Marina Koestler Ruben

Blog Posts: November 2011

Extreme Parenting with Lisa Ling

Last night I paid our cable company to reinstate our access to the Oprah Winfrey Network just long enough to watch Our America with Lisa Ling, which was doing an episode about "Extreme Parenting."  Ling interviewed four families: wealthy "tiger" parents who pay $40,000/year/child for a year-round high-pressure school, unschoolers who allow their four children to learn through self-motivated pursuits and field trips, a father focused on his high schooler's NFL prospects, and the pageant-minded mother of two toddlers.

It was frustrating to see the show try to generalize about multiple educational philosophies over the course of only one hour (minus the time spent on commercials), especially given the small sample size.  It was hard for Ling to provide a balanced view of the four approaches in such a limited time.

Ultimately, all four parenting methods seemed to raise one question: What are you willing to have your children sacrifice to ensure their well-being?

While I bristled at some of what the tiger parents did, I felt that their methods could still lead to children with basically sound values.  But I found the pageant family's approach very troubling.  It saddened me to see them putting a spray tan on a crying toddler and popping what looked like Sweet Tarts into their daughter's mouth to help her stay "wild" enough to attract the judges' attention.  The parent of a slightly older (elementary school-age) pageant participant seemed to be pouring an energy drink between her painted lips.  It was heartening to see a commercial that indicated there will be follow-up with the pageant family next week and that the mother may be giving up the entire endeavor.

I don't think there's just one right approach to parenting or to education, but I do think that every family can strive for the same outcome, which is to have children who approach their family's educational philosophy feeling enthusiastic, engaged, and appreciative--and who feel that it's leading them toward a desirable outcome, whatever that may be.  Based on the show's brief exploration of these four families, my impression was that the unschoolers and the footballer were the children who best met these criteria.  Again, that doesn't necessarily mean these families are following the ideal system for their own children or anyone else's--just that they must be somewhat in tune with their own children's needs, which is a valuable goal.

  Read Full Post.

Discussion Questions -- Oprah's Documentary Club: "Life 2.0"

This weekend I watched Life 2.0 (2010), the August film for the Oprah Winfrey Network's (OWN's) documentary club.  Life 2.0 follows players of Second Life.  If you're new to the name, Second Life is "the Internet's largest user-created, 3D virtual world community." Every user creates an avatar, an in-world character whose physical characteristics the user controls.  Once enveloped in Second Life, an avatar might DJ at dance parties, sell custom-built homes, or even develop an in-game romantic relationship that will destroy a real-life marriage--all scenarios that occur in Life 2.0.

Given some mild pillow talk and other PG content, parents might find this film most appropriate for middle and high school students.  And while the film doesn't openly endorse use of Second Life, do consider whether knowing about Second Life might inspire your child to want to check it out and how you feel about that possibility.  (Users of Second Life must be at least age 13, though their avatars can be younger.)  

Here are a few questions that can get you talking before/during/after the film:

1. An adult male whose avatar is an 11-year-old girl says, "I call Second Life the best and worst thing that has ever happened to me."  Before you watch the film, consider what this might mean.  In what ways could a virtual world both help and hurt its users?  After watching, can you identify the pros and cons of Second Life for each of the people you saw?


2. What makes Amy and Steven's relationship different in real life than in Second Life?  What struggles might a couple face when trying to continue a virtual relationship in the real world?


3. Asri makes a living designing homes and clothing for Second Life clientele.  The film introduces the idea that there's no lesser significance to a job based in Second Life.  In fact, Asri's brother says that he's jealous of Asri's ability to work from home.  What do you think?  Does it matter that Asri designs virtual homes rather than "real" homes?  Does it matter if someone's job is based in Second Life rather than in his or her "first life"?


4. One of Second Life's developers sees it as a perk that interacting in a virtual world means a person is safe from physical harm.  While this may be true, what are the trade-offs that the individual must make?  Are they worth it, and, if so, in what cases?


5. How much computer time is too much?  Does it depend on who you are?  Consider the screen time that's appropriate for a teenager.  What about an adult?  Does it matter whether the adult is in a relationship?  Replace "computer time" with "screen time," "Second Life time," or "electronics time" and think about how your answers change.


The film doesn't address whether Second Life can be used for educational purposes.  Can it?  If you know of any, I'd be interested in hearing about them.


Previous OWN documentaries:

June -- Sons of Perdition, about Mormon young men who have run away from or been kicked out of their polygamist communities

July -- Serving Life, about inmates in the Louisiana State Penitentiary who volunteer in the prison hospice

Upcoming OWN documentaries listed hereRead Full Post.

Discussion Questions -- Oprah's Documentary Club: "Serving Life"

Yesterday I watched Serving Life (2011), the July pick for the Oprah Winfrey Network's (OWN's) documentary club.  This film follows four inmates in the Louisiana State Penitentiary maximum-security prison--a.k.a. Angola--as they train to be volunteers in the prison hospice.

The film includes scenes of dying patients; for parents thinking of watching this film with children, it's most appropriate for high schoolers and above.  Here are a few questions that can get you talking before/during/after the film:

1. Did this film change your perception of a maximum-security prison and/or of its prisoners?


2. If you were screening prisoners to determine who should be selected as hospice volunteers, what questions would you ask?


3. Do you think that inmates who work as hospice volunteers should have their sentences lessened?  


4. As the film asks, "Can [prisoners] claim redemption serving life?"


5. What do you think are the most valuable lessons the prisoners learn from working in a hospice?


6. Why do you think it is so important for "Boston" to tell his son that it was his (Boston's) fault that he ended up in prison?


7. If you haven't heard of hospice care before, research and read about a non-prison hospice.  How does it compare to Angola's hospice?


(Here, in an earlier post, are discussion questions for June's documentary: Sons of Perdition.) Read Full Post.

Discussion Questions -- Oprah's Documentary of the Month: "Sons of Perdition"

The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) has a documentary-of-the-month club.  Last night, as June's film, they premiered Sons of Perdition, "the story of polygamy's exiled youth."  (Note: This is entirely  different from Road to Perdition, the 2002 film by Tom Hanks.)  

Sons of Perdition is a 2010 documentary that tells the story of Sam, Bruce, and Joe, teenage boys who have run away from Warren Jeffs's polygamist Mormon sect.  They struggle to find jobs, schooling, and homes in the outside world while still trying to communicate with and liberate families members who still live under Jeffs's control in Colorado City.
For parents thinking of watching this film with children, it's most appropriate for high schoolers and above.  Here are a few questions that can get you talking before/during/after the film:
1. Can you think of any valid reasons to exile a teen from his home?
2. In what ways do you think these teens improved their lives by leaving the sect?  In what ways are their lives harder?
3. In one clip, Warren Jeffs says, "Walt Disney and the Care Bears and all the little creatures are lies" and are "frivolous" and "useless."  He says that children should hear truth.  What do you think about Jeffs's stance?
4. What do you think about Sam's decision not to be adopted?
5. If you haven't already, read about the Amish tradition of rumspringa, the period of time when Amish teens consider whether to join a non-Amish community.  How would an Amish teen's decision and exploration of "mainstream" society compare with the changes that these Mormon teens underwent?
Oprah's July film will be Serving Life, about an inmate-staffed hospice program inside a maximum security prison.  August is Life 2.0, about online interaction between users of the virtual computer world of Second Life.
 Read Full Post.