Returning to a State Near you – “The Streetlight Days!”


I remember playing outside all summer long. I came home for lunch and dinner and then went back outside again. My mom didn’t always have a clear view of me and it didn’t seem to matter. In the evenings, the city street lights coming on was the signal to go home. That was around 8:30-9:00 p.m.

When I walked home by myself at 9:00 p.m., no one called the police to report neglect. No one reported my parents to child protective services. No other parent scolded me for being out too late. Police drove by occasionally and some even walked the neighborhood. This was in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. I wasn’t afraid and I was proud of myself for knowing and following my mother’s rule about being home by dark.

I learned responsibility, independence, competency, negotiation skills, and a taste of freedom. I learned how to make decisions and to determine what I wanted to do for ten hours a day. On rainy days, I often went to friend’s house or had a friend at my house. Sometimes I just wanted to jump in puddles although my mother wasn’t thrilled with that choice. Again, I decided what I wanted to do. I developed a great imagination and was rarely bored.

I’m thankful that I did not have a hovering mother. She allowed me to grow up with self-confidence and a great degree of independence. I raised my four children the same way. It was the 1980’s and they had the same rules that worked in the 50’s and 60’s. They knew to be home when the street lights came on and rarely broke that rule. Did anything change much in those twenty to thirty years? Not really, except for the milk cartons.

Stories of missing and abducted children seemed to rise in the late 1980’s. In fact, their sweet faces were on every milk carton which really frightened many parents. It frightened me too. In response, I gave my children a secret word to protect them from a possible stranger trying to abduct them. If a stranger approached and did not immediately say the secret word, they were to run away as fast as they could. I did not worry much because every one of my children were good runners!

Most of these abductions were by the child’s parent or other family member with no real explanation. Rarely was it listed as a stranger abduction, but it instilled enough fear into parents that the hover and helicopter movement kicked into high gear. I refused to let this kind of fear grip me or my children and to rob them of their independence and freedom. They still played outside and still had to be home at street light time. Times have changed and so have the rules.

An unfortunate side effect of this story is the lack of independence and freedom now foisted upon a generation of young people who are always watched. The heartbreaking stranger abduction of  those we’ve seen reported on the news keeps parents very wary of allowing too much freedom for fear of losing their most precious gift, their child. Understandably, some of you reading this may agree that hovering is a form of love and protection and will continue to do so at all costs.

There are also those who believe in allowing their children to experience the kind of growth and learning that comes from freedom and independence. This is, of course, based on a child’s maturity. As with most important child rearing decisions, it should be a matter of parental choice. A child walking to school, or a store alone, should not signal a call to the police. A young person taking a bus or subway should not signal parent neglect or abuse.  Unfortunately, the pendulum has swung in the other direction based on fears and emotion not necessarily facts.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, between 2012 and 2016, over 95% of all reported abductions were by family members. Typically, these are parents that do not have custody rights and take their children against court orders. It is a very sad story on many levels, but particularly for the child who may constantly be on the run with the parent who chose to take them. A smaller percentage represents children who runaway from home and are reported missing by families. Stranger abductions account for less than 1% but are still frightening, especially when they are reported via news media as if they are a regular occurrence.

Who gets to decide the best way to parent a child? Apart from the obvious abhorrent cases of child abuse or sex trafficking of young people, which should be reported, most parents “raise” or “grow” their children with great care.

There is a fine line between a healthy dose of independence and a constant, minute by minute accounting for the whereabouts of one’s child. In some cases, a child’s day is completely orchestrated for them. It begins with compulsory school for six to seven hours, after school team sports, supervised structured play activities, time robbing homework, and parent controlled access to the outside world via social media outlets. The only time a child has to herself is while she is sleeping. She is no doubt dreaming of what real freedom and independence looks and feels like.

It is no surprise that schools are dealing with lack of grit or perseverance. Why should our children demonstrate those skills when just about everything is done for them. They are watched, scheduled, and manipulated most of their waking hours.

It is almost unbelievable that a law was passed in Utah allowing kids to be kids. A LAW HAD TO BE PASSED that allows children to:

“walk, run or bike to and from school, travel to commercial or recreational facilities, play outside and remain at home unattended.” The law does not say what the “sufficient age” is.

“Under the law, state child-welfare authorities can no longer take children away from their parents if their kids are caught doing those various activities alone, as long as their kids are adequately fed, clothed and cared for.”  Washington Post article

This came about due to the taking of children, not by strangers, but by child protective services who accused parents of neglect when allowing their children to walk to or from school. Similar circumstances happened in several states. Utah decided it wouldn’t happen there as long as children are well cared for otherwise.

When we rob kids of the ability to navigate their world using their own powers of observation and reason, we tamper with their ability to do so in adult life. I enjoyed that opportunity and experience as a child and so did my children. I am now seeing my grandchildren enjoy those same opportunities even amid the scary “predator” stories out there.

Let me recommend a good place to start for parents and teachers who might be interested in letting go a bit.

Let Grow Project

Picture from Getty Images*

Divergent – A New Script

In a world so divided by ideology, politics, religion, race, gender and a myriad of other subtle and not so subtle mind controlling agendas, it seems difficult to find any common ground these days. Each philosophical camp appears ready and willing to attack, with the intent to kill, dissenting views in the name of whatever. We are not content to just disagree. Instead, we seem driven to shame, ridicule and beat non-conformist into submission. It’s a sad state of affairs, seemingly fueled by those who benefit from the chaos.

This sounds like an intriguing trailer for the next distopian-type movie. Wait, I do believe that’s already been done a few times. Apparently, it doesn’t matter. We the people, fanatically and repeatedly seem to feast on such fare. The script is rehearsed in non-stop sound bites from our obliging media world, left, right, center and out-of-the-box altogether persuasions. They throw the morsels our way, we race to consume whatever their daily menus provide and we are satisfied, validated in our contempt for the “other” whomever they may be.

At some point, as a human race, we have to ask ourselves, “Is it worth the hate and anger?” Is it worth the time and energy? Will the stalking attack, the targeted kill, and the determined destruction of dissenting, marginal or uncomfortable ideas create a better world for our children? Some think so. I do not.

I think those who call themselves adults owe it to next generations to model decency in discourse and peaceful coexistence with those near and far from our world view. There is nothing wrong with expressing an opinion, as I am now. However, when one demands that others except their opinion as fact, we have lost our moral compass.

DNA tells us that no two people are exactly alike. We are each unique, with our own set of genetics, life experiences, and beliefs.  That’s a good thing! How boring life would be if we were all the same. Fortunately and unfortunately, history has taught us important and tragic lessons about grandiose opinions of SELF or CAUSE. Some have yet to learn those lessons.

Sadly, we live in a world of broken people. Some are broken by circumstances beyond their control and others by their own choices. There are broken adults and broken children. Sometimes the broken among us seem vile,  deranged or evil. They sometimes use their brokenness in seemingly hostile ways to send a message to the rest of us. Are we hearing them? Are we listening? 

Innocent young people in our schools, concert-goers at live events, runners in marathons, people enjoying a night out with friends and those who go to work everyday in structures built to withstand high winds and shaking ground have become targets for the broken among us. Brokenness comes like a thief in the night to kill and destroy.  Its victims are rendered helpless.

We strive to learn all we can about how to prevent the broken from wreaking havoc again on innocent people. What have we discovered? What is the answer? Some say guns are the root problem, some say mental illness is, others say both. Many say breakdowns in communication or school/law enforcement program effectiveness failed. We are fed continuous footage, 24/7 of each and every angle. I’d like to add my voice to the mix.

Having taught and been in schools most of my life, I have seen first hand, hundreds of broken young people. They are often sitting in or outside the principal’s office. They are often ostracized by other students, unintentionally marginalized by school staff, shuffled off for special education testing, counseling, suspensions and sometimes expulsions. Where do they end up? Who befriends them? How do they integrate into society after their schooling years?

I am not criticizing schools or school personnel. I know that most of them sincerely care about their students and want to make a positive difference. Simply put, schools can’t provide everything a child may need in the course of a seven hour school day. And yet, this is exactly what our lawmakers have prescribed in heavy doses over the years.

Schools are urged to provide health clinics, intensive mental health services, full time counselors, resource officers, mediation teams and in some places, training for teachers to carry a concealed weapon. This is incredibly frightening. Is this what school has become?

Along with rigorous academic and extra-curricular programs that prepare students for college and careers, schools are charged with monitoring what students eat for lunch, how much time they exercise each day, how emotionally and socially stable they are, and how they handle conflict. Schools have become a socially engineered microcosm of the greater community. Every possible need must be met by schools, all except spiritual needs, as they are off-limits.

What if school is re-imagined, recreated, revitalized to be something quite different than it is now? What if the old paradigm shifts to something altogether divergent? What if the factory schools shut down, and new, innovative methods for learning took hold in every city and town across the United States?

Radical as it may seem, schools as we know them may slowly fad into the sunset. 

Their original purpose is lost in a new technology driven world that makes old school a relic of the past. Schools have not served and never will be able to serve all the unique needs of every young person now and especially in the future. They’ll keep trying though. Union voices, and those supported by these political unions will keep old school alive as long as possible. They will do it in the name of equity and social justice.  Ironically, neither of which are fully apparent in most schools.

I can hear teachers clamoring already. What about our profession? What about our salaries and benefits? What about our knowledge and expertise? Where will student go to learn? What will parents do with their children for seven to eight hours a day?

I envision a group of courageous, bright and awesome teachers joining together to open or share space in local venues such as community centers, libraries, etc. Parents choose these teachers to assist in their child’s learning experience based on offered curriculum. It’s not an all day experience either, just a portion of time as needed. Specialized teams can serve students with special needs. This is home/community schooling partnership at its best. It puts the responsibility of educating young people, first in the hands of the family, secondly in the hands of those invited and chosen to participate.

Of course it can’t be free at the point of delivery so fees must be charged. Fair and reasonable fees that don’t mimic private schooling, and serve the community is the goal. It’s doable, similar to how private practice doctors used to serve their neighborhoods. This was before huge pharmaceuticals and insurance companies took over and hiked the cost and reduced the services for everyone. Those who cannot afford to pay the teacher(s) in full are given reduced payment schedules. Those who can’t afford reduced payment, would be eligible for scholarship support.

There are no full time, paid managers such as principals, curriculum directors, or superintendents. They really are not needed. Public schools are forced to march to the beat and costs of  federal and state mandates. Private entities are less restricted. The teachers, with input from the community, run the program and its services. Local businesses have vested interest in supporting this venture as well as religious and health related entities.  There are no costly school bills to pay such as maintenance, landscaping, new school building projects, or cafeteria workers. Rented space, joint use space, free space or a combination of each of these are all options.

Now I hear school officials gasping in disbelief. Understandably so.

It’s a different mind set that is hard to contemplate when all you know is the status quo. 

Parent choice, satisfaction, and results ensure the longevity of such a radical departure from school as we now know it. Every aspect of this model is built from the ground up not the top down. Grass roots built on community and commitment to authentic learning may be the future, divergent paradigm of schooling.


Thoughts to ponder as a divergent thinking process:

  • If all, and especially marginalized young people, were able to learn in a smaller setting, with less restrictive procedures, practices, or punitive measures, would they thrive more?
  • If young people/parents chose their teachers personally and had the opportunity to make friends in a less restrictive environment, would they grow?
  • If children had adults helping them set and meet their goals in a more self-directed manner would they learn anything?
  • If anyone felt lost and alone in large steel and concrete school buildings that seem impersonal and antiseptic, would these local centers offer them a viable alternative?
  • What if parents reclaimed the educating responsibility and chartered a unique and specifically tailored path for their children with the help of those who love to teach?

It’s not only possible, it’s an idea whose time has come.