I don't care whether Ms. Slaughter stays on Air Force One, glued to her Blackberry— or puts on apron 'n' flip-flops and cooks pot roast 'round the clock— she's still fucked.
This PhD superlady, this One-Percenter, has a furious teenage son. She's come to the conclusion that her young lad needs her constant supervision and attention, that she must quit her job to attend to his disarray.
Christ, that's the LAST thing he needs.
Let's listen to her story:
"On a Wednesday evening, President and Mrs. Obama hosted a glamorous reception at the American Museum of Natural History. I sipped champagne, greeted foreign dignitaries, and mingled. But I could not stop thinking about my 14-year-old son, who had started eighth grade three weeks earlier and was already resuming what had become his pattern of skipping homework, disrupting classes, failing math, and tuning out any adult who tried to reach him. Over the summer, we had barely spoken to each other—or, more accurately, he had barely spoken to me."
Can I give you some advice here, Anne-Marie? Your son, most likely, is a bright, physically-strong male specimen in puberty, full-on. I can feel the acne from here.
His school SUCKS.
GET HIM OUT OF THERE.
He isn't learning anything; he's a young lion in a cage. He's intellectually aware enough to know that his school encourages mediocrity, conformity, hypocrisy— all in the name of prestigious appearances. Remember 9th grade? Back then, you knew it too.
Start worrying when you son swallows their crap with a smile on his face.
I hope you and your husband aren't going to wear him down, do endless hours of useless homework with him every night, medicate him, diagnose him with god-knows-what. If you follow that path, you will end up with an adult child who wants nothing to do with you, who hides everything that's important to him.
Your son's school is one of the multitude of broken institutions that takes lively, precocious, brave kids and tries to turn them into sexless, toothless robots, infantilized idiots. No critical thinking, please! Thank god most of them fight back.
Your son's rebellion is a sign of his strength, his righteous outrage. It reminds me of a friend, who upon hearing a screaming baby in the airport, smiled and said: "STRONG baby. Strong!" A weaker child would be unable to express his pain.
By the time you have teenagers, here's what you need to be doing:
Putting tools in their hands
Getting them access to the things they want to know and pursue
Breaking down the barriers they experience as disenfranchised youth
Encouraging intellectual and physical adventures they take the lead on
Being there for them while they break a few dishes getting it right
At this moment, in his early teens, your son could learn to drive, to fly, to use money, to build things, compete in anything he pleased, be at ease with his sexuality. He's at the point where he can take higher-consciousness risks, express himself artistically, research anything he wants. I could go on and on!
Your family has a million bucks, literally, and could make that happen: get the barriers out of the way.
But I would give the same advice to any family— and if they're part of the working or unemployed poor, I wouldn't have to say anything at all. The luxury of coddling and infantilizing is for the privileged; that's what makes these stories so nauseating.
You may wonder if I'm a homeschooler, an un-schooler. I am.
I'm also a former public high school student who ran an underground newspaper with my peers, led a UFW boycott in West LA with a bunch of teenagers, took to the streets for women's liberation, sued the Board of Ed and won, drove cross-country organizing, and tried to do everything we could to radicalize the school system from within. And all of this while I was a "teenage girl."
We were busy little bees. At 54, today, I cry thinking of my late father and mother, who encouraged me to GO FOR IT.
But by the time I was the mother of an 10-year-old— a full-time, madly-working mom of a 5th grader— my partner and I couldn't watch Aretha be put through "The Stupid Mill" one minute longer. We couldn't watch her be beat down and turned into a "Pringle Girl," as she put it.
We had to strike out into unfamiliar territory. I could hardly believe my family supported our radical decision to take her out of the school system, but they did. The whole group of us was in on it. We took all the ludicrous "make-work" homework Aretha had received every night and put it in a big BONFIRE. Then we started making plans. It was one of the most thrilling times in our family's life.
Do I wish the school system was different? Hell, yes. Every time I see a school that's flourishing with student power and enfranchisement I want to splash their story across the sky.
Guess what? Your son isn't in one of those places.
It's disingenous of Ms. Slaughter to imagine this story is about her. She has had it all. She's done everything she wanted to do, when she wanted to do it— once she escaped HER gilded cage. Was she ever in one of those? I don't know. At her level of adult privilege, she certainly hasn't been held back.
Young people deserve bold chances— all our children deserve that support. Our "work," ultimately, is toward the betterment of the world for our children, and for their children. That's what's upside-down in our world right now— the vanity of the short-sighted, the hubris of elders who destroy the future for youth. You want a movement for "having it all?" Start by giving it back, in spades.
Here's the book that got me started: The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get A Real Life and Education.
Photos and More Ranting:
TOP: by Phillip Toledano for The Atlantic. Great photo, but the editor chose a "baby" as subject when this story is actually about a teenage boy who's frickin' had it.
MIDDLE: This is a poster my high school underground newspaper made, our basic philosophy! This was made by TEENAGERS. Tripping on acid. Having sex. Working for money. Driving cars. Building organizations. Cooking. Cleaning. Running printing presses. Staging shows, playing music. Leading picket lines. We had families and they loved us but thank god they didn't try to cripple us. We thrived.
BOTTOM: This is a shot of our high school walkout at Uni High, in Los Angeles, 1974. You are looking at a bunch of pissed-off teenagers. We wanted undercover LAPD narcs out of our campus. The principal is trying to "calm us down," but it's not going to work. I'm still in touch with about five people I see in this photo— this is still one of the proudest days in our lives. Our parents were not running this. Photo Credit: Joel Levine.