach and also play devil's advocate. But when it is personal, it's just too close to home and can make me feel like I am being very personally attacked.

I try not to attach myself too strongly to any views - and would like to think I have an open mind on both sides of many a debate. But I am glad you stuck your neck out yesterday and expressed your views on what is currently happening with the education system. It was a great post. And although you may now feel uncomfortable about the response it generated, I am really glad you wrote it.

mom said...

All I can say is, you explained yourself very well, and you come from someone who is not a fence-sitter either but just feels very strongly about certain things on most sides of any issue . . . we'll struggle on!

Kathleen said...


On breastfeeding: I hated it. I breastfed 3 of mine for a short period of time. It did not promote a bonding between me and my child. I just hated it. One of our best friends is a pediatrician. He said formulas these days are fine. The downside is the guilt I allowed myself to feel because so many made me feel I wasn't a good mother/Christian because I wasn't breastfeeding.

On stay-at-home vs. working moms/parents: You gotta do what you gotta do.

On private vs. public: I think every parent should do what fits their family. That being said, however, I do feel there are a lot of kids who slip through the cracks in public school (and private) mainly because there aren't enough really quality teachers like you out there. I'm not a big proponent of private school. I have found through experience as a student and teacher that private school kids are very often very snooty, and the curriculum is often too Christian. That sounds terrible, I know, but I want my children to be IN the world, not OF the world. They cannot be IN the world if they do not know anything about it.

On conservatism vs. liberalism: I want to keep my own money I earn, and I think abortion is murder. Those are the two main things that make me a conservative.

That's it. I bet you are such a great teacher! ;)

Arby said...

Nothing that was written in response to yesterday's post was an attack against you. Nothing that was written in our e-mail exchange was an attack on you. None of it was a judgment on you, either personally or professionally. It was a passionate discussion of an issue, my virtual friend. That's all.

Teacher Mommy said...

Re: Arby

I know, my friend. What I wrote today, in my sleep-deprived haze, was actually more a self-reflection because even though I knew very well that you were NOT in any way attacking or judging me, and I knew you would write in response to that post, and I even had a pretty damn good idea exactly what you were going to write, I still found myself fearing the exchange. It's one of my issues, I'm afraid.

Draft Queen said...

I could argue right here in your comments, really I could but my brain feels like it's about to ooze out of my ears at any moment.

I had a point, but it's gone now. Vanished.

I might be a zombie.

Stone Fox said...

i'm a fence sitter too. it's that darn empathy. and hey you know what? YOU HAVE IT, TOO! LOTS OF IT! which is why you can't pick a team and are always playing peacemaker. you can see both sides of the argument because of your ability to put yourself in everyone's shoes.

it's a good thing.

GingerB said...

Hey, I've been sitting a draft of a post about religion because I didn't want to offend my more religious internet friends. And I am a litigator, conflictual every day! I did find this post, and your comments thought provoking - who would have thought not breastfeeding wasn't Christian? And yet, I have been fairly bitchy about people who call them selves Christian and are not Christ like in their treatment of others. Hmm. Maybe I love conflict?

Heidi said...

I'm sorry that I've been incommunicado the last few days - haven't been around to say that I feel the same! Seeing both sides is both a gift and a blessing.


Breastfeeding - The best. That said, there simply isn't enough support in this country for women who are trying to breastfeed (12 weeks of maternity leave, I'm looking at you!). When women can take 6-12 months paid leave and there are public support programs set up to help mothers who want to breastfeed, then I may become more militantly anti-formula...but until then, I firmly believe in the right of every woman to choose the option that works best for her.

Working vs. SAHM - I wish all women had the financial viability to choose *whichever* option they wanted. No parent should be judged for their work/life choices.

Public vs. Private - Pay teachers a fair wage for their education, don't expect them to parent, and don't encumber them with constant tests, and public is fantastic. I would send my son to private if we could afford it, however, for foreign language provisions if for no other reason.

Conservative vs. Liberal - I'm as liberal as they come, policy-wise, although I know very well that corrupt politicians fall on both sides of the divide and I think they *all* are happy to spend on projects that benefit themselves, whatever they say about fiscal responsibility.

I may label myself as one or the other on a debate...but I see both sides and wish there were a happy medium. In my ideal world, sides would exist to challenge each other to expand and grow, not to be divisive.

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