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?

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.

Teaching Sucks…

blue eyes 4“Actually, working in the school system sucks,” emailed my dear friend who teaches at a public middle school on the West Coast. She’d gone back to college to get her teaching degree less than ten years ago. So teaching was her second, chosen career. Not a job you just stumble into. She went into it with the best intensions. I guess all teachers do. But there you go… The Road to Hell.

And regardless of whether you’re discussing a digestive, solar or education system, the commonality in definition is a group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent elements forming a complex whole. And with any group, you’re only as strong as the weakest link in that chain.

Problem is, at least in a system as large as United States Department of Education, when a link appears to weaken or even breaks, the System can’t stop to fix it. It’s like trying to change a flat tire on the busy highway at night. It’s just too scary. So you drive on the rim for as far as you can. And that’s what schools seem to be doing. Driving on the rim. Most kids will get where they’re going – to graduation – but the rim’s warped.

“This job takes all your energy and creativity,” continued my friend. “And when you don’t get the results as the System measures them, (secretly you know it’s not possible, but you still believe that you, if you really work, that YOU can make it happen) you feel worse than useless. Incompetent. Stupid. Angry.”

And that’s really what public education in America is now – a System. A massive, pulsating, feed-me system. Kinda like that tentacled alien creature that assimilated all the sled dogs in John Carpenter’s The Thing. It had started out as such a cute, blue-eyed, Malamute stray. Unfortunately, when the USDE started swallowing the teachers, nobody was there with a flamethrower.

Declare Your Major!

career books cropI was reading an article in my county newspaper about the impact of local overcrowded public schools. One frustration expressed was that because there aren’t enough technical high schools, it’s difficult for children (parents) to plan their (kid’s) right career track during middle and elementary schools. So what does that mean? Now you’ve gotta declare your major in fourth grade?

If my Westowne classmates and I had stuck with our career goals in fourth grade, the world would be full of veterinarians. Back then, nobody wanted to a Forensic Anthropologist or Personal Life Coach when they grew up.

In the old days, in seventh grade (or Junior High, remember?) you were either College Prep or Vo-Tech. The classes were organized by grade and then a letter. 7-A was the smartest kids in seventh grade taking French. 7-B was the smartest kids in seventh grade taking Spanish. (That was my class. But I got a D in Spanish.) And so on down to mid-alphabet, maybe K or M.

You changed rooms for each subject, but basically traveled with the same bunch of kids. We’d scatter for Band, Music, Gym and Home Ec or Shop. But regroup for the classes that counted towards college.

The students in 7-J took alotta noisy, kinda mysterious, door-closed classes in the basement. You never saw them in the Language Lab or the Science Hall. Those kids would have j-o-b-s before they graduated from high school, if they graduated from high school.

In our white-collar eyes, the Vocational Technologies kids were the dummies. In retrospect, perhaps they were the smart ones. While most of us were off pursuing a college education and a lofty career, they were working in the local gas station or restaurant. Now all of 7-Jers own those dealerships and franchises.

And some of us academia are still chasing the dragon.

The School Locker Nightmare

Lkpp9xDo you still have nightmares about not being able to find your school locker and even if you do eventually find it, you can’t remember the lock combination and even if you do eventually remember it, the damn door won’t open? And does the Late Bell just keeps ringing and ringing? Yeah, me too.

Before there was Middle School, there was seventh, eighth and ninth grades—Junior High. My reoccurring dream involves the putty-tan half lockers that lined the modern (circa 1967) Music Wing at CJHS. Unless you were coming up the stairs from gym, to get to your metal box with its built-in three-digit cipher, you had to veer off the first floor’s main drag, go down a few steps and then through a double set of double glass doors into the hallway. It got so congested; Safety monitors were assigned to enforce its entrance as One Way, going in. Like shiners into a minnow trap.

So every time I see yet another teenager TV sit-com set in front of a well-lit bank of well-decorated school lockers, I cringe. In junior high, getting to/fro one’s locker seemed like a crazy multi-floor version of musical chairs. By high school, you’d conquered class changes and could fit some make-out time between bells. But when you’re in seventh grade, it’s the stuff dreams are made of.

Yet Lizzie, Hannah, Raven, Zoey, Cory, Carly and their cronies seem to spend an inordinate amount of school time giggling and gossiping, plotting and planning in front of their lockers. I clicked past Nick TV’s, iCarly, just in time to see three boys rolling around like a snake ball in their Middle School’s hallway. In my (not the) day, kids got suspended for that kind of behavior, not a laugh track.

Fortunately Morgan’s never been taken in by the taking of artistic license. But more than one young homeschooler, especially, it seems, eight-year-old girls, has been brain-washed into believing that’s really what public school is like and beg to be a part of the show. Bratz dolls in training bras.