Blaming the Victim

In a letter to a columnist in the San Benardino Sun, a single mother writes that she has moved her son from an inner-city school to one which believes in “high achievement.” She’s upset that her child brings home two to three hours of homework a night. She doesn’t want him to have to give up sports for homework, and she wonders whether there is some discrimination going on because some children spend half as long on the homework.

My mother told me to keep my mouth shut, work with my son on his homework and not to make sports my priority. I don’t agree with my mother. I think the solution to the problem is not to require so much homework. My mother likes you and whenever we have a disagreement, she tells me to ask your opinion. I have never written to you before, but I will this time.

The columnist responds:

I think your mother will continue to like me. I think you should keep quiet, help your child and make scholastics your priority.

As an aside, your accusation that the teacher is discriminatory is disgusting. Your child may be spending more time than others because he may not be used to doing so much homework, is not working smart, is behind scholastically, doesn’t understand or is wasting time. Explore these possibilities before you start labeling people as racist.

The columnist’s answer made me so mad that I wanted to write back to the mother. Here’s what I would have said to her.

The question of discrimination is a big one, in fact too big for this blog, but I think we can take a lot from the fact that the columnist resorts to name-calling in his reply.

But I can say that the columnist is guilty of doing exactly what too many school administrators do: blame the child, in this case for “not working smart” or “wasting time.”

How many times has a school suggested that it’s only your child who’s struggling with homework, that your child lacks discipline, procrastinates, is a poor planner, is unfocused. How many times has a school suggested that the nightly homework headache is your fault for failing to provide support, and that homework should come before all other activities? Excuses like these shift the blame from a system that is clearly broken to the parents and children who suffer under that system.

Taking away a child’s participation in organized sports is to deny that child one of the most important, character-building activities of childhood, a place where children learn teamwork, ethics and morals of fair play, cooperation, not to mention physical skills and physical activity. To replace that, and everything else, with mindless busywork night after night is a crying shame, and that single mother’s gut instinct was absolutely correct.

I’d love to hear what you think. The forum is open.

One Comment on “Blaming the Victim”

  1. Chris Corrigan says:

    Wow. That is an unbelievable comment from the columnist, Larry Meeks. For one thing, the mother never accused anyone of racism. She said she feels like her son might be experiencing discrimination. She never said why. Could be that he’s poor, or the child of a single mom, or maybe he’s gay, or maybe the school doesn’t approve of his spending time with atheletcs. I think for Meeks to immediately assume that “discrimination” means “racism” says a heck of a lot more about him than it does about her.

    The best thing we can do as parents is to unplug from TV, commercial radio and mainstream media and stop looking to these places for advice. Follow your heart, find some friends and do what you know is right for your kids.

    September 11th, 2006 at 1:08 am
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