Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Refuseniks, continued

Yesterday I wrote that I don’t think we should be too quick to dismiss kids’ own judgments about what activities to pursue. It’s true that no one made me learn the piano, but it’s also true that my mother would have liked me to be altar boy, and that I refused, and that she didn’t compel me to. I have no reason to think anything bad would have befallen me as an altar boy, but given what we now know about the Catholic church’s history of ignoring and covering up sexual abuse of children, I remain glad I didn’t spin that particular wheel. In other words, there were compensations for not having learned the piano.

I suppose it’s even possible that my resistance to submitting myself to the authority of those strange, alien, probably harmless religious men might have been caused by some subconscious sense that there was risk involved. A few years ago, Andrew Sullivan collected readers’ stories about their brushes with child abuse in the church. One wrote about a particular priest, “Father K,”
who was much beloved by students. He was the only priest to ever visit our classroom. We were always thrilled to see him when he would show up unannounced for a visit. He was warm, engaging and energetic–the only priest that parishioners could relate to. We had 50 kids in our class, about half were boys. Fr. K was in charge of the altar boys.

When it was time to sign up for training as servers, something stopped me. I don’t know why I didn’t sign up and I lived in fear that my teacher, a nun, was going to come down on me for failing to volunteer. It turned out that two of my friends didn’t sign up either. Our teacher never said a word, even when we were, conspicuously, the only three boys left in class while the rest attended the occasional altar boy meeting. I envied classmates who left during the school day to attend meetings and serve Mass across the street and yet something had stopped me from volunteering. You know where this is going.

In the late 1990s, it was revealed that Fr K had been molesting altar boys in the 50s and the early 60s. I had a rough home life and would have been a perfect target for abuse. I’ve often wondered over the past ten years if our teacher knew what was going on and that’s why she didn’t give us a hard time. . . .

I still don’t know what stopped me from volunteering to be an altar boy. All I know is that I was one lucky kid.
The whole series is here. Needless to say, I’m not suggesting that all coercive parenting or schooling is somehow like exposing kids to sexual abuse, or that inaction doesn’t have its own risks. Just that kids can have hard-to-articulate reasons for their choices that shouldn’t automatically be ignored.


FedUpMom said...

Ugh. So often it's the charismatic, well-liked priests who turn out to be molesters. Maybe that's why they're so eager to be liked? Charismatic teachers often turn out to be a bad deal too.

Doris said...

Agree. And adults can have hard-to-articulate reasons, for that matter. When I was in college a professor whom I had thought of as a grandfatherly "mentor" started preying on me sexually. It was not until sometime when I was in grad school that I found a way to explain to my own mother why I had ceased to talk about or have contact with him. Thank goodness that I was old enough to have had some control over the situation.

I still tend to parent in the direction of holding my kids to their obligations. In general, if they sign up for music lessons, they have to practice; if they ask to take an art class, they have to attend. Except: I do think you are right that you absolutely have to bear in mind at all times that something might be going on that your kid doesn't know how to explain and you don't understand.

Colin said...

I am getting to this blog a little bit late, and I apologize for that, but what FedUpMom said about charismatic teachers is totally out of bounds. I acknowledge that there are some screwed up teachers out there, but the fact that you generalized that these charismatic teachers are the ones who make bad decisions is wrong. As a future teacher I desire to be the approachable one. Your theory that makes me creepy teacher is absurd. My approachability will have limits and there will be points, stated in my classroom rules that clearly lay out these situations and allow for my judgement to to be final on a situation. When I am approached with a problem that a student is having I will alway remind them of the rules and keep the door to my classroom open at all times. In many cases I might even ask ateacher fromanother room to be close by in case something happens. When the student passes the rules set out is when I will involve a school councilor who will be more equipped to handle this type of situation.

What really should be commented about on this post is the fact that I agree that students SHOULD have the opportunity to choose what they want to do after school. After school activities is how I expressed myself in school. I was never an outstanding student, but I was good at being social and my extra curricular activities are what really brought me to levels of sociability that I could ask my teachers questions, go to other students for help and many other things. My parents allowed me to choose my activities and supported me 100% in each and every one of them. I played 3 sports all four years of high school, was involved in drama, student council, band, and choir. You are right in saying that I probably could not have explained why I was so involved, but looking back, I have absolutely no regrets. Because of these activities I gained the skills I needed to get good grades and get into a great college where I am now studying to be a middle/high school history teacher.