Friday, June 17, 2011

Part II in the Age Appropriateness Saga

The more I thought about the whole issue, the more bothered I became. I was certainly bothered by the video shown but I was more bothered by the Pastor's response. Prior to this experience I had really liked him, thought well of him, and would likely have never questioned his judgment. However, this decision and more specificially his continual defense of his decision has made me realize that there are deep pedagogical and practiccal differences in what he views as appropriate for children and what my husband and I view as appropriate. My husband and I, as I am sure most parents, make judgments all the time about what we feel is appropriate to expose our kids to. Sometimes we have been wrong and we acknowledge that and we know to do things differently next time. I don't feel that this was the case here. While he ultimately removed the Kindergarteners (and my daughter who is going into first) from further viewing of the movie in subsequent days he continued to defend its appropriateness for grades 1 and above. I feel like at home we work hard to protect the innocense of our children. Even sending her to a public school, where the fear among evangelical conservatives is that their children will be exposed to inappropriate content, be it sexual, violence, etc, she wasn't exposed to anything close to this. It is very bothersome to me that the place she was unapologetically exposed was at a church. (The irony is that my particular brand of religion, at least the one I was raised in, is pretty critical of public education and the influence of people affiliated with it. The irony is not lost on me that the place where my child was first exposed to grpahic violence was not at the public school but at a church. If my daughter's Kindergarten teacher would have shown a video with a similar graphic nature she would be out of a job. But that's another topic).

We were made aware that there were other parents who also were bothered by this showing and expressed concern as well. It was suggested by multiple people that maybe that time could be better spent doing something other than watching the video. This suggestion was rebuffed. My husband emailed the Pastor that evening after viewing the video himself and wanted to make sure our daughter would be revmoved from the viewing the following day. He also called into question the educational value of such a long clip (25-30 minutes) for that young of an age group.

A flurry of email exchanges took place. The Pastor's initial email response was pretty strongly worded and pretty defensive, which only served to escalate the situation a bit.. He continued to defend his choice, standing firm in his insistence that it has educational value. In fact he believes "the movie in general does a fantastic job of reinforcing the tied in completely." He went on to say, "We thought so highly of the tone of the movie that it was worth the time to take to view." (To be entirely fair he did apologize for the "difficulty it has caused you and your family." However, there was no apology for the actual showing, just our perception of it being inappropriate).

My husband's concern at this point, with the Pastor's continual defense, was that:

As a parent who entrusts my children to the Pastors who are charged with protecting, teaching, and nurturing them it concerns me you find this appropriate and continue to defend its use.
I think it best that this discussion simply end. Much of this exchange could have been avoided had your response been different when my wife first brought the concern to you or even your initial response to my email. A simple, "I am sorry you were offended. Maybe we shouldn't have shown this. We won't do it again." would have shown a more genuine attempt on your part to understand and address our concern. Both my wife and I feel you have been more concerned about defending your decision than legitimately addressing our concern or showing any amount of empathy.
My husband and I were then a bit conflicted. We both would have liked to not send her back but we also didn't want her to know there was a conflict. So, we did send her on Thursday and she did not view the video. They put the Kindergarteners (and my daughter) in with the 3-4 year olds. When my husband went to pick her up yesterday grades 1-6 were watching another segment from the film. Those aren't my children so it wasn't really my business anymore, but because of this experience I would likely not allow my children to attend another function at this church. Or if I were to reconsider I would definitely want to view any curriculum or instructional aides ahead of time. If I can't trust the Pastor's judgment about what is age appropriate then I feel like I am playing a game of Russian Roulette each time I send my kids off there. It's a shame all the way around.

I don't want to bash religion or Christians. I am a Christian. We raise our children in the church. However, it is difficult for me when Christians behave in ways that are so antithesis to what the Bible instructs. Why would anyone who is not a Christian ever want to be one when things like this happen? VBS is used as a community outreach. The goal of every church who puts on a VBS is to not only provide Christian instruction for its members but also to maybe get unchurched visitors who would consider joining. While I am not a member of this particular church, I am at this church's sister church. What if I were just a random member of the community and this was my exchange with a Pastor? I would never go back. If that was my only exposure to Christianity and Christians I certainly wouldn't want to be one. Right or wrong, people are judge on behavior and in this instance I feel there were multiple opportunities for this Pastor to back off his stance that this video was age appropriate. But he didn't. He continued to defend it and continued to show it despite having concerns brought to him by multiple parents. To me that just seems like someone trying to dig in his heels and not someone who is interested in truly trying to understand where anyone else was coming from.

Bottom line is the issue is over. It happened. I now know that this is how this particular Pastor responds to issues of concerns brought by parents and knowing that I will make decisions regarding my children accordingly.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

An Issue of Age-Appropriateness

So, I want to share with you an experience I had today and get some feedback on both my reaction and the response I received. My almost 6 year old daughter attended Vacation Bible School today at a church affiliated with our usual church. At the end of the day they were watching a video about the story of Joseph and Potiphar's Wife. A quick recap for those who are unfamiliar: Joseph is sold by his brothers to Potiphar. Potiphar's wife seduces Joseph and then lies to Potiphar, telling him the reverse and making up other lies about Joseph's behavior. The portion of the movie I walked in on was when Joseph was being whipped for his supposed transgressions. I included the video below (please fast forward to the 2 minute mark and watch until the 2:32 mark). This was shown to the class today, including kids as young as 5.

I was bothered. I felt it was a little intense for that age group. It further bothered me when the entire first row of little kids gasped and put their hands over their eyes (my daughter included). We are very careful about what we let our kids watch. Their exposure to television is very limited and we certainly don't let them watch shows with graphic, violent content.

At the end I approached the Pastor, who in general I feel is a very nice man. However, his response today was very disappointing. In a very non-confrontational way I told him that I was a bit concerned about the graphic nature of the video as that is not something I would choose to show my children. His initial response was that because it happened that way in the Bible he does not believe we should alter, modify, water down, change, etc. the specifics. I pointed out that, while I agree that the stories shouldn't be changed, I didn't think it was then necessary to show the visual reenactment of something that could possibly be upsetting to young children. I stated that while my children knew the details of Jesus' crucifixion I wouldn't go home and show them Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ until they were older and it was more age appropriate. He disagreed. My response was that when I was teaching in a public HIGH SCHOOL I would not have been allowed to show that clip (and not because of the religious nature, but because of the graphic content). I further pointed out that any clip I did want to show had to be approved by the principal first and then I had to send out permission slips that gave parents the opportunity to opt their child out. I explained that I felt like we should have been given some notice that this type of video was going to be shown.

His “solution” was that tomorrow I could put my 1st grader in with the 3-4 year olds because they watch a cartoon version. I just wanted him to understand that while some kids are exposed to that or aren't bothered by that, I KNEW that this was something that was going to bother my daughter. He dismissed that concern. There was more, but essentially he disagreed, which is fine, but also completely dismissed and invalidated my concerns about the content and the fact that he made a decision about what he felt was appropriate for my child to view without giving me the opportunity to have any input. Further there were some very patronizing “solutions” offered.

My daughter, who had no knowledge of my conversation with the pastor, came and found me and the first thing she told me was about this “terrible movie where this bad man whipped Joseph and his blood went all over.” She was very bothered and has talked about it ALL day. Further, she drew a picture for my grandmother depicting a man getting beat. She explained, “This is Joseph. He's getting whipped and this red part is his blood going all over.” Not really something I am happy about.

While the showing of the video bothers me, the Pastor's response bothers me even more. He could have said, “You know, I made a judgment call. I felt it was appropriate. I'm sorry if it offended you. Next time I will ask.” End of story. Instead he made excuse after excuse and pretty much tried to make me feel like it was ridiculous that I would be concerned about the content.

So, I am curious about your take on this? Mainly, is this content that would bother you if your child viewed it and what is your take on the Pastor's response to my concern?