Tag Archive | education

WIPpet Wednesday: Dance Fever

Hooray!  It’s Wednesday again, and you all get a BONUS!  In addition to today’s installment of WIPpet, you can also read the first 3 parts of my new short story series, Taboo (also linked at the right under Story Series).  Warning: The series features lots of implied sex, and not all of it is your typical married missionary position type (which is kind of the point of the series anyway).

Anyhow, today is the 22nd, so you get 4 lines (2+2) of the next chapter.  Enjoy!

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Léon Bazille Perrault [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It took several minutes to find Gia’s dance class, but when Phin finally located it and peered through the window in the door, he had to laugh; he understood why Alex had poked fun at her. He had no idea what exactly she and her class were doing, but somehow, it involved three elderly women and two elderly men hopping around to the beat of something vaguely techno-punk. Whatever it was, it didn’t look like any traditional form of dance he had ever seen. He watched for another minute or two until the song ended then knocked on the door.

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And there you have it!  I can’t decide if I feel sorry for Phin getting sucked into so many odd things or whether I think he kind of deserves it.  You be the judge.  Happy writing, everyone!

WIPpet Wednesday: Detective Work

By Wordbuilder (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

It’s time for another installment of my WIP.  This week, we join my other MC as she tries to figure out just what the heck is going on.  For some context, she found Phin’s phone and did some snooping, and now she’s using what she learned to do a bit of detective work.  This scene was my husband’s idea–does that say something about him that he would go digging around if he found a phone belonging to his possible nemesis?  Anyway, this is 11 sentences from the 12th scene of the story (today is 12/11).  I’d have done it the other way around, but I posted from the 11th scene last week.

If you want to play along (and I hope you do!) post a bit of your WIP (your snippet must have an association with the date) and link up here.  Be sure to read the others; there are some absolutely fantastic WIPs to enjoy.

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Dani opened up one of the tabs on her browser. She had done a quick search for Donald Murdock’s name, hoping for more information besides his position with the Department of Education. She hadn’t been expecting to find much, but when she saw his name associated with a school district in the Albany area, she clicked the link.

By the time she was three sentences in, she was frowning. Murdock appeared to have been involved in the conversion of several elementary schools into charters. That wasn’t uncommon; with the new standards, many schools had failed to pass. Closing and reopening as charter schools was among the valid options. The problem was that Murdock seemed to have had a hand in at least three districts converting multiple schools to charters. Dani wasn’t sure if that was strange or not, but she decided it warranted further investigation.

It wasn’t until she clicked the link about Lorne Patterson’s company, EduText, that she made the connection. A news report from two years prior showed Patterson at the ribbon-cutting of a brand-new charter school near Buffalo.

WIPpet Wednesday: Chicken Not-So-Big

Happy Wednesday!  Adding another snippet of my WIP today.  Join in and add your own link, and don’t forget to read the other posts.

Today’s excerpt is 4 lines of dialogue (today is 12/4).  Enjoy!

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By Charles M. Sauer via Wikimedia Commons

Phin pulled open the door to see Alex standing there. He groaned. “Can I help you?”

It was obvious from the way Alex’s lips twitched that he was trying not to laugh. He leaned closer and whispered, “What happened to you? Get in a fight with a feather duster?”

“No,” Phin said through clenched teeth. “I helped put chicks back in their pens. Why the hell are there live farm animals here in the school?”

“No idea. Must be Jean’s idea of teaching the kids about the life cycle.” Alex straightened up and raised his voice. “Would you mind getting Carlie Roberts for me? I need to see her for a moment.”

WIPpet Wednesday: Copier Cat

It’s been a long time since I posted anything here.  Mostly that’s because I’ve been working on a longer project.  A couple of fellow writers introduced me to WIPpet Wednesday.  I don’t normally participate, but I’m finally at the point where I’m really excited about this project and wanted to share a bit of it.

For those who don’t know what WIPpet is, it’s a post from your current work in progress (WIP).  The excerpt must have something related to the date.  Today is 11/20/13, so here are 44 (11+20+13) lines from one of my favorite scenes.

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There was already someone else in the copy room; a slender brunette with a pixie cut was punching buttons on the copier. When it started, she turned to Phin. “Are you from the copier company? This will only take about ten minutes, and then it’s all yours.”

“Uh…” Surprised, Phin was momentarily at a loss. He shook his head. “I’m not—”

“I’m just going to go grab something I left in my classroom. Since you know the machine, can you just watch it while I’m gone?” She ducked out of the copy room without waiting for an answer.

While Phin stood there waiting for the copier to finish, another woman appeared in the doorway. She was considerably older than the first, and she had only a few pages in her hand. She turned to Phin. “I heard that. Ten minutes my fanny. This thing’s been acting up since last Thursday. Watch, two minutes in, it’s going to jam.” She leaned against the wall and studied Phin. “You’re not from the copier company. Who are you subbing for?” she asked.

“Oh, um, I’m not,” Phin said, caught off-guard once more. “I’m—”

The copier chose that precise moment to jam.

“What’d I tell you?” The woman set her papers down on the table in the corner and began fiddling with the copy machine. “Damn thing does this every time the copy lady’s out. I’m pretty sure it’s possessed, and the demon inside it only likes her.” She huffed and opened the paper jam compartment. “Doesn’t help that Gia took off in the middle of her job. Some people.” The paper came free and the blinking text on the copier stopped. “There.”

The woman managed to restart the copy job. When the pages had resumed cheerfully spitting out into the tray, the woman turned to Phin again. “I’m Eunice Clark,” she said, extending her hand. “And you are…”

“Phin Patterson.” He didn’t offer more details.

The woman blinked. “Phin Patterson? Well, damn, honey. I’ll bet you don’t remember me.”

“Uh…no. Sorry.” Phin racked his brain, trying to recall if they’d ever met before.

Eunice laughed. “I used to babysit you when you were tiny.” She threw an arm around Phin’s shoulders, and he tried not to stiffen. “You inspired me to go into teaching.”

Phin twisted slightly to get a good look at her and raised his eyebrows. “I did?”

“Well, no, but it sounded good, didn’t it?” She laughed. “Now, I already guessed you’re not here to fix this piece of garbage.” She waved a hand at the copier and eyed Phin. “Or was I wrong about that? Because if so, I just did your job for you.”

“Nope. I promise I’m not here about the copier. At the moment, I’m just helping Dani—uh, Ms. Sloane—in the office.”

Eunice returned her attention to the copier, which was still churning out copies. “When Gia gets back, I’m going to let her have it. I’m tired of her leaving her job running so she can go do whatever, while I sit here for fifteen minutes just to do a thirty-second job.”

Just then, the other woman—Gia, presumably—returned to the copy room with a textbook. She frowned at the copier. “I thought it would be done by now.”

Eunice laid a hand on Gia’s shoulder. “Oh, sweetie, the copier got hung up again, right in the middle of your extremely important job.” Her voice was thick with artificial sweetness.

Gia’s face fell. “I’m sorry. You’re not mad, are you?”

“No worries,” Eunice told her. “We fixed it for you. I’m sure you didn’t really mean to leave it for us to take care of. I just hope all your copies came out right.” She peered past Gia and winked at Phin, who stored the moment in the back of his brain for later use.  He was left wondering exactly what Eunice had done to Gia’s copies that she would discover back in her classroom. Apparently, there was some Secret Copy Room Code he would have to learn before he would be able to blend in.

6 reasons not to waste your money…

…because your daughter is just going to stay home and have babies anyway.

Little Housewife, Johan Georg Meyer (via Wikimedia)

Last week, several friends were kind enough to bring to my attention this awful piece on why parents shouldn’t send their daughters to college.  Go ahead and read it if you’d like some rage with your coffee this morning.  In case you prefer not to, here’s the list in brief:

  • Your poor daughter will end up with a–gasp–educated man.  No, wait, she’s just going to end up being the hard-working, intelligent wife with a lazy loser for a husband (kinda like all those sitcoms).
  • She’s going to have the opportunity to have sex.  Maybe a lot of sex.  Probably with lazy losers.  Once that happens, she’s not going to notice that her guy is bad for her because sex hormones.
  • She’s going to end up with a career, dammit.  She probably won’t want to play house anymore.  Maybe she won’t even want babies!
  • Since she’s just going to be a good wife and mommy, she won’t enjoy having the career that would have paid for her college education.  Also, it’s a total waste of money to go to college and then stay home, thus forcing your husband to pay for your loans with his money.
  • There is obviously only one way to be a feminist, and that is by going to college and having a career (which is dictated by your college education, of course) and not being a wife and mommy.  It’s a slippery slope, thinking she has to prove she’s a feminist by doing all this.  We can’t have that.
  • In order to pay for college, parents might plan ahead and not have all the babies God wants them to.  They might use birth control!  No worries that sending sons to college might make parents sin by preventing pregnancy, though.
  • Those young women are going to regret it someday when they are stuck in a cube somewhere wishing they could just stay home and luxuriate, eating bonbons and watching daytime television like the rest of us stay-at-home moms.
  • They won’t be able to go to seminary (at least, not a Catholic one) if they have debt.  Fine, that one might be real, especially since no woman called to vocational ministry ever knows that before she stupidly and blindly goes off to college to get a degree in chemical engineering first.

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad that I’m informed now.  It’s only about ten more years til I have to think about sending my own daughter off to college, and I sure as heck don’t want her to end up with a degree that keeps her from her duties as wife and mom.  Who cares if she’s ambitious and has talked for the better part of two years about wanting a career working with animals?  She should just squash those dreams right now before they get out of hand.

Meanwhile, I guess I’d better figure out a way to pay my husband back for using “his” money (that he worked super hard for!) to pay off my loans from undergraduate and graduate school.  After all, I’m just playing 1950s-television-style housewife here and not contributing financially.  On second though, never mind.  I’m just gonna go watch some television to alleviate my regrets.

About that homeschooling thing…

By Jason Kasper from Harrisburg, USA (Modified version of 100_4456) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I don’t talk about homeschooling very often.  Part of the reason is my kids–I prefer not to discuss them without their permission.  Since homeschooling is, by nature, about my daughter, I tend not to write much.  When something general comes up, however, I find myself wanting to respond.

The latest is a series of posts written by former homescholars.  I don’t begrudge them needing their space to talk about the frightening world from which they came; I believe safe space is vital.  My problem is not with Homeschoolers Anonymous, or even with some of what they’ve written.  My problem is with the response it has generated.

Before I begin, let me go on the record saying that as a homeschooling parent, I do not feel like an oppressed minority.  I may be in the actual minority, but that doesn’t make me oppressed.  We love our school district (our son is a public school student, and our daughter will likely be one eventually).  We have a great working relationship with them.  We’ve borrowed materials, including text books, and the teachers are always more than willing to give us suggestions.  Later this morning, I will be dropping off my daughter’s third quarter report and staying a few minutes to chat with the security guard who accepts it for transit to the office.  I can’t stress enough how much we appreciate what they’ve done for us.  Keeping that relationship good is what enables us to enjoy homeschooling our daughter.

That said, it makes me angry when I feel like I’m getting crap from both ends.  Many of my fellow homeschooling parents have been critical of the fact that we are working so closely with the district–they believe we’ve somehow given up our “rights.”  Others find it distasteful that we don’t use a specific, prepackaged curriculum.  A few even turn up their noses at our lack of “faith-based” instruction.  And among those who don’t care about any of those things, we’ve taken heat for not living a more “organic” lifestyle to go along with our homeschooling.  It hurts, but as a result, we’ve never found a homeschool group that felt like home.  We’ve stuck with individual friendships (I’m so beyond blessed that one of my best friends also homeschools her daughter) and have enrolled our daughter in other activities.  She’s a Girl Scout, takes two dance classes, and participates in other activities as we find time.

On the flip side, there are the Angry Ex-Homescholars.  Again, I don’t want to take away from their very real pain.  But comments about how people can “spot a homeschooled kid a mile away” and rants about how it’s “damaging” to the kids make me unbelievably angry.  What makes me angry is not so much that people think those things but that a certain subset of the population has given them reason to think them.

When I hear about the way the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (the legal activists) have put pressure on families to refuse to comply with social workers or the way that some parents have used homeschooling as a tool of abuse, I want to scream.  I want to cry when I hear from adults who were homeschooled that they never learned proper math or that their parents, for religious reasons, refused to teach them about human sexuality.  I want to punch something when I see some of the crap that passes for science in “Christian” homeschool materials.  The fact that a web site like Homeschoolers Anonymous even exists–out of necessity–cuts me deeply.

When we began our journey more than five years ago, we had a purpose in mind.  Our son, who came out of the womb with the energy of a lightning storm, was reading at a third grade level at age four and a half.  The combination, we knew, would be lethal in a classroom.  The original plan was to keep him home until middle school.  When first grade rolled around, we had already discovered that he didn’t fit in well with other homeschooled kids (he was bullied, believe it or not, for being a dancer).  As a family, we’re pretty different from most.  On top of that, he needed to be around other people almost constantly–he’s the definition of an extrovert.  So we sent him off to a great public school, where he has continued to thrive.

We offer our daughter the option every year.  So far, she has chosen to remain at home.  I have maintained my drive to ensure that she develops high-level skill in reading and math (so far, so good) and that she finds ways to pursue her passions.  I refuse to use Christian materials, because they are long on religion and short on actual science.  I have a girl who is interested in keeping our natural world and our animal friends safe–if I want to draw her back to her faith, what better way to do it than to help her understand that God made all these beautiful things?  We don’t need Bob Jones or A Bekka to help us do that.

We can’t afford private school full-time, and the only schools offering a la carte classes are the Christian schools–which for us is a big NO.  I won’t allow my daughter to be taught science by a teacher who denies evolution, believes in a literal 6-day creation, and insists that humans and dinosaurs must have co-existed.  So if my daughter decides to stay home longer than middle school, we will be searching for ways to supplement what I can do so that she isn’t behind in any way come graduation.

There are several things I need people to understand about homeschooling:

  1. We are not all families that believe a woman’s place is barefoot and pregnant.
  2. We are not all like the HSLDA folks.
  3. Not all of us weave religion into every aspect of our day.
  4. Many of us want our kids–especially our girls, who may or may not experience this even in public school–to study math and science.
  5. Our children are not all easily recognizable as homeschooled kids.  People are constantly surprised to learn that my daughter is homeschooled.  I guess they don’t expect her to be socially or academically competent, or perhaps they think she doesn’t fit their stereotype of “weird.”
  6. Not all of us think education is one size fits all.  Being a half-n-half family works well for us; it’s different for other families.
  7. When anti-homeschooling people and HSLDA members alike fight over this, it hurts everyone.  Many of us don’t want to be civilian casualties in your war; please don’t use us as pawns.

I write often on this blog about how we need to get to know the people we are judging.  Please don’t make assumptions about me or my family without knowing us.  When you make sweeping statements about what homeschooling families are like (or about what public schooling families are like), you are causing pain to those who don’t share that view.  Work to make it safer for all kids; work to get legislation in place so that abuse can’t be covered (including among public- and private-schooled kids).  But don’t do it by saying nasty things about what you think we’re up to in our household.  Chances are, you will be wrong.

What our boys learn

Yesterday, Emily Wierenga apologized.  I’m glad, because she owed it to those who were hurt by her original post about relationships and submission.  There were several reasons why I didn’t respond to the first post.  First, I was late to the game.  I’d been on vacation when it appeared, so I missed it–all I saw was the fallout.  Second, plenty of others had already written what needed to be said.  Third, I already didn’t care much for her theology or her title of “Everyday Radical” (she’s not particularly radical); I really couldn’t figure out why everyone was so surprised by her words.

I don’t want to go around and around about the original post.  I will say that no matter how “heartfelt” or sincere-sounding her apology, she still has problematic theology that she refuses to acknowledge.  I’m glad she understands how hurtful her words were, but she also needs to examine her beliefs a lot more closely.  Her original post was addressed to people like me–Christian feminists.  It was not a rallying cry for people who share her views but something written to those of us she feels are outside that theology.  Therefore, I see no need to extend some kind of olive branch in her direction.  I don’t stand with Emily or people who share her beliefs, despite the fact that we may all call ourselves Christians.  As a woman, as a feminist, and as a Christian, I have a responsibility to address things that contribute to the way women are seen in the church.  That includes speaking out against the patriarchal leanings of other writers–whether those people are men or women.  The fact that we both have vaginas in no way obligates me to some kind of womanly solidarity.

When I saw that Emily was offering an apology, I was glad; I believed she was doing the right thing–until I read a couple of paragraphs down.  These words made my blood boil:

I didn’t know the way I would cry at night for fear of sending my boys to school, for all of the school shootings and drugs but not only that: for the way they wouldn’t be taught how to be strong leaders, but rather, would be questioned about their gender, made guilty for the way their kind had treated women in the past, and told that they could be attracted to either males or females because there was no male or female: there just was.

I’m not going to waste time on the rest of her apology; it wasn’t bad, though I think she still needs to consider the implications of her original post beyond its triggering effect.  No, I want to address what I quoted above.  I am the mother of a nine-year-old boy who attends public school; there has never once been a time when I have been afraid that he would be taught any of those things Emily mentions:

1. They wouldn’t be taught how to be strong leaders

First of all, that’s not the job of the school.  The job of the school is to teach our children how to read and write and do sums.  If we want any of our children–sons or daughters–to be “strong leaders,” then we must take responsibility as their parents.  Not only that, this desire to have (in particular boys) become strong leaders ignores the fact that not everyone has a personality suited to “leadership” (at least, not the way it’s defined in conservative evangelical circles).  As for what I think Emily might actually mean–that boys need to learn to be strong leaders so they can lead their wives–that is most definitely not something I want my son learning at school.  If that’s your religious belief, you’re welcome to it, but don’t impose it on my kid.

2. They . . . would be questioned about their gender

As far as I know, this is a made-up concern.  I have yet to meet a teacher or school employee who questions my child’s gender.  I’m not entirely sure how Emily means this, but if she means that girls are given unfair advantage because there’s a sudden backlash against boys, she needs a pretty serious reality check.  Boys are still more frequently called on in class, and boys are more often encouraged to explore math and science.  What gets questioned is when boys fail to live up to that expectation.

If Emily means that suddenly boys won’t be boys and girls won’t be girls, that’s also pretty ridiculous.  Is she assuming some mass takeover of our schools by an imaginary army of transgender people and their allies?  Or is she just lamenting that now it’s okay for boys to like pink and take ballet?  (I doubt she’s having the same questions about whether girls can climb trees and play with trucks.)

3. . . . made guilty for the way their kind had treated women in the past

My son hasn’t yet come home telling me that girls are good and boys are bad for hurting them.  Again, this is not a thing that happens in schools.  I just don’t understand where Emily’s deep fear of feminists is coming from.  We’re not staging protests on the high school campuses or storming the gates of district offices.  We’re not making impassioned pleas at school board meetings.  No one is telling our boys that “their kind” are heinous beasts that have perpetrated evil on womankind.  This smacks of feminist stereotypes.  What I hope my son is learning (and I believe he is, if his behavior is an indication) is that girls are equally intelligent, interesting, strong, brave, and fun.  Through his friendships with girls, my son is learning things that will eventually make him a better man.  The adults around him are encouraging this–and that’s a very good thing.

Also, let’s be clear on this: Men being assholes to women? Not so much a thing of the past.

4. . . . told that they could be attracted to either males or females

Damn skippy, though I doubt this happens at age nine.  I certainly hope that my son is aware that whatever sexual attractions he feels are normal.  I learned at church that sexual attraction was bad unless it was within marriage between a man and a woman.  Because I live in a conservative city, the most “sex ed” I got there was a very brief, embarrassed, “Um…uh…use some birth control so you don’t get a nebulous disease we’re not actually going to describe for you.  Now, watch this video of a woman giving birth so you’re too disgusted to get pregnant.”

Anyway, Emily is wrong about this one too–is she not aware that kids are still being bullied for their sexuality?  Even if schools are teaching an inclusive sex education (which they’re not in most places), the horror of having your kid know gay people exist is a lot less scary than being the gay kid who gets threatened or beaten.  Priorities, people.  Sort them.

5. . . . because there was no male or female: there just was.

This is also foolish.  No one teaches or believes this.  It’s fear-mongering.  I do not know any person–cis or trans–who believes or teaches this.  For the love of God, please go look things up before you start spouting off on them.

Oh, wait.  She probably means proper gender roles, not actual genders.  Er…I hope.  What she seems to possibly mean here (?)–though I honestly can’t tell; I’m still confused–is that it’s okay for men to be attracted to men or women to women because the lines between their roles have gotten too fuzzy.  I can’t decide which interpretation of Emily’s words is more offensive.  In either case, gross stereotypes are being perpetuated here.  Whatever Emily’s intent, it changes nothing.  There are no schools teaching these bizarre things about gender.

When I send my son to school, I worry that he might have forgotten his lunch money.  I worry that he might be bullied (or worse, engage in bullying behavior).  I wonder if his ADHD is making him struggle through his day or if he’s getting enough stretch breaks.  I think about whether he’s learning to work cooperatively with all kinds of people.  I hope fervently he doesn’t get hurt on the playground or in phys ed.  I think about ways to make getting his homework done a priority on nights he has ballet class.  I pray that today is not the day a troubled young man decides to show up at his school and shoot a classroom full of children.

I do not worry that he won’t grow up to be the right kind of man.

 

Classroom morality

Since I’ve been asked by a number of people, I’m going to share exactly why I don’t believe that “Christian” morals should be taught in schools and what I think is the only option available to us in light of those reasons.

Last week, before reading to my kids, I commented on how much I love looking at the Christmas lights.  My son said, “You can’t love things, only people.”  Puzzled, since this is terminology we often use in our house, I asked him about it.  He confirmed that it was his teacher who told him that.

While I don’t entirely disagree (though I would say it’s a matter of semantics), I found myself irritated that his teacher thought it was her place to tell children something that amounts to her opinion.  If what she meant was that she would prefer the students to be more creative in their language, then she should have said that instead.  How my son interpreted her words was that he should never use the word “love” unless speaking of another person.

What bothers me most about it is that he is nine and very susceptible to impression by the other adults in his life.  We’ve seen that before—on more than one occasion, he returned from church telling us that girls were not as good as boys and that girls could only do certain things.  It’s also happened before at school, such as the time he came home from second grade repeating an urban legend his teacher informed the class was true.  As his parents, we can try to correct these messages at home, but in the case of church, it required removing him from that context before he trusted what we were telling him.

On the surface, that may sound like a good thing.  After all, if kids are listening to their teachers, then perhaps that gives teachers the chance to present messages about what is appropriate or healthy for their age.  Could we get children to stop playing violent video games or watching adult-themed television programs?  Could we prevent adolescents from absorbing sexually-charged messages?  Possibly.

I don’t want to do that.  As I mentioned, not one of the things our son brought to us was something we actually wanted him to be taught.  I do not want our kids to learn any one teacher’s version of morality.  That can easily head into dangerous territory.  Suppose a teacher wants to instruct the students that homosexuality is immoral?  Some parents would agree, but many would not; it would be particularly damaging for students who themselves are gay, or who have parents, friends, and siblings who are.  Suppose a teacher wants the students to learn that women should submit to men in their authority?  That might actually lead to problems among students and an increase in boys harassing girls.  What if a teacher were to suggest to students that they should not read books by Lewis, Tolkien, or Rowling because they contain magic?  That would limit a child’s choice of what to read.

Those may sound far-fetched, but I absolutely know teachers who believe all of those things.  It would be quite a task for a school district or a principal to create rules about which moral values could be taught and which couldn’t.  Although we may not agree with the way other people parent their children, it’s not a teacher’s job to override those decisions

What schools can do is influence the students’ actual behavior toward each other.  Students can be expected to show basic decency and respect toward one another.  Students failing to demonstrate that attitude can and should be disciplined, without resorting to victim-blaming/shaming tactics such as “social skills” classes for those who are bullied (inherent in such classes is the notion that if a child behaves “normally,” he or she will not be picked on).  Teachers can and should be encouraged to show enthusiasm for their work and for the very idea of learning.  (Although I mentioned a negative example about my son’s teacher, one thing I do like about her is how much she obviously loves both learning and teaching.)  Adults within the school can reinforce the message that there are safe, caring people the students can turn to when they need help.

I am pleased to say that I send my child to a district where this is frequently true.  Are they perfect?  No, of course not.  But more often than not, they have it right.  I am sorry that not all districts are like that; the one in which I grew up was not.  However, I don’t believe that asking teachers to promote certain values would have addressed my situation.  In fact, given what I remember, it likely would have increased my suffering.

As parents, we also have a responsibility.  While we cannot parent another child in place of his or her own family, we can choose with whom our children spend time.  We can make a point of addressing situations in which our children are victimized and demand change.  We can find like-minded parents and stick together.

For many people, the local school is the only option.  They can’t afford private schools, and homeschooling may not be feasible.  But allowing teachers (or principals) to encourage specific morals isn’t the answer.  The problem is far too complex for such a solution.  For my part, I’m going to do the best I can as a parent and hope that it’s enough.

Making Progress

One more post about the kiddos and then I promise, it’s right back to brilliantly scathing commentary on fundamentalism.  Okay, fine, it’s back to somewhat grouchy and disapproving commentary on fundamentalism.

It seems that we are in a good place with J and his school.  Thankfully, he has a wonderful and caring teacher who wants to see J be successful as much as we do.  I was amazed by some of the things she said to me today, particularly in regard to helping kids feel like they are making progress rather than always punishing the negative.

One reason we have been able to work through these tough issues is that I feel it is my duty as a parent to keep our son from being in the middle between his teacher and us.  We’re not on opposite sides.  We all want the same things.  J and his classmates have the right to an education, and it isn’t fair for one child to lose out for the sake of the rest, nor for the rest to be disrupted for the sake of the one.  I believe it is the responsibility of both parents and teachers to form an alliance in order to ensure a positive learning environment.

I have taken this approach with homeschooling as well.  From the time we began homeschooling four years ago, I went into it with the mentality that it was important for us to work with the local district in order that our children’s needs be best met.  Although it is not required by law to use them, I created J’s and now S’s IHIP (basically a homeschool learning plan) based on the school district’s forms.  I found the forms to be helpful not only for keeping in touch but for my own record-keeping and lesson plans.

The evidence of how well that worked came when J went to school.  School personnel were impressed with how well we communicated and J’s first teacher said he was well prepared to enter the classroom, in more ways than mere academics.  We had instilled in J a love for learning which carried over into his time at public school.  We are on a similar path with S, though she learns very differently than her brother.

Unfortunately, although this has been the approach that worked best for our family, I’ve faced a good measure of criticism.  The vast majority of homeschooling parents have told me that I provided the district with too much information, that I would “ruin” it for others because the school would expect more from them, that I was making too much work for myself, that it’s us against the evil public school world.  Nothing I said in our defense made any impression.  And once J was in school, I was actively shunned by some families I had known when the kids were younger.  Never mind that S is still learning at home, I had become a traitor to the cause.

The thing is, I don’t think it has much to do with homeschooling.  There are some people who simply view life as a series of battles.  The nuclear family is seen as an army or two, three, four, or more, and the enemy is anything on which they declare war:  Public school, teaching methods, mainstream physicians, food, religion (or lack thereof).  It’s not even a matter of fighting injustice.  For example, take the hostility over public school.  It’s usually about the belief that one’s own children are being harmed or neglected in some way.  It’s rarely about the need for reform within the schools that would improve things for everyone, such as smaller classes, higher quality food, and adequate resources.

We’ve chosen to see things differently.  We believe that if we support the teachers and the other staff, they will go to bat for us.  So far, that’s been proven true time and again.  As we work together to help sort out what needs to happen with J, we’re all keeping open minds throughout the process.  My husband and I have a great support network of family and friends.  It’s our job as parents to let J’s teacher know that we want to be a team in creating the best possible school experience we can for everyone.

It may not work out perfectly every time, in every situation, for every family.  I don’t want to paint a rosy picture or imply that if you just do all the right things, magic will happen.  Sometimes, needs are not met and changes must be made.  Sometimes there are real battles to fight.  But if every detail and every aspect of life is a battle, how can one ever hope to come home from the war?

Being Open-Minded

For a long time, I’ve been an advocate for keeping more kids off psychotropic medications.  Not because I doubt the existence of childhood mental disorders, but because the long-term effects are unknown and I believe that parents and professionals should proceed with caution.  I am not against using medication when it is necessary and beneficial for the child.  After all, my own daughter is on steroids for her asthma, and there are well-documented associated risks.  But I’ve seen the downside of over-medicating young children, particularly when it comes to diagnosis and treatment of ADHD.

One of the problems with institutionalized learning (and a major reason why we began homeschooling almost four years ago) is the amount of time children have to be kept quiet and sitting at a desk.  For some children, this isn’t a problem.  But for others, it is absolute torture.  It may not have anything to do with the ability to focus or concentrate.  Some people are sensation-seekers who thrive on sensory input.  Others simply learn better by doing rather than hearing or seeing (kinesthetic learners).  For still others, they may exhibit traits similar to ADHD, but do not actually have that particular disorder.

I used to be a school nurse, so I was responsible for passing out Ritalin or similar medications to approximately 40 children on a daily basis.  I saw both sides of the coin.  Were there kids benefiting from the meds?  Absolutely.  There were also kids for whom nothing ever seemed to work.  Some kids suffered through repeated change in dose, type, and schedule, to no avail.  Other kids had behaviors so bothersome that I had teachers either red in the face with anger or near tears, begging me to talk to the family about “doing something” with the child’s medication.  And one story stands out in my mind vividly.

We had one student who was put on a medication trial.  For those who don’t know what that means, the physician orders two to four weeks of trial period.  For half of the trial, the child receives an actual dose of medication.  For the other half, a placebo.  No one except the pharmacist has any idea which half is which, only that the child is taking some kind of pill.  Before and during the trial, the parents and teacher are expected to keep a log of the undesirable behaviors the child has and any changes.  The boy in question underwent such a trial about halfway through the year.

When the study began, his teacher approached me and said that she was already seeing a difference in his behavior and attitude.  She was thrilled, and certain that the dose he was on was correct.  After the first two-week phase of the trial ended, she returned to me to let me know that the boy’s behavior had gone downhill again.  She hoped that he would be placed on medication for the remainder of the year.

I suspect you know what’s coming.

And you’re right–the boy had been on the placebo for the first two weeks.  Needless to say, the doctor and the parents refused to have anything more to do with medicating the boy.  He went on to have successful behavioral counseling.

Now that I’ve said all that, I have to make a confession.  We’re now about to embark on a journey with our son.  He is a wonderful kid, bright and creative to the extreme, with the soul of an artist.  He almost literally dances through life, his body craving near-constant motion.  On a good day I wish I had his energy.  But the flip side of those good qualities is that he is extraordinarily impulsive.  He reacts, rather than thinking.  His high-octane personality is not suited for long periods of seat work.  And it leads to a lot of negative consequences.

As much as I favor treating children naturally, without brain-altering chemicals, I know I have to keep an open mind.  I hope to begin with the simple, some help learning how to control his impulses.  I also know that if it comes down to it, I expect that he will be given every possible evaluation and trial before being handed a psychotropic medication.  His dad and I are his best advocates.  We want what is right for him, not a broken system where a teacher has to be solely responsible for the instruction, behavior, and well-being of 25 or more students.  We’re prepared to make some hard choices, including returning him to homeschooling to give him a break from forced seat learning.

It’s going to be a bumpy ride, but we’ll handle it the way we’ve handled everything else with the kids.  We love them, we respect the other adults, and we work toward a common goal of helping our son to grow into the person he is meant to become.