Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | November 18, 2005

Puh-lease: Homework, Girls Inc.

It’s time for another periodic roundup of news that makes me roll my eyes, shake my head, and utter a two-syllable “puh-lease.”

First is the debate about homework that was sparked by a letter to the editor asking teachers to assign less homework. That letter was followed, predictably, by a letter from a teacher defending homework.

The reason the “more or less” homework debate has me shaking my head is that it misses the point entirely.

To me, the debate should be about how much homework is right for each individual student. Yes, this is a lot harder to do, but it’s the right thing to do. Inappropriate homework levels are one factor, I imagine, that drive some parents to homeschooling.

If your kid is struggling with multiplication tables, then the teacher should provide more math homework. If your child nails math but struggles with reading, then that’s the area to concentrate that child’s homework. If a student has science facts down cold, there’s no reason to drill them.

It’s not cookie cutter, it’s not as easy as one-size-fits-all homework assignments, but it’s the way it ought to be.

Speaking of cookie cutters, they’re not good for homework or for politics. But that point is apparently lost on two conservative groups who are protesting, can you believe it, American Girl.

News of this bone-headed protest has me shaking my head in disbelief. Who could possibly be upset with American Girl? Well, it turns out that two conservative groups, Mississippi-based American Family Association and Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League are encouraging their supporters to protest American Girl’s sale of I Can wristbands and are threatening, just before Christmas shopping is in full swing, I note, a boycott. You’d think conservatives would love the history-themed, values-filled, patriotic dolls, books, and games made by American Girl.

What’s objectionable about the I Can wristbands? Seventy cents of the one dollar price of each I Can wristband goes to a group called Girls Inc., which according to its Web site, is a “national nonprofit youth organization dedicated to inspiring all girls to be strong, smart, and bold. With roots dating to 1864, Girls Inc. has provided vital educational programs to millions of American girls, particularly those in high-risk, underserved areas. … Major programs address math and science education, pregnancy and drug abuse prevention, media literacy, economic literacy, adolescent health, violence prevention, and sports participation.”

But that’s not what has these groups’ knickers in a knot. According to the Associated Press, “Girls Inc. also supports a girl’s right to have access to contraception and pledges support for girls dealing with issues of sexual orientation.”

Apparently, we’re supposed to ignore all the good that Girls Inc. does, and discount the importance having American Girl products as an alternative to the Barbie-type dolls that tell girls that having impossible figures, that what you wear and how you look are critical, because a nonprofit organization that’s helped millons of girls doesn’t completely match these groups’ narrow-minded political agendas.

Puh-lease.

As soon as I read the AP story on Friday, I called American Girl and ordered 20 I Can wristbands, and told them I was doing so specifically to counter the eye-roll inducing protest. The customer service representative with whom I spoke told me she had received so many negative calls that day that she had lost count. She was very grateful for a positive call.

What will I do with 20 wristbands? I don’t know, decorate the Christmas tree, make a fashion statement by wearing them all at once, hang them all over my daughter’s room. Heck, I might even order a couple score more. In the meantime, I’ve also made a donation directly to Girls Inc. and bought some T-shirts and other gear featuring their “Strong, Smart and Bold” motto from their Web site. They’ll look great with my I Can wristbands.

I’m also buying American Girl products for every little girl on my holiday shopping list.

I guess I ought to thank the protesters for making me aware of a wonderful charity with which I was unfamiliar. But, based on my conversation with that downtrodden customer service rep, I suspect my small efforts won’t be a drop in the bucket compared to the endeavors of these two well-organized but misguided conservative groups.

If you or your daughter, granddaughter, niece, sister or friend loves or loved American Girl, I have a request. No puh-lease, a genuine please: Please join me in trying to prevent this preposterous protest from harming a company and a charity that do so much good.

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