Category Archives: education

The Detail in the Moment

English: Category:Images of Dallas, Texas
English: Category:Images of Dallas, Texas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I didn’t go to preschool or kindergarten. Perhaps that’s why it wasn’t long into my first year of school that I was sent to the principal’s office. Here’s what happened: The teacher had left the room. In a firm moment of lost reason I decided it would be super cool to stand on my desk and pretend to be the teacher. We had desks that were little tables with separate chairs. I stood on my desk, not next to it or at the front of the class (well I didn’t need to, my desk was at the front of the class). I danced. I sang. I adapted my best Mrs. Nelson voice – yes, that really was her name – and reminded the class to sit down and be quiet. The class went from hilarious laughter to dead silent. For a moment I felt real POWER! Then I saw the fear in their eyes. Nope, they were not afraid of me. Me, still standing on my desk. I didn’t have to turn around to know who had just re-entered the classroom.

This same teacher soon discovered that my lack of attention and discipline might be related to the fact that I couldn’t see a thing she was writing on the board. Board? I didn’t get why we were even watching her scribble on it. All that watching seemed a waste of time. Mrs. Nelson sent me home with a note that I couldn’t read. Probably because I hadn’t learned how yet. It seemed so ominous.

Soon we were headed to Dallas to see our optometrist. I know. Seems extreme to go from Houston to Dallas to get an eyeglasses prescription but that’s what how my family rolled. Besides, the optometrist and his family were friends with my family. The only other reason I can think that we did that was  because the visit was free. We also ate and slept at their house. This was in the early 60’s. It seems such a weird and wacky thing to do coming from the perspective of nowadays. I mean, Dallas was a long way away in those days. Not that Dallas has moved closer. It just seems like it has because the speed limit is higher and cars are faster – or we drive faster, I don’t know which. Maybe it was a weird and wacky thing in those days, too. Or maybe the White family was that amazing to let us do it. Mrs. White was probably the hospitable person on the planet. She had five kids. We had four kids. That’s a lot of people to feed and house.

Thank you White family of Dallas. I know there are many of you all over the world by now but just a line to say those moments we spent telling stories late into the night from the living room floor were wonderful for all of us kids.

And thank you Mrs. Nelson from E.F. Smith Elementary for being the only teacher to write a positive note on my report card in five years of grade school. “Becky is a wonderful artist!”

So my first pair of glasses were light blue. Cat glasses. The first time I put them on when we got home from the store I went out in the back yard. It was the first time I saw detail. Detail!! You mean everyone can see the individual blades of grass on the ground? It isn’t just a flat mass of green? Clouds? There are clouds in the sky? Suddenly my colorful world was full of wonderful detail. There are not only places to go but things to see! How exciting!

I don’t think I ever got over that moment.

A Solution to the Lack of Education in American Public Schools

Demonstrates Proprio-Kinesthetic language learning
Demonstrates Proprio-Kinesthetic language learning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When addressing the issue of social reforms and added programs that have little to do with education and the “educational” experiments made on our children I didn’t even mention “whole language“. When my son began learning to read the district used something called “whole language reading” instead of phonics. The idea is that language is a system and a child can learn to recognize concepts faster if they learn whole words as units instead of breaking the word up into parts and pronouncing each individual letter.

The problem is that it doesn’t work.

My son is a college graduate with a good job in the oil and gas industry but he doesn’t find reading enjoyable. He tested into the gifted and talented program in kindergarten with his strength in math and science but the whole language system threw him off reading for life.

I believe a good foundation in phonics would have changed that outcome.

Having worked with special needs children for so many years, dealing with every level of every kind of special needs, I can say with some authority that whole language doesn’t work for the average or below average child. How can a child who can not distinguish between a letter and a number “get” an entire word? Phew! The BEST program I used for teaching children with reading challenges was a program called “Scottish Rite”. (This is nothing to do with “Free Masonry”.) It used phonics and the whole body (kinesthetic) to get a grasp of what each letter is and what it does and from there how it can be used. By “using the whole body” I mean that you teach the child to fully extend their arm and trace the letter in the air. You would be surprised at how well this teaches the proper direction of writing and reading.

So, what did the school district do? It pulled the Scottish Rite program out because “it costs too much.” What? That’s right. They pulled the only program that worked, thank-you-very-much! There was no substitute for what the program did. It was a series of lessons on video that we used in a quiet spot or empty classroom for one or two kids at a time. (It wasn’t as if they were paying me extra for it, so that wasn’t the problem.) I could remember what each lesson had been, so with permission, was able to continue teaching phonics in that way with great success.

I mentioned in an earlier blog that there is a simple solution to many of the problems in our public school system.

Parental involvement.

I don’t mean that parents should go up to their child’s school and yell at administrators for the problems they see with their child’s learning programs. That kind of action only causes ill will between parties and solves nothing. What I mean by parental involvement is more parents and grandparents and legal guardians getting their hands and feet dirty and volunteering.

Yes, I said it – volunteering.

When I worked in the school system I saw quite a few parents who the teachers called the “rabble-rouzers”, the “pit-bull team”, and other not-so-nice-descriptors, come up to the school to yell at the principal, their child’s teacher, and otherwise name-call. Then, they would leave. I never saw those particular parents actually volunteering, helping their child’s teacher in the classroom, or helping make the tons of little paper things that kids in Elementary need. It is one thing to call for a meeting such as an IEP meeting. (“Individual Educational Program” meetings, or ARDs where the IEP is developed for the child), it is another to yell at supposed “wrongs.” In a formal meeting (usually video-taped or recorded) where all the teachers, speech pathologists, special-needs teacher, etc are called together, the idea is to help figure out an ever-improving path of education for a child. This is a good thing, although once again this is a serious interruption of the educational process that should be taking place in the classroom, not to mention the ton of paper-work that comes with the IEP that  is then added to the teacher’s already over-loaded daily schedule. (A teacher must have a check list of modifications to implement on a daily basis for that individual child or two or more children. This takes special care to complete because it is a legal and binding contract under the child’s IEP.)

Parents and grandparents who came to the school on a regular basis rarely became angry at teachers, yelled at school principals, or declared that “my angel would NEVER do that!” when told of misbehavior. Parents who saw what went on in the classroom on a daily or even weekly basis were more likely to suggest improvements that were actually helpful, and to help teachers when real problems came up.

There is not enough good things I can say about parents and grandparents who take the time to volunteer.

But you can’t volunteer in your child’s school because you work full-time? For the majority of parents there is someone who they can trust to help them out. Even another parent of a child in the same class as your student could report back to you on a regular basis about the education (or lack of it) taking place. You can even take turns volunteering, just as you take turns with car-pooling your children.

How much better our educational system can become will not take more money thrown at it by a largely indifferent government. What it will take is more parents or caregivers getting involved in volunteering at their child’s school.

Volunteers make all the difference.

The Importance of Keeping the Special Needs Child in the Classroom (Or Not)

Calhan High School seniors in Colorado, USA.
Calhan High School seniors in Colorado, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By the time my son was in second grade, I was working as a special education assistant. I was an “inclusion” aide/a paraprofessional/etc. “Inclusion” is what happens when a special needs child is put into a regular classroom with his/her own peers. Different states and school district call it different things. It came into vogue in the late 1980’s when President Reagan passed some sweeping legislation regarding special needs people.

I must say that “inclusion” is an excellent idea with qualifications. IF the special needs child is willing and quiet and IF the school district provides the child with special needs with a trained assistant to facilitate the child’s participation in a regular classroom the program WILL work.

There are two reasons “inclusion” does not work. The first and most important reason is if the child is violent and unable to control impulses to scream, throw furniture, or sit in a classroom with other children. And when I say “sit in a classroom with other children” I mean if the child does not have the ability to stay in one place without outrageous outburst that result in chaos, that child is not able to “sit in the classroom with other children.” (I realize I’m repeating myself on various levels here.) The other reason “inclusion” does not work is when there is not a dedicated person to sit next to the child and quietly facilitate a level of learning so the child feels fully integrated into the classroom projects and curriculum with their peers.

I’ve seen it work and I’ve seen abject failure.

Another reason it does not work is perhaps outside what a school district has control of – the special needs child’s’ parent is unwilling or unable to recognize the limitations of their child in the public school setting.

I was a teaching assistant or a long-term substitute teacher in public school from grade K through 12th grade. My education degree left me a qualified teacher trainer for private school. Instead of pursuing that I got a degree in art and worked as a commercial artist. Then I had children. I spent nine years full-time with special education in public school before switching to the job as long-term sub where I would have to not only write curriculum but write the tests.

I’ve worked with teachers I wouldn’t want near my child and I’ve worked with teachers I adored. I’ve seen children taken from my classroom in handcuffs, kids who were too high to lift their heads from the desk, and I’ve seen children who desired to excel. On September 11, 2001 it was my first day as a long-term substitute in second grade. That morning when the planes hit the buildings in NYC the principal came on the loud-speaker and informed us that if parents came to pick up their children, we were to let them go. I didn’t understand what he was talking about. About five minutes later I did. I couldn’t believe it – teachers crying in the halls, frantic parents running toward classrooms. It all made sense later. Problem was I had just taken over from a teacher who had had a meltdown the day before. The next day the kids came to class crying. They thought that the planes had killed their teacher the day before and that was why I was there. I kept up with those kids for ten years. Every time they ever saw me it was a hugfest. Such sweethearts. What a dope their teacher was to leave them.

I’ve had the privilege to teach a child that everyone else had given up on. She learned to read, to write, and to add and subtract. That is the joy of teaching. Without “inclusion” that would never have happened.

But I’ve also seen children who have kept a teacher entirely focused on their needs to the exclusion of all the other children in the room. I’ve seen children in second grade throw desks, or have to be put into a “safe” hug and be carried out of the room kicking and screaming by two or more teachers. This stops the education process of 28 other children. There is no telling what kind of psychological aspects such doings have on a regular child’s mind.

With all the other distractions a regular classroom offers a child, to have such folly on a daily basis is nuts.

I have a friend who is a teacher at a charter school and her situation is even worse. The children in her school are booted forward every grade level but don’t actually acquire any skill level with any degree of accuracy as far as reading, writing and arithmetic. I don’t believe charter schools are the answer. They sound great, but they fall to the level of their counterparts. Water seeks its level and runs down.

Private schools are damn expensive.

Next blog: the solution isn’t so complicated.

The Truth About Public Education in America

Dutch schoolmaster and children, 1662
Dutch schoolmaster and children, 1662 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When milk is mixed at the processing plant it is called homogenization. The mixing process is so thorough there is no separation of fat from the liquid. The cream no longer rises.

This process is similar to what happened in the public school system when my oldest child began kindergarten twenty-five years ago and this scheme continues to this day. Where there used to be “levels” between classrooms of children, meaning there were the high achievers/high intelligence children in a classroom, the average children in a classroom, and the lower/slower learners. The year my son started, they did away with this. The idea being that the lower/slower children left school with low self-esteem.

The result of this experiment was that there were no “upper-level” classes and “lower-level” classes any longer. However, if the child were to be tested and passed as “gifted and talented” there were classes available for that child.

In theory children mixed together encourage the low-ability children to catch up to the high-ability children. The teacher was to teach to the higher level children and the low-level children would simply work harder. They would learn to be equals.

A fine example of the “liberal” thinking of the board of education. Humanism at its finest.

As you might guess it didn’t and doesn’t work like that.

You can’t throw enough money at children to make them into something they can not be.

The teacher never was able to teach to the highest because the low-ability children were left so far behind that they were in a constant fog of inability. So here is what actually happened: teachers spent 10 minutes of classroom time in the mornings teaching a new concept in language (grammar, reading, writing) and ten minutes in the afternoon teaching a new concept in mathematics, science, or social studies. Then the teacher would give a pile of work to the smart-quick-able children to keep them busy. At that time the teacher would spend the rest of any time she/he had available to take the lower-level children aside and either test them (for ESL [English Second Language] and/or to place them into “pull-outs” involving remedial teachers) or to re-teach them in any concepts that the other children had completed. This would take up about fifty percent of the teacher’s time in both the mornings and in the afternoons. That is in fact if there were no extra outside-of-the-classroom activities such as a program in the cafetorium about diversity, being nice, or saving our planet. This also excludes the arts, PE, music, and library programs. (I wholly support the arts, music, PE, and the library programs and believe if these were deleted the children would suffer grievously.)

The homogenized classroom is full. This usually means between 23 and 25 kids in a classroom in grades k thru 3rd and in 4th and 5th grade there may be 30 kids in a classroom. I’ve seen a classroom of 22 fourth-grade kids split up and the teacher reassigned to a different school. This is to justify the numbers and the monies allowed per teacher and classroom per campus. I will explain how I know this first hand in another blog.

The average child can read and write by the second grade. In  a classroom of 25 children there will average ten children who are far ahead of everyone else in ability and there will be ten children who are far below the other children’s ability. That leaves about five children who get it and are able to keep up with the upper ability kids. The children who are ahead are loaded down with busy work. While the teacher is re-teaching the other children, they must work on that busy work. By the second grade most of these kids have figured out that what they have been given is busy work. These smarties are likely to race ahead, finish everything and then proceed to disrupt the entire classroom. They are bored. Bored children are not well-behaved children. At this point they are not able to figure out on their own that there are other things to accomplish, other books to explore, other concepts to delve into. They are simply bored. This can carry on into middle school and high school. My experience has been that if a bright child in high school who is bored and who is not involved in sports will experiment with drugs, just saying.

This homogenization of children might have seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, we certainly don’t want any children with low self-esteem(!). But the problem is that the process only created more specialization teachers to be trained for pulling out the low-ability children, and do you not think these children KNOW that they are not the same as the other children. Of course they do. They may not be able to do the math or the language arts but they sure as heck know that they can’t keep up. And what about the self-esteem of the brighter children who now must get fussed at for bothering the rest of the class because they are finished with their busy work?

Don’t you just love that your children are the guinea pigs being used for all sorts of educational experiments?

After my children went through one of the country’s top-rated school districts (and the most culturally diverse) the only thing standing between them and a good college education was their lack of education and the ability of their mom and dad to write a check.

I will write more about gifted and talented and the special needs children in public education at a later date.