Breastfeeding advocacy fits perfectly into our “blame the mother” culture

Teacher and Blackboard

On the face of it, there’s no reason why breastfeeding, which in industrialized countries has only trivial benefits, has become a public health cause celebre.

There are so many, many issues that have a much greater impact on child health that are being ignored, while breastfeeding advocacy benefits from millions of dollars of public and private funds, extensive public health campaigns, and redesign of hospital policies. We have public health campaigns against smoking because that costs millions of lives; we have public health campaigns to promote vaccination because vaccines save millions of lives; we have public health campaigns to promote breastfeeding … which has never been shown to save even a single term baby.

If you want to see how trivial the impact of breastfeeding is on public health you need only look at the impact of breastfeeding on infant mortality in the US during the 20th Century when breastfeeding rates fluctuated dramatically from a high of over 75% to a low of 25% and back up to 75%. Breastfeeding rates had ZERO impact on infant mortality.

While breastfeeding advocates breathlessly promote studies that show trivial benefits within tiny groups of carefully selected individuals, we’ve already done the largest public health experiment possible and it shows that breastfeeding is NOT a public health issue since it has no impact on public health.

How then can we explain a multimillion dollar effort to promote breastfeeding rates in the absence of public health benefits?

There are several reasons that I have detailed many times in the past.

1. The science of breastfeeding has been subverted. The truth is that the scientific literature on the benefits of breastfeeding is weak, conflicting and compromised by confounding variables.

2. Breastfeeding advocacy is a huge business. While individual professional breastfeeding advocates don’t make large sums of money, 100% of the income of lactation consultant derives from breastfeeding promotion, and 100% of the income of lactivist organizations like the Orwellian-named Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative comes from the more than $10,000 they charge each hospital for the privilege of being designated lactivist baby friendly.

3. Breastfeeding promotion, which has its modern incarnation in La Leche League as an effort to keep women in the home and out of the workforce, is a response to the profound social disclocation of women’s emancipation. The political right has retreated into religious fundamentalism and the political left has retreated into mindless worship of “nature.” Simply put, aggressive promotion of breastfeeding is deeply retrograde and anti-feminist.

There is a fourth reason:

Breastfeeding advocacy dovetails perfectly with our contemporary “blame the mother” culture.

Blaming the mother for how a child turns out is hardly new. For most of human history mothers were blamed if a child was not a desired son (even though it is actually the father who is responsible for a baby’s gender); congenital anomalies were blamed on a mother’s dreams and fears; and severe mental illness in a child was blamed on emotionally cold “refrigerator mothers,” while homosexuality was blamed on inappropriately close relationships between mothers and sons.

No matter what it is, if it is bad, it’s always the mother’s fault.

This fits in perfectly with a contemporary political culture that denies government any role in dealing with vast social inequality within the population. American society has shifted violently to the political right, which takes as axiomatic the belief that government cannot and should not have any role beyond national defense.

We could look at the deficiencies in health, educational level, and income of Americans at the lowest end of the socio-economic spectrum and seek to correct the structural inequities within our society. But that would require a strong, well funded central government, anathema to conservatives. How much easier, cheaper, and politically reassuring then to blame these differences on the mother and insist, without any evidence at all, that her children would be more successful if only she had breastfed.

As Phyllis Rippeyoung explained in a recent position paper, Governing Motherhood: Who Pays and Who Profits? published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives:

This individualizing of responsibility for child welfare has also been seen among breastfeeding proponents, as most explicitly illustrated in an editorial by Dr. Ruth Lawrence, a founder of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. In her essay, “The Elimination of Poverty One Child at a Time,” she argues that breastfeeding is the panacea for health and cognitive inequalities between poor and non-poor children. She ends the piece by writing that breastfeeding may be the only gift that poor mothers have to offer their children.

… I have been unable to find any research assessing whether breastfeeding … will actually reduce either poverty or the consequences of growing up poor, one child at a time or otherwise. In research I have recently completed (Rippeyoung forthcoming), I assessed the relative impact of breastfeeding versus the family educational environment on reducing gaps in child verbal IQ between the poor, the near poor, and the non-poor … This research indicates that individual solutions to low test scores will not solve the problems of inequalities in school readiness.

It is hardly a coincidence that the women who are targets for shaming by breastfeeding advocates are more likely to be poor, non-white and under-educated. It’s so much easier (and cheaper, not to mention politically gratifying) to chastise these mothers for not breastfeeding than to address the terrible environments in which many are forced to raise their children.

The ugly truth is that money spent on breastfeeding advocacy benefits only the advocates and not mothers or children.

We should stop spending money on public health campaigns to promote breastfeeding, both inside and outside hospitals. Instead we should divert that wasted money to initiatives that we know will help ameliorate social inequities: better public school funding, easy access to doctors for all children, and debt forgiveness for student loans. But that presupposes a beneficial role for government.

It is ever so much easier (and delightfully satisfying) to simply blame the mother for not breastfeeding.

  • Kat

    I was bottle fed exclusively and I have a 138 verbal IQ. Hmmmm…. I also have parents with IQs way above normal. What do you think is causative?

  • EllenL

    from my Facebook feed…

  • OT: Is anyone else following the Feminist Breeder’s latest clusterfuck?

    • Megan

      I have been. It’s disgusting.

      • I’m wondering if she might end up getting put on probation for trying to incite violence against the blogger. Normally I’d say that she’d probably do well on it and mind her P’s and Q’s but she’s so sick right now that idk. As someone in the mental health field, it’s so sad to me. I heavily dislike her and hate what she’s doing, but it’s clear that the people in her life are failing her. She needs to be in a facility right now until she stabilizes.

        • Cobalt

          She isn’t temperamentally suited to personal blogging or publicity in general, plus her mental health issues. Her maintaining her public image and brand is like a diabetic working as a cookie taster. No wonder it keeps making her sick.

          • That’s exactly right.

        • Sarah

          I do think she is cruising for some more legal action, unfortunately.

        • momofone

          It’s sad to me that apparently her “fangirls” are the only people in her life she’s listening to, and they are trumpeting her own tune right back to her, doing her no favors. The quality of her thinking is so poor at this point that it sounds like nothing can get through that doesn’t support her persecution delusion. I’m guessing the close people in her (real) life feel helpless. I hope her kids are ok.

        • Megan

          I can’t imagine PayPal will condone her use of private information privy to her only because she’s a seller. I imagine there are other legal problems here too with her divulging personal information and potentially slander/libel (can’t remember the difference). I’m no lawyer but if she were smart she’d go radio silence and lay low for a while. Unfortunately her mental health is clearly not in good shape right now. I do sort of feel for her in that respect and certainly don’t condone people further fanning the flames. But I also think her retaliatory actions are horrible too. I wish she hadn’t gone off of her meds. I hope her children and family are ok and I hope she gets some help. This all just reminds me of a horrible episode of Jerry Springer meets Real World. I wish I could wire her some Zyprexa.

          • Oye, yes.

            Unfortunately, a commenter contacted paypal because they were concerned of the same thing happening to them when they cancel and were told by customer service that because they volunteered their information, it wasn’t violating the ToS. That might be the shittiest thing, not being able to have any kind of oversight for the people seeing this and wanting out.

          • Megan

            Wow. I just lost a lot of respect for PayPal.

          • Right?! That horrifies me!

    • Zoey

      Yes. But from a safe distance. She doesn’t seem terribly stable right now.

      • Yeah, I don’t agree with the people actually trolling her.

        • Zoey

          Me either. But I also can’t see how even her most devoted fans would be comfortable sharing their personal information with her now that she’s shown she’s willing to dox someone over what basically amounts to $2 and an imagined TOS violation.

          • omg, totally. What she’s doing is insane at best and criminal at worst and I truly hope that she gets punished for it. I don’t disagree with the blogger being as open about her process as she is, what she was doing was snark and snark isn’t trolling. I mean people who are actually contacting her and adding fuel to the fire for amusement or mean-spiritness.

        • DelphiniumFalcon

          Trolling is to be reserved for the truly deserving. Trolling someone in the midst of a breakdown is just poor form.

    • Guest

      Can someone sum up and/or provide a link?

  • Fallow

    OT but this seems like it’s up everyone’s alley:

    http://theworstthingsforsale.com/2014/06/04/how-to-kill-pregnant-women/

    • attitude devant

      Actually, a famous book. She supposedly was part of this total con game of a church (much like Scientology is a con game) and her ‘ministry’ was birth. She herself never had a vaginal birth, but advocated them for everyone else, and supposedly she nearly killed her grand-daughter when she was attending her daughter’s birth.

  • yentavegan

    Really ? All this negative attention towards breastfeeding has me thinking that perhaps the good Doctor wants to keep the benefits of breastfeeding all to herself and her socio-economic class.. That’s right. Well married, college educated financially stable white women by and large are the ones who breastfeed. It is our thing. We’ll be the ones who secretly and securely mother at the breast, knowing that come famine or drought or disease or political upheaval, our breastfed babies well fair far better than those who rely on formula. We will out survive you and go on to rule the world.

    • Well.

    • KeeperOfTheBooks

      Have you ever read “The Good Earth,” by Pearl Buck? Breastfed kids don’t do spectacularly well during famines. ETA: now I’m wondering if I missed sarcasm due to a lack of coffee…

      • yentavegan

        well they weren’t white college educated so ..there.

        • yentavegan

          I only believe half the crap that comes out of my mouth…

      • Not to mention the drain on the mother’s caloric needs means she’s a lot more likely to die of starvation herself during a famine, and then where is the infant and rest of the family? Without a mother, that’s where, and the infant likely to die anyways. There’s a reason breastfed babies were the victims of infanticide, and quickly, when famine struck. Better to save the woman than to lose them both, after all.

        And, I’m pretty sure yentavegan is being sarcastic. I’m not 100% sure, but sarcasm would make sense given her posting history. yenta, if you’re reading this and it was sarcastic, you might want to put a /s at the end of it to make it clear you are sarcastic!

        • KeeperOfTheBooks

          Heh. In retrospect, I thought she probably was (as you say, she’s got a longish posting history here, none of it memorable as being like this) but…yeah. A /s might be helpful for those of us who hadn’t had their coffee yet. 😉 Like, *ahem* some keepers of books I know…

      • yentavegan

        Yes. I have read The Good Earth. Of course I have…

    • yentavegan

      like Pinky and the Brain…

      • demodocus

        They’re Pinky and the Brain, Yes, Pinky and the Brain, One is a genius; the other is insane. To prove their mousy worth, they’ll overthrow the Earth. They’re dinky, they’re Pinky and the Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain!

  • Tiffany Aching

    The “blame the mother” trope is the corollary of the “mama always knows best” trope which has always sickened me in the natural parenting discourse. If she is that almighty, well of course it’s her fault if something goes wrong.

  • Alex Tulchner

    I see the point about schooling and doctors and all that, but I just really value seeing my tax dollars go to telling women what to do with their bodies.

  • Zornorph

    I would like to sue my mother for me having to wear braces as a teen, but unfortunately she breast-fed me so I guess I’m out of luck.

    • Same here! Actually, I needed braces for longer because I sucked my thumb, which I probably wouldn’t have done if I had been formula fed. I wouldn’t take a pacifier as a child, apparently not liking the rubber nipple.

  • namaste863

    Now these looney tunes are claiming that not breastfeeding causes the need for braces. Kid you not, look it up. Something about the jaw and facial muscles not developing properly. The fact that expressed milk is considered “Not good enough” tells me that lactivism has jack the f shit to do with what the baby actually consumes, and everything to do with keeping women out of the workforce. There are only 24 hours in the day. I don’t think it’s an accident that these parenting fads are designed to consume time. Consuming time limits options.

    • Toni35

      Good grief…. I was bottle fed from day one and have pretty damn straight teeth (two on the bottom overlap slightly, but not enough to notice, much less pay to get fixed). My oldest child, however, was bf for two years (and she refused bottles, so she got her milk straight from the tap) and her teeth are turning out very crooked – her dentist called her a “god candidate for braces”.

      I demand a refund!

    • Allie P

      My siblings and I were all breastfed and we all needed braces except for one brother who was in a skimobile accident and knocked out most of his teeth at aged 8 — when they put in the fake ones, they made ’em straight. (The rest of us started eyeing bats, because wow, that seems so much easier than years of braces, palate spreaders, and retainers!)

    • Mac Sherbert

      Me –Not breastfeed. Did not need braces.
      DH –breastfeed. Needed braces.

  • EllenL

    I confess, I never wanted to breastfeed. I’ve had eczema all of my life. My vision of breastfeeding wasn’t of a blissful mother and baby cooing at each other – it was of cracked and bleeding nipples, and infected skin. And of worrying about what medications I could and couldn’t use to treat it. It was bad enough dealing with eczema in pregnancy; I couldn’t imagine taking on this extra complication while breastfeeding.

    I’m happy to say, my kids never had any symptoms of eczema despite being given formula, and solid foods at an early age, and in spite of my history. They have no asthma or food allergies, either. They enjoy very good health, and it can’t be due to the magical properties of breastmilk.

    Would they be even more stupendous specimens if they had been breastfed? I don’t know. I’ve never lost any sleep over that. I was fortunate, in a way, that I gave birth in a different time, when the choice of bottle or breast was a personal matter and wasn’t wrapped up in ideology. Mothers made up their minds, and doctors and nurses helped and supported them.

    Of course, women who want to breastfeed should be supported and workplace accommodations made for them. Mothers who use formula need support, too. We need paid maternal/paternal leave, and universal access
    to health insurance and health care IMO. We should be able to eliminate hunger in children of any age. We need support for education at every level, an ideal that has been eroded in the U.S. in recent years. We are losing sight of the bigger picture in petty squabbles over breast versus formula.

    • ^^^

    • araikwao

      YEEEEESSSSSSS!!!!!!

    • Liz Leyden

      Workplace accommodations for breastfeeding would not be necessary if America had paid family leave, like every other first-world country.

      • EllenL

        That would be a huge step forward!

        I tend to think we would still need workplace protections for nursing mothers. Even in countries with paid leave, the leave doesn’t always apply to everyone. And the pay is sometimes reduced (to 50%, 60%, 80%). Some women need 100% of their pay. Also, some women may want to be at the workplace because an interruption in work could affect their career.

        Right now, the U.S. has the Family and Medical Leave Act. It mandates 12 weeks of UNPAID leave. And it exempts employers with fewer than 50 employees on the premises or within 75 miles. That’s a lot of employers and employees! (A few states have more generous benefits; California comes to mind.)

        The U.S. has dragged its feet all along on this issue. I think it’s tremendously important. But I expect baby steps, not a giant leap in benefits.

        • EllenL

          I hope this chart posts!

        • EllenL

          This article has an interesting chart (if you scroll down)that shows paid maternity leave in developed countries – the percent of pay given and the length of leave. You can see that it varies.
          The U.S. doesn’t even get a color on the chart – how embarrassing!

          http://kellymom.com/blog-post/cost-maternity-leave/

      • guest

        That’s not entirely true. I had a very good maternity leave (8 months), but I was still breastfeeding when I went back to work. And even if my paid leave had been longer, I *still* would have wanted to go back to work then and pump while at work. I want longer leave for everyone, but let’s not act like all women would want to take it.

  • LizzieSt

    What I would like to know is this: If lactivists really believe that formula-feeding is such a massive health and societal hazard, then why don’t they treat it as such, and I mean *truly* treat is as such? I was never fed a drop of breastmilk in my life. It seems I should be worried. Why is there no special healthcare fund for adults like me, who were fed formula as infants? Because obviously we are going to need much more care than the formerly breast-fed, for conditions like obesity, leukemia, high cholesterol, depression, and everything else that is listed as a “risk” of formula-feeding. Why has my doctor never asked me if I was breastfed or formula fed? If the lactivists are correct, and one bottle of formula can lead to a lifetime of ill health, why does my doctor not write “FORMER FORMULA-FED INFANT” in big red letters on my chart? Why do schools not separate the formula-fed children from the breastfed children, if we’re supposed to be so much less intelligent? Why are we not given special psychoanalytic therapy, since we supposedly never really “bonded” to our mothers? Put your money where your mouth is, lactivists! Generations of poor, deprived, formula-fed souls need your help!

    • Roadstergal

      “If the lactivists are correct, and one bottle of formula can lead to a lifetime of ill health, why does my doctor not write “FORMER FORMULA-FED INFANT” in big red letters on my chart? Why do schools not separate the formula-fed children from the breastfed children, if we’re supposed to be so much less intelligent?”

      Don’t give them ideas.

    • Gozi

      Yay! Are we about to get reparations?

      • LibrarianSarah

        FINALLY!

      • LizzieSt

        We should get at least $100 a month, to make up for the lost income reported in that Brazilian breastfeeding study. Justice for the formula-fed!

        • “Hi, boss? Yeah, SUCK IT! REPARATIONS!”

    • namaste863

      You know what? You might be on to something! No more worrying about my student loans! Hooray!

    • JJ

      This is great!

    • Amy M

      Well they eliminated tracking in schools some years ago, so now the formula fed people have to struggle to keep up with their breastfed peers, instead of being a class that moves at their pace with their peers. One of the reasons given for doing away with tracking, was that the less intelligent/able kids would feel ashamed at being singled out (by all being in the same class) and if they are integrated, they would feel more included. I think the people who came up with this idea must have been formula fed and wanted us inferiors to be able to pass, that’s all.

    • indigosky

      So can I quit my job and claim disability since I was exclusively formula fed?

      • Gozi

        There would probably be a lawyer to help you do that…

  • MaineJen

    Am I reading that chart right? The infant mortality rate in 1915 was 100 deaths per 1000 births? (And there was no such thing as a “premature baby” back then either…most of these were presumably term infants.) Clearly, modern obstetrics has fouled everything up… /sarcasm

    • Allie

      Apparently, women of my grandmother’s generation and earlier (before the pill) simply took less time to gestate. My dad’s oldest brother, for instance, was born full-term, pink-cheeked, and 8 lbs about 7 months after the wedding ; )
      My grandmother kept her anniversary a closely guarded secret, even over 30 years and 4 grown children later. O tempora o mores!

      • Amy M

        Ha! Similar scenario for one of my SILs, but she was born in the late 60s.

      • attitude devant

        I always giggle when Miss Manners points out that counting the months between the wedding and the delivery used to provide entertainment for generations. Fast forward to our time where, for instance, Christie Brinkley did a gender reveal at her wedding. Which I find hilarious.

      • Allie P

        Winston Churchhill: Every baby takes 9 months except the first one.

  • Sarah

    I’ve seen some of the more deranged British lactivists online claim that more breastfeeding would lead to reduced social inequality. It’s an increasingly popular trope. The level of victim blaming there is just revolting, particularly when we’re talking about some of the most unequal countries in the developed world. After all, when all babies in Britain were breastfed, we had no social inequality at all and the class system only came into existence when formula did.

    • Box of Salt

      “reduced social inequality”
      How does that work when extended breastfeeding lowers most women’s incomes?

      • Sarah

        To be fair, I don’t know if there’s any evidence it does in the UK. I can see that this is more likely to happen in a country with no/minimal maternity leave, but the overwhelming majority of British women take at least a few months. I mean, it might. But then the women who breastfeed for more than a few weeks are so disproportionately from the more privileged groups anyway. They’re perhaps cushioned from the effects in a way that a poorer woman might not be.

      • Allie P

        I think in Britain they get more mat leave, and welfare laws are different.

  • Fuzzyfuzz

    Amy–please post about the study that came out yesterday linking breastfeeding with reduced leukemia risk. Most of the articles I’ve seen in response have basically focused on ‘what does it matter?,’ but I know this study, like all the others, must have major problems.

    • Maya Markova

      People doing such bullshit “studies”, and editors publishing them, should be stripped of their degrees.

      • The people doing the studies are doing their jobs, as are the editors publishing them. It’s the university PR departments that boil studies down to sound bites that are pitched to journalists who are the problem.

        • Gatita

          Those press releases are never sent out without a review from the investigators so if they have a problem with how their research is being communicated they need to do a better job of working with the PR department.

    • Box of Salt

      Read Tara Haelle both on Red Wine and Applesauce (her personal blog linked at sidebar) as well as on Forbes.

      Also keep in mind it’s a meta-analysis of previous studies. Any problems with the methodology of the older studies are still problems after adding them to the analysis.

  • TsuDhoNimh

    “In her essay, “The Elimination of Poverty One Child at a Time,” she
    argues that breastfeeding is the panacea for health and cognitive
    inequalities between poor and non-poor children.”

    Of course it is … it makes up for bad teachers, crumbling infrastructure, poor nutrition, slum housing, and parents with no jobs.

    Just give ’em tit for a year and they’ll magically make up for the envirinment and do as well as the well-fed children of employed college-educated parents.

    Because breast milk FIXES EVERYTHING!

    • Gozi

      Will it also make up for racism, classicism, students who are too mentally ill to be at public school and students who are too immature to attend school all day?

      • KeeperOfTheBooks

        Quite. Not to mention those kids who are having to work to support themselves and their families, and/or be primary caregivers for younger siblings?
        A local kid made the news last year for getting arrested for repeated truancy. Turned out she was taking care of younger siblings when they got sick because mom and dad were working 2-3 jobs each. She was also pulling straight As in dual-enrollment classes. At 15. But hey, much more effective to harass her with this nonsense than to figure out a workable plan so that she could both stay in school (sounds like she’s a rising star, if she can earn those kind of grades while missing so much school!) and know that her 5-year-old sister won’t be staying home alone when she gets sick. ‘Cause one size fits all, or something.

      • TsuDhoNimh

        Of course it will! Breastfeeding is the cure for all societal ills.

      • Zornorph

        I think it’s unfair that the black kids get chocolate breast milk.

        • Gozi

          OMG. You.win.the.internet.

          If that were true none of my babies would have received any milk because my husband would have drank it all. From the source.

          • demodocus

            my kid’s looking at me funny because of my giggling over this 🙂

          • Roadstergal

            Can you make a milkshake if you twerk? This is a whole new world!

          • Gozi

            I am one of those black people who can’t dance, so…

    • anh

      wow, that is the most privileged bullshit I have ever read. How the hell can breast milk make up for…no healthcare, dangerous unstable environments….like, the list goes on forever. It’s so ignorant of the challenges people who aren’t writing navel gazing bullshit essays face

    • KeeperOfTheBooks

      And while we’re at it, does this mean that in a weird sort of affirmative action, we shouldn’t allow middle- and upper-class families to feed their kids with breast milk, since that somehow gives them an unfair advantage? *snort*

      • anh

        there was a tongue in cheek article (at least I hoped it was tongue in cheek) published recently where the author argued middle class parents shouldn’t read to their children, so to even the playing field with poor parents who couldn’t/didn’t

      • Kelly

        Well, with my third, I am setting the bar low by not feeding her breast milk. I am guessing she will be average now and not bright like her sisters. Someone has to be the black sheep.

  • demodocus

    When was this bfing utopia of which lactivists speak? Clearly not in 1911 when 1 in 4 mothers didn’t breastfeed.

  • Gozi

    Another great piece.

    I live in Mississippi and I work in the education field.Funding for public education is desperately needed, but I have personally witnessed many resources wasted. In some situations, I don’t think it would matter how much money a school had because some teachers have such a poor opinion of their students. It shows, and the students know it. I’m getting upset, so I will just stop there for now.

    • momofone

      I’m also in Mississippi. I’ve seen teachers who think very poorly of their students, and teachers and administrators whose educational performance is so poor that there is no way they can be effective in teaching students. One example that comes to mind is a principal who gave me a copy of a letter he was sending home to parents, and the letter was so full of grammatical errors that it was incomprehensible. It doesn’t bode well for the students.

      • araikwao

        Oh no..when we lived in an English-as-a-second-language country, I used to worry about the quality of teaching given by the teachers there (I helped one of our high-schooler church kids with his homework sometimes, and I had to correct the grammar in the questions!), but presumably English is not a second language for these teachers…

    • demodocus

      A teacher mentor of mine in Ohio would tell (and probably still does) his students that “gild” and “geld” were pronounced the same. He rationalized it by saying that they remember sex organ references better. Maybe, but still wrong. His colleague down the hall informed her students that the folk of Ur wrote in hieroglyphics and that we all originate from the garden of Eden. She told me that there is such a thing as too bright to be a teacher, in a cautionary way. Ugh.

    • Roadstergal

      It sucks to hear that. I went to public schools, and I had so many wonderful experiences with such thoughtful, driven, caring teachers. Those experiences prepared me well for college and beyond, and gave me joy in learning. I wish there were a way to fund teachers like that for all students.

      • Gozi

        I want to clarify that those experiences happen, but I guess I witnessed a lot this past school year that was wrong and made me quite upset. Don’t even get me started on the Special Education Dept.

      • KarenJJ

        Same. I also had an amazing teacher that ran an extension maths class in primary school. It gave me a great foundation in maths and I went on to do a very technical degree that has led to a well paid career. I was a bit of an all-rounder at school, but this definitely strengthened me towards the maths and science side. So many girls get the idea that they are not good at maths and that boys are better at it, and that attitude just compounds all through school. If I could find that teacher I’d thank him for it.

    • KeeperOfTheBooks

      When in college, I worked as an assistant to the chairman of the school of education. He was legally blind, so I’d take dictation/transcribe, write emails to his students, read him their papers, and so on.
      It was a thoroughly depressing experience. The overwhelming majority of students had no reading comprehension skills, no ability to communicate appropriately or clearly via verbal or written communication, and no logical/critical thinking skills. Yet nearly all graduated, and the teacher shortage here is such that most had job offers before they graduated. This included students whose written English was so terrible that I would often, and not in the least facetiously, have to call or email them to ask what an email they’d sent actually meant. Most didn’t even have the excuse that English was a second language.
      At one point, I read in the school paper that one of the long-time education professors was retiring after 30+ years at that school. She mentioned in the interview that she was planning on homeschooling her granddaughter, of whom she had custody. Out of curiosity, I later asked her why. After all, she’d spent much of her life either teaching in public schools or educating future public school teachers; it seemed an odd decision.
      She explained that her area of interest was math education. Every semester, when she’d walk into the math ed class that all EC-6 students had to take, she’d give them a diagnostic math test. It contained problems ranging from single-digit arithmetic to introductory calculus. She’d give the test to ascertain what her students knew about math so that she could adjust the class accordingly.
      Apparently, while she’d noticed a strong downward trend in her students’ mathematical abilities over the previous few decades, this was the first time she’d had a student who was incapable of single-digit subtraction, yet had somehow passed a college algebra class and was within a few classes of graduating with an education degree. This, as far as she was concerned, was the last straw. That teacher was *not* going to teach her granddaughter math. Period. Homeschooling it would be.
      TLDR: it’s a sucktacular situation overall. The good teachers who care seem to be vastly outnumbered by poorly-educated ones who don’t and who are failing their students badly. Those students in turn are becoming worse teachers. I don’t know what the solution is. I went to public school for my last two years of high school. I had a couple of really wonderful teachers, a couple of nuts, and the rest a bit of a mixed bag. I wish we could have cloned those good ones; having more of them out there would give us all a better future.

      • Gozi

        In my district you have to score 59% or lower to make an F.

        • KeeperOfTheBooks

          …charming.
          Reminds me of one school district nearby which got the bright idea some years ago that if a student turned in a homework assignment whose grade would lower his/her overall average in the class, the teacher wasn’t allowed to include it in the grade calculations. A few years later, they found themselves wondering why a lot of their eighth-graders were functionally illiterate.
          In another district, someone got the bright idea to start up a dual-immersion program in English/Spanish. In theory, given the area, a great idea: being bilingual in both is a major asset here. In practice, it was a total disaster.
          The way they handled it was to teach subjects in exclusive languages, and rotate them every year. Ergo, a first-grader would take reading/writing/social studies in English but math and science in Spanish, and then switch the next year. The students would only be allowed to ask/answer questions in the language the class was taught in. Trouble was–you guessed it–most of the students weren’t bilingual, and math class is a really bad time to practice language acquisition via immersion. In a shocking turn of events, this program was cancelled a few years later when virtually none of the kids were at an appropriate level in any of their subjects.
          I don’t know who comes up with these ideas, but they need some serious help.

          • I went to a Spanish immersion school, but they did it better than that! It started off about 90% Spanish in K-1st, with an English class in there but all other subjects taught in Spanish. Then they gradually increased the amount of English in the classroom until by 4th grade, it was 50/50 Spanish/English. Students could ask questions in either English or Spanish, but teachers would always respond in Spanish during Spanish times/classes.

            It worked out really well. Of course, the idea was to primarily serve ESL kids so that they could learn English while still learning all the subjects. I was one of the of Anglo students who were there to learn Spanish, but the majority of kids were immigrants or children of immigrants. And if you didn’t speak Spanish, you wouldn’t have made a whole lot of friends … that was the primary language of both the classroom and the playground, which helps a lot with language immersion and learning. The program was cancelled, not because it wasn’t successful (it was successful, actually- 6th grade test scores were much higher than average for poor Hispanic kids), but because California had a spasm of anti-immigrant legislation go through that prevented that sort of thing from occurring any longer.

        • Azuran

          I’ve seen in the new, somewhere in the USA I think, a teacher was suspended for giving a score of 0% to a kid on an assignment.
          The kid did not do any part of the assignment, he did absolutely nothing. The school had a ‘no 0%’ policy. So, the teacher was not allowed to give 0 for an assignment that wasn’t done.

          • momofone

            I had a student (upper-level undergraduate) ask if he could opt not to take a test. He was not ill, had not had a death in his family, no other personal emergency; he just hadn’t prepared for it. I told him no. He opted not to take it and was shocked when I gave him a grade of zero. “But I have a scholarship to think about! Will I still be able to get an A in the class?” He even had his advisor contact me on his behalf. She couldn’t believe I was actually letting the grade stand–“But his scholarship is on the line!” I wondered aloud where all the concern about the scholarship was prior to the test, and the phone call ended. I was willing to go all the way to the president of the institution if needed, but I was not changing the grade. (Student e-mailed me after final grades were posted and asked me to increase his final grade as well.)

          • Gozi

            Sadly none of this surprises me.

          • Amazed

            Here, students are graded on 2/6 scale. 3 is the grade for passing. Over my years at school, I ran all over the scale. In my years at the university, I got three 4-s. The rest of them were all 5s and mostly 6s. The finals were divided into written and oral part. I got a full 6 on the written part; on the oral one, I just stared at the subject and thought, oh no, it can’t be happening. Shit, you must be kidding me. Alas, it was true. I rose and left the room, with everyone turning over to stare because you. Do. Not. Walk. Away. From. The. Oral. Exam. You try to say something. That’s the easier part, everyone knows it. Still, I left. Next to my name, a big fat 2, my very first one since my first year, was written down. I had just failed the exam, They had correctly decided that my presentation would be on level fitting a grade of 2, by my own admission expressed by my actions.

            I never had a problem with that – once I got through the first few days I needed to believe it. I wanted to study further and I needed better grades than the 4 I could have reasonably expected. Later, my mom told me that this was the first time she cried over a grade of mine because she knew how much I had studied. Just a bad stroke of luck. Six month later, I took the exam successfully.

            Nowadays, I meet mothers who are enraged, ENRAGED that their kids’ refusal to hand over written assignments mean that they get a 2. What the hell? You write it and then refuse to hand it over. What is the teacher supposed to think? Looks like in some universities here, your refusal to sit for examination should result in no grade at all instead of that 2 I got. I can only shake my head. Pampering kids, pampering young adults… where is it going to end?

          • Kelly

            In some areas near me, they are not allowed to give lower than a 50 in the middle schools. It is ruining the kids. They come to high school thinking they can’t fail. We have a high failure rate in the ninth grade.

        • Kelly

          They changed it to 50% or lower to make an F in my old district. Ask me why I don’t want to send my kids there. We live in a very good school district but it still has these kinds of issues. I don’t want to home school as it is not for me or my children but I will supplement if they are not doing well in a subject.

          • Gozi

            I supplement anyway.

      • Gozi

        I had a fifth grade class whose assignment was to write 4 sentences. Directions simply stated that the student was to make sure there was a subject and a predicate. Just make up 4 sentences. About 30% of the class had difficulty; some completely stumped.

        • MegaMechaMeg

          Not gonna lie, I totally had to google what a predicate was.

          • Gozi

            But I am sure you could write 4 complete sentences without googling how.

          • MegaMechaMeg

            ahem.
            I have three cats. I love them very much. One of them likes to eat his own litter. Maybe I should not have switched to the all natural brand.
            Do I get a gold star?

          • Gozi

            Yes, and a trip to the candy jar!

          • MegaMechaMeg

            OMG. you have a candy jar? Can I go back to school now?

          • Gozi

            If you knew all the pizza, candy, cupcakes, snacks, movies and parties students get these days in school you would probably bulldoze the door down and refuse to leave. A far cry from when my mom had to save up pennies to have even a milk at school.

          • MegaMechaMeg

            I feel like kids today have no idea how good they have it. I hear that that feeling is the most inarguable sign that you have crossed over and become an old.

          • Liz Leyden

            That, and obsession with your bowels.

          • momofone

            So true. And so ironic, in the state with the highest rates of obesity and related health problems.

          • Gozi

            I guess it is bad that I am not very worried about the health effects as much as I am the focus that is taken off real education and placed on fluff.

          • momofone

            That makes perfect sense. I think it strikes a chord with me because it’s a struggle I’ve had, and hope my son won’t have. (He broke down in tears when I suggested that we take fruit and cheese for his class when it was birthday–“Why do we always have to take the HEEEEAAALTHY stuff?! Why can’t we just take cupcakes like everyone else?”) It probably makes me overly conscious of it, now that I think about it.

          • Toni35

            We’re not allowed to bring in anything (well, no food “treats”, pencils or small toys are acceptable) for b-days. When my oldest started K you could arrange to purchase a b-day treat for the class through the cafeteria, but a year later that policy changed into the “no food at all” one – too many kids with allergies, I suspect.

            They do get occasional movies, but only the kindergarteners get snacks (and maybe they don’t anymore – I’ll find out next year when my middle child starts K – I wouldn’t be surprised if they aren’t allowed anymore), the K snacks are donated by the parents (you are asked to provide one snack per month, in large enough quantity to accommodate the whole class), and they’ve never had a pizza party or any other such thing, at least since my kid started attending.

            It’s probably a regional thing.

          • Mac Sherbert

            I sent “mini” cupcakes and “mini” juice boxes. I just couldn’t send the big full sized ones. None of the kids complained. They also like fruit treats. I know fruit treats aren’t really fruit, but the ones made with just fruit juice are at least better than a cupcake.

          • Mishimoo

            My sister started out with sultanas as treats. Now that we’re approaching the end of term 2, she has gradually weaned her class off treats and on to random positive verbal reinforcement. It’s working pretty well, but she didn’t think she would be such a strict teacher. The kids are learning better and seem to be happy with the structured learning environment, which is what matters.

          • Gozi

            I noticed how well positive verbal reinforcement worked this past school year. Some students are so shocked to hear a compliment from an adult–or I guess anyone. Does your sister still do classroom parties for holidays?

          • Mishimoo

            It really does make a difference!

            She wants to do classroom parties, but I’m not sure if the school allows it. She teaches in really remote school and is currently trying to wrangle school camps to a city for the older kids so that they don’t have as much culture-shock when they go off to boarding school. Some of them are great at classwork, but lack skills like eating with a knife and fork. She doesn’t want them to bullied over it, so she wants to teach them on the school camp. Like a city immersion course, for lack of a better term. I hope that she gets the funding and approval. There’s a high early secondary drop out rate (they come home for holidays and never go back to school), mainstreamed students who aren’t coping with the schoolwork but there are no Special Ed teachers or extra help, and the attendance rate is all over the place.

          • Who

            Good on her, what a thoughtful and positive activity. I hope she’s successful with it.

          • Mishimoo

            I really hope so too! I’m so proud of her, I just hope that she doesn’t burn out.

          • demodocus

            Marshmallow fluff? I’m getting hungry

          • Gozi

            My mom tried to get me to eat that when I was little. I cried. Sadly, thirty-odd years later she would probably still try to convince me to eat it and I’d probably still cry…

          • anotheramy

            One great thing our school does is for kids’ birthdays, rather than bringing the traditional sugary snack, they can choose 10 mins of a fun activity: extra recess, dance party, extra computer time, story time, or coloring time, or free play time in the class room.
            I love that idea and share it with anyone who will listen. 🙂

          • Roadstergal

            That’s a fantastic idea.

        • araikwao

          Oh good golly. My daughter, who’s in prep (first year of school) wrote 7 sentences for some exercise they were doing in class the other day. To think these kids have been going to school roughly 10x as long and that is challenging for many…that is dreadful…

        • Froggggggg

          I helped out with reading at a school for a while and the number of upper primary students (ages 9-12) who couldn’t even read a simple sentence was mind-boggling.

          • momofone

            I used to require my class to write a paper at the end of the semester. I now have them do a presentation instead; I couldn’t deal with the constant discouragement as I read.

          • Gozi

            The presentations are better?

          • momofone

            They’re more bearable for me than trying to decipher the papers. Some students who struggle with written tests do much better on the presentation, and can show that they grasp what they’re presenting in a way they aren’t able to do in writing. Plus I just couldn’t inflict the papers on myself any longer; it felt too much like masochism.

      • Froggggggg

        Yeah, this is why I homeschool, in a nutshell. It’s not really ideological, I don’t hate schools or teachers, but I had similar experiences with my daughter. While she was at school, I was always told she passed all her tests… she wasn’t brilliant, but according to her reports she was above average in several subjects, and exactly where she should be in others – never behind, never failed a subject. I saw her struggling with certain things like maths, but was dismissed… after all, what would a parent know?

        Well, I know I am now constantly finding that she still doesn’t have a handle on the most basic concepts. Most subjects are OK, although she does struggle with some things I thought she would have been taught by 5th grade, but nothing we can’t catch up on… Maths however is a disaster zone extraordinaire. She’s in her 6th year of school and she still struggles with some 1st and 2nd grade maths problems. She regularly tells me that yes, they did this at school, but only once, for 20 minutes, before they moved along without practising. I do believe she’s telling the truth because her books reflected it, and so did her homework. Her teachers needed to tick the boxes – once that was done, they moved right along to the subjects they enjoyed teaching. As a result my daughter did an awful lot of gardening, dancing, drama, cooking and movie watching, but still doesn’t understand why anyone would ever want to use division, or how to do it, just as an example.

        This is in Australia, where we’ve had countless changes to the curriculum over the last few years. The new national curriculum is so stuffed full that there’s just no choice but to skim over topics and rush to the next one. I don’t blame the teachers; the problem goes much further. We call it the “ridiculum” at our house.

        • Gozi

          I was told by a 5th grade teacher that they only had to make sure a student was exposed to a skill. Whatever. ..

          • momofone

            Well, sure–why would they actually need to LEARN it? So frustrating.

          • Gozi

            I was speechless. They were trying to get students to learn how to solve a problem like 567×678 when the student didn’t know their basic time tables.

          • Froggggggg

            Yes, that sounds exactly like what I’m dealing with. There’s some pretty advanced stuff like that in her Aus-curriculum-based maths book, which is supposed to encourage thinking outside the box and problem-solving – great skills to have, of course, but not terribly useful when they’re built on such shaky foundations. I think to a degree the kids just learn to produce the right answers even though the subject matter goes right over their heads.

          • Amazed

            My mom had colleagues who could not figure out the percentage of their students who got a failing grade… At least they weren’t teaching maths but still!

          • Roadstergal

            Ugh. I’m going to have to sign up for our outreach tutoring program again. It’s a drop in an ocean, but I feel like I have to do _something_.

        • KarenJJ

          I have to admit I’ve been a bit surprised by the lack of maths practice I’ve seen (also in Australia) and I’ve got a few books at home I’m doing with the kids when time allows. I know that they’re using Mathletics, so they’re getting some practice in, but I also know that their internet connection is slow and I suspect there’s more mucking around with that then actually getting into the “zone” and really concentrating on their maths.

          • Froggggggg

            I actually asked the school about their rather slack approach to maths one time, and I also asked why they had several literacy tutoring programs in place, but nothing for numeracy. I was told numeracy wasn’t that important… I kid you not.

        • KeeperOfTheBooks

          What you describe is pretty much why we’ve decided to homeschool. (That, and the local private schools are just too pricey.) It’s not that we hate teachers or schools. I respect teachers immensely, or at least the ones who are genuinely trying to pass knowledge along to their students. It’s that I’ve seen the future teachers, and there’s no way in hell I want them to be teaching my kid.
          I should add that I’m in the US here, but that it would seem, unfortunately, that there are similar problems in both our countries.

      • KarenJJ

        Similar story from one of my relatives that was a university academic and tutor in the same field – as well as the pressure to make their diagnostic maths test easier so that more future teachers could pass that particular unit. How do they even pass high school? My kids are lucky because my husband and I (and our relative – who cares for them regularly) have high levels of mathematical literacy. How do other kids get on?

        • Who?

          My daughter-currently in the final year of an engineering degree-tutors several high schoolers in maths. It’s disturbing that she recently had to correct an assignment question issued by one of ‘her’ kids’ teachers.

        • Gozi

          Get on? Many are just passed on. Then they are shocked when they have to take remedial courses in college.

        • KeeperOfTheBooks

          Short answer: they don’t.
          Longer answer: they don’t, and there’s a teacher shortage. Because of that, there’s immense pressure to churn out new teachers ASAP. As a result, education programs are often utter crap from an academic standpoint, and have very low standards of admittance. This draws students who aren’t so much inspired would-be teachers as they are students who wouldn’t do well in more rigorous academic programs. And the cycle continues…
          Put it this way: a number of the students in the junior-level classes were simultaneously taking–wait for it–“Intro to Reading.” This was a course required for students who, and so help me I am not making this up, scored so low on entrance exams/standardized tests that there was a serious question as to whether they could read well at all, or with reasonable comprehension. Granted, this was a school that would accept just about anyone, so things would probably not be quite so bad at a better school. Still, the education program was by far the largest in this school, and there was something incredibly depressing every year at the job fair watching a dozen or more students who *just* passed “Intro to Reading” the prior year getting job offers as teachers.

      • anotheramy

        My husband (a math teacher) did a lot of reading online to figure out why the Netherlands and Norway have such good educational outcomes. He said they decided to reform teachers, basically. They made teaching a highly desired and competitive field. Only the best of the best are accepted into the education department of colleges, they have to take hard tests to be certified, and IIRC, you pretty much need a master’s degree to find a job as a teacher, and they are paid very well. one of those countries ( I can’t recall which) had really poor educational outcomes before this, and changing the quality of teachers made all the difference.
        Both those countries have homogeneous populations and are much more progressive at promoting social equality too.
        I wish the U.S. get on board with that.

        • Gozi

          You just said yourself why the US won’t get on board with that. This is not a homogeneous population. Heck, you still have people in their 50s who remember segregated schools. Just because laws changed doesn’t mean hearts, minds, and motives did.

          • anotheramy

            Sad, but true.
            Ugh, I really like the idea of having very smart, well-paid, professional teachers. Seems like it’d benefit the whole country.

        • Maya Markova

          Their populations are no longer homogenous, yet efforts to make the teachers’ jobs attractive and prestigeous still pay off.

          • fiftyfifty1

            Well, that depends on your cutoff for homogenous I suppose.
            Norway is 86% ethnic Norwegian
            Netherlands is 89%

            This is more diverse than previously, of course, but nothing compared to nations built on immigration, such as US, Canada and Australia.

            But yes, I agree that teachers’ jobs should be attractive in any situation.

        • KeeperOfTheBooks

          Oh, me too. Me toooooooo. To be honest, a lot of teachers in my area are very well-paid, with pay increases that are above and beyond what most people locally would expect. The problem is that many aren’t well-educated themselves.
          A friend of mine recently changed careers from engineering to math education. In the course of getting certified, she was pretty disgusted (understandably) to learn that all of her advanced calculus classes wouldn’t “count” towards her certification, but that either basic-level math classes (college algebra or lower) or, alternately, classes about math education which were based on faulty mathematical principles in the first place would. She sucked it up and took the classes so she could teach, but she did say that she was sure that this was one reason that people with strong academic backgrounds in their various fields weren’t interested in going into teaching: at this point, education is seen as a joke of a field to go into by a lot of higher-level academics in non-education fields. After hearing her experience, I could begin to understand why…

          • Mac Sherbert

            I had a similar experience when I went back to school to get my teaching degree. After going over my transcripts the woman said you will need to take this math class. I looked at her odd and said but that’s lower than the college level math classes I’ve already taken!!!! *And my first degree was not in a math related field!

          • KeeperOfTheBooks

            Ugh. Quite!
            One last story before I shut up on the subject. 😉 Some friends of mine taught at a rather unique school years ago. The students were comprised mostly of kids who would otherwise be homeschooled and who were fairly top-notch intellectually. The people running the school managed to persuade (don’t ask me how), among other persons, the chair of the local university’s English department to come and teach a class in literature once a week, and ditto the head of neurosurgery at a local hospital a course in biology. (Both classes were, IIRC, geared to AP students.) What was particularly ironic about this situation is that technically speaking, neither individual would be permitted to teach in a public school because they didn’t have the necessary education credentials, yet I should think you’d be hard-pressed to find people more qualified.

          • demodocus

            One of my teaching mentors chided me on being “too smart” because it is a hindrance, apparently. Quite a few teachers I know think a masters in your subject area isn’t as good as a masters in education. On the other hand, I’ve known a few professors who could really use a couple classes on teaching. Oy.

          • KeeperOfTheBooks

            *stabby stabby stabby* Yes, because we wouldn’t want the “smart” people teaching the kids who are our future, or anything. ARGH!

          • demodocus

            Upvote a dozen times. God. That teacher’s comments made me itch so badly. She tried to give the kids an extremely brief overview of world history (possibly the only one they’d be getting, it wasn’t offered at that school) and there were *so* many errors. My professor would just shake his head, and he used to work with her at that school.

          • Daleth

            You’re giving me flashbacks. I decided not to pursue teaching high school [insert foreign language here], despite having a US Masters and a European BA Honours degree in the subject (i.e., *every* class I took as an undergrad was taught in the target language, so I studied that country’s literature, history, society, pop culture, etc. in the native language, and for good measure also spent a year learning the medieval version of the language). Also lived there for a couple of years and was frequently mistaken for a native speaker.

            Why not teach it at the high school level? Oh, because my education didn’t count–in my state, I would have had to go back and get a BA in Education, although they WERE willing to count some of my innumerable credits in that language towards a minor, so doing the additional BA would only have taken me 3 or 3.5 years instead of the usual 4! WTF!!!!!!!!!! I couldn’t believe they would rather have teachers who had gotten a C average in a handful of language classes and never set foot outside the US.

    • Amy M

      I live in MA, which is considered one of the top states as far as public schools are concerned—yet, the inner cities and very rural areas are a mess, just like they are in the rest of the country. My husband taught in a charter school in a very poor inner city area at one point–he had 5th graders. One of them was looking forward to reaching the age of 15 (I think it was), so he could quit school and steal cars with his brother. Many of these kids were being raised by a single parent, in some cases, no parents (grandparents or other family instead.)

      Also, there was a high population of immigrants—the kids might have been first generation Americans, but their parents were from another country and in some cases didn’t speak English. So, many of these kids had single caregivers, who worked maybe more than one job and didn’t speak English. Clearly those caregivers were unable to help their children with homework or anything school based. So the kids, with no family support, would go on to perpetuate the cycle of poverty because its very difficult to break it with inadequate education and nutrition, things that the middle and upper classes take for granted.

      All that to say that breastfeeding has no role whatsoever in perpetuating poverty and its disgusting to suggest that it will magically fix poverty and all the issues that stem from it.

      • SporkParade

        The problem, at least where I grew up, is that public school districts used to get away with paying excellent teachers a pittance because so few careers were open to women. Once that stopped being the case, talented women fled the education field for more lucrative pastures, and the quality of new teachers dropped. I could say snarky things about Teach for America, but I think I’ll stop here.

        • Amy M

          Oh that’s definitely a problem in some places, but basically poor schooling/schools is highly associated with poverty and that’s such a huge and inherent problem in the US, I don’t think anyone really knows where to begin. Any attempts to level the playing field are branded as “evil socialism” by those who don’t really want the playing field leveled.

          I don’t know if capitalism is a core tenet of lactivism, I doubt it. I do think that those who are suggesting that ALL women can breastfeed and that breastfeeding will solve the world’s ills, do not recognize their privilege. According to lactivists, way more women in 3rd world countries breastfeed right? Assuming that is true, how come those countries haven’t caught up with the more developed world? Sure, those people aren’t dying of T2D, but its because they are dying as children of diseases that basically don’t exist in places with clean water and excellent health care.

      • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

        It also doesn’t help when schools have “fundraising” events that poorer kids are banned from :
        http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3095146/Poor-New-York-public-school-kids-sit-carnival.html

        PS 120 in New York had a carnival during school hours to raise money for their “moving up parties” for kindergarten, 1st grade and fifth grade. If you could pay the 10$ you could go and you also got a stuffed animal at the begining of the day in homeroom. If you couldn’t pay you sat in the auditorium, no carnival and no toy for you! Most of the kids who could not pay were the children of immigrants apparently…

        • Gozi

          I kind of have mixed feelings about that.