Free museums no favor to us Under the guise of doing Chicagoans a favor, four of the city's venerable museums are instead doing what we consider a disservice.

The Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, Adler Planetarium and the Museum of Science of Industry are taking their mandatory summer free days and putting them into one week-June 8-13. Admission will be free all week.

They say it's a favor for Chicago residents. But we're not grateful-a full week of free museums admissions while our kids still are in school doesn't feel like a favor to us.

The museums, which sit on land owned by the Chicago Park District-therefore, owned by us, the taxpayers-are required to offer free admission 52 days a year. That used to mean one free day a week. But the museums lobbied for more flexibility in the law. Three years ago they got it. Now, they still have to offer free admission 52 days a year, but only six of them in the summer. This week in June fulfills that obligation.

This, museum officials say, means Chicagoans have one week free without the crush of summer crowds, and the city still gets the revenue normally lost when tourists arrive, ready to pay, only to find a freebie.

At its heart, we think that's what this is really all about: money.

If they wanted to do us a favor, they would have found another week-the last week in August, perhaps?-when tourism is down, but the kids haven't yet returned to school.

These museums don't want to forego tourists' cash. Fine. But don't dress it up as a favor for us.

Lessons to be learned from hazing There is already a lot that has been said about the Glenbrook North High School girls powder puff football game. The game between senior and junior girls, played off campus, erupted into brutal violence.

Some call it hazing, others call it assault.

Some say the fact it was caught on tape and could be broadcast over and over, blew the incident out of proportion, and made it fuel for our prurient, voyeuristic television-viewing habits.

Some say it speaks to our racial divide because we virtually ignore the violence girls face everyday due to gangs. But when the violence involves Northbrook girls, it gets national attention. Why? Because gang girls are mostly African American or Hispanic, not "our" white, middle-class, advantaged girls.

But for us, the brutality of the beatings also points to a brutal truth: This can happen to any of our children and is probably more common these days than we think.

"This is just another form of bullying-mob bullying," says Anne Parry, violence prevention director for Chicago's Department of Public Health. "If bullying is not attended to in the younger years it develops into more violence and sexual harassment, domestic violence and even homicide."

Parry says probably no one is more surprised at what happened than the girls themselves. They probably never though anyone would get hurt.

And while the girls, their parents, the community and the school still have to figure out how this happened and the consequences, it is the latest outbreak in an epidemic of violence that public health officials such as former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher have been warning us about for years.

It's a public health crisis we have ignored because, unlike other diseases, we look at violence as something that happens to someone else, something to be dealt with by police.

But the roots of violence are planted at an early age. Some of it involves children who have witnessed violent acts. Violence begets violence. Some of it is in the violent messages children absorb in movies, music, games and TV.

But some of it is as simple as what children see day-to-day-in the routine ways we react to and treat one another. How many kids do you see slug each other or jump on one another? Just play, right? It's physical expressions of emotions-be it joy, anger or frustration-and it's the norm, says Parry.

We give it tacit approval. But we can do something. Start small. Talk to your children. Don't turn your back on playground shoving, bullying or name calling. Step in and teach children to unravel anger with words and calm.

Parry also suggests parents look at family dynamics and ask hard questions: How do we talk to one another? Do we tolerate bullying but dismiss it as "just teasing?" Do we allow gossip or derogatory jokes at family parties? What do we say when another driver cuts us off? What do we yell during our kid's sporting events?

Compassion and empathy have to be carefully taught. They don't just happen. We can do our part by examining the messages our actions and words send to children-who absorb everything.

Kids Eat Chicago

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