When Your Son Invents A Panopticon

Friday, 22 April 2016

My son asked me to teach him how to code to­day. Why? Because he wants to hack his MacBook into a ro­bot that will au­to­mat­i­cally keep a pub­lic tally of every person’s good and bad ac­tions. It will plug into a big box that has a list of all the ac­tions a per­son might do so we can see if a per­son is good or not.

I gen­er­al­ized the ethics of the re­quire­ments he gave me, and I think I talked him out of it.

My son’s school uses an app called ClassDojo to mi­cro­man­age stu­dent be­hav­ior. I get mul­ti­ple up­dates daily on how my kid is do­ing. Each stu­dent gets points added for good be­hav­ioral choices and points re­moved for poor ones. At first I thought this was cool, but now I think it is ter­ri­ble.

  1. It makes chil­dren think it is just fine for some­one to mon­i­tor their every ac­tion.
  2. It makes chil­dren think it is just fine for their every ac­tion to be as­signed a pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive value.
  3. It makes chil­dren think it is just fine for oth­ers to be able to see a list of the mer­its and de­mer­its they’ve re­ceived.
  4. It en­cour­ages con­fir­ma­tion bias.
  5. It treats sub­jec­tiv­ity as ob­jec­tive data.

I started to mi­cro­man­age him and ask him about his de­mer­its. I want him to suc­ceed — so I want to help. To er­ror-cor­rect. I’d praise for mer­its too, but the time spent on praise was not eq­ui­table. No one needs to mi­cro­man­age a sec­ond-grader. Elementary school chil­dren shouldn’t think that it’s okay for their every er­ror or suc­cess to be recorded and dis­trib­uted. They’re young, but they’re not too young to feel re­sent­ment to a sys­tem that seems ar­bi­trary and un­fair.

And then, de­cide to re­tal­i­ate by in­vent­ing their own panop­ti­con.

A Wetting

Monday, 28 July 2014

we are hidden inside 
while it thunders
when you call for me, in the three o'clock 
dark of my room, I roll off 
and curl fetal on the far side of the bed 
to test
your temper.

You come in, 
the dog's eyes are sharper 
but the sound of your voice
fills the room.

You run along my aggravate silence,
horse feet searching the house, the creak of
the family room floorboard, the bare 
slap on kitchen tile, the rattled shower 
curtain, a burst into the closet -

your timbre gains an edge of question.

The screen door crash as you check the porch,
that last spot,
just sheltered, where
after dark, we sometimes dull the day.

Now, I am a cruel 
hone even to your silence. From the rack you 
gather your jacket, sheathing thin 
bones, turn back outside.

I count your steps
watch your back
rise and reclaim you.

     Where were you going?
     To look for you.
     Were you worried?

          I tell him I will never leave him 
          a large lie to tell a small boy,
          who stood 
          looking for me, 
          foot-soaked in the downpour, 
          his hand upon the gate.

He Finally Hit The Ball!

Thursday, 10 July 2014

I signed Abraham up for the Old Brooklyn Youth League tee-ball league back in April. Due to an en­roll­ment mix-up he got put into a coach-pitch soft­ball team in­stead. More than a lit­tle bit out of his league. He’s been strug­gling a bit with the gross mo­tor de­mands and fo­cus nec­es­sary to play on the team, but he’s just barely 6, so no one re­ally cares — ex­cept for him. He’s been fight­ing against it be­cause sports aren’t very fun when you’re no good at them. It’s the same whin­ing I dealt with ear­lier in the year with re­gard to writ­ing. He just wants to not do it be­cause it is hard. He hasn’t yet in­ter­nal­ized that the more you prac­tice the less hard things be­come. So play­ing catch or bat­ting prac­tice have been more men­tal strug­gles than phys­i­cal ones.

The biggest ob­sta­cle for him has been hit­ting the ball. It’s not easy. Each time he’s been up to bat and struck out 123, he’s got­ten more and more down­cast. He struck out on his first at bat and didn’t want to leave. He wanted to keep swing­ing. His next at bat he de­cided to go out there left-handed, and his coach let him. Lo, and be­hold, he knocked a ball foul and ran to first base! He was so ex­cited. And then crushed and not un­der­stand­ing why he had to go back to the box. He re­fused to leave first, be­cause he’d earned that base, by gum! Then both teams & the spec­ta­tors be­gan cheer­ing for him and en­cour­ag­ing him to go back and swing again.  Of course, he struck out again, but every­one let him run the bases any­way. It was a great change. He was so happy, and started singing “I Love Baseball!”

The en­cour­age­ment from the coaches, both teams, and all the spec­ta­tors made me cry. I’m glad I was wear­ing sun­glasses. This league is about as non-com­pet­i­tive as you can get, all of the adults are fo­cused on mak­ing sure the kids have fun and learn about good sports­man­ship, ca­ma­raderie, and how to play the game.

Tonight when I put Abraham to sleep he said: “When we get up to­mor­row morn­ing, can we prac­tice base­ball?”

The Legend of Skeleton Bear

Sunday, 15 September 2013

I took the boy camp­ing this week­end. Made up a ghost story about Skeleton Bear the first night, and fol­lowed up the sec­ond night with an origin story. Spent the in­ter­ven­ing time search­ing Salt Fork State Park for the afore­men­tioned Skeleton Bear. We didn’t talk about or search for The Grassman, be­cause sasquatch sto­ries are a dime a dozen and played out.

The Story

About 100 years ago there were tons of bears around here, and they were all the kind of bears that minded their own busi­ness and didn’t cause any trou­ble un­less some­one brought it with them. They ate fish and berries, lived in caves, and searched for honey. One day a hunter named Hosak came to the area and killed a bear. He took the bear’s skin to sell it at a store and he ate the bear’s meat. When he got to the store, the store­keeper and the shop­pers were all shocked that the hunter Hosak had killed a bear. They asked him why and he told them that bears were vi­cious, mean, dan­ger­ous an­i­mals. He fright­ened the peo­ple so much that every­one started hunt­ing bears. They would kill bears and use their skins for rugs, and put their heads on plaques on the wall. They would eat the bear meat and leave the bones on the ground.

This con­tin­ued for many years un­til all the bears had been killed ex­cept one. This bear was the nicest bear in all the forest, and would re­turn miss­ing camp stakes to the tents of campers, gen­tly rub­bing the side of the tent and say­ing “You can call me Bear, I’ve brought back your tent peg.” Despite be­ing the nicest bear in all the forest, she was sad and a lit­tle an­gry be­cause she didn’t un­der­stand why all of her bear friends were be­ing killed. The son of the orig­i­nal hunter was now a young man and de­cided that he and his dad would find this bear, kill it, and rid the land of bears forever. The son even said “I’ll take the bear’s bones and tie them to­gether in the front of Hosak’s Hall so every­one will know who killed the last bear!

The hunter’s son and the hunter Hosak went out into the woods, scat­ter­ing tent pegs as they went. They set up camp and de­ter­mined to stay awake all night un­til the bear re­turned the tent pegs. They stayed up the first night, but the bear didn’t come. They man­aged to stay up the sec­ond night as well, but the bear didn’t come. On the third night, af­ter two days with­out sleep, they could barely keep their eyes open, but, just be­fore dawn they heard a gen­tle rustling on the side of the tent and heard: “You can call me Bear, I’ve brought back your tent peg.”

They hunter Hosak and his son jumped out of their tent with their guns and said “Ha! We’ve got you bear! We’re go­ing to kill you and tie your bones to­gether in our Hosak’s Hall, so every­one will know we killed the last bear!” And they shot the nicest bear in all the forest. Before the bear died it said: “A curse on your kind! There’s enough life left in my bones to get re­venge! You’ll see!” And the nicest bear in all the forest died.

The hunter Hosak and his son skinned the bear and re­moved the meat, and only took the bones with them back to Hosak’s Hall. They tied them to­gether in the shape of the bear and cov­ered it with an old tent. Then they in­vited all the peo­ple in the area to a party to see the bones of the nicest bear in the forest. They all came to Hosak’s Hall and ate lots of food, and drank lots of beer and were ap­pro­pri­ately im­pressed when the hunter Hosak and his son told their story and un­veiled the bear skele­ton. Some of the peo­ple were sad that all the bears were dead, es­pe­cially the nicest bear in all the forest, but they kept these feel­ings to them­selves.

All of the peo­ple in­vited to the party went home. A few weeks went by and they re­al­ized that no one had heard from the hunter Hosak or his son. Another few weeks went by and they de­cided to send a po­lice­man to check on them. When the po­lice­man got to the place where Hosak’s Hall had been, he didn’t find it. Instead he found a big cave with a bee’s hive hang­ing in front of it, and no sign there had ever been a house, a hunter named Hosak, or his son. Out from the dim­ness of the cave a sham­bling bear emerged. But this bear was only bones! The po­lice­man ran away and Hosak’s Hall be­came known as Hosak’s Cave, Lair of the Skeleton Bear.

Soon af­ter this, campers started dis­ap­pear­ing. Their tents were found clawed apart but there was no other sign of what might have hap­pened to them. People started whis­per­ing about the curse of the Skeleton Bear, and it was said that when the bear came to your tent it would ask “Does any­one call you Bear?” If the per­son an­swered “no”, the bear would kill them fast. If the per­son an­swered “yes”, but was ly­ing, the bear would kill them slow. If the per­son an­swered “yes”, and was telling the truth, Skeleton Bear would leave them in peace.

One day a new group of hunters laid a trap for Skeleton Bear. When the bear came to the tent, it ex­ploded with dy­na­mite and de­stroyed all the bones. But the next night, Skeleton Bear came back and de­stroyed the hunters. It’s said that no mat­ter how many times Skeleton Bear is de­stroyed, as long as there are bones in the forest from an­other bear killed by hunters, it will re­turn to seek vengeance.

Some Context

I wanted to tell the boy a story that would scare him a bit, but make it so that, in the end, he felt safe and con­fi­dent enough to sleep. The first night, I told him about how Skeleton Bear at­tacks the campers, and since I’ve been call­ing the lit­tle guy “Bear” since he was smaller than a small one, if the Skeleton Bear came to our tent in the night, he could hon­estly an­swer the ques­tion and be safe. The next day we wan­dered around the park look­ing for Skeleton Bear, and while we were on a bri­dle trail I con­vinced him that fal­len trees had been crashed by Skeleton Bear, that the horse dung was from Skeleton Bear, etc. By the time we got to Hosak’s Cave, he was reach­ing his own con­clu­sions. We got back to camp and he lost a tent peg, that I later found and pock­eted. I laid the origin story on him by the fire that night and put the tent peg by his shoes where he might find it in the morn­ing. He did, of course, and is con­vinced that there’s still a lit­tle bit of good in Skeleton Bear some­where.

And he’s not scared at all.

High Fives for Highlights High Five

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

My mom bought a Highlights High Five sub­scrip­tion for Abraham a few years ago. He loves it, and I make sure to leave it in the mail­box for his re­trieval each time a new is­sue ar­rives. Reading to Abraham is al­ways great fun, but I am quite con­scious of how dif­fi­cult it is to find books that fea­ture father/​child in­ter­ac­tion. The per­cent­age is ter­ri­bly small rel­a­tive to books with moms in them. Once upon a time I Asked Metafilter for rec­om­men­da­tions of books with heav­ily fea­tured fa­thers, and re­ceived quite a few great ti­tles that I’ve since added to our li­brary.

In the two years Abraham has had his High Five sub­scrip­tion, I no­ticed a sim­i­lar trend and fi­nally de­cided to write a let­ter to the ed­i­tor about it. It went much bet­ter than I ex­pected. Our ex­change is be­low, shared with her per­mis­sion.


My 4 year old son and I look for­ward with great an­tic­i­pa­tion to re­ceiv­ing our monthly sub­scrip­tion to High Five. He im­me­di­ately tears out all of the lit­tle ads just like I did with my Highlights sub­scrip­tion when I was his age. At first his fa­vorite sec­tion was the hid­den pic­tures (again, just like me), but now as he’s start­ing to read a bit, he en­joys Tex and Indi the most.

Your mag­a­zine helps provide a lot of fun, ed­u­ca­tional, qual­ity time with my boy. As a sin­gle par­ent, I try to max­i­mize those at­trib­utes when we play to­gether. Thank you so much for the ex­cel­lent work you and your staff do each month.

There’s only one as­pect of the magazine’s con­tent that both­ers me: the dis­tinct lack of in­volved dads in most is­sues. In the most cur­rent is­sue (October 2012) there are only two pages (12, 16) with a fa­ther present. In con­trast, moth­ers and fe­male fig­ures are in­volved in much of the rest of this is­sue (pp. 2, 4, 7 – 8, 13, 20, 22 – 23, 26, 30) and most oth­ers. I make a dis­tinc­tion be­tween “pres­ence” and “in­volve­ment” here, be­cause when fa­thers ap­pear in your mag­a­zine, they’re of­ten not ac­tively en­gaged with car­ing and learn­ing with the chil­dren. For ex­am­ple, in the cur­rent is­sue, the Papa squir­rel on page 16 is just be­ing watched by the child squir­rel, they aren’t bury­ing nuts to­gether.

This is not an is­sue that af­fects your mag­a­zine alone; I have a heck of a time find­ing children’s books that fea­ture father/​child in­ter­ac­tion as well.

I think if you be­gin to in­clude more in­volved dads in your mag­a­zine you will provide an ex­am­ple to all chil­dren that dads can be in­volved in their kid’s lives. Additionally, you will be teach­ing lit­tle boys that they can and should be in­volved with their own chil­dren one day.

It might be nice to start with Tex and Indi’s dad. I as­sumed their mom was a sin­gle par­ent for quite a few is­sues un­til dad made a brief ap­pear­ance.

I’d be happy to cor­re­spond with you fur­ther in this re­gard and the boy and I are al­ready ea­gerly await­ing the November is­sue.


Adam Harvey

A few days later I re­ceived this re­sponse:

Dear Adam,

Thank you so much for writ­ing. I’m pleased to hear that you and your son are en­joy­ing High Five. And I’m sorry that since you’ve been sub­scrib­ing, you’ve no­ticed a lack of fa­thers in our sto­ries.

I can tell you that in November, Dad helps Tex and Indi make the Thanksgiving stuff­ing, and in the verse a mom and a dad and their son help make a pump­kin pie. Then, in December, in the English/​Spanish story, a lit­tle girl goes out in the snow with her Dad. There’s no in­di­ca­tion that there is a Mom in that story. We also pub­lish sto­ries about Bert and Beth who live with their grand­fa­ther. We do try to make sure that all kids see them­selves re­flected in the pages of our mag­a­zine, and that in­cludes dif­fer­ent types of fam­i­lies.

But I’m also very glad to have heard from you. Your let­ter prompted me to swap out a Mom and re­place her with a Dad in a story that will ap­pear in early spring. It’s al­ways good to be re­minded — so thanks for tak­ing the time to write.



What a great re­sponse! I half-ex­pected some sort of form let­ter, but in­stead I re­ceived thought­ful­ness, un­der­stand­ing, and speci­fic ex­am­ples ad­dress­ing my is­sue. And the ic­ing on the cake is a lit­tle bit more “dad” in the mag­a­zine. It’s nice to know that Highlights still has the best in­ter­ests of chil­dren at heart. This re­sponse even mit­i­gates the nearly un­for­giv­able fact that they never did pub­lish my Ram Bo Jackson draw­ing that I sent in when I was 8.

April Photo Update

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Abraham and Adam Harvey - Photo taken by Becca Riker on 26 April 2011.

Abraham turned the bucket into a hat on his own. Photo by Becca Riker.

Whiskey Island

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

On the first day
we're free to be together,
on a beach that won't be sand
anytime soon,
I'm sifting
weathered bits of glass
from the scree.

A shadow beside me, you pick
at pebbles.

     We hunker

from the last lift
presses air
each leaf
on Whiskey Island.

     Your eyes turn into Adam's
     at his first sight of Creation-
          and you've heard the sound
          of the Lord God walking
          in the garden.

          I bear you toward it
          swift as
          His Breath.

We almost miss the freighter,
but I hoist you
up and we crest
the last hill
to watch a tug struggle
to true the Calumet's bow.

     At this moment
     you first learn what
     Boats Are.

At last
her prop begins
to churn and
as she greets the wide lake, you

carried on my shoulders
to the mouth of the Cuyahoga.

This poem has been sim­mer­ing for nearly a year now, and the day that in­spired it will al­ways be spe­cial to me. I was very con­cerned that it not be mawk­ish or cliché. I’m still not con­vinced I made it work, and I think it could still use some pol­ish, es­pe­cially clar­i­fi­ca­tion of sub­jects & ob­jects. Since it has been sim­mer­ing so long, I fig­ure I’d bet­ter pub­lish it be­fore I never pub­lish it. Thanks to Steve Goldberg & Milenko Budimir for the work­shop help.