Go Tell Aunt Rhodie

Posted By on July 25, 2020

The old grey goose is dead. What’s more is that we know how she died: in the milk pond, standing on her head. We know this because the song gave us a visual image. I was in kindergarten when I got the gruesome details of the pitiful death of a goose.

Every single day I wake up with a song stuck in my head. On a good day, it might be Air Supply or Johnny Mathis. Today it was Go Tell Aunt Rhodie. I sang it cheerfully as I prepared my breakfast and refilled my water bottle. Cheerfully because I was never traumatized by the song.

At another school, I learned about the cowardly murder of the heroic Jesse James, a serial/mass murderer who was a truly good man. At another, I learned that even a man who drives a not-so-cherry woodie can get two swinging honeys at the same time, if he goes to the right place. Through the years, there was a cat that endured many tortures and kept coming back, the very next day, a gambler with solid advice who died within inches of the singer, and a temperature comparison of going naked vs going skinless. My memory can’t conjure up all the songs I learned in music classes.

Not one of the songs traumatized me.

I wasn’t traumatized by snackless recesses, hand-me-downs, or wearing a pair of jeans twice between washings. Using cheap scissors in school and affordable toys at home has had no harmful impact on my life.

Which isn’t to say I was never traumatized.

Before I go on, I want to note that the things I say in this post are about society, the “school district, ” and social norms. They are not a criticism of parents. Parents have little control over societal expectations or how they are conditioned by media, public figures, or education.

What did traumatize me was cruelty that was completely ignored and tolerated. The teacher who held a class meeting for students to tell me why they disliked me. The teacher who was well known for looking down girls’ tops, a rumor that I personally know to be true. Being called mentally ill by a teacher, in my permanent file. Years of daily bullying and hazing while teachers and administrators looked the other way, even after it was brought to their attention. Being called a liar by a teacher for doing something she had given me permission to do. Routinely getting my grades lowered because I wasn’t an athlete.

Basically, a society that didn’t care about my actual well being. Being exposed to admittedly inappropriate songs didn’t scar me. Being exposed to wrong ways of thinking didn’t scar me. What really scarred me and many in my generation, was institutional lethargy concerning us. Being an inconvenience to the “me” generation. Selfishness and intentional cruelty scarred us.

I’m not going to say too much about current societal expectations that children must live idyllic lives of censorship of independent thought and success from preschool on. I do think that going overboard is harmful, but it’s not the big problem that will hurt them. The big problem is not the obsession with perfection, but the side effects of it.

Nobody is perfect, but parents are constantly being told they are supposed to be. First, they feel persistent guilt for not being good enough, and then they have more of it shoved in their direction by judgers who fake it better. So parents know they have to fake it or be judged harshly. So they end up with impostor syndrome. Not all parents have the same limits to their resources (money, time, and energy) but all have limits. Parents are being scarred, probably much more than children, by our compulsory mindset.

Even that, though, isn’t the greatest harm. It is what gets lost in the pursuit of perfection in every small detail. There isn’t enough time or energy for parents and teachers to meet every demand, let alone the necessary things that aren’t currently trendy topics.

So what’s gonna give? Which things will get neglected while parents are striving for the visible perfection to keep from being reported for child abuse (and possibly losing their children to a system in which most children do eventually get actually harmed and scarred)?

And what will get lost in the shuffle at school, where teachers are expected to give ten hours of information in six hours of instruction? Will math be reduced to a series of topic introductions instead of mastery and comprehension? Will logic, remediation, and higher level learning drop off to make room for the blizzard of factoids teachers must present or risk loosing the job? Will administrators spend so much time in meetings that they no longer remember that the kids, not the meetings, are their job?

Will the adults in children’s lives forget to tell them that relationship abuse can look very different from hitting, or that women aren’t the only victims? Will they overlook letting children know some healthy and useful ways to respond to depression? Will they not have the time to look up good ways to explain grooming and how to identify it?Will they have too many pressing duties to deal appropriately with bullies and fairly with their victims?

There are so many real dangers that schools, government, and parents may not have the resources to protect children from, in their frantic worry about visible perfection. We do not have infinite resources. Like in economics, where every dollar spent is a dollar you can’t spend on something else, every hour spent is an hour you can’t spend on something else.

When we let perfection be the enemy of the good, that is when we risk the world scarring children.

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