One item had to do with a person in a crafting group who said she was forcing her children to learn essential life skills – and included cross stitch among those. Cross stitch does involve a few things I consider essential life skills – sewing, counting, planning – but each of those could be taught in other ways. Knowing how to sew on a button or fix a hem is important, but cross stitch itself is a decorative art and isn’t worth forcing somebody to do if they don’t enjoy it. I do think it is fair to make children try a variety of things - different sports and musical instruments and the like (and I recognize that these are not necessarily available to everyone based on their economic situation, but there are ways of addressing that)- but don't push it if they want to quit after a fair try.
The other thing was an argument I had with a friend regarding the teaching of religion. I contend that teaching about religion (and, specifically, what the basic tenets of the major religions of the world are) does not violate the first amendment and is important to understand history and literature. For example, if you don’t know about, the Protestant reformation, you can’t really understand anything that went on in Europe for at least 200 years (from roughly 1500 to 1700 CE). She thinks it is adequate to say people fought wars because they had religious differences. I’m talking learning about religions at the half dozen or so bullet point level and including religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto, Zoroastrianism, animism, etc., in addition to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, by the way. (And, for that matter, Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology.) Similarly, a lot of literature assumes you have a familiarity with Biblical stories. I don’t think it harms, say, a Wiccan child to read Sylvia Plath’s poem "Lady Lazareth," but they certainly won’t understand it if they don’t know that Christians believe Jesus brought someone named Lazareth back to life. And how on earth could you learn about Western art without ever looking at a painting of a saint or a Madonna and child? (Or, for Eastern art, looking at depictions of Hindu gods or of Buddhas and bodhisattvas.) How do you talk about music without understanding the huge role of churches in its development?
Also, the reason I believe it is possible to teach about religion without any risk of indoctrination is because that’s how it worked in my high school. We did non-Western cultures in 9th grade and that included learning what the basic tenets of various Indian, East Asian, and African religions are. We did European history in 10th grade and spent about 6 weeks on the Protestant Reformation (as well as a couple of months on the French Revolution). In 11th grade, we did American history and focused on the Constitution and a large number of Supreme Court cases, which we had to memorize. We read plenty of mythology, including the Odyssey. And we learned to identify various works of European art. And none of that converted anybody to anything they hadn’t grown up with but it did prepare us well for success at competitive universities.
I’ll also note that our 10th grade teacher had a particular obsession with the Balkans. This proved useful years later when that region fell apart and I could talk somewhat intelligently about places like Bosnia and Hercegovina.
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