Monday, July 14, 2008

Once Upon A Warning Label

I suppose I can cross Australia off my list of places I can seek refuge if the situation in the US gets any nuttier. Yeah, I won't be heading there anytime soon. I thought that there were too many people in this country who needed to be wearing a helmet at all times (even when they sleep. Yes, that is correct.), but Australia seems to be indicating that they are in dire need of a helmet shipment. That's because teachers in Australia are (and I'll quote from the fine folks down under at " being urged to give children safety messages after reading them fairy tales warning not to copy characters such as Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and Hansel and Gretel."

Oh, f-ing hell. WHAT?

Apparently, this is part of a "new child protection curriculum" (also known, by me, as "Foolproof Ways To Make Children Neurotic") which the Education Department is implementing in the schools and which has been backed by "child development experts". These "experts" also seem to think that the "curriculum" should require the teachers "to refer to children's "sexual parts" and use their correct anatomical names with children as young as three." Um, I'm sorry, I must have missed the part about WHY on earth a teacher would need to be speaking to a child AT ALL, really, about their "sexual parts"? (And just for those that are at or above the mature age of three. Anything younger than three and it's still "Mister Willy".)

The goal of this asinine implementation is to "teach the children early warning signs of being unsafe and recognizing abuse." And while that may seem like a fine idea and a noble gesture (even though it doesn't and it isn't), I have an easier way to accomplish that. It's called "Being A Kid". When you climb on top of the house and look over the edge as you contemplate how you want to jump off the roof and onto the trampoline two stories below, that is when you will learn about "being unsafe". When the other kids beat you up for being such a wuss, that's when you will "recognize abuse". Happens every day, everywhere. Guaranteed. No program necessary. Unless you're in freaking Australia, for cryin' out loud!

The teachers have been trained to beware of stories and books where there are children putting themselves in dangerous situations. Like that clueless Little Red Riding Hood chick who was just traipsing about the forest and talking to the Big Bad Wolf (whom she did not know, thus making him "a stranger"). Or those little troublemakers Hansel and Gretel. The nerve of them, walking into houses when they don't know who lives there and haven't been invited in. Tragedy in the making. Read that to a group of kids and you'll find your town swamped with home invasions as soon as school lets out for the day, right? (Um, no.)

The Education Department consulted with the Emeritus Professor of Child Development at UniSA, Professor Freda Briggs, and she supported the measures, and called for them to be implemented nationwide! How exciting! According to the Professor (who I'm going to call Fred, mainly because if she were ever to read something where she was referred to as "Fred", I think it would highly irritate her), "This is about appropriately empowering the child." Well, it's clearly not, but if it were, I'd say you were doing it wrong. (By the way, that's her over there on the right. About what you expected, isn't she?)

As far as using the correct anatomical names with three year olds, Fred says, "Kids are talking about sex at age five now. It's so in-your-face, I'm afraid that innocence is gone. They are sexualised younger and younger." (Of course, my solution to that is "make them stop". Who are the adults here? No, seriously. I'm getting confused.) Fred continues along those same lines with, "We need to use correct body terms because by giving children silly names or names that only the family understands, you're telling your child that you can't cope with talking about it. How does a child get help if nobody understands?" Come on! Is that really a problem? There have got to be at least a couple of hundred different terms for "penis". At least. And I'd be willing to go out on a limb and say that most of us have heard most of them and the ones that we haven't heard of, I'll bet we could figure it out pretty quickly. And even if we couldn't, there's always the universal language of pointing. Rarely does it ever fail, especially when referring to one's own penis.

This is asinine. These are little kids. Can't they just hear a story for fun just because it's a story? Me, personally, I'd rather hear a story than, say, the news. Hands down, I'll take the story every time. And that's because stories are fun. And little kids really like things that are fun. (And fun things, when you're three, do not involve the word "penis", nor the actual item, "the penis".) But now the Aussies are in for Mother Goose with warning labels and Aesop with a penis. Grand.

From coast to coast in Australia, children as young as three will be able to hear the words "penis" AND "vagina" while they're in school learning that if you're walking along through the forest, even if you see a cottage with three steaming bowls of porridge inside, don't go inside! Oh, I'm sure the Australians feel safer already!

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