Find Joy. Seek Truth. Be Kind.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A quick rant

If you follow this blog you know we've got an exchange student. What I haven't mentioned is that he's a pretty good tennis player and is playing for his school.

Tennis is a fall sport for boys around here. That means that our student leaves the house at 6:30am to catch the bus to go to school at 7:30am. He get's done at 2:50 and reports for tennis practice from 3:30-5:30. My wonderful husband picks him up at 5:30 and gets him home for dinner at 6pm. He does his homework after dinner and has (maybe) an hour to visit before he gets to bed at 9:30pm or 10pm, just to do it all over again the next day. It's tiring just thinking about his schedule!

Relating to tennis and sports, he noted that for days that there are away matches, he's excused from class early so as to catch the bus to the match. He was amazed yesterday when his teacher actually reminded him 5 minutes before it was necessary that he should be leaving to catch the bus to the match. A different teacher changed a due date since he might not have time to finish his homework due to a tennis match. "I see how important American's value sports compared to academics" he said. Ya, I guess I see that too.

Traveling on the bus yesterday an assistant coach had a word with him. Our student was told that he should be putting more time and energy into tennis. She pointed out that school here wasn't that hard compared to what he was used to, and that the tennis season was so short and intense it should be a higher priority than school.

OMG! You've got to be kidding. Right? These are still growing bodies. They are being pushed to the limit with 2 hour practices 5 days a week, plus matches, in the Colorado August heat (90+ degrees as often as not) and he's being told to give more? From where I ask? These kids are asked - told even - to play through injuries, miss class, delay school work, miss family events, and then are being told by an authority figure to give even more?

Our student wants to play tennis. I can see that the camaraderie he has with team mates is invaluable. The chance to make new friends, improve his skills, be part of a team... these are all good things. But to value these above a student's health, intellectual growth, and community involvement is short sighted and not in the best interest of the student.

I am ashamed of our educational system and embarrassed by the values made evident by it's actions.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Terra Firma

Recently on an email group an issue I have dealt with came up. The post went something like this:
"My right brained child felt as if something was 'wrong' or 'missing'. He was profoundly sad." I've had similar experiences with my kids.

Right brained kids are exceptional, in many ways. Most of those ways are easy to understand, visual, kinetic, spacial, learns whole to part, sees the big picture, etc. Other ways can be more difficult. RBers can be highly sensitive, have over-excitabilities, be prone to depression or melancholy, keenly aware of the differences between themselves and others, among other things. There are also those RBers who are what some call "profoundly gifted".

Giftedness comes with certain attributes. It is important to honor and address all those attributes, not just the more socially acceptable intellectual ones. These kids can feel things deeply. I think it's important to respect that, but my experience has been is also really helpful to put it in perspective for them.

Some examples:

Once, when he was 4yo, my middle child refused a piece of chocolate because it was "all space. It's just space between the atoms." He has also felt sad about not having friends who "get" him completely. "You're my best friend Mom, but it's not the same as a real friend" (I posted about the friend issue in an earlier post.) What I have found is that when he is tired and/or stressed his existential angst is highest.

With my tired existentialist, trying to rationalize with him when he's emotional doesn't help. A list of friends and activities or a sensory exploration of the solidness of objects, would just escalate the situation. I have to be very matter of fact (in a loving way). "You're tired. Go to bed. We'll talk in the morning" or "We'll talk about this after you eat." has helped a great deal. Then later I point out how certain things bother him more under certain situations, and we come up with a plan on how to deal with it when it happens. He's given me a control phrase that means "I'm going to take charge now and help you, because you can't help yourself." It gives him a great sense of security knowing that I will take over when he becomes overwhelmed.

Another example is the kid who takes a situation to the extreme in his imagination:
"Mom, look at this rash. Am I going to die?" "A splinter! MOM! I need a doctor." When this started with my oldest I took it very seriously - that just fed energy into the situation. As he got older and this behavior didn't modify, I started responding to these kind of things with humor. I'd look very serious, sad, and loving, and saying something like "Hasn't it been a good life?" "A life is a life, no matter how short" or a brief "It's been good knowing you, kid." The first time he was shocked, but then we laughed together, and now when I do it he can grin and know that if I don't take it seriously he doesn't have to.

We need to honor our children's experiences. We need to learn as much as we can about how they learn and support them with that. We need to learn from the experience of others in similar situations. We also need to be terra firma for our kids, centering them, and helping them realize their connections to the objective world and diverse people around them.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Help us find some good books!

My faithful readers (all 2 of you) I need your help.

Given that it is impossible to read all the good English language books in just 10 months, can you recommend some high interest and/or American classic books for a 17 year old exchange student?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A kid in school

We're going to have an high school exchange student with us for the entire school year. I'm excited to have another member of the family and to have the opportunity to see our world through his eyes. What I hadn't expected was to get a whole new view of our community just because, for this year, I'm the parent of a schooled kid.

I just came from a new parent meeting at the high school our exchange student will be attending. It's hard to explain what they talked about. For me it was like listening to another language, our paradigms are so different, I really couldn't even understand everything that was said.

Shudder. I truly hope our own children will never want to go to high school.

The whole process is so artificial. Most of the "adjustment" to high school doesn't seem to revolve around academic learning. Rather, it seems to revolve around learning their system. It is astonishing to me how much cognitive dissonance one must accept to see through the world view of a high school. It felt Orwellian to listen to.

Some examples:

The principal made an effort to tell us parents how important we are. She talked about "School Nation" and "The School Way" (phrase has been changed to protect the guilty) "We can talk about the Way, but you've got to be teaching it at home for this to work." So, we're important - not because we're the parents who have a responsibility to raise our children. We're important because the kids can't learn the "School Way" with us telling them about it at home. Now the school is telling us what values and expectations we should be teaching our children.

A counselor quoting from "Nurture Shock" that high school age teens need 9+ hrs of sleep a day, superimposed with the Athletic Director, Assistant Principal, and Dean, telling us that the more involved students get the better it is. Involved means being in clubs, sports, going to dances, buying an activity card to get into the games for "free" (after paying for a $30 activity card) etc, many of which have activities that last until 8-11pm. AND that same counselor telling us to expect 4-6 hrs of homework a day for our students. So these kids get to school at 7:30am (!), which means waking up around 6:30 +/- depending on how far from school they live (our student will be bussed in and so have to be up earlier), getting off school just after 3pm, going to a team practice from 3:30-5pm, or going to a game which could run even longer, going home to eat and do 4-6 hrs of homework, and STILL getting to bed in time to get 9+ hrs of sleep? That would mean getting to bed around 9:30. Even a public schooler can do the math. Something's got to give there.

Or how about how the counselors who kept saying that parents should stay involved and in contact with the school, but that the students should be the one to contact the counselors if they had concerns "because we want the kids to start learning to take some responsibility for themselves." Which is a great idea. Yet, the kids are in each class for 51 minutes, with a 9 minute passing period in between, a 3 minute "warning bell" 6 minutes into that 9minutes passing period, before doing it all over again. They have to have a student handbook/schedule book with them at all times, in which is a place to have a signature from an authority if they need to be out of class during the class period. So, they want the kids to take on more "responsibility" but don't trust them to take a leak with out express permission, or to get to class with out being told by bells what time it is?

Here's the athletic director telling us of the many advantages to joining a team sport - learning sportsmanship, team work, resilience... all good things. He's encouraging the kids to get on a team and the parents to support their student athletes. Followed directly by the same Athletic Director explaining the grade requirements to stay on a team. "If a student has 2 or more Fs on a weekly basis they may not participate for the following week." So essentially, it's ok for an athlete to be failing 1 class at any given time? Join athletics, it's ok to fail 1 class, we expect that?!?

There's a full time "Community Resource Officer" assigned to this school. We were warned about the dangers of "sexting" - random, but probably good advice. She got up to talk proudly how good the safety procedures were for the school (all but one exterior door locked to keep people out during class time, kids regulated to the proper blocks...), and how "We don't have any more drugs than any other school." (Oh, yea for that.) There's another police officer assigned to the school as well. So, with two active duty police officers, this school is glad to say they aren't any worse than any other place.

Most of us have read that kids that eat dinner regularly with their families have better grades and do better in general than those who don't. A kid in high school who does any of the recommended extra curricular activities has a schedule which precludes a reasonable and/or regular time for a family dinner. The school obviously expects families to arrange their lives around the school schedule. Yet there are often conflicting school schedules should you have kids in different schools. Goodness help you should you have an elementary, middle school and high school student.

This is insane. I'll be getting a new world view from having this exchange high school student, but so far, it has little to do with "exchange" and more to do with "high school student".

Sunday, August 1, 2010

July's Books

I could have sworn I read more last month. Certainly I almost forgot I'd read The Red Pyramid, so maybe I forgot something else. On the other hand, we've had a lot going on, so maybe I haven't.