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.

The Blue Pig

If you only read one post, make it this one.

img-3302You only have to read Lord of the Flies or watch a few episodes of Lizzie McGuire to understand why we homeschool. But if there was The Straw that told me I needed to get my kid outta public school, it was the afternoon of The Blue Pig.

When Morgan was in first grade, I was the Room Mom who came up on Friday afternoons to help with Game Hour. I’d gotten there a little early and I’m not sure what the class had been doing, but whatever it was, just a few of the kids were still at it. Most, Morgan included, had moved on to some DIY craft—making paper farm animal headbands. Their teacher, Mrs. Shuler, was floating among her students, helping them finish up and put away their stuff.

For the life of me, I can’t remember what Morgan was coloring, if anything. Even then, he had a way of avoiding the bullshit busy work. But I remember Kole, one of M’s Reading Buddies, ask Mrs. Shuler to “Look!” Stapled to the pre-cut, pale yellow cardstock headband was a brilliant Sapphire Blue pig. He smiled.

“Kole,” said Mrs. Shuler, “I’m very disappointed that you would color your pig blue.” And with that, she spun on her heels and went about her business.

I liked Mrs. Shuler, but I was appalled. Playing the emotional guilt trip of Disappointment is reserved for parents. As Kole’s teacher, she could have said, “You didn’t color the pig realistically.” Or even pronounced it messy. Those are judgment calls. Kids learn to brush off that kinda shit. But head games, man, that’s deep.

So that tore it. I figured I couldn’t screw up my kid any worse than a teacher. After all, as his mom, I get first dibs.