Posted by: Ticktock | August 29, 2009

Baby With the Bathwater

I recently found out that a friend of mine is entangled in the vaccine-autism controversy. We discovered, after a long talk, that we approach the issue from opposite perspectives and different conclusions. While I don’t want to list the details of our conversation, or his circumstances, I do want to explore a dilemma that I encountered while we were debating at the bar.

We noticed that the bar we frequent is hosting a benefit for autism, which prompted our discussion on the topic. After we shared our interest in the benefit to our waitress, she called on the general manager to visit our table. He told us that the money is going to multiple charities representing all sides of the autism community, including Jenny McCarthy’s organization Generation Rescue. He also admitted that he is inviting Jenny to come speak at the rally. The man is very ambitious, going so far as to purchase a half million dollar custom motorcycle from Orange County Choppers to sell at the silent auction.

Here’s my dilemma: at what point does my opposition to the antivaccine tactics of Jenny McCarthy and Generation Rescue cloud my judgment on whether to participate in this charitable event? Should I ignore the fact that Generation Rescue will be one of many beneficiaries of the money, or should I be so bothered by their inclusion that I speak out against the entire event?

On the same note, but different topic. Have any of you considered putting your children in a private religious school, despite your lack of faith? What if your only other choice was a public school known for gang violence and poor grades? What if the private religious school was far better, but it was also extremely expensive? Would paying for religious education make the decision that much harder?

If you haven’t guessed. I may have to deal with the last question some day. The topic has been on my mind lately, as I’ve been deciding where to send Sasha to pre-school.




  1. I’ve actually been thinking about your last question as my oldest son approaches school-age. It comes down to whether I want my child to have a good education in a homogeneous environment or a decent education in a diverse environment. I am opting for diversity, personally. Aside from being the product of public schools (and I think I turned out pretty well) and the offspring of two public school teachers, I am a big advocate of public schools, and I have no problems whatsoever supplementing my child’s education at home if necessary in order to give him a good, well-rounded, diverse childhood.

  2. Jenny McCarthy and Generation Rescue are going to kill kids by opposing vaccination. No money of mine would go to them and I would oppose any fundraiser that embraced them.

    I don’t just get the flu shot to protect me – I get it because it helps protect my friend and students who can’t get it because they are allergic to eggs.

    I am at the tail end of the age group that had smallpox vaccinations. My parents had to jump through hoops to get me in school because I can’t have the vaccination due to atopic and contact dermatitis. I worry that the backlash from this movement will make it difficult for those with legitimate medical problems to enter school.

  3. I could never send my daughter to a religious school. It would be one thing if religious schools just taught their side and admitted that it is a belief and not fact. My youngest brother (age 5) is in Catholic school and my parents are very frustrated because they recently did away with kindergarten science project because they don’t have time during the day for them. They also took away morning recess. The school did add 90 minute mass in the morning and 30 minute silent prayer after lunch. It seems silly to take away important parts of a child’s education in order to facilitate belief in a deity.
    I do support any one who is researching cures/causes and trying to find a way to help families with autism. This said, if Jenny McCarthy was the only person this event supported, then I could understand your boycott. If you can’t move past your disagreements with her and support all the other charities that this event hopes to support; then speak out against it and refuse to attend. But if you are looking for answers then why not make a list of questions for her and bring up your concerns at the event?

  4. I think the thing to consider in your patronage of the charity event is; will it do more good to the cause of fighting autism or to the anti vax cause. Perhaps a good compromise would be to speak openly at the event about the falsities being spread by Generation Rescue. In this way not only would your money and effort be going to a worthy cause but you would also have the chance to get the word to some people whom do not realize their time is going not only to a worthy cause, but also to help partial fuel a toxic pack of lies. Then again this also hinges on your being a rather gregarious and out going individual.
    To the second piece of your blog I would rather send my child to public schools, even if they have poor test scores, than submit them to a religious education. It has been my experience that the time you spend with your child supplementing their education is a far better investment than any amount of money spent to immersing them in a program.
    Additionally my soon to be five year old daughter recently transitioned from a preschool (which was for all intents and purposes secular in nature) to a public kindergarten program. It was during this time that my daughter became rather vocal about the things that she missed from her previous school; going for a full six hours rather than the 3.5 she now attends, nap time, and something most distressing “Praying with Ms Xxxx”. Both her mother and myself are atheists and have been rather distressed about her assertions of late that “god put her in mommy’s tummy” and that “jesus loves her very much”. I am embarrassed to say both of us had assumed much of this was coming from our respective parents (her grandparents are ardent Christians on both sides) and her recent push for autonomy. In discussing it further I found out that several of her teachers were answering elementary science questions with old testament logic. Perhaps it is naive of me, but at this point I would rather have my child educated at a place sanctioned as secular by the constitution than at a place that is under no such obligation. At least if I found out that this was going on at a public school I would have a right to demand that it end immediately rather than the fruitless discussion I have with her previous educators.

  5. I went to one of those so-called ‘bad’ schools (here in the UK) and came out with excellent grades. The school itself means nothing in my opinion, it’s all to do with how involved the parents are. You could send your daughter to the best school in the world and she’ll still do badly if there’s no interest at home in her education, and vice versa.

  6. Diversity for its own sake is overrated. Just by going to school your kid will be exposed to many different people that they’ve never been exposed to before… it will take time to get used to that and start worrying about whether there is adequate mixing of SES and under-privileged minorities (as if there was nothing to gain from being exposed to asian, jewish, and indian/ pakistani minorities with their traditions of valuing education and work).
    The key thing is whether your kid’s intelligence will be supported in the classroom. If they’re at the top or bottom of the bell-curve, the teacher will have a hard time dealing with them. If they’re more in the middle, then the curriculum will be more targeted towards them and they’ll be happier while they’re at school (as opposed to being bored or overwhelmed all day)

  7. I firmly believe that McCarthy’s closed minded approach makes her a very dull, annoying person. However, having someone so opinionated and well know has drummed up an awareness of autism in almost every household. This has also provided some energy to the search for understanding if for no other reason than to prove her wrong. Like most diseases autism can be easy to disregard if you are not directly effected by it. And like the Radical Right can be a useful motivator of the Left it should be deemed possible that McCarthy could be considered a “necessary evil” spurring debate and keeping autism it at the front of our minds.

    I think that the best way to help the fight against autism is to inform people that there is more to the answer than McCarthy’s doctrine and that public support of research is critical. The high road is to take the good and speak out against the bad but if that is not the road for you then it is definitely not worth the increase in blood pressure!

    My wife attended catholic school for that reason and the ridicule she received definitely did a number on her. Remember part of the religion is to convert the non-believers (a big part of my problem with most religions) this can cause some serious passive-aggressive behavior in kids. I spent 5 beaten down years in Episcopal school that gave me a huge edge when I went to public high school. We are both contributing adults not dependent on therapy. I too am facing the same problem but I think we have decided that physical safety is the most important factor.

  8. I’m currently sending my children to a Lutheran school. I also volunteer at the school and the associated church. Needless to say, this has led to some interesting conversations with the head pastor. Whom, to his credit, didn’t kick me or the children out of the organization.

    The decision was based more on the quality of the education and less on the religious aspects of this school. Class size, teachers, emphasis on learning all subjects, not just bible class, were contributing factors in our decision to utilize a private Lutheran school over public schools. Standardized test scores, reading levels and grades have all provide proof that our decision was a sound one.

    Ironically, while I have moved firmly atheist in beliefs, my wife has become significantly more religious. It can make for interesting dinner conversations, especially around the children. I hope my children will be smart enough to see through the hypocrisies of religion when they are older. Ultimately I really don’t mind them experiencing religion at this time. I think this school does a good job of providing a moral grounding that can be built upon later in life. Personally, I believe that parenting is all about creating a valuable, contributing, and moral member of society. Leave out the worst of the “miracles and fish stories” and you have decent guide to treating your fellow man fairly and with respect. If my children take nothing more than that away from their schooling, I would consider it a worthwhile exercise.

  9. My son went to Lutheran preschools since there were really no secular preschool options. That had it’s own issues, as science is very much a topic for discussion in our household (see for my wife’s article about a little science vs. religion in the 5-year-old’s life)

    Now that he’s in kindergarten, he’s in the public schools, along with his big sister, which is where they’ll stay.

    I agree with those above who have said that parental involvement is incredibly more important than some school’s rating. A student with involved parents can do very well (and I don’t just mean good *grades*, but actually *learning*) in pretty much any school.

    There *is* the issue, as you get into middle school (though elementary schools are not immune) of dangerous schools, dangerous kids, etc. But in terms of simply education, I would suspect that parental involvement is a much more important factor than the actual school attended.

  10. I’d approach the autism benefit dilemma by looking at risk/benefit ratios, if possible. How is the money to be divided? How many, and what other orgs are participating? Who else will speak, and are they likely to provide a counter to Jenny M’s misinformation?

    As for religious schools, I think it depends on just “how” religious the school is, and how much time you’re willing to invest in monitoring things and discussing them with Sasha.

    My daughter’s otherwise wonderful preschool requested permission to give her “homeopathic remedies”–which I declined, but opted not to make an issue of. I told them they could offer her hugs and a drink of water or some such for her “owies” but no telling her she’s getting “medicine.” The teacher also believes in astrology (she does a “chart” on each incoming child.) Don’t know how much is discussed in class, but since she’s only in preschool I’m not going to worry about it much. If it were an older grade, I would think twice about the school, or maybe treat it as a learning experience–a good entree for introducing her to critical thinking concepts.

  11. I vote NO at the fundraiser; if there’s no way to influence the general manager into staying with less controversial groups, I would politely decline to participate and be upfront about why if asked.

    As far as the public/private school debate, I have mixed opinions. I support public schools and that’s where my kids go. But I have relatives that sent their daughter to a Catholic school because of the terrible public school in her area, and they were Atheists. My relatives did a good job of educating her on the history of religion , and the school actually had a pretty good science program (no evolution debate there).

    So if there is a real gang / thug culture, not just hype, private may be a better move. But I think Most public schools have more programs and resources for students and parents than private schools. Either way, plan on being very involved.

  12. Talk to the guy again, and see if you can direct your donation to those charities you approve of. Perhaps even speak at the event and suggest others do the same.

  13. If you could only give money to a political candidate you endorsed if you gave the same amount to their opposition, would you bother?

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