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"... GPA 1.22 … honk if I need (an) education."
February 18, 2011 9:09 AM   Subscribe

When her son refused to do his school work, his mom had him stand out on a busy street corner with a sandwich board trumpeting his 1.22 GPA.

From the article:
But when his latest report card showed an F in physical education — James says he's "not an outdoor person" — things had gone too far.
posted by reenum (128 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Mond. James Mond.
posted by hal9k at 9:13 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I struggled all throughout school, and my parents were unsupportive assholes about it, but wow, even I never had it this bad.
posted by Zozo at 9:15 AM on February 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Wow. Just... wow. Well-intentioned, but not the way to handle this.
posted by dvorak_beats_qwerty at 9:15 AM on February 18, 2011


James Mond III, 15, wore a sign around his neck with a message:

"I did 4 questions on my FCAT and said I wasn't going to do it … GPA 1.22 … honk if I need (an) education."

People honked. Lots of people.


Yeah, I think it is pretty clear from that photo that a scrawled, hand-lettered sign (which included more that was quoted above) wrapped halfway around the guy was instantly read and comprehended by passing drivers who honked to endorse the message shown.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:16 AM on February 18, 2011 [9 favorites]


Was she a Tiger Mom?

I am childless myself but have to say that I'm a bit dumbfounded at the current cultural ripple in favor of being mean to one's children.
posted by bearwife at 9:17 AM on February 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


struggling's one thing but refusing to do your homework is another.
posted by boo_radley at 9:17 AM on February 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


Why not just have him wear an embroidered scarlet letter "E" everywhere he goes?
posted by hippybear at 9:17 AM on February 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


Spare the rod and spoil the child. And if that doesn't work, try public humiliation. That fucker will be sure to love you then.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:18 AM on February 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


By Thursday, her plan had a life of its own. A local TV crew turned James' punishment into evening news. Franklin Middle School enrolled the teen in after-school tutoring.

So that's the process for getting a little help from the school!

People might wonder if James has a learning disability. He has never been tested, his mother said. Until the middle of seventh grade, his grades were fine.

Maybe the mother should stand outside with a sign that says "I PUNISHED MY SON BEFORE SEEKING REASONABLE ALTERNATIVES. HONK IF I SHOULD HAVE HAD HIM TESTED OR MAYBE TALKED TO THE SCHOOL OR SOMETHING."
posted by DU at 9:20 AM on February 18, 2011 [60 favorites]


When I was in middle school, the stepdad of one of the kids in my class made him come to school one day with a sign hanging around his neck that said, "I AM INSUBORDINATE." None of the kids cared, and the teachers just thought it was dumb. It really accomplished a lot.
posted by phunniemee at 9:20 AM on February 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


The mother defends her actions.

She has six kids, all in school. The others get good grades, she said. Who's to say her idea won't work?
Maybe because he has a learning disability?
posted by delmoi at 9:21 AM on February 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Anytime I talk to a kid who's having a tough time in school, I tell him or her that I slacked off in high school and got crappy grades, but still made it into a decent state school, now make lots of money and life in a nice house with a lovely wife who also makes lots of money, and travel internationally at least once a year if not more often, and am enjoying life. Their parents generally don't like me to talk to their kids.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:21 AM on February 18, 2011 [45 favorites]


Why not just have him wear an embroidered scarlet letter "E" everywhere he goes?
An F would make more sense. If he doesn't have a learning disability, he might have some other issues that might need to be addressed.
posted by delmoi at 9:23 AM on February 18, 2011


I'm so glad I don't have kids.
posted by By The Grace of God at 9:23 AM on February 18, 2011 [9 favorites]


Is it "Local News GRAR" day on MetaFilter and nobody told me?
posted by briank at 9:25 AM on February 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Dear parents:

If you're going to do this to your kid, at least make the sign legible to someone driving past at a reasonable speed.
posted by dirigibleman at 9:25 AM on February 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Maybe because he has a learning disability?

to be fair to the mom, the learning disability angle is pure speculation for unnamed "some people". The usual 7th grade reasons for sudden drops in grades are girls and weed, IIRC.
posted by nomisxid at 9:26 AM on February 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I really feel for this boy. This mother is abusive and will likely have to deal with many other and far worse problems with her son if she continues to alienate and shame her son. This kid will likely grow up with severe inferiority complexes, if he doesn't already. I know this because I had parents just like this and am still reeling.
posted by GEB's fun world at 9:26 AM on February 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Read the article. Kid wasn't even trying, and the parents met with the school before she went to this extreme.

I wouldn't have done it but I understand why she did. And the kid said he'd work harder now.

(And at least his parents CARE. There are tons of kids in the system whose parents don't give a flying leap. Apparently, at least from the article, he understands his parents care.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:26 AM on February 18, 2011 [15 favorites]


She has six kids, all in school. The others get good grades, she said

Better, relatively speaking. I will bet one million dollars that none of the other five kids is carrying a 3.0.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:26 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am childless myself but have to say that I'm a bit dumbfounded at the current cultural ripple in favor of being mean to one's children.

Maybe, but I am torn between this tactic of parenting or the one where you ingrain in your kids that they deserve the world handed to them as being crappier.

Says the childless poster who will be quiet now.
posted by Kitteh at 9:27 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


The other thing that's kind of sad about this: The lack of a walkable community. In the olden days everyone would know eachother or if not at least they could see this kid and actually say something to him. Now we don't just have drive-by McD's and Drive by Taco Bell but we encourage kids to do well in school by literally honking at them as you drive by? Really?
posted by delmoi at 9:28 AM on February 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


How is it that she was able to get him to stand there wearing the sign but couldn't get him to do any homework?
posted by zeoslap at 9:28 AM on February 18, 2011 [35 favorites]


Usually there are behavioral and psychological reasons why smart kids don't try in school. Often having to do with family life and self-esteem.
posted by GEB's fun world at 9:28 AM on February 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


"I talk to my son," said Mond Jr., 33, a landscaper from Tampa. "I told him he needs to go to the teachers and request extra homework for the weekends to try and pull his grades up."

I'm so surprised a 15 year old kid doing poorly in school didn't just JUMP at the chance to do this...

You're doing it wrong. Talk to your son, not at him.
posted by Debaser626 at 9:28 AM on February 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


What a horrible mother. Poor kid.
posted by callmejay at 9:30 AM on February 18, 2011


It really accomplished a lot.

Bet it made him plenty embarrassed.
Using white poster board and a marker, she made the sign at home Wednesday, took it to Franklin and called her son out of class. She made him wear it as they exited the campus and then took him to the corner of E Hills­borough Avenue and N 22nd Street.

There, a TV crew took notice.

James wasn't a fan.

"I felt crazy," he said. "It's embarrassing."
Yep, looks like it accomplished its purposes quite well. Public shaming is probably the single most effective strategy for controlling public behavior and socializing.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:30 AM on February 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Please, was he even able to read and understand the sign, or did he think he was advertising for the new Subway down the block?
posted by Keith Talent at 9:32 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


The kid's mother cares enough about his grades to humiliate him, and yet she dismisses out of hand experts who have devoted their lives to education and study.

I think this points pretty strongly to the conclusion that the words she put on the sign have almost nothing to do with the message she's giving to her son.
posted by topynate at 9:33 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Usually there are behavioral and psychological reasons why smart kids don't try in school. Often having to do with family life and self-esteem.
Hmm, I'm not so sure about the self esteem angle. I think I've heard it doesn't actually correlate that much with actual grades.

Also I think people are kind of over-reacting to the Tiger-moming here. This kid isn't the son of an ivy-league professor who just doesn't want to practice violin. He's getting a 1.22 GPA. That's a lot worse then I ever did and I always considered a terrible student. Her parents are pretty poor and she wants to break the cycle of poverty. That's a good thing.

She also has six kids, only one of which is having these issues. So it probably is an issue with him and not the parents overall. He probably does have some issues, but the parents aren't educated about what to do about it.

Because of the attention they got, hopefully someone can help them out and figure out what they need to do to get him help.
posted by delmoi at 9:33 AM on February 18, 2011 [13 favorites]


I think this points pretty strongly to the conclusion that the words she put on the sign have almost nothing to do with the message she's giving to her son.
What message is that? (I mean seriously, that's a pretty ambiguous statement. I have no idea what you actually mean)
posted by delmoi at 9:34 AM on February 18, 2011


I knew that kid from The Red Hand Gang would never amount to anything.
posted by tigrefacile at 9:35 AM on February 18, 2011


See, this is harsh, I will take harsh and gives a damn any day over some of the things I deal with on a regular basis.

Most of the kids I deal with have no punishments for any bad behavior. Parents will bend over backwards to make them sound like the victims rather then slackers. Is it perfect, god no. Does she give a damn, yes.

Also, she is the parent, not us.
posted by Felex at 9:37 AM on February 18, 2011 [25 favorites]


If you haven't been responsible for educating a child - as a parent or teacher - it's an experience. I highly recommend it.
posted by Xoebe at 9:40 AM on February 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm sorry I disagree with a lot of the comments here. Like she said is he supposed to have this future when he's an adult and homeless with a sign panhandling?

This kid gave every excuse for laziness. She talked with everyone available at the school. The father talked with this kid. This kid is old enough to know when to do the f'in homework and when to be lazy and think it's a joke. What were his dreams? I think the whole "wow MTV shows I can be famous by rapping or going on a reality show" are bad examples for kids.

If I was at my wits end. If I tried everything possible including tutoring and counseling and learning testing and in the end, my kid was just f'in lazy, I would consider this as an option. An education IS important and provides choices in life. Getting Fs, dropping out, dead end minimum wage jobs offer no options.

She wasn't walking around saying "look at my stupid kid". She wanted him to own up to his laziness.

Let parents parent. This isn't abuse. Giving up on him is abuse.
posted by stormpooper at 9:43 AM on February 18, 2011 [21 favorites]


The best thing would have been if an Amscot employee would have come out and told him he wasn't okay to stand out there.
posted by cashman at 9:44 AM on February 18, 2011


at least his parents CARE

Is it perfect, god no. Does she give a damn, yes.


Did you all notice that one of the "reasons" given for attacking protesters who were sound asleep at 3 am in Bahrain was that supposedly the authorities were concerned to minimize casualties and upset people as little as possible?

Cruelty is cruelty, no matter how well meaning the inflicters say they are.

Also, I have worked as an educator and was involved for more years than I like to count with sexually abused and often very troubled children. In my experience, humiliation is an utterly counterproductive strategy.
posted by bearwife at 9:45 AM on February 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


I have a daughter. I want SO badly for her to succeed, for her to reach potential. I want for her to be the best that she can be, to really try her hardest. I didn't. And largely, my parents didn't give a crap other than to complain that it was embarrassing them. So they evened the score by embarrassing me.

I want my daughter to have many opportunities that I never had. Life can pass you by in a second. There is no saying that everything will be fine, as much as we would like to imagine this sort of cosmic, ideological "fairness." So I want her to have all the possible options she can earn available to her.

But mostly, above all else, I want her to know that she is loved and respected. Without those things, she doesn't stand much of a chance, regardless of what her grades turn out to be. I want her to know, to actively feel, that I support her and want the best for her. She is aware that I will make bad mistakes with good intentions. She knows that I will sometimes flail at adulthood as she flails at growing up. So what.

The damage is in your child feeling like you don't respect them. The damage is in the humiliation. That damage starts on the inside and works its way out. I feel bad for this kid. I hope he starts taking his education more seriously. I hope his mother starts seeing the depth and not just the reflection.
posted by nickjadlowe at 9:46 AM on February 18, 2011 [10 favorites]


I like the mom's creativity. She's using the drivers (who maybe couldn't even read the sign) to prove to her son that trying harder in school IS important, that other people outside of his circle of friends DO think that your grades matter. Since I also think that trying hard in school is important and that your grades matter, I endorse her actions. It's not like she made him stand out there naked or called the TV crews up herself. (Unless she did, haha.) She was explicitly trying to help him, not to humiliate him. Intentions matter a lot, and it can't be a bad thing to let your kids know that - maybe unlike their teachers, who are willing to write them off as underachievers - you expect better of them. If he has a learning disorder, that's different, but we don't know that.

And anyway as much as all the attention is embarrassing, it might be gratifying, also. If nothing else he might get some "dude your mom is so crazy" sympathy points at school. Maybe even some "dude I wish my mom cared that much about how I did at school" jealousy points. This kid has SIX siblings, AND is black, AND is the son of two people who didn't finish high school. He's probably spent his whole life feeling overlooked and like what he does with his time doesn't matter. The parents aren't trying to get him a 3.0, they're trying to get him to not fail out of school. (I don't know about Florida but in New Jersey, if you fail gym, you don't graduate.)

/speculation
posted by subdee at 9:49 AM on February 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Long as he is out there he should get local business to sponsor him and pay for space on his sign. Maybe sign up some of the other kids as well. Then when he buys his mom a house he can make here wear sign that says "my ne'er do well son bought me this house".
posted by Ad hominem at 9:50 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is it "Local News GRAR" day on MetaFilter and nobody told me?

No, of course not. Don't be ridiculous. Everyone knows it's Local News GWAR day.
posted by "Elbows" O'Donoghue at 9:53 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anecdata: Though I never did quite that poorly, I had lots of parent-fights about doing my homework and chores. Harassing, nagging, screaming, mom writing on my bedroom wall in permanent marker... I finally got learning-tested at 20 and am back in school now, and it's a completely different feeling... I'm getting help so I can find that internal motivation.

While I'm not this kid or his parents, I would advocate strongly for separating out the parents' frustrations from the child's behavior here. Even well-off and well-educated parents can have a hard time navigating through a school system to help their child, and low-income school-districts can pose a significant barrier to receiving help. Shame and embarrassment are external motivators, not internal ones, and as such, I'm not confident of that approach's long-term success.
posted by Sweetdefenestration at 9:55 AM on February 18, 2011


I thought it was funny, and I'm sure the kid will be fine. The experts sound like ivory tower blowhards.
posted by no_moniker at 9:55 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


She did not beat her child, she did not put him in any danger. This is not abuse.

these are parents who didn't finish highschool (and who had kids early) and who knows how hard it is to get by desparately trying to help their kids to a better life. Their son won't tell them when he has homework, so it's not like they can stand over him to do it. This was an imaginative and not cruel idea for a punishment and much more likely to have a lasting impact on a fifteen year old than a simple grounding.

I hope it has some effect on him. My mom ended up trying something more extreme. At about that age, my brother was pulling the same idiotic stunt -- not doing homework, lying when asked if he had any, and failing out of grade 10. My mom pulled him out of school for the remaining part of the year, and made him work for her instead (at the non-profit she worked at). She hoped he would understand what work meant, learn some good habits, and also miss school enough that when he got back to school he would work extra hard -- which is exactly how I would have reacted. Instead, he got stubborn and ended dropping out -- 20 years later, he blames her for making him "fail" by pulling him out. Which is idiotic, because he didn't lose any credits - he wasn't going to get any anyways.

Maybe my mom was wrong for pulling him out of school -- not morally wrong, but it was the wrong strategy. But I remember her frustration, how she tried all the other things first -- asking about homework, offering support. Our house was very pro-education -- she worked for a literacy non-profit. But she was also a single parent who left at 8am and got home at 7pm -- she couldn't watch to see if my brother left for school (he often just wouldn't go), or what he did after school (watched tv, hid in his room). He had been in a special program, but that was only 2 years for grades 6-7, and the school board did not have any other support to offer; he had been diagnosed with depression, but refused to take medication. What were her options? She didn't see any others. At least by taking him out of school and having him work with her, she could monitor him and keep him from getting into trouble (or more trouble -- he'd already shoplifted once).
posted by jb at 9:55 AM on February 18, 2011 [8 favorites]


What message is that? (I mean seriously, that's a pretty ambiguous statement. I have no idea what you actually mean)

Delmoi, I think that casual disregard for the educated opinion is evidence that she doesn't care very much about education, regardless of what her actual motive for putting a board on her child is. I'm not arguing that she intends to convey some other message, and I'm wasn't arguing for some particular alternative message. But seeing as you asked me for one: "you're not worth a damn" is what I think James will hear and internalize.

Also, sorry, this is not 'tiger-momming'. I'm not even sure that it's possible to do what Chua does with six kids, but tiger-momming here would involve spending several hours each day working intensively with James on his school work, including the phys ed.
posted by topynate at 9:56 AM on February 18, 2011


I really respect this mom's creativity and willing to try and shock her kid into trying in school. Public schools today, are such a mess that literally ANYTHING is worth a try. I wrote some of the math questions on the FCAT. The concepts the questions being testing are not hard, but the mangled nest of bureaucratic restrictions and directives just on HOW we can write the questions are so ridiculous, that many of us who do this sort of thing are pretty dismayed at the final result. And when you add onto that all the ridiculous things that the teachers and administrators have to deal with, it's no wonder these kids by and large don't have a chance.

The thing that pisses me off the most though is the exploitation by local news.
posted by Jon_Evil at 10:03 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


topynate: and are you willing to pay her so that she afford to be at home to monitor him?

Poor parents don't work out of choice -- they have no choice. And with the longer commutes by bus, the poor people I know have to be away from home longer than middle class people usually are, only they aren't paid for those hours.
posted by jb at 10:04 AM on February 18, 2011 [8 favorites]


Sandwich board? Shit. My dad just kicked my ass. Wimps.
posted by IvoShandor at 10:04 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Did you all notice that one of the "reasons" given for attacking protesters who were sound asleep at 3 am in Bahrain was that supposedly the authorities were concerned to minimize casualties and upset people as little as possible?
Yes, making someone stand around with a sign is exactly like blasting people with tear gas and bashing their heads in.
Delmoi, I think that casual disregard for the educated opinion is evidence that she doesn't care very much about education
Okay, so you do realize that all this "educated opinion" popped up after she made him stand out there with the sign, right? Not before? Are you blaming her for not looking into the future to see what kind of advice she would get after doing this?

Are you seriously arguing that anyone who disagrees with anyone who has more education then them doesn't value education? Because that's clearly absurd.

And furthermore that by ignoring the messages you send a signal that education is not important, and that that signal is 'louder' then simply saying that you value education and going to great lengths to force your kids to get good grades? Because that's completely ridiculous.
posted by delmoi at 10:07 AM on February 18, 2011 [8 favorites]


Oh wait the message you though she was sending was "you're not worth a damn". I think the message she was trying to send was "You won't be worth a damn if you fail at school." Which, from the eyes of society is pretty much true. In this country 1 in every 3 black men without a highschool diploma are in jail. I don't mean have been in jail, I mean in jail at this very moment.
posted by delmoi at 10:09 AM on February 18, 2011 [9 favorites]


People might wonder if James has a learning disability. He has never been tested, his mother said. Until the middle of seventh grade, his grades were fine.

I see no reason to think he has a learning disability. My grades were fine until the middle of seventh grade too, and I didn't have a disability. I just really hated school. Near constant ridicule from other students (and several teachers) made me absolutely loath going there, and I essentially gave up. The emphasis on rote memorization didn't help either.

Certain types of schooling don't work with certain kids, and no amount of cruel shaming will change that. Trust me.
posted by brundlefly at 10:14 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Somewhat related: Tiger Mom animal meme site.
posted by amuseDetachment at 10:17 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


"MY MOM IS EMOTIONALLY RETARDED AND HAS NO PARENTING SKILLS. WISH ME LUCK, I'M GOING TO NEED IT"
posted by facetious at 10:18 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


In this country 1 in every 3 black men without a highschool diploma are in jail. I don't mean have been in jail, I mean in jail at this very moment.

So do you think that 1 out of 3 black men in the US are all in prison because they didn't do their homework?
posted by blucevalo at 10:20 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


And at least his parents CARE.

Sorry, public humiliation =/= care.
posted by aught at 10:20 AM on February 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Confused (and, admittedly, not yet reading everything posted): she has enough control over her kid to compel him to stand out there with said sign, but she doesn't have enough control to get him to do his schoolwork? Or is he just completely unmotivated when mom is out of sight & out of mind?
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:28 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Department of Children and Families came to Holder's home to interview James.

And I love how the other snotty assholes wring their hands and so "oohhh but that just wroong and doesn't woorrrk".
You know what worked for my brother and me? My father whipping our asses if we didn't do our schoolwork after the farm chores were done.
School these days is fairly easy: you do the work, you turn it in, you read the book. Nobody is asking you to design a building or fix a broken leg.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 10:37 AM on February 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


So do you think that 1 out of 3 black men in the US are all in prison because they didn't do their homework?

One in three without highschool diplomas. And btw, the stat for white men without highschool diplomas, age age 20-34 is 1 in 8, compared to 1 in 57 for white men in that age range overall. So there's a pretty big difference.

The point is, society overall really doesn't value people without high-school educations much at all. Now obviously it's theoretically possible to drop out of highschool and never commit any crimes, but the statistics indicate that's unlikely, at least for men. The real world doesn't really care that much about how much self esteem you have. (In fact, people in prison tend to have about the same level of self-esteem as people in general)
posted by delmoi at 10:37 AM on February 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


Confused (and, admittedly, not yet reading everything posted): she has enough control over her kid to compel him to stand out there with said sign, but she doesn't have enough control to get him to do his schoolwork? Or is he just completely unmotivated when mom is out of sight & out of mind?
He was lying about whether or not he had any homework.
posted by delmoi at 10:38 AM on February 18, 2011


Again with the shame. So much of what's wrong with the US can be found in shame.

I shudder to think what I'd be like if my parents had been more like this. I don't think I ever had a high school GPA of more than that kid's, and when I got expelled in the last month of my fourth year in high school, I was well on my way to failing the tenth grade for the second time. No one needed to teach me shame, though. The "praise" hurt more than enough:

"You're so smart, so why don't you apply yourself?"

"If you'd only take it all more seriously, Joe, you'd be at the top of the class."

"We just can't figure out how someone as smart as you can get grades like this."

"Why can't you work at the level we know you're capable of?"

Damned if I know.

I didn't know, either. I didn't know why, when I was stressed out or nervous or distracted, a page full of text was like a page of random letters, numbers, and spaces, with units of meaning that wouldn't click together into sentences. I didn't know why I could master ideas and concepts that people my age today can't grasp, but I couldn't diagram a sentence, solve a tri-nomial equation, or schedule my time.

These days, I get it. Took a while, but I get it. My brain's got a different architecture than most, and that's okay. I have workarounds, focusing strategies, and methods that let what a rigid educational structure considered weaknesses become my strengths. I got kicked out of school, schlepped around a while, and put myself through college. I got the highest score in the state the year I took my GED, and graduated from UMCP with a 3.25 GPA, which might have been higher if I didn't work a full-time and a part-time job all through school.

My mother could have put me out on a street corner with a sign.

She had reasons. My favorite teacher's note summed up why pretty simply:

Joe would prefer to write a ten page paper explaining why he should not have to write an assigned five page paper than do his assigned work.

Yeah, I could be a pain in the ass. You learn social strategies.

Me on a street corner with that sign wouldn't have worked. It wouldn't have worked because the shame was either there, or it wasn't going to be there. Nothing about that strategy would have worked.

My mother did break, now and then, and would just get a stricken, red-eyed look to her and would tell me things I thought were unforgivable for years and years.

"I try and try to make things work out for you," she'd say, starting to cry, "but you just won't budge, and I can't make any headway at all. I try my hardest to make things easier for you, and nothing works."

I resented these breakdowns, but I didn't know better. I cut myself slack in retrospect because I knew that I wasn't really being lazy, or choosing not to pay attention, or conspiring to be difficult, but it took me years to get hold of the fact that she was fighting the good fight with as little information as I had. When I was struggling with the Howard County public school system, being dumped into special ed and forced into lonely sessions of make-work, my mother was about ten years younger than I am now, the daughter of a largely self-educated woman who'd never done any better than work in factories and gas stations. You think parents are magically capable, equipped with a thick volume of parenting wisdom, but they're just us.

As a non-reproducer, the closest I get to parenting is uncling, which I do relatively badly, and pet ownership, which I do better, but still with flaws. When my previously abused rescue Carolina Dog puppy started to systematically destroy the happy little Ikea sofa that was the first new piece of living room furniture I've ever owned, in a proof positive of her pariah dog roots, I felt a kind of powerless, angry, heartbroken frustration every day when I'd come home and find some new crime scene. It's a far lesser level of things than parenting, but to step in and find that she'd tunneled straight through the arm, under the seat, pulled out the elastic holding the slipcover on, and shredded the rest into a snowstorm of upholstery foam, I felt like I was encountering the same sort of feelings my mother must have had when the principal would call and explain my usual disasters.

"What the hell is wrong with you, dog?" I'd yell, and she'd sit there, blinking, wondering why I was so mad. "I give you toys, snacks, stuff to do, and you've got Uncle Paul and Uncle Tom stopping in all day to check on you! What what what what what can I do!?"

Ah, there it is. There's that powerless feeling.

So I look at this kid, hanging his head on a street corner, and I want to be mad, and to rail against his mother, because, as I complained above, shame isn't the way. It's not the way to approach his mother, either, if one cares to do so. I think her strategy is wrong, and unhelpful, but I'm not going to take the side of the pinched, know-it-all brigade, either, because that's similarly unhelpful. What the kid needs is a hand, and a mentor, and someone who gives a shit. His mom needs it, too. Mine spent a decade and change on the defensive from faddish pop psychologists, high-and-mighty authoritarians, and people who just don't care to listen, and it was a corrosive, ugly thing for her. A helping hand would have meant so much more than another opinion and another person with enough blame and shame to go around.

With luck, the right people will extend a hand in this case.
posted by sonascope at 10:40 AM on February 18, 2011 [33 favorites]


My sixth-grade social studies teacher made a kid wear her uncompleted homework worksheet around her neck on a string all day as punishment.

I thought it was assholery 24 years ago and it's still assholery now.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:42 AM on February 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Are you blaming her for not looking into the future to see what kind of advice she would get after doing this?

Do I think she had a moral duty to forsee how people would react to her actions? Yeah, I do. No crystal ball required. But that isn't what I said.

How you react to something today is evidence about your habits before today. If Ronda Holder's reaction to child care experts saying that her actions are ineffective today is dismissal - not disagreement, but denial that anything they say can even apply to her situation - then it would be astonishing if she didn't have the same frame of mind when she put a sandwich board on her son. Is it really credible to think that education is valuable, but deny its utility when it applies to your own behaviour?

More broadly, we're getting a look at limited information about this family: the grades, some short interviews, and the event itself. If we want to work out what the right thing to do is, we have to speculate about the mother-son relationship. That's why I said 'points pretty strongly' - I don't think my conclusion is a flat certainty, because it's an inference, not an observation. I do think that it's a sound inference.

the message you though she was sending was "you're not worth a damn". I think the message she was trying to send was "You won't be worth a damn if you fail at school."

The message James received was "you're not worth a damn". That's what humiliation is. When I said that she was giving her son a "different message", I elided the fact that a message can convey a meaning different to its intent. Hence my saying in my previous reply that she may not have intended for this to happen.
posted by topynate at 10:47 AM on February 18, 2011


The point is, society overall really doesn't value people without high-school educations much at all.

Well, no, the point is actually that you originally stated that 1 out of 3 black men without high-school diplomas were incarcerated. And my response was to ask you why you thought that they were in prison, as a way of suggesting that many of them might have been there even if they did have a high school diploma, because of the color of their skin.
posted by blucevalo at 10:52 AM on February 18, 2011


The message James received was "you're not worth a damn". That's what humiliation is.

Yeah... I don't think that's true at all. I have no idea what you're even basing it on, other then your own personal opinions about it. Wikipedia defines humiliation as this:
Humiliation (also called stultification) is the abasement of pride, which creates mortification or leads to a state of being humbled or reduced to lowliness or submission. It can be brought about through bullying, intimidation, physical or mental mistreatment or trickery, or by embarrassment if a person is revealed to have committed a socially or legally unacceptable act.
In this case we are talking about mortification through embarrassment. Not bullying or intimidation or physical or mental mistreatment. You can't just make up your own definitions for things and then say because of those definitions that whatever your opinion happens to be is true.

If you have some studies or something that indicate using shaming causes people to feel that they are worthless overall, please feel free to share.
posted by delmoi at 10:55 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Man, i'm telling you, this IS NOT bad parenting. Bad parenting is what I experienced. This mofo had to wear a sandwich board announcing he didn't apply himself. Oh boohoo. Forgive me if I have no sympathy.
posted by IvoShandor at 10:56 AM on February 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


And my response was to ask you why you thought that they were in prison, as a way of suggesting that many of them might have been there even if they did have a high school diploma, because of the color of their skin.
Right, many would be, but not as many. In fact only 1/3rd as many overall including diploma holders and non holders (in that age group).

The comparison with white men is even more stark, since racism isn't in play. 1 in 8 vs one in 57 overall. Are you saying that his mother should focus her energy on eliminating racism from society instead of trying to make sure he graduates?
posted by delmoi at 10:59 AM on February 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I had a really hard time in high school. It lead to some pretty poor grades. It was related to social and emotional reasons that I don't think my parents realized, and I did not have the vocabulary to express. I felt like I was barely surviving, and it lead to some inexplicable behavior regarding the issue of studying. I could not find the energy to do extra stuff beyond a regular 7:40-3:20 "work" day to keep up with studies. I was always exhausted. And bad work and study habits beget more bad work and study habits to the point that I could not find the mental energy to do homework even if I was given dedicated time to get the job done.

My parents were disappointed, and I'm not sure they ever figured out how difficult it was for me. Fortunately, they did not shame me. It would not have worked, as shame does not habitate the right mental space required to address core issues like this. My mom said to me just this last Christmas that considering where I ended up (working and teaching in academia and currently doing PhD work), she would not have foreseen that future for me. I didn't say much, as I think that she assumes I just figured out how to study. But a huge part of it was getting my emotional life in order. It would not have happened if my parents had shamed me. The issue for this guy might not be laziness. My parents still do not fully understand the reason for the poor performance, but I do attribute my parents' patient response to me for being even remotely successful in life.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:59 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I do not have enough context to know whether I would applaud this woman's actions or condemn them. It comes down to her child's emotional resilience. To some, this would be catastrophic. Others might actually respond as desired through such negative motivation.

There are a great many factors that can encourage a student to blow off tests and schoolwork. I have no idea which of these may be at play here. It is important to show him, however, that none of those factors count as an excuse and will not gain this student any make-up points in life when he's not in school anymore.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:01 AM on February 18, 2011


Oh man, I'm kinda mad now. This is such bullshit. When my little brother acted up in school his teacher sent a note home. And when my old man got that note he beat the shit out of him. I'd taunt the old man, cuss at him, while my little brother hid under the bed, just to make him come at me. Yeah motherfucker. COME AT ME BRO! This is just confused parenting. That kid is going to be fine. I'm fine. That kid will be alright. Fuck this shit. Self-righteous-MeFI has really been pissin' me off lately.
posted by IvoShandor at 11:02 AM on February 18, 2011


What are you guys talking about! Shame is great! Japan's been running on shame for like a thousand years! And I'm only half joking. Shame really is a sort of inversion of pride - it's not necessarily a negative thing, just a way of thinking about what you're worth, why you should accomplish things, how you'll feel if you do or don't... shame is a totally legitimate feeling that in my opinion is underrepresented in the USA.

This in particular was a rather crude way of injecting a little shame into this kid's system, but here's hoping it worked. I got a 2.0 or so my first year of high school, and what was it that put me on the right track, made me ditch my loser, enabling friends and actually do some shit? Shame! I felt shame at not being what I could be. This kid has the cards stacked against him in a few ways, but if ambition, pride, and other positive feelings don't motivate him, well god damn it, maybe shame will! And if it does, and he picks up the pieces and works hard and goes to college (or what have you) instead of letting the world slap him around, which it will because that's the default for underachieving black males, then I say hell yeah, bring the shame.

Also, as someone noted above: we're not there. We're not the parent. This is all academic in the extreme.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 11:06 AM on February 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


IvoShandor, there are degrees of bad parenting. That you got the shit beat out of you is terribly abusive parenting. Had you not been hit, but been screamed at, locked in your room, and/or not fed, etc., one would be very justified in still calling that terribly abusive parenting. I'm terribly sorry for your experience. Evaluating parenting on whether or not the parent repeatedly beats their children is an intolerably low bar.
posted by Sweetdefenestration at 11:07 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was a good student all the way up until high school. I always made As and applied myself. Then there were boys, skating, and boys, and music and school seemed less important. In my freshman year I decided that I didn't like science and it was stupid and I just wouldn't do the homework in my biology class. And I didn't. Just before the end of the semester, my teacher called my dad and let him know that I hadn't done any of the homework and was a point away from failing. She told him that she could tell I knew the material because I was acing every test but she couldn't pass me without the homework.

I got home from school that day and my father greeted me with all the homework I should have done the entire semester. I raged that it was unfair. That I was passing on just the tests, that it was just busy work. My dad had one thing to say. "Cooperate and graduate." He didn't care about fair, he didn't care if it was too hard or too boring or whatever. The work had to be done. And I had to do it all while he stood over me. And that included a science fair project that was due the next day. I stayed up all night with Dad standing right there glaring at me and completed a semester's worth of homework.

In addition to my marathon homework session I was grounded, banned from the phone, television, any outside activities that didn't directly relate to education and reading anything that wasn't school oriented. Also, every time a boy or a friend called the house to ask me out or do something, my parents told my friends that I couldn't go because I was too lazy to do my homework. By the time Christmas break rolled around everybody at school knew I was in massive trouble because I goofed off. It was embarrassing as hell. One of my slacker buddies told me he was disappointed in me because I was supposed to be "smart." And I shouldn't squander being smart. That hurt.

I learned on of the most important things ever from that experience. Things have to get done. There's crap work in this world and busy work and you have to do it. It doesn't matter if you're smart enough to pass with the only the tests, life's homework has to get done. Just because you don't want to do something is not enough of a reason to bail on it.

Too many of my peers and friends don't seem to get that. They bitch about their bosses making them jump through hoops and bullshit bureaucracy and rage against the machine all the while accomplishing nothing. And I think of my father's words that day and remember "Cooperate and graduate."

I'm not saying her method was perfect, but with some kids only the extreme will get through to them. And this is a mother who, to me, just wants her kid to not end up one of those 1 in 3 black young men.
posted by teleri025 at 11:11 AM on February 18, 2011 [15 favorites]


Cruelty is cruelty

Yeah, except when it's not cruelty. Then it's not cruelty.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:11 AM on February 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


"You can't resort to spanking," she said. "I want my child to have an education and have his children be able to look at him and say I can get an education, too."

People can criticize her all they like.

"This is one child who won't be lost to the streets."


*shakes fist at her* Damn you mother for caring!!!

Even the kid says he understood the lesson and knew she loved him.

I dont' know, when I was in 4th grade and got a F in math on my report card, my dad grabbed me out of the bathroom by my hair, threw me in a chair, screamed in my face for 2 hours telling me how f'in stupid I was, how dare I do this, I better shape up, I would be on the streets, etc, etc. etc. (and I'm a girl). Now I've been diagnosed with dyscalcula at 40 (gee, maybe a reason why I always got a C- to an F on all math scores? Go art college!)

Sign = child abuse. Pffft.
posted by stormpooper at 11:12 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is so sad I don't know where to begin. What a wonderful commentary on the current state of American values, culture and community.

Everyone is wrong here. The mother, the son, the school system the "news" organizations that reported this instead of spending that time on the current state of Florida's corrupt political system.

That kid out there with the sign hanging around his neck is an iconic image of every damn think that is wrong about American culture, values and current society.

One more thing - I'd bet a significant amount of my weekly pay that it would only take 48 hours to find out that the mother contacted the news organizations herself. This was never about the kid I'd wager. It's about 15 minutes of infamy.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 11:13 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just curious, what's so bad about shaming and humiliation? These can serve useful purposes, sometimes. After all, there are things that you should be ashamed about, and it sounds like this mother was worried that her son didn't share this opinion with regard to schoolwork. Not every embarrassing thing leads to psychological scars and years of therapy as an adult. As for whether or not this will be effective, I wouldn't be so quick to judge. People respond strongly to public shaming. Hopefully, the young man will benefit from this punishment.
posted by Edgewise at 11:16 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Evaluating parenting on whether or not the parent repeatedly beats their children is an intolerably low ba

And frankly, as long as no laws are being broken, it's none of your business. It may be a low bar, but there is no manual about how to be a parent. And your methods, or my methods, or my dad's methods, it doesn't matter. Really it's about how people turn out. Some people can't hack it, some people can. In the end parenting may nott have as much to do with life choices as we tend to attribute to it here at MeFi. People like me have overcome bad situations to at least be marginally productive members of society. What I am saying, not that I agree with the parenting choices made in this instance, I certainly wouldn't have done it, but that those parenting choices are not the end all, be all we tend to ascribe to it around here. That this kid's chances have less to do with parenting skills and more to do with where he grows up (combined with his personal level of intelligence). It's easy to blame shitty parents like it's easy to blame shitty teachers, but in the end those two things don't have as much to do with where we end up as we'd like to think.
posted by IvoShandor at 11:18 AM on February 18, 2011


Starting at around the age I was twelve, and lasting until my graduation (two weeks before my eighteenth birthday), I was grounded a minimum of six months out of every year. I was grounded from the entire age of twelve to thirteen, and then usually from December until June of every year after that. A tiny fraction of this was due to unrelated behavioral issues, but the vast majority of it was grades. Every quarter my GPA was exactly the same: 2.0. Not coincidentally, this was exactly the number required to not be kicked out of school.

A lot of people to whom I’ve explained this don’t have a clear idea of what I mean; the definition of “grounded” seems to vary wildly from family to family. In my house, it meant no leaving the property unattended by my parents except to go to school or church, no visitors, no phone calls and no television. It meant missing parties and game nights, and not seeing any movie in the theater that my parents didn’t want to see themselves. It meant spending a lot of time sitting in my room with my door closed, listening to Soundgarden and Portishead and reading library books, which is realistically what I probably would have done even if I had been free to roam. It meant that as I got older and sex took up more and more of my mental real estate, I discovered that my sexual activity was necessarily limited to taking place at school and church (which provided a certain illicit thrill of its own, and was definitely not my parents’ intention).

During the six years that this took place, my grades didn’t change at all. My report cards were depressingly predictable: Two A’s, one B, one D, two F’s. It wasn’t that I was stupid, and I certainly didn’t have any sort of learning disability, and it wasn’t the result of depression or any other form of mental illness. In tenth grade my geometry teacher despaired to me that I was the only student that he’d ever had that was getting high grades (often the highest in my class; after four straight years of taking drafting, most of the basics of geometry were old hat to me) on the test scores, and still failing the class for lack of homework. My grades had a certain logic to them, although it was never the sort of logic that my parents or any of my teachers would accept. Quite simply, I didn’t like being told what to do (I still don’t, a trait that has spelled the end of more than one relationship), so I reasoned that I should do any of the work that I would have been inclined to do if it hadn’t been assigned to me, and simply ignore the rest. The end result of this is that I did amazingly well in English and History and Graphics, horribly in Math and most Sciences, and all over the map in Phys Ed (depending largely on who the coach was that year).

So I was grounded more than half of my life as a teenager. It clearly wasn’t working, but at some point it had just become so routine that I think that everyone in the family (myself included) just sort of accepted it as the way that things were supposed to be. It’s not as though it was the only approach that my parents attempted. They tried reasoning with me, but I was unconvinced. They tried offering me money to improve my grades, but with no expenses I didn’t really see the point. They sent me to therapy for two years, which I think was good for me, but it really didn’t change my viewpoint regarding submission to authority. They applied peer pressure by telling all of my friends that my grades were the reason that I couldn’t hang out with them, which got my social circle to plead with me to please just do my homework, but I just wasn’t having it. Neither parent ever went so far as to resort to physical violence, because I’d been larger than either of them from the time that I was eleven, but even if they had, it wouldn’t have made any difference; every action that they took only caused me to dig in deeper.

The ironic part, and I’ve never admitted this to my mother, is that they could have broken me of my defiance, if only they’d had the will to do so. Books were my refuge and my solace, and if they’d taken that away from me I’d have capitulated to anything, but my mother was an English teacher. She had a life-long love of reading that was one of the few pieces of common ground between us, and she couldn’t stand the thought of forbidding me to read. So even though I was grounded, she would drive me to the library whenever I wanted (often two or three times a week) to pick up books.

So maybe I’m just projecting my own experiences onto this situation, but I suspect that James might be a little bit like me. He likely doesn’t have a learning disability, and this likely isn’t a symptom of abuse, nor is it likely his mother’s first resort. There’s a good chance that he’s just engaged in the world’s most passive-aggressive battle of wills with the authority figures in his life. If that’s the case, then there’s a good chance that this “shaming” won’t work. I hope that it doesn’t; the most valuable thing that I gained from high school was the knowledge that I couldn’t be forced to do anything that I didn’t consent to doing. The determination that my teenage experience forged in me did more for my life and career, in the long run, than any amount of homework ever could.

James, if you ever read this: Be strong, be brave, and remember that those people love you and want you to do well, but they are not the boss of you.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 11:23 AM on February 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


delmoi, it's amazing that we can read the same definition and think it means something completely different. Mortification is here a synonym for shame or humiliation, so it doesn't convey anything about what humiliation is. The second part of the definition, "or leads to a state of being humbled or reduced to lowliness or submission", says in effect 'makes low status/low worth'.

If you have some studies or something that indicate using shaming causes people to feel that they are worthless overall, please feel free to share.

I have another idea. How about you look through Google Scholar and see if there's a single article in there that contains the words 'shaming' and 'worthlessness' and indicates the contrary?

This is getting away from my original point, anyway. James is unlikely to buckle down as a result of being shamed like this, because his mother hasn't hersef internalized the value of education and so can't convincingly convey it. I'm not of the opinion that if only kids like James had more self-esteem, they'd have better futures. No. I'm of the opinion that they need to acquire the virtues of conscientiousness and desire for knowledge from their parents.
posted by topynate at 11:28 AM on February 18, 2011


>...Damn you mother for caring!!! ...
>...I dont' know, when I was in 4th grade and got a F in math on my
>report card, my dad grabbed
>me out of the bathroom by my hair, threw me in a chair, screamed
>in my face for 2 hours telling
> me how f'in stupid I was, how dare I do this, I better shape up,
>I would be on the streets, etc,metc. etc. (and I'm a girl).

From :
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1340222/Harry-Potter-actress-beaten-branded-prostitute-brother-dating-man-Muslim.html

"Harry Potter actress was beaten and branded a prostitute by her brother after dating man 'who was not a Muslim' "

Oh Darn you Father for caring!
Stockholm Syndrome - it's not just for Hostages anymore !
posted by Poet_Lariat at 11:39 AM on February 18, 2011


Seriously, these arguments about how well at least she cares and well at least she's not physically beating the kid are ridiculous. Yes, it could be worse. But it still sucks.

If my parents had done this to me, you can be damn sure I wouldn't have improved my grades. That would have justified their behavior, you see. You're going to out-stubborn a high-school boy while engaging in behaviors that practically guarantee that he'll be maximally motivated to out-stubborn you? Not gonna work.

Moralists and their moralizing, reward/punishment response to every problem. Yes, you can use this approach on children and many of them will break, like slaves are broken, and they will obey. Others will not. And the psychological cost for both the obedient and the defiant will unfortunately be large.
posted by callmejay at 11:46 AM on February 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I do have to agree with many of the people who disagreed with the actions of this mother. Education shouldn't be about coddling students, but embarrassment is the other "extreme" and I don't see that it is productive.
posted by Collaborize Classroom at 12:11 PM on February 18, 2011


Anytime I talk to a kid who's having a tough time in school, I tell him or her that I slacked off in high school and got crappy grades, but still made it into a decent state school, now make lots of money and life in a nice house with a lovely wife who also makes lots of money, and travel internationally at least once a year if not more often, and am enjoying life. Their parents generally don't like me to talk to their kids.

Yes, but were your parents both poor, uneducated people? I also failed in HS then did well in college and got a good job, but it's much easier for a middle-class kid with educated parents to do than a guy whose parents never graduated from high school. For him, good grades or sports are about the only way out, and he failed PE.

I understand the mom's frustration, but yeah, getting involved at the school would be much more helpful.
posted by Huck500 at 12:14 PM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


People who use their own traumatic stories of childhood to explain away the wrongness of publicly humiliating your kid are demonstrating exactly the harm that this kind of parenting results in.
posted by nickjadlowe at 12:22 PM on February 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


I have another idea. How about you look through Google Scholar and see if there's a single article in there that contains the words 'shaming' and 'worthlessness' and indicates the contrary?
What!? That's not how science works. And "shaming –worthlessness" brings up twice as many papers. So I win? That the fact that two terms appears in an academic paper does not mean that one causes the other.
posted by delmoi at 12:27 PM on February 18, 2011


I hope he goes back to school and really applies himself, becomes fascinated with theoretical math, independently duplicates the Turing result, and then wishes his mother into the cornfield.
posted by thudthwacker at 12:31 PM on February 18, 2011


I just don't get how she can convince him to stand out there with that sign on but can't get him to do his work. Families are weird though.
posted by Mister_A at 12:35 PM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I hope he goes back to school and really applies himself, becomes fascinated with theoretical math, independently duplicates the Turing result, and then wishes his mother into the cornfield.
What is the Turing result? Are you talking about the halting problem? The church–Turing thesis? Anyone who studies math will have come across those before they get to the point of reinventing them.

Anyway, you people are absolutely ridiculous. What kind of future do you see for this kid if he drops out of high-school, seriously? Do you just think it doesn't matter?
posted by delmoi at 12:37 PM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Similar to the dunce cap (US) or donkey ears (Europe). Not entirely new.
posted by Houstonian at 12:49 PM on February 18, 2011


Did anyone enjoy doing homework for its own intrinsic rewards? Me and every kid I knew needed external motivation in order to do it, whether that was in the form of reward or punishment. If I hadn't been pushed I probably wouldn't have done it at all. Obviously this kid takes a LOT more pushing than I needed, but it's better than giving up on him.
posted by desjardins at 12:52 PM on February 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


> Yes, but were your parents both poor, uneducated people? I also failed in HS then did well in college and got a good job, but it's much easier for a middle-class kid with educated parents

Yeah, I'm swimming in privilege over here, really. My silly little comment was orthogonal to the issue at hand here. I feel for the kid and his mom, and without knowing them much more closely wouldn't dare to ascribe the kinds of motivations and such that I'm seeing here.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:54 PM on February 18, 2011


What is the Turing result?

It's the unpublished theorem which, in Charles Stross' "Atrocity Archives" stories, forms the underpinnings for being able to do things like poke holes between universes.
posted by thudthwacker at 12:54 PM on February 18, 2011


Obviously I was not arguing by weight of numbers or degree of coincidence of two words in scholarly papers. I noticed that of the papers which do include those words, all of them seemed to strongly associate the two concepts - some of them saying that shame causes worthlessness, others that worthlessness is what shame feels like, others that worthlessness leads to the seeking out of shaming, which reinforces the feeling of being worthless. Rather than pointing to a few examples, it seems a stronger assertion to say "here are all the papers that could disprove me. Can you find one?"

I just don't get how she can convince him to stand out there with that sign on but can't get him to do his work.

Being submissive to your mum (or intimidated by her threats of what your dad might do) is a social fact. You don't need to apply any effort to get into such a relationship; quite the opposite. Doing your work requires sustained focus on a cognitively challenging task.

I think many of the people who are saying that shame worked or would have worked on them are forgetting that 1) they were probably quite a bit smarter than James, 2) their environment aided them in getting cognitive skills that he lacks. If the task isn't challenging but rather just unpleasant, threats and manipulations might work. If it is challenging, then you need to develop the personality that is prepared to grapple with challenging tasks. You cannot be shamed into learning such things without, and I begin to repeat myself, parents or other mentors who embody those virtues and will work with you to help you acquire them.
posted by topynate at 1:01 PM on February 18, 2011


topynate: I notice you don't have any actual suggestion of what she should have done instead. Just let her kid get bad grades?
posted by delmoi at 1:09 PM on February 18, 2011


@Poet, while I understand you view this as child abuse (because my experience was), also note it scared the crap out of me not to get into drugs, not to have poor grades, get a job, etc. And like it or not, that "fear" made me go to college, made me get a MA, made me make damn sure I can take care of myself, have a good salary, buy a home, etc. Not saying the method was right but in his way, he felt that keeping me on the right track would make me have a better life. He grew up where all his friends were in jail or dead while he went to the Korean War, came home, worked 3 shifts in the freezing cold, so he could pay for his family. And he didn't want me to be stuck with poor choices.

It's a mixed bag. But again, in this particular story, the mother did nothing wrong to abuse this kid. He admitted he knew she loved him and it was a lesson. I doubt he has PTSD from the incident.
posted by stormpooper at 1:13 PM on February 18, 2011


My parents loved the shaming thing. What did it get them? Well, I hated them for a long time. And my brother claims I keyed the words "I hate you" on my mother's car. But I don't remember it, probably because I was operating in the red mist of HATE.

Truly, I became the grade-grubbing honor student that I did because I knew college was the best ticket to getting away from my parents and the small town in which they lived. Was it worth it? I dunno -- I guess my parents should be asked if our mutual dislike for one another for decades was worth it. /shrug
posted by angrycat at 1:36 PM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yep, looks like it accomplished its purposes quite well. Public shaming is probably the single most effective strategy for controlling public behavior and socializing.

It's also pretty great at instilling suicidal levels of self-loathing, and resentment toward one's supposed superiors.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:44 PM on February 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Isn't it more useful to talk about what his parents should do now? How about enrolling him in Big Brothers Big Sisters? Beyond that, his mom or dad could set an example by studying for the GED (at home, so that they can study together). And she could try apologizing for the sandwich board incident.
posted by topynate at 1:44 PM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


And at least his parents CARE.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:55 PM on February 18, 2011


How is it that she was able to get him to stand there wearing the sign but couldn't get him to do any homework?

Exactly. One of the scariest things I've learned as a parent is that you really do have an amazing amount of impact. Your kids learn from you, and it starts from the very, very beginning. And they don't miss much. There's something fucked up here.

All your worst traits will show up in your kids. Be ready for it. This woman apparently wasn't.

Also, Tampa/St. Pete is a hell of a place to grow up, imo.

Isn't it more useful to talk about what his parents should do now?

Absolutely, but they're not looking to us for advice. The parents need to seek help rather than just telling their kids "do more, do better." But perhaps squeaky wheel gets the grease and all so that's what she was going for (extra help from the school).

"I talk to my son," said Mond Jr., 33, a landscaper from Tampa. "I told him he needs to go to the teachers and request extra homework for the weekends to try and pull his grades up."

C'mon, Dad.

I blame part of this whole sad, sad, story on the rise of testing-based education and No Child Left Behind. This child has clearly been left behind.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:21 PM on February 18, 2011


I don't like it when shame is used as a weapon. Especially against children. Especially by their parents.

This made me remember a day when I didn't want to go to school (I think seventh grade or sixth) because I was miserable there and I used to make up stomachaches and not go, but this one morning when my mom said it was time to go to school, I just said no. This made her really mad, and anyway I was always making her mad, but no matter what she said I just said nope, I am not going to school and that's that. I was naked for some reason, I forget why, maybe I had just showered. So she dragged me, naked, into the car and told me if I refused to get dressed and go to school she would just bring me to school naked. I crouched in the leg part in the front seat because I was afraid that other people in cars would see me and she drove us thirty of the forty-five minutes to the school. The whole time she was yelling at me and telling me how ashamed I would feel when we got there and everyone would see how spoiled I was.

I knew she probably wasn't actually going to make me go to school naked but

Anyway I get that some kids are really hard to raise and hard to make do their homework or whatever but I don't think that parents should resort to shaming them.

I could be wrong.
posted by prefpara at 2:32 PM on February 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


The other thing that's kind of sad about this: The lack of a walkable community. In the olden days everyone would know eachother or if not at least they could see this kid and actually say something to him. Now we don't just have drive-by McD's and Drive by Taco Bell but we encourage kids to do well in school by literally honking at them as you drive by? Really?
posted by delmoi at 9:28 AM on February 18


In the olden days when there was a walkable community, they also had stocks and pillories. Everyone knew each other in the community, and they could have seen this kid, recognized him and actually stopped and thrown something towards him. And it wouldn't have been junk from McDonald's or Taco Bell, either, like gets thrown at you in a modern drive-by.

And that is why there were fewer dropouts back in the olden days.
posted by knoyers at 2:44 PM on February 18, 2011


Hey people, she couldn't force him to do his homework because he would lie about whether or not he would have any. More parent/teacher co-ordination might have helped, but we don't know how possible that was.
posted by delmoi at 3:16 PM on February 18, 2011


"Until the middle of seventh grade, his grades were fine."

This is possibly a clue. I'd wonder if some trauma happened in the seventh grade to change this boy's attitude. These parents could use some help including some counseling for the boy. Two parents without a high school education supporting and raising six kids and still going to drastic extremes like sandwich boards and public shaming to keep that boy in school deserve a round of applause as well as some help.

We've certainly got some bad parents in this country in every socio-economic range but these two should not be labeled bad parents based on this story.
posted by Anitanola at 3:30 PM on February 18, 2011


This mother is a bad parent, because instead of doing the hard work of shaming her children into self-hatred-driven-improvement by herself, she's putting her kid out on the street and having strangers do her parenting work for her.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:11 PM on February 18, 2011


In the olden days when there was a walkable community, they also had stocks and pillories.

Wut?
posted by mrgrimm at 4:13 PM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


"The usual 7th grade reasons for sudden drops in grades are girls and weed, IIRC."

Also divorce, housing instability, abuse by a non-related parental partner ...

I'm on my local school board. We have around a 70% poverty rate in my urban district. We rotate who reads the discipline files, which have been running to around 600 pages every two weeks lately; it's my 4 months on. (A lot of those 600 pages are printouts of grades, proof of service of expulsion hearing notification, etc., but it's still a lot of material.)

I would say in around 90% of the cases I see, there is a CLEAR fall-off somewhere between fourth and ninth grade, where a B student suddenly starts failing EVERYTHING. Or an A student starts running downhill. And if a parent bothers to show up for the expulsion hearing (a tragic number of students have NO adult -- no parent, no guardian, no social worker -- who can be bothered to come) and we get some background narrative, there is almost always a triggering FAMILY event or social event -- divorce. Mom's remarriage. Abuse in the home from a new partner. Loss of a job followed by housing instability. Dad leaves. Mom goes to jail. Sent to foster care. Gang activity. Death of a friend or relative.

A lot of these expulsions are for truly violent behavior. Evening news kinds of things. Outrage porn on CNN kinds of things. (Drugs and alcohol, which are the other big offender, get an option for a treatment program without expulsion if they stay on the program.) It's the rare student who starts out as a "bad" kid, who NEVER got it, who never had any success in school, who was always acting out. There's almost always some sort of triggering event.

Sadly, it's also the rare student who turns their problems around within the confines of support services provided to them. Out of literally hundreds and hundreds disciplined every year, this year we've had two students who applied for readmission and said, "I screwed up, I learned something, I have had no disciplinary infractions since then at the alternative school" (which is sadly unusual). We tell these kids, "We are proud of you, we are impressed by your maturity, and we do not want to see your name again on any school board reports until we approve your graduation!" Another handful succeed in the alternative programs and make it work, or serve out the expulsion and don't get in trouble again. But most, once they're failing or in trouble, stay failing and stay in trouble, no matter how intensive the interventions. And these aren't bad kids. These started out as good kids, who have incredibly bad shit going on at home, in their communities, etc.

The biggest thing I've learned serving on school board is that a lot of these problems with our schools aren't problems that can be solved by schools alone; they are deeply-rooted social problems that need broad-spectrum social solutions. Sadly, we don't fund those, and most people don't look deeply enough to get beyond, "Well, *I* succeeded in school, why can't THESE kids?"
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:17 PM on February 18, 2011 [9 favorites]


still going to drastic extremes like sandwich boards and public shaming to keep that boy in school deserve a round of applause

slapping a poorly made sign onto your son and pushing him out the door is a drastic measure?!?! that deserves applause?! it probably took her about 10 minutes. how many minutes has she spent reading with him or helping him instead of yelling at him?

"Until the middle of seventh grade, his grades were fine."

This is possibly a clue. I'd wonder if some trauma happened in the seventh grade to change this boy's attitude.


Certainly possible, but it's also possible he just got past the point when teachers were willing to lie on his behalf. You don't even really have grades until 6th-7th grade, right? It's just standardized testing, which has been shown to be very susceptible to fraud (see my DN link above.)
posted by mrgrimm at 4:18 PM on February 18, 2011


serious question, since I don't watch this shit no more:
How many reality shows/ daytime programs rely on shame as the sort of narrative device? I seem to remember, on the shows I did see a lot of hooting and hollering in approval when some misbehaving member of the family was dragged onto the state and told they were BAD
posted by angrycat at 4:34 PM on February 18, 2011


mrgrimm: "You don't even really have grades until 6th-7th grade, right?"

Huh? Is this a new thing? I'm pretty sure I remember grades from elementary school.
posted by brundlefly at 4:38 PM on February 18, 2011


"how many minutes has she spent reading with him or helping him instead of yelling at him?"

Young black men are at great risk and keeping them in high school until they graduate is extremely difficult for parents who did not themselves graduate high school. Keeping male adolescents alive, out of gangs, off of drugs, out of jail and away from calamity by association is exponentially more difficult than most of us posting here can understand.

I meant to acknowledge that I do not know how difficult this mother's world is. I doubt I would be able to raise six children at all, and to do it without most of the advantages I take for granted would more strength and stamina than I can imagine.

I wouldn't want to walk a mile in this woman's shoes and until I do, I'm not judging her.
posted by Anitanola at 4:47 PM on February 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


This is the first time I've ever heard of failing someone for not doing their homework, despite passing test scores. Since when is homework completion a component of grades?
posted by sgrass at 4:49 PM on February 18, 2011


I graduated from high school almost 20 years ago and it was definitely a component of my grades. I failed Freshman English because I didn't write my papers, and now I no can speak real good.
posted by desjardins at 4:54 PM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Since when is homework completion a component of grades?"
"You don't even really have grades until 6th-7th grade, right?"

See, this is part of the problem. Education changes. It's changed since you were in school. It's changed since I was in school. And it's not uniform across the US anyway. My district actually just had to LIMIT how much homework was allowed to count towards the final grade because so many parents were doing their children's homework that it wasn't a remotely accurate assessment of learning. Some of the reforms currently popular strike me as super-old-fashioned because they were big in the 60s and abandoned by the 80s. But now they're back in vogue again.

But we constantly have parents coming to school board meetings saying, "We didn't have grades when I was in third grade" or "we learned cursive in second grade and my kid isn't learning cursive!" or "This isn't how they used to teach math" or "This book published when I was 30 wasn't on the high school lit curriculum 50 years ago when I was in school!" All of these are signs of the total failure of education in this country. You should see how up in arms parents will get (with each other, usually, thankfully) over how high school GPAs ought to be calculated!

Because when it comes to education, EVERYONE is an expert because they went to school once, and ALL CHANGE IS BAD. It can be a little maddening.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:55 PM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


You don't even really have grades until 6th-7th grade, right?

Maybe not in a Montessori school or something.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:12 PM on February 18, 2011


I don't like it when shame is used as a weapon. Especially against children. Especially by their parents.

I agree and I think it's often emotionally abusive. Sometimes it's the parent's/parents' shame that is the real problem.
posted by fuse theorem at 7:53 PM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]



This is the first time I've ever heard of failing someone for not doing their homework, despite passing test scores. Since when is homework completion a component of grades?


You're kidding, right? In my high school, which was pretty well regarded, (wealthy, upper-middle class, well funded) I was lucky if our tests were worth a passing grade. I scored a 100% score on a comprehensive final, covering material for the entire year, in an honors biology course. Not a single point off in the final for an honors level class. My school's guidance counselor even called me at home about it. (Because I skipped school the day we got grades back.)

I passed the class with a D. Because I hardly ever bothered with homework. I'm afraid this may be more common than you think. There was often a requirement that homework be some percent of your grade.

I was one of those kids that groked the material without homework. You could predict my report card within 2% in every class based on this. Homework worth 30%? I would have somewhere between a 68 and 70. 40%? I'd have a 60. 10%? Rack me up an A, barely. Maybe a B+.

Anyway, I was lucky to graduate.

I'm sorry, this set me off a bit. My point though, is that schools when I was there usually regard homework as a vitally important thing. I've never heard of a school where homework wasn't a very, failing-worthy, part of your grade.
posted by mrgoat at 8:10 PM on February 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Fuck shame.
Seriously.

Also, to some of you: just because your father/mother beat you and you "turned out fine" does not mean that your parent was a good one. In fact, you probably "turned out fine" in spite of their hitting you. Man, if my father had ever seriously hit me, I probably would have ended up in jail for murder (I got an issue with people hitting / trying to hit me). Hitting is not a motivator; it is fuel for hatred and resentment, and is never acceptable.


Nth-ing Sonascope, Burhanistan, Nickjadlowe, and everyone else who is in accord with their statements.
posted by exlotuseater at 8:28 PM on February 18, 2011


"...I PUNISHED MY SON BEFORE SEEKING REASONABLE ALTERNATIVES. HONK IF I SHOULD HAVE HAD HIM TESTED OR MAYBE TALKED TO THE SCHOOL OR SOMETHING."

Sounds like you didn't read the article. Or at least not the parts that mentioned tutoring, extra homework, and meeting with a teacher, counselors and the vice principal.
posted by l2p at 8:47 PM on February 18, 2011


Children don't understand consequences. They need their parents' guidance, not to be given unearned respect and self-esteem. You can bet that after the first time the nuns in my school made me stand at the blackboard all day for blabbing too much in class I changed my behavior. And that's not abuse, it's showing that poor behavioral choices have consequences.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 8:51 PM on February 18, 2011


Oh, and while you may think school is bullshit, pointless blah blah because you don't use all the information you were given for free, school is basically a kid's only responsibility in America. There is no reason why a kid should refuse to do his school work.

Signed,
Likely Future Tiger Mother.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 8:53 PM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


You can bet that after the first time the nuns in my school made me stand at the blackboard all day for blabbing too much in class I changed my behavior. And that's not abuse, it's showing that poor behavioral choices have consequences.

Yeah, consequences the nuns invented. Once the nuns are out of your life, so are whatever "consequences" they've artificially imposed on you.

Which isn't to say there are no actual consequences--only that punishment alone in no way teaches you what the actual consequences might be.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:06 PM on February 18, 2011


I'm always astonished by the number of people in these threads who are like WHA A TERRIBLE MOTHER. You either dont have children, or you've never worked with them,

Kids are crazy stubborn. They're little people. And they don't understand how things like not studying will totally fuck them for the rest of their lives.

Part of parenting is being a cool dude and being supportive and encouraging your kid, the other part is BRINGING THE HAMMER DOWN when you see them doing something totally stupid that they do not understand is totally stupid.

Tiger Moms are bullshit- If your kid makes you a card, say thanks! If they're not good at piano, let them try something else and let them work at their own pace. That is being mean.

This lady is looking out for her kid. She's not beating him. He's not doing hard labor. But he is being forced to understand that his actions have consequences, immediate and distant.
posted by GilloD at 11:20 PM on February 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


I had to stop back in on this thread since has been largely on my mind most of the day. As a good student that went bad, it resonated with me. As the child of two public school teachers and vocational education at that, it really struck a nerve. As a woman who has been involved with too many men who "fight the system" because it's too much like busywork and home work, this kid breaks my heart.

One of the hardest thing to teach a teenager is that they really don't know everything. And one of the hardest things to learn at any age is that you really don't have a fucking clue how the world works.

My dad taught kids who may have had learning difficulties or may not have been set up to learn in a standard class room. He taught them the way he learned best, by actually doing the tasks. His drafting students and building trades kids that chose to apply themselves did well.

I know I had everything lined up in my favor to be academically successful and yet, I still struggled. Not because of any learning disorder, no depression, no horrible disruptive family life, but the pure and simple fact that I was unwilling to do "unfair" or "useless" work. That incident in high school wasn't the only one in my academic career, there were others where I quit, flunked, or just stopped showing up because a class or a professor was "stupid". But slowly I got the picture. You are responsible for your success. You do your homework, not because it helps you learn, but because it teaches familiarity with the subject. You turn in shit on time, because it teaches you to begin and end thoughts and projects. And if you can't function on a deadline, you're not going function well in the real world

Hell, the only thing that has gotten me to the dissertation phase of my Phd after working ten years in my professional field is that understand that regardless of the excuses, regardless of how incredibly valid the reasons are for the lame-ass homework to not get done, it still has to get done. And I have to do it.

My bank doesn't care that I suck at math, but they expect me to be able balance my account. My dog doesn't care that I'm just not in the mood to go for a walk, that it's cold and I don't want to, she just needs to go poo. Life doesn't give a shit about the special snowflake particularly if the snowflake comes from a family that educationally disadvantaged. The mother is trying the only thing she could think of. I can't imagine how out of options she feels or how she sees herself losing this battle with her son. But until he grows up and discovers that sometimes, the shit work has to be done, teachers and parents will not be able to get through to him.
posted by teleri025 at 11:33 PM on February 18, 2011 [8 favorites]


I wasn't kidding. Toronto public schools from 1990 to 2004. I can remember maybe ten times where homework was checked and it was never for marks. My test marks weren't great though, because after not doing the homework I had no idea what we were doing.
posted by sgrass at 7:23 AM on February 19, 2011


I was thinking about this a bit more. I think the best way to explain what I mean is by saying, you know, do you really expect that this kid is going to have a less humiliating life if he doesn't get a highschool education, or go to college even? Because the reality is that life in this country isn't easy for people who aren't educated (if they're not rich). People who are upper middle class might not really have as much pressure on them but the thing is working minimum wage jobs for a shitty boss sucks and you can't just quit if you don't like it it and still eat and pay rent. His mother punishing him now might be humiliating and unpleasant, but it's going to be a lot less humiliating and unpleasant then not getting an education in America in the 21st century.
posted by delmoi at 8:21 AM on February 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is a follow up article. Glenton Gilzean, who directs a tutoring and mentoring program, is going to tiger-mom James for free, five days a week. This is literally the best outcome I can imagine for the kid.

You know what though, this is what Gilzean says:

If a parent has to go that far, that means she's crying out for help. She needs assistance.

He didn't see the story and think "well done, James' mom!" He puts it charitably, but what he saw was that she didn't know what to do. As Sir Humphrey would say, something must be done, humiliating her kid is something, therefore she must humiliate her kid. In this case she managed to demonstrate her incompetence so publicly that someone has rescued her from it. Unless, however, there are a few million more Glenton Gilzeans waiting to perform the same service, I'll withhold my applause for her actions.
posted by topynate at 10:58 AM on February 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Am I the only one who sees "15 years old... 8th grade" and thought "Yeah, this kid's grades can't have been THAT great before" - unless they start 'em late in Florida, isn't this kid 2 years too old for the 8th grade?
posted by antifuse at 6:27 AM on February 21, 2011


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