Public School as Baby-Sitter

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Surprisingly enough, this is not a rant about children being bused off to public schools every day. This is a rant about a homeschooling mom who’s using her local public elementary school as a baby-sitter for her six-year-old, twice a week.

The woman posted that announcement, without apology or embarrassment, merely ISO info about “the laws reagarding education in the state of MAryland.” (Is it just me or is there something about a home educator who doesn’t use Spell Check…)

And apparently, on whatever planet she had been living, this part-time public school option had been her modus operandi, as she explains: “If there is an activity going on like before when I homeschooled her she just went without a problem.” [Turns out there is a “dual enrollment” option in Virginia. But I thought that was for high schoolers to attend college, not for six-year-olds to stay home.]

Now, I’ve got to cling to the belief that out there among the almost-400 other members of this homeschool group reading her post, most of them were screaming at their computer screens, too. I admit I can be impatient and intolerant with any parenting more irresponsible than my own. But I have NEVER in my ten-plus years of home educating heard of any homeschooler who in her wildest fucking dreams thought that she could send her kid to public school whenever she needed a babysitter.

A few people did respond, rather graciously, including the Moderator of the group who explained that sorry, no-can-do-dual in Maryland. But did suggest searching for a babysitter instead, especially after the mother had asked if, in terms of public school attendance: “IS there a minimum numbers of days? OR does she have to go regardless every day the school is open. I am so confused.”

Darling, you’re confused?

Soon after that thread ended, the woman posted again. This time, she was ISO a babysitter for the aforementioned six-year-old AND a two-year-old. So now I’m confused. What’s she doing with her toddler while her older child is in public school?

I Am IEP

school-detail_004An Individualized Education Program, that is. In public schools, every child who receives “special education” and related services must have an IEP. But first, a student must pass snuff based on the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Act.) To be labeled/receive services as a “child with disabilities” (never, never a “disabled child’), he must be pigeonholed into one of 13 specific categories.

Because I’ve been privy to public schools’ SOP long enough to know that to get funding, kids need to get put into columns. The Basic Special Education Process Under IDEA goes something like this:

Find. Test. Decide. Label. Schedule. Write. Teach. Track. Review. Reevaluate.

Rinse and repeat every three years.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I realize that, absolutely, there are children in public, private or home school with autism, visual/hearing impairments, traumatic brain injuries and other disabilities that obviously require special services and could/do benefit from an IEP.

But, according to IDEA, the largest of the 13 disability categories, at almost 50-percent, is “specific learning disabilities.” So what exactly ARE these specific learning disabilities? When does a quirk become a disability? A diagnosis becomes an excuse? A “child with disabilities” a self-fulfilling prophecy? Are these challenges to be overcome or disabilities to be accommodated?

I suspect that my/my son’s notorious habit of not “read(ing) what’s there!” would fall under some reading disability spectrum. Probably not dyslexia, but keep testing, they’d find a cubby for us. And based on M’s first grade “reluctant reader” label, I could see what was coming down the pike. And he WAS reluctant to read, based on public school standards and strategies. Alotta boys are. But he’s reading now. And he did it when he was ready/felt the need, not the pressure. Or the label.

The entire IEP process includes alotta opportunities for parents to challenge, request additional testing, an independent evaluation or mediation. They can even file a complaint with the state education agency.

What I want to know is: Are parents protesting to get their child IN or OUT of the program?

No Habla Español

greekNow, don’t go getting your hackles up. This isn’t some diatribe about illegal immigration. It’s about my inadequacies in teaching Spanish to Morgan.

Even though I’m confident Morgan will pass the semester, I’m not sure he’ll come away with alotta useful, conversational Spanish. Several of the tech programs at the local community college include Spanish in the Workplace classes. Funny, when I saw that curriculum in the Non-Credit Courses Catalogue, I felt a little less racist by having suggested he learn a little Español for future job situations.

Trying to learn another language feels like decoding a cipher. Because when we look at the written words, it’s easier to see the English connections that give you clues about the word, phrase or at least the meaning of the sentence. But when we watch El Gordo y La Flaca on the Spanish cable station or even Dora the Explorer on Nick Jr., it’s Greek to me.

Spanish is also the only academic class in which I ever got a D, consistently. Ah, si, Señor Carríon, the former bullfighter that would pull up his shirt to show you his nasty gore scars. All those verb tenses and pronoun plurals and masculine and feminine forms just did not translate in my brain. And my ability to “sound out” a written Spanish word was worse than the way I’d butcher English.

Déjà vu’, I’m reading a Spanish paragraph to M and I’m stumbling through it as best I can and I hit a word with a sequence of letters that stops me in my tracks. I’m speechless. I can’t even make phonetic “sounds.” So I look at it again, take a running start and get through it.

I can still hear my father yelling, “Read what’s there!” after I’d insert mystery vowels and extra syllables into words (of any language) as I’d tried to read my homework aloud. And now, Morgan hears the same rant from me.

It’s not a disorder. It’s in our DNA.

Reading Aloud “Gains Favor”

maybe7What the frack? Gains favor? Like reading aloud to kids is some crazy new concept that needs to prove its merit. I suspect that as long as somebody’s been writing—on cave walls, marble tombs, parchments or Blackberries, somebody’s been reading aloud. So it seems bizarre that its benefits are still up for debate.

But an online article in Education Week discussed the technique as some cutting edge strategy that more and more middle and high school teachers are adopting. Dah. Apparently there was a rule that deems reading to your class/child only appropriate for elementary age. But, shit, it’s in high school when the words start getting really hard!

Reading isn’t just about deciphering the code, “sounding out” the words and taking that short pause between sentences. It’s about cadence and inflection and emotion. And I don’t care how strong of reader a child is, the first time you hand her Shakespeare or Mark Twain or Lewis Carroll and ask her to read the work aloud, its intent will be lost.

Can’t you remember when the teacher would go around the classroom to make each student read a few sentences from a text or fiction book? I would be so busy trying to figure out what my lines were gonna be, I couldn’t pay attention to what was being read aloud. And the kids’ varied oratories turned a smooth, concise thought into a crazy quilt of gibberish.

As one who loves to lay back and listen to audio books, I think it’s pretty obvious that “Read to me,” is a lifelong request. Why deny children the comfort of simply listening? Letting the words wash over, sink down and stick in their brains for contemplation and replay.

I still read aloud to Morgan. From poetry to test instructions to The Declaration of Independence. Sometimes you gotta hear it to get it.

Hey! Where’s MY Parent Involvement Award?

majestic_aI’m jealous. Our state department of education is partnering with our cable provider to dole out the Comcast Parent Involvement Matter Awards to parents (and those with legal responsibility for a child) “who have had a positive impact on public schools and to encourage all parents to get involved in whatever ways they can.” And I’m wondering how come parents who cough up a few hours/week from September to June get acknowledged? And homeschoolers get ridiculed?

Last year’s state winner brought a specialized, multi-sensory teaching-learning strategy, The Association Method, found to be successful for language-deficient children, to her child’s school and county. And for that I give her great credit. But outta the other side of my mouth, I wanna know why the paid educators were not aware of/had never considered using the DuBard’s method (developed in the 1960s?) Home educators have to come up with a lot more ideas than that every year.

Look, don’t get me wrong. As one who served as PTA Fundraising Chair when M was in first grade, I KNOW how hard some parents work to help their kids’ school. I spent alot more than a few hours/week up there distributing chocolates and chachkas, running Basket Bingos and Back-to-School Nights and making sure every teacher had funds for field trips and classroom supplies. So, yeah, a “Thank You” goes a long way.

When I read that now there’s a nomination process, award ceremony and cash prizes, I’ve got to wonder if any of that pomp and circumstance really motivates a parent to do one iota more than she was gonna do anyway. And if so, is that reward system (the same one used on their children) really the mindset we want to perpetuate? What happened to doing the best we can for our children simply because they’re our children?

Okay, that $1K statewide prize would make a “Thank You” go even further.