Monday Morning Open Thread

Good morning, MTs. I know I previously posted a bit about a homeschooling mother whose daughter dropped out to go to public school, and apologies for posting on the subject again, but I enjoyed this feature in Salon about another family’s experience with homeschooling.

At the risk of gross generalization, there’s a hierarchy of responses when you drop the home-school bomb in conversation. Childless men don’t much care; the question is too remote from their consciousness. Childless women are often curious and even intrigued; the question is hypothetical but possesses a certain allure as a thought experiment. As for men with children, they may or may not be sympathetic, but they don’t experience the subject as a personal affront. Let’s be honest: It’s almost always mothers who react defensively when the subject comes up, as if our personal decision not to send our kids to public school contained an implicit judgment of whatever different choices they may have made.

As I say, I understand this a little bit better than I did at first. For one thing, I’m not sure any man can really grasp the competing and largely incompatible demands faced these days by American women, who are expected to be providers, power brokers, nurturers and sex symbols, either all at the same time or in rapid succession. Whether they’re working-class or middle-class, most working mothers feel fundamentally torn between home and the workplace. They get shunted into mommy-track careers if they seem insufficiently devoted to their corporate overlords while getting grief from mothers-in-law for not spending enough time with the kids. They’re doing the best they can and it’s not that much fun, and the last thing they want to hear is somebody telling them, in effect, that they must have missed the latest memo on hip 21st-century motherhood: You’re supposed to quit your job and spend your days reading your kids “Oliver Twist”! Home schooling is the new black!

I like the fact that O’Hehir is careful to couch his family’s decision in “this works for us“ language and acknowledges that there are several financial, philosophical and professional reasons why the homeschooling choice works so well for himself and his wife. I’m glad homeschooling is working well for O’Hehir, his wife and their 5-year-old twins. For me, though, I’m still sticking with the public school and “afterschooling“ path that so many have discussed here before – supplementing Jess’s education with at home activities, just as we’ve done all along.

As the UK nears its next election cycle (in which PM Gordon Brown and his Labour Party are widely expected to lose badly, ending more than a decade of the party’s rule), rumors are making the circuit that Brown’s deteriorating eyesight my force (or appear to force) him from office. But the BBC is in hot water for taking health speculation a step further, asking PM Brown if he’s on anti-depressants.

LABOUR chiefs are furious with the BBC after Andrew Marr questioned Gordon Brown about his health in a television interview.

A senior Labour source accused the corporation of allowing itself to be used in a smear campaign, after suggestions that the Prime Minister was taking antidepressants were put to him on the Andrew Marr Show on BBC One.

Downing Street had denied the claims two weeks ago when they first appeared on political websites and Mr Brown appeared surprised when Mr Marr put them to him.

The Prime Minister rebuffed suggestions that he might use deteriorating eyesight as an excuse to leave Downing Street before the next election and said that a recent annual check-up had shown that his vision was good. Mr Brown lost the sight of his left eye after a rugby accident when he was 16.

Marr said that he wanted to ask “something everybody has been talking about in the Westminster village … A lot of people in this country use prescription painkillers and pills to help them get through. Are you one of them?”

The Prime Minister said: “No. I think this is the sort of questioning which is all too often entering the lexicon of British politics.” When Marr asked again, Mr Brown said that he had already answered the question.

I have a lot of reactions to this story: firstly, if it’s true, Brown certainly wouldn’t be the first PM to struggle with depression while in office – Winston Churchill famously struggled with what he called the “black dog“, and medicated himself with alcohol. So seeking to stigmatize Brown with the same disease that the hero Churchill had is insulting to both. Secondly, though, if it’s true, I’d hope that Brown would acknowledge it in some way, because mental illness still needs to be de-mystified and frankly, is it all that unthinkable that a man saddled with a.) failing eyesight; b.) pulling his country out of its massive financial and economic crisis; and c.) the prospect of losing his first election as PM and putting his party in opposition might not be in the best condition at the moment?

On a lighter note, one of my favourite actors, Cate Blanchett, is going from strength to strength in her tenure as co-artistic-director of the Sydney Theatre Company (her husband, Andrew Upton, is the other co-artistic-director). The STC have just had a sell-out run of “A Streetcar Named Desire“ and next year will put on Uncle Vanya, with La Cate starring along with John Bell, Richard Roxburgh and Hugo Weaving (oooooh, Huuuuuuugo), according to this article in The Australian.

“Good Chekhov is like being at an amazing dinner party, and I’d want to sit at a table with all of those men,” Blanchett said of her co-stars.

I honestly don’t know how she manages her career, the STC and three children, but congratulations to her! I’m seriously considering a weekend getaway to Sydney for this one, but I don’t know if DH will want to go along. Hmmmmm….

Of course, this is an open thread. What’s up with you?


Let’s Talk About Sex

Via Salon Broadsheet: While here in the United States we are discussing whether or not sex education should be taught in public schools, in the UK health officials are concerned sex ed does not cover enough ground.

The Centre for HIV and Sexual Health at NHS Sheffield just released a pamphlet for professionals to teach teenagers about the pleasures of sex. For example, the booklet encourages masturbation and teaching students about the functions of different private parts like the clitoris as opposed to just mentioning the vagina.

Health experts quoted in the NHS newsletter say students who are able to have honest and open discussions about sex with adults are most likely to wait and/or use a condom when they do engage.

Natika Halil, director of information at sexual health organisation FPA, adds that sex and relationships education should not just give young people the biological facts about sex, but discuss relationships.

Some faith-based groups are notorious for their opposition to booklets that discuss sex and young people. But Rachel Gardner, a Christian youth worker who is also creative director of the Romance Academy, an organisation that encourages young people to delay sex, says: “We welcome any publication that seeks to encourage open and honest discussion with young people and is both relationship positive as well as sex positive.”

Health officials in the UK are looking for ways to enhance sex education as the country boasts the highest teen pregnancy rate in Europe. Still, the United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrial world, according to, and sex education even in the biological sense is inconsistent to non-existent.

What say you about the UK’s tactics to teach teens about sex?


Midday Coffee Break

What’s up?

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill — along party lines — to give federal employees four weeks of paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child, according to Salon Broadsheet. Republican Pete Sessions of Texas sarcastically said, “Maybe we just ought to let federal employees take 16 years off.” Whatever. If the bill clears the Senate, President Barack Obama is expected to sign it into law.  

In somewhat related news, employers in England are laying off women in pregnancy or on maternity leave at an alarming rate that it has set off a barrage of discrimination lawsuits, according to the Guardian.

Here is some welcomed news: A large study published in the New England Journal of Medicine has found that women who take the anti-nausea drug Metoclopramide for morning sickness do not risk harm to their babies, according to the Associated Press.

Texas has become a minority-majority state due to the explosion of Hispanics in the border towns, according to the Laredo Morning Times.

In other news from Texas: Homeschooling parents and child protection advocates are at odds over a child abuse bill in the state legislature, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?