Parents, back off

Now here's a strange case. An eighth-grade science teacher in Kansas has been fired for creating a "sexually hostile environment."

On the face of it, that sounds as if it makes sense. Who wants a teacher harassing the kids — or even other teachers? But here's what the guy ostensibly was fired for:

"I drew Florida out of proportion," the teacher, Ryan Haraughty, told a Fox 4 reporter in Kansas City. "The kids ... jump all over stuff like that. 'Oh, Mr. Haraughty, Florida is all wrong!' OK, whatever. And not thinking, I said, 'Florida got excited.' And ... right after it, I'm thinking ... that was a bad move. But I decided I don't want to dwell on it."

Who would? It's dumb joke, not very appropriate, but who cares?

Well, one parent did. And now the beloved science teacher is out — a teacher whom hundreds of people showed up the other night to support.

Forget about whether the principal should have sided with the parent. For all we know, it all goes back to internal politics, and rumor has it school politics make Capitol Hill look like Thanksgiving at the Rockwells'. What's disturbing is the idea that parents think they can control every single thing their children see, hear and experience.

Somehow a conviction has grown up among a lot of parents that our kids should have childhoods unmarred by a single upset. This belief kicks in even before birth, when pregnant moms make sure they eat precisely the foods recommended by the experts. No cupcakes for them! (No Kahlua, either.) Baby needs a perfect diet.

The minute the baby pops out, parents are encouraged to turn the nursery into a spa, with baby wipe warmers (I kid you not) and mobiles that play womb sounds — which I think would only confuse the kids. "Wait — am I inside now or out?"

Next come the classes, toys and videos, all purchased in the hopes of conferring every enrichment actual riches can buy. And then comes school — and, with it, parental pushiness.

It's not that I don't think parents should be involved in their children's educations. I do. I am! But what we're forgetting is that part of education is dealing with life. And life is not always perfect.

When a teacher makes a comment that is a little shocking, would you really prefer a kid who couldn't deal? Or a kid who would laugh, shrug or maybe even feel a frisson of discomfort — but move on?

Ironically, it's quite possible that this child did move on. But after the child told Mom or Dad about the incident, the parent did not. That's because some parents are convinced not only that they can control their children's every experience but also that if they don't control it all — that if their kids get B's when they should have gotten B-pluses, say, or get picked last for tag or see movies that are too grown-up or hear words that are shocking or eventually don't get into the "right" colleges — all bets are off. The kids are hurt, perhaps irreparably.

I still remember when my friend's 80-year-old grandmother told me about the time some guy called her and her sister over to his car and showed them the real-world version of the science teacher's drawing of Florida. "We still laugh about that," she said.

Laugh? She didn't consider the experience traumatizing. It didn't become the defining moment of her life. It was a weird and obviously memorable event. But it did not throw her off forever.

We forget how resilient kids are. And when we attempt to engineer every moment, we forget that one of the things that makes them resilient is dealing with some difficulties.

One R-rated joke by a great science teacher is not going to ruin any kid's life. Growing up with a parent who thinks it will — that's another story.

Growing up without a great science teacher — that's another story, too.

Lenore Skenazy is the author of "Who's the Blonde That Married What's-His-Name? The Ultimate Tip-of-the-Tongue Test of Everything You Know You Know — But Can't Remember Right Now."E-mail

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