Blogs Are Stupid

Doesn't anyone believe in Dear Diary anymore? What happened to the joy of putting actual pen to paper? And why does every ordinary Jane and John think they can write well enough to burden the world with their scribblings? It’s a mystery that badly needs solving. My first entry contains my thoughts about blogging and will set your expectations. The rest will probably be stream of consciousness garbage, much like you’ll find on any other blog. Perhaps we will both come away enlightened.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

One Epic Rant About Public School

This week is Spring Break for my kids.

Are we in Florida basking in the sun? Are we soaking up history in Pennsylvania or D.C.? Are we taking a family road trip and marvelling at things like the biggest ball of yarn or silos painted like ears of corn?

No. What we are doing is preparing for the CRCT.

Why? Well, because apparently, his teacher can't be bothered to actually, you know...teach.

Well, no, that's not a fair statement. Anybody child who grasps concepts the very first time they are taught and who loves worksheets with a white hot passion is sure to thrive in her classroom.

Diminutive One's struggle has been going on all year. Really, it has been going on since he entered school, but I blamed it on bad teachers and a stubborn streak a mile wide. In first grade, he had a TERRIBLE teacher. She was old and grouchy and impatient. She didn't like him and he didn't like her. She did ridiculous things like refuse to let him go to the bathroom and punish him for not completing his work by taking away his recess time.

She set him back an entire year. He shut down and just refused to put forth any effort. He wouldn't do class work, he wouldn't do homework, and when taking tests, he would fill in random answers. Despite all that, he passed the CRCT with flying colors and moved on to 2nd grade.

His 2nd grade teacher was an absolute Godsend. She challenged him, she engaged him, and she made learning fun and creative. Most importantly, she saw beneath his stubborn and single minded exterior to the bright, funny, interesting kid he really is.

Diminutive One not only recovered the ground he had lost, he made tons of progress. By the time the year was over, he was reading at a 4.9 level (fourth grade, ninth month) he had learned all of his basic math facts and had grasped carrying and borrowing with no problems whatsoever. He was excited about moving onto multiplication in third grade.

Unfortunately, third grade has been a complete disaster.

In November, Diminutive One began seeing a psychologist in an effort to understand why a super bright kid is doing so poorly in school, as well as to get to the bottom of his behavioral issues.

In the interim, I have been trying to work with his teacher to help Diminutive One. She has been completely uncooperative, or rather...just monumentally uninterested. She isn't a mean person. I can't say that she has been unkind to him. But she is not at all concerned with helping him realize his potential. It's simply not her problem. And I don't think she has any concept of what is realistic in terms of expectations from 8 year olds.

Here is an example:

Each child must fill out their agenda every day with homework in it. It is to be signed by the parent each night. Forget my own issues with this, (one of those unrealistic expectations I was talking about) it just wasn't working for Diminutive One. He would forget to write it down, or only write it down partially. On the rare occasions that he did remember to write it down, he would neglect to bring home the materials he needed.

The end of the day in a third grade classroom is a study in chaos. The kids have to remember jackets, backpacks, lunchboxes, homework folders and textbooks. Some of these kids have a forty mintue bus ride, so they must plan a pit stop or risk an accident on the bus, which, they must take care not to delay. It's a lot for any third grader but for Diminutive One, it was just too much.

I contacted the teacher to discuss this, and request that she just glance at his agenda each day to make sure his homework is written down. She replied that she didn't have time to check everybody's agenda. I then asked if she could perhaps send home a sheet with the week's homework on it. Diminutive One's second grade teacher did this and it was enormously helpful. I always knew what he was supposed to be doing. Again, this was apparently more time and effort than she could or would expend. I suggested a blog. Like the weekly sheet, other teachers do this with great results. I even offered to do the blog for her. She flatly refused.

And so, more days than not, Diminutive One comes home with his agenda blank, or no book. He can't do his homework at all, or can only do a portion of it. As a result, of course, he is unprepared for classwork. When he asks for help, she tells him he should have done his homework. Then she sends me a tersely worded note informing me that *I* need to teach him X concept by such and such date or he will fail the weekly test.

You know what? I *know* that teachers are dealing with a really shitty set of circumstances right now, due to specifications set forth by the No Child Left Behind Act. I know they are trying to cram too much learning into too little school day. I know they have too many kids, they have too little resources. I know they have to meet certain requirements to keep their job, their bonuses, their tenure. I know they are slaves to test results.

And that really fucking sucks.

Because there are some really excellent teachers out there who can't teach the way they want to. They are not free to teach the way they know will get results.

But does that mean a teacher can't take three minutes, less maybe, to do a very, very simple thing for a pupil who needs it? Three minutes to help my child. Three minutes that would have made a huge difference to a smart but struggling kid?

This is one big, fat, consequence of all this bureacratic micro-managing. Kids ARE being left behind.

Now we come the issue of high stakes testing.

I have received a letter from the school stating that Diminutive One will not pass the CRCT. If he does not pass, he will not go on to 4th grade. Accompanying this letter was an enrollment form for summer school.

To say that I saw red would be a monumental understatement.

The teachers are all making a point to let the kids know that this test is a very big deal. The kids are painfully aware that if they don't pass, they could get held back. This, of course, is a kid's worst nightmare and you cannot imagine the anxiety this is causing my child.

I consider it wholly and completely the fault of the school system if my child is in fact, ill-prepared for this test. But who will face the consequences in the form of summer school? He will. And how DARE they tell me he will fail before he's even been given a chance to succeed? How DARE they tell me he will fail when every year he has passed with scores in the 90th percentile?

Well you see, he only has to pass the reading portion of the test (which sort of the begs the question WHY they have to spend a week testing every other skillset). and he has consistently failed to meet his AR goals.

This is not because he doesn't read well.

It's because I am no fan of the Accelerated Reader program, and I have not encouraged his participation at all. Why? Because I don't think it encourages a love of reading, or motivates a child to challenge themselves. Diminutive One can read War and fucking Peace as far as I'm concerned, if that's what he wants to read. But he is continually discouraged from reading material that is not at his level.

I read Ivanhoe when I was 11. I probably didn't understand half of what I read. But you know what? I looked up words I didn't know. I asked my parents about passages I didn't understand and grammar that was foreign to me. I learned how to extrapolate meaning from context and content. The point is, it certainly didn't HARM me to read it, and I probably learned a great deal more than I could have from Judy Blume, whom I also read a great deal of when I was 11 and who was almost certainly a more appropriate "level" for an 11 year old.

So he reads what he wants. And he doesn't make his AR goals and for this reason they feel he in danger of not passing the reading portion of the test.

He will not be going to summer school. If he doesn't pass the test, I will homeschool him. This year has been pure torture for the kid and I'm not putting him through another two months of that. Period.

But he can pass. Both his doctor and I agree on that point. However, he was recently diagnosed with ADHD and an anxiety disorder and she thinks that it would be in his best interest to take the test in a quiet room by himself.

I contacted the school to make the arrangements only to be informed that they would not accomodate that need because "We have to adhere to state mandated testing protocol." Now, I've done my research, and nowhere does it stipulate that the test must be administered in a group or classroom setting.

I went higher.

I was told again, that they could not accomodate my request, because "You don't have a 504 in place." A 504 is a document that stipulates children with special needs and/or learning disabilities will have a mutually agreed upon set of criteria met, without fail. I don't have a 504 in place because WE JUST GOT THE DIAGNOSIS, which I reiterated to no avail.

So what do I do now? Well. I think he will be sick next week. Terribly, terribly ill. In fact, it might take him an entire week to recover.

Parents...we have to do better for our kids. We have to make learning an odyssey of adventure and creativity. We have to stop cutting enrichment programs. We have to stop drilling facts into their heads and let them be discovered. We have to make our kids a participant in their own learning, instead of the spectators they have come to be. Children don't learn by watching, they learn by doing. They need to get in there and get their minds dirty.

It's not working, and the consequences are going to come to bear when we have to hand over the reins to the next generation.

I don't know how to make it better for everybody. I wish I did. For my part, I am thinking, once again about homeschooling my son. I'm not entirely sure that I have the discipline or the patience. I think, we might just kill each other if left alone together six hours of every day. Which is why I haven't done so before now. I'm nothing if not realistic about my ability to deal with my Spirited Child, and my need for some time away from him.

But I can't not try. I can't let my beautiful, creative and intelligent child flounder until his self-esteem is gone and his hope for the future all but destroyed. I know I can challenge him. I know I can make him love learning again. I know I can satisfy his insatiable curiosity about everything in the universe and beyond. There is no end to what he can achieve if he's just given the opportunity.

Perhaps we will both end up dead or seriously maimed. But maybe....he will go on to be a happy, confident, successful adult. Maybe a great thinker, philosopher, writer or artist.

It's worth the gamble. I didn't need my sanity anway.

27 Comments:

  • At 1:32 PM, Blogger Rachelle said…

    Hard, hard, hard. None of these issues are easy and I totally sympathize with you. My 10-year-old DD is bright, creative and incredibly smart, but has trouble in school, too. However, when we had our state testing, she was placed in a special room with only four other students, and this group was given 15 minutes extra for each test. My DD doesn't have a 504 or an ISP or whatever they call it. She was simply flagged by the teacher as "needing extra time." I thought this was FABULOUS. The simple fact that my DD knew she would receive extra time lowered her anxiety to the point that she (all all four of the other set-aside kids) completed the tests EARLY, i.e. in less than the normal alotted time.

    I applaud you for your efforts to keep fighting and not give up! Like you, I continually consider whether I need to homeschool this child -- and like you, I know I'm not exactly cut out for it, but I will do it, if it's the best option.

    Great line and I agree with you: I didn't need my sanity anyway

     
  • At 2:43 PM, Blogger Rock the Cradle said…

    The whole school system needs to be reconstructed from the ground up, as far as I'm concerned.

    I have been developing a post on this very topic. My father was a school teacher for over 40 years, and does he ever have stories to tell.

    Two great books on education and the child he told me to read:

    Why Children Learn

    Why Children Fail

    both by John Holt. I found them in the library, and reading them is like getting a huge dose of common sense.

    I've also been investigating the Montessori method. I admit being terrified of school for the Impling. I worry that all the curiosity and self discipline she innately possesses will be squashed by the system.

    And I read stories like yours and it strengthens my resolve to home school.

    Good luck to you. I wish I could go and have words with DO's first grade teacher. Something like:

    Get. Another. Job.

     
  • At 2:50 PM, Blogger LizardBreath said…

    I got so mad and irritated reading about your son's struggles in school. My goodness, teachers are there TO TEACH! The public school system is in need of a major overhauls. The system if failing and kids are suffering.
    Your son would be much better off being homeschooled. But I do understand your trepdiation. Good luck to you, though I know you'll do fine!
    LB

     
  • At 3:18 PM, Blogger Jamie said…

    Can we all please have a standing ovation for Pres. Bush and his clearly highly successful No Child Left behind Act?! Oh, right, it's the biggest load of crap he ever spewed in office, behind a couple other things like WAGE WAR FOR NO REASON.

    A couple things. My kid is in a Montessori school and their success rate is phenomenal, especially with ADHD kids. Many many states are incorporating the Montessori philosphy into public schools now. Maybe something to look into??? ....

    Also, my kid brother and sister were both diagnosed with ADHD and working in the resource room was always helpful for them. Really push for that, because your right, the quiet, one on one setting works best. It worked best for both of them, and by the way, my sis is a succesful Loan Officer and my kid bro is a professional skateboarder. School was always difficult for them but in the end, they found their niche and are incredibly successful in what works for them.

    Good luck! Man, that really sucks. Do you have any Charter schools in your area? The teachers at Charter schools are usually very happy in their jobs and have much more control of their classrooms.

    Good luck! I didn't mean to get all "Debbie Fix it all" on you, you probably just wanted someone to scream "Oh my God! Those fucking nimrods!" ... and I feel that way too.

    Jamie

     
  • At 4:14 PM, Blogger Wisconsin Mommy said…

    Fight, fight, fight for your son's rights - if you don't like the answers you get, keep asking and/or ask someone else. There are almost ALWAYS accomadations that can be made. It's just easier for the teacher not to make them. Keep pushing until you get what you want - you are your son's only advocate. The squeeky wheel really does get the grease!

     
  • At 6:55 PM, Blogger Ruth Dynamite said…

    This post breaks my heart. I hear your pain, but I also understand the teacher's limitations and frustrations (though really, she should just send you the homework sheet). My guess is that she's overwhelmed by a system that demands so much of her, with so little tangible return.

    It sounds like you're doing the right things, and in lieu of a 504 - which will come - you should do whatever it takes to protect your son.

    How sad that you might need to move him from a system that should be his refuge.

    Good luck. Look forward to an update.

     
  • At 8:45 PM, Blogger In the Trenches of Mommyhood said…

    The bottom line is you have to do what's best for your son, as his mother, of course, but also as his advocate in a shitty system.
    Best of luck.

     
  • At 8:53 PM, Blogger jen said…

    this does really fucking suck. i know several teachers who are so disenfrancised with the whole system now, this NCLB crap is infuriating. For everyone.

    And such a bad idea.

    I am really sorry.

     
  • At 9:07 PM, Anonymous heather said…

    If you do decide to homeschool be sure to connect with other homeschoolers in your area. A woman I know used to take her kids over to a fellow homeschooler's house for Science Wednesdays. That Mom had a Science background and pulled out all the stops with experiments and practical learning. There is a lot of fun to be had and friends to be made, not to mention it breaks up the time that you and Diminutive One will be stuck with each other. Good Luck!

     
  • At 11:42 PM, Blogger margalit said…

    So so been there and done that with my own son. YOur story is my story. Only my son is 14 and we're still sorta doing the dance. Not so much, because he has an iron clad IEP these days and the school system has already paid for a full year of theraputic school out of district which cost them about 20 times what a FAPE costs. So they no longer battle with me.

    Your school system is lying to you. I do educational advocacy for GT/LD kids. It sounds like that's just what you have. I can point you to the right laws, show you how you can fight the system, and investigate finding you an educational attorney in your state. Just ask. It's free!

    The first thing you do, since you have a diagnosis, is to demand an IEP review. They have to respond within a set of time or they are out of compliance.

    Go to the superintendent's office, tell them that you have hired an educational advocate and are looking for an attorney. Then tell them that you want your child to have accomodations for the test. Then tell them that they CANNOT, by law, require your son to attend summer school. They are supposed to give your child a FREE and APPROPRIATE EDUCATION (fape) and they have not. That means they are out of compliance with federal mandated laws. Then tell them that you are handing in the paperwork for an IEP review, that you'll have an attorney attend the meeting with you and your SO, and an educational advocate, and you will make sure that they either provide your child with a teacher YOU select, a teacher that will respect the laws and your child, or you will sue for being out of compliance. Then cite ever case filed against the school system (publically available) and that you know that they lost case a. b. and c. because they were out of compliance. Make sure you use the words OUT OF COMPLIANCE. That tells them that you know they're screwing you royally, that you're not afraid to fight them, and that you will sue their asses off for damage to your child if they do not change.

    I don't know where you live, but I've taken on quite a few states as an advocate and they DO NOT like threats. On my son's file when he was in 4th grade, in big red letters, was the following:

    Mother has lawyer, not afraid to use.

    That definately got my son the IEP he deserved, the help he needed and every accomodation I asked for.

    Heh, I'm such a bitch when it comes to schools!

     
  • At 11:47 PM, Blogger margalit said…

    Oh, and one other thing. I see you're reading Year Zero by Jeff Long. Jeff and I lived together in college (Boulder) for several years. He is an VERY interesting character. As my brother likes to say about him, "He's one sick fuck" but he's really just a bit, oh, INTENSE.

     
  • At 6:48 AM, Blogger Fairly Odd Mother said…

    OMG, this breaks my heart. My oldest is only 6, but the testing, testing, testing that is all the rage is what tipped my scale in favor of homeschooling. The stress put on kids at such a young age! And, I agree that reading should be something they love, not loathe.

    I won't try to 'sell' you on homeschooling at all b/c everyone has to do what is best for their family, but if you ever want to talk about it, you can email me directly at fairlyoddmother @ inbox . com. Hugs and best of luck.

     
  • At 7:37 AM, Blogger mamatulip said…

    Wow. Just...wow.

    I think DO's lucky to have a mom like you.

     
  • At 8:14 AM, Blogger andria said…

    I quit teaching school when I had my kids, but I don't think I would go back simply because our country teaches to the test and makes it the be all end all of our educational system.

    IT shouldn't take that long to implement a 504 plan. I was a special ed teacher. a 504 is different from the IEP which requires months. If you already have the diagnosis and "proof" of that, request a meeting with the spec. ed. teacher, principal, teacher, and whatever others they put on that team and keep him out of school next week. By the time he will be able to take the make up test and he has that right your 504 should be valid.

    When I taught third grade our school insisted the kids write the homework in their agendas as well. I didn't like that but it was "the rule" now the quick little girls could do that, but 3/4 of the others couldnt' do it in a reasonable amount of time so I kept them doing it each afternoon, but every day I printed a sheet of stickers with the assignment and stuck it on each kids appropriate day. No real extra time for me, just the typing and printing which was all of 2 minutes at that. Maybe you could try to suggest that? Good luck. I feel your pain.

     
  • At 8:33 AM, Blogger Jen said…

    I'm not a person who believes in throwing around the threat of a lawsuit just to get your way BUT, there is no better time to use that threat than right now. It's amazing how quickly the tune changes from "no way, can't do it" to "Ok, whatever you need" once a lawyer is brought into the picture.

    Good luck with the schooling situation. Whatever happens, your son sounds like he's a lucky kid to have you on his side. :)

     
  • At 11:17 AM, Blogger Karen said…

    Listen, can I just say, that you rock! Honestly, good job listening to your inner rage as well as your intuition about your own child. I admire you and your courage to make whatever bold choices you need to make to rescue him from stupidity not of his own making -btw, love the idea of a sick-out! You know, one of my closets friends home schooled her child for one year while they figured out what he needed from a schooling situation. She loved it and hated it, is so glad she did and glad it's over, would do it again in a heartbeat for any of her kids if they needed, but are relieved they have a school that works, for now. Hope you have some fun for vacation coming your way.

     
  • At 2:22 PM, Anonymous Andrea said…

    What a horrible horrible situation. My nephew right now has a teacher from hell and some of it is the NCLB crap and some of it is her unwillingness to be anything but negative in her approach to his future or his attempts and effort. The end of this school year can't come fast enough for him.

    I hope you get things solved with this situation. That his teacher is so unwilling to help when his teacher last year clearly was able to do what she could in the face of the same restrictions on her teaching is a true measure of the woman he's learning from now. I just hope she remembers these aren't just third graders. What they get from her class will follow them for the rest of their lives. It's vitally important and her inflexibility IS leaving children behind. That has nothing to do with legislation.

     
  • At 2:45 PM, Blogger Natalie said…

    I am so mad at his teacher that can't make a veyr small arrangement for a child who needs a little help with some things. People without a true love of helping someone learn shouldn't be teachers, period.

     
  • At 7:45 PM, Blogger Oh, The Joys said…

    This post scared the sh*t out of me and made me terrified of the future because that is just so f*cked up.

    I'm totally willing to write a testimonial about all the chicken soup I had to bring to your house next week.

    Grrrrrrrr.

     
  • At 8:18 PM, Anonymous Katie said…

    I'm new here, but I feel your pain. I've been reading you for quite a while. My Spirited Child is 7 and in first grade. We've been through counselors, medications (we're having success right now, so let me know if you want details), every book on child behavior known to man... and what worked was a caring teacher. His teacher at the start of 1st grade was excellent - very caring, very praising, very accomodating, gave hugs, gush, gush, gush. Unfortunately, circumstances caused us to move mid-year (bad enough as it was) and he now has a drill seargent. I've observed her classroom and I never see the school's moto "Igniting a Passion for Learning" come to fruition in her classroom. Also, reading! My son loves to read and I highlighted this upon transfer. He keeps moving up in the daily books he brings home from school, but this teacher has set ridiculous goals (in my opinion). This month, he needs to read 51 "right-level" books to reach the "goal". For him, this means reading 51 books with about 50 pages and 4 chapters each in this month... on top of daily homework, swimming lessons, soccer, the weather getting warm... and just being a kid! If he doesn't, he gets excluded from a special lunch. No wonder he shows attitude!

    Bottom line...I feel your pain... rant over

     
  • At 5:36 AM, Blogger jchevais said…

    France has a pretty tough school system but at least there is flexibility! When my daughter was having trouble, the teacher arranged for extra reading help and pow! Daughter is off and running!

    No Child Left Behind = Complete Joke.

     
  • At 6:16 AM, Blogger Sandra said…

    I needed to read this today. I made a choice to put my son in an alternative school (we have similar yet different problems with our own public schools up north) and I keep second guessing myself.

    BA ... this may sound stupid but I wish you had been my mom.

    This situation is awful and you are doing what you need to do for your son ... because clearing his teacher and the rigid testing protocol are not.

     
  • At 9:21 AM, Blogger Six Green Zebras said…

    This comment has been removed by the author.

     
  • At 9:27 AM, Blogger Six Green Zebras said…

    Hey BA.

    I was talking about this to my sister who, as you know, homeschools. She has a friend who is a HS teacher and they were discussing it as they were both under the impression that all states offer an opt out option. Apparently, lucky you, your state seems to be one of the ONLY states that does not offer it, and they are one of the few that ties it directly to promotion to the next grade level.

    FWIW - my sisters friend, the teacher, said she would do the 'my child is sick this week' thing too. He will have to retest, but then it would be a more suitable environment for him.

     
  • At 8:18 AM, Blogger Angela said…

    You are the mom I want to be.

    That's it, nothing profound. Just wanted to tell you how much I admire you.

     
  • At 8:19 AM, Blogger Angela said…

    angela = CPA Mom (cpamomva.com) - blogger hates me today.

     
  • At 10:20 PM, Anonymous doodaddy said…

    I'm sort of a KISS kind of guy. In place of all these overhauls and let's-rebuild-everything I've always suggested three simple strategies: 1) Pay teachers more, 2) Reduce teachers' workloads, and 3) Professionalize the unions.

    It would take 20 years, but this would attract more than the current smattering competent people and ensure that the incompetent or unwilling could be fired for malpractice, just like a doctor or lawyer.

    So sad. You're doing everything you can and you're so right to be aggressive about this.

    Good luck.

     

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