I am seriously annoyed.
Alex’s school is doing a “Keeping Myself Safe” unit, and he brought the first book from it home today. It’s entitled “Laura Goes Home”.
In it, because her mother is late, Laura is left at school. She decides to walk home on her own, but she’s frightened and crying. A man walking his dog stops to ask if she is lost. End of book.
The homework exercise that came with it was a half sheet of paper that said only:
Please read and discuss this book – Laura Goes Home – with your child and then tick the outcome chosen by your child.
1. Left open ended.
2. a. The man takes Laura away.
b. Laura’s mummy comes up at that moment.
c. Laura screams, “I don’t know you” and runs back to school to tell Mrs Smith
We have included the following letter in Alex’s homework folder back.
We have decided to excuse Alex from doing this piece of homework, for two reasons.
1. It’s unclear what he’s supposed to do. He puzzled and stewed over the various options, but we couldn’t figure out whether this is what he would do, what he thinks happened next, or some other answer. He was quite upset by his inability to figure out what the exercise was about.
2. We strongly object to the high level of paranoia that the exercise is designed to build. Although children do need to be told not to talk to strangers, we both found the idea of ending this story with “The man takes Laura away” really repugnant. And the third option, to have the child scream and make a scene, is also inappropriate when the man has does nothing more than crouch down and ask if she is lost, with no contact or menace whatsoever.
Although we appreciate the teaching on well being and safety, we are concerned that this goes too far. Children need to be taught to be cautious – but not to be afraid all of the time.
Would you be available to talk about this at some point on Friday afternoon?
I think I need to review the materials for this unit, because I really don’t agree with the tone they’re taking.
The fact is that stranger abduction is extremely rare (see, for instance, the statistics for England and Wales here – I couldn’t find the equivalent Scottish statistics, but they will be smaller due to the lower population here.) Our fictional Laura was in much more danger from crossing the road than from the man who saw her crying and asked if she was lost. She was in more danger of violence or sexual abuse from people she knew than from strangers as well – the vast majority of these crimes occur in the home. But I seriously doubt that the next book in the series will address those issues – parents would riot, for one thing.
And Martin and I both really object to raising our children in irrational fear. They will have to adopt realistic threat assessment strategies when they go out alone in public, which won’t be for some time. (To go back to the book, I would teach Laura to stay on school grounds and get the office to call her mother. She’d never have gotten to page 3 until she was old enough to make the walk home without her mother.)
But if we tell them that every stranger is out to get them, and they find out that we were exaggerating, then where will our credibility be? How, then, will they believe us when we say not to go out at night, or through bad neighbourhoods, or with an ostentatious display of wealth? How can I teach Fiona the caution necessary for a woman to be safe, if she’s been immunised by cheap scare tactics now?
And what does that do for their fellow feeling with mankind? Are we really trying to build Margaret Thatcher’s world, where there is “No such thing as society”, one isolated child at a time? There are ways for a child to react to – and reject the assistance of, if appropriate – a strange adult that don’t involve screaming and running away, for instance.
I was annoyed enough that the nursery discussed Madeline McCann’s abduction with the kids (as though there was any cautionary or educational element to it – are they not to sleep with the windows open, perhaps?). But to hear this same message of fear from the school, from the official educational channels, really gets my goat.
It seems like we’re protecting our kids from everything but irrational terror. It’s almost like going to the airport these days.