The Angst of Sunday Afternoons

The Angst of Sunday Afternoons
Mt. Jefferson. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0
Mt. Jefferson. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0

In my household it is assumed that anything I say on Sunday afternoons is taken with not only a grain of salt but the whole shaker. Following the emotional build up to morning worship, I fall off the cliff in the time it takes me to get to my home three blocks away.

I am self-critical. Feelings of discouragement descend upon my whole being. I parse what I said; I parse the words of others. My perceptions of self and events lean negative.

I am unreliable. I have little faith in the divine and I take upon myself responsibility for everything. Everything is my fault. Everything.


Mondays I take responsibility for as little as possible. They are days for trusting the divine to heal me. They are days for trusting the work will get done without me.

The sin of failing to sabbath is that of believing that God and others cannot manage without me. It is to ignore the way in which I was created. It is to ignore God.

My salvation comes through trusting in the healing one. In faithfulness to sabbath, my body, mind, and spirit are renewed. I once again have a reasonableness about my being that allows me to take responsibility where it is mine and no more. Restorative sabbath leads me to living more fully as the unique human being I was created to be.

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External Standards Take On a Life of Their Own

I took an action last evening that I never expected I would ever take. As the voice of the early childhood profession on a not-for-profit child care and development center board, I recommended to my fellow board members that we do not seek renewal of accreditation. I thank my peers that they spared me the trauma of putting forth the actual motion but I know, the director knows, the other board members, and God knows that it was my words that influenced this center to “let go” of voluntary accreditation.

In my nearly thirty-years working in the early childhood profession, in roles ranging from aide to teacher to home visitor to director to professor to traveling consultant and trainer, I have been a passionate supporter of standards and practices that improve the lives of young children. I was involved as an team member and leader of accreditation review teams in the Missouri Voluntary Accreditation System, which predates the national accreditation, and I enticed, pushed, and prodded the staff of my center and saw the amazing transformation that is possible when the not-for-profit center I directed moved through the process and became accredited.

Many days I feel like a dinosaur. At times I feel like our profession has lost its soul and its joy as we have pursued external standards to judge the worthiness of programs. Philosophically, as a profession we challenge children to learn self-control, to be self-learners, and to internalize behaviors that assist them in cognitive as well as social-emotional discovery. We have believed in mentoring and supporting young children within the context in which they live and learn.

But we do not seem to have the same philosophy when it comes to adults.

In recent years as I have provided workshops in at least half a dozen states, I have heard more and more voices of frustration with external standards, from accreditation to Quality Rating Systems. As I teach early childhood practices that focus on process, on individual children, and that require creativity, self-awareness, and self-confidence on the part of teachers, I struggle to keep the adult-learners’ attention on their children rather than on the standards.

No doubt that some of the focus on the standards versus the children is based on the adults’ misunderstanding of the standards themselves but I am coming to the conclusion that the existence, not the content, of the standards themselves are having a serious side-effect on our profession.

I fear that the standards, the regulations, and all of the documentation that goes along with them are part of the problem. Standards that do not take into account cultural and economic context, standards that are lengthy, many in number, and that focus on minutiae, such as the wiping of the gums of an infant after feeding, sabotage our purpose: loving, caring relationships between adults and children.

And, yet, none of these concerns are the reason that I recommended to the board that we allow accreditation to lapse. I made my recommendation because external standards, in the form of NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) accreditation, do not practice the fundamental value of early childhood practice, that of being developmentally appropriate, individually appropriate, and culturally appropriate. As a small, not-for-profit program, in an economically-challenged Appalachian town, our context makes it nearly impossible to meet the educational degree requirements for teachers. When our accreditation lapses sometime next year, there will no longer be any accredited programs in our community.

I am saddened today because this direct result of rising external standards without regard to local economics and culture, not only threatens the credibility of NAEYC but eliminates a tool that could have helped us to improve the lives of young children and families.

The Absolutely Best Dentist

I was recently reminded of the following story attributed to John Taylor, Superintendent of Schools, Lancaster County School District, South Carolina.

The Absolutely Best Dentist

My dentist is great! He sends me reminders so I don’t forget checkups. He uses the latest techniques based on research. He never hurts me, and I’ve got all my teeth, so when I ran into him the other day, I was eager to see if he’d heard about the new state program. I knew he’d think it was great.

“Did you hear about the new state program to measure the effectiveness of dentists with their young patients?” I said.

No,” he said. He didn’t seem too thrilled. “How will they do that?”

“It’s quite simple,” I said. “They will just count the number of cavities each patient has at age 10, 14, and 18 and average that to determine a dentist’s rating. Dentists will be rated as Excellent, Good, Average, and Below Average and Unsatisfactory. That way parents will know which are the best dentists. It will also encourage the less effective dentists to get better,” I said. “Poor dentists who don’t improve could lose their licenses to practice in Illinois.”

“That’s terrible,” he said.

“What? That’s not a good attitude,” I said. “Don’t you think we should try to improve children’s dental health in this state?”

“Sure I do,” he said, “but that’s not a fair way to determine who is practicing good dentistry.”

“Why not?” I said. “It makes perfect sense to me.”

“Well, it’s so obvious,” he said. “Don’t you see that dentists don’t all work with the same clientele; so much depends on things we can’t control? For example,” he said, “I work in a rural area with a high percentage of patients from deprived homes, while some of my colleagues work in upper middle class neighborhoods. Many of the parents I work with don’t bring their children to see me until there is some kind of problem and I don’t get to do much preventive work.”

“Also,” he said, “many of the parents I serve let their kids eat way too much candy from an early age, unlike more educated parents who understand the relationship between sugar and decay.”

“To top it all off,” he added, “so many of my clients have well water which is untreated and has no fluoride in it. Do you have any idea how much difference early use of fluoride can make?”

“It sounds like you’re making excuses,” I said. I couldn’t believe my dentist would be so defensive. He does a great job.

“I am not!” he said. “My best patients are as good as anyone’s, my work is as good as anyone’s, but my average cavity count is going to be higher than a lot of other dentists because I chose to work where I am needed most.”

“Don’t get touchy,” I said.

“Touchy?” he said. His face had turned red and from the way he was clenching and unclenching his jaws, I was afraid he was going to damage his teeth.

“Try furious. In a system like this, I will end up being rated average, below average, or worse. “My more educated patients who see these ratings may believe this so-called rating actually is a measure of my ability and proficiency as a dentist. They may leave me, and I”ll be left with only the most needy patients. And my cavity average score will get even worse. On top of that, how will I attract good dental hygienists and other excellent dentists to my practice if it is labeled below average?”

“I think you are overreacting,” I said. “‘Complaining, excuse making and stonewalling won’t improve dental health’…I am quoting from a leading member of the DOC,” I noted.

“What’s the DOC?” he asked.

“It’s the Dental Oversight Committee,” I said, “a group made up of mostly lay persons to make sure dentistry in this state gets improved.”

“Spare me,” he said. “I can’t believe this. Reasonable people won’t buy it,” he said hopefully.

The program sounded reasonable to me, so I asked, “How else would you measure good dentistry?”

“Come watch me work,” he said. “Observe my processes.”

That’s too complicated and time consuming,” I said. “Cavities are the bottom line, and you can’t argue with the bottom line. It’s an absolute measure.”

“That’s what I’m afraid my parents and prospective patients will think. This can’t be happening,” he said despairingly.

“Now, now,” I said, “don’t despair. The state will help you some.”

“How?” he said.

“If you’re rated poorly, they’ll send a dentist who is rated excellent to help straighten you out,” I said brightly.

“You mean,” he said, “they’ll send a dentist with a wealthy clientele to show me how to work on severe juvenile dental problems with which I have probably had much more experience? Big help.”

“There you go again.” I said. “You aren’t acting professionally at all.”

“You don’t get it,” he said. “Doing this would be like grading schools and teachers on an average score on a test of children’s progress without regard to influences outside the school, the home, the community served and stuff like that. Why would they do something so unfair to dentists? No one would ever think of doing that to schools.”

I just shook my head sadly, but he had brightened.

“I’m going to write my representatives and senator,” he said. “I’ll use the school analogy-surely they will see the point.” He walked off with that look of hope mixed with fear and suppressed anger that I see in the mirror so often lately.