Tag Archives: public schools

Sometimes You Have to Hit Rock Bottom

Something interesting is going on in my small town. Mainly, the school board race is a big deal. Usually I pay attention because of the local Tea Party nuts who keep trying to get on, and I vote to keep them off, not because I’m excited about their opponent. The opponent typically has no background in education and is the incumbent and fine with the status quo, which I’m not. This year is different. For one thing, teachers and people with a background and education in child development and teaching are running. I’ve emailed them asking what will they do for autistic children, and their responses were exciting and included things that need to be implemented in schools. In short, for the first time I’m having to make a decision between two candidates I am excited about.

The state of education in Texas has been abysmal, and I think that Betsy DeVos was the straw that broke the camel’s back for a lot of people. I even thought of running for school board, but I’m horrible at popularity contests and instead am looking at unelected positions. It’s strange, because I was extremely vocal in protest about what little public schools offered my son, however, with that under attack, it’s sparked a resolve to do more to push back against it and improve schools.

Whether this will translate to momentum at the ballot box remains to be seen, and people are horrible at voting in these small election. But they matter!

I’m hoping that one of the people I am excited about can get on the board and make some needed changes and lead the fight against DeVos. Failing that, I’m just glad there’s some qualified competition for once.

Ted Cruz Refuses to See Constituents

Yesterday, 28 constituents, tired of being unable to leave messages with Senator Cruz, visited his office to talk with him directly. Not only were they denied permission to see him, go into his office, or talk with his staffers, but they called police to ask them to leave the property. You can see the video here.

After they left, Cruz actually shut down his office for the day.

I later learned that this is not the first time Cruz has shut constituents out of his office.

This is only feeding my belief that my government does not care about my voice or what I think and does not represent me. And that elected officials are doing this is extremely concerning to me. It indicates they feel they do not need to answer to the people.

I have major phone anxiety, but I have been calling my representatives, begging them not to confirm Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary. Among many things, she has stated she feels whether to implement IDEA, which is what guarantees children with disabilities and education, should be left to the states. This is done in the so-called name of school choice. Yet private voucher schools don’t have to accept children with disabilities. So what sort of choice is that for families like my own?

Even with IDEA, schools in Texas try to do as little as possible for children with disabilities. They were actually investigated by the Feds at the end of last year for putting illegal caps on how many children could be diagnosed with a disability. I have no doubt that if it is up to the states whether or not to enforce IDEA, then my son’s right to an education goes out the window.

While Buddy is not currently in public school, we are hoping to get there with him someday. And the thought that we may not have that option scares me. Further, I actually care about families with children with disabilities who can’t afford/don’t have the training to pursue alternative methods and will be left with nothing if public schools refuse to take their children.

And bluntly, Cruz’s actions are telling me he does not care what I think and about families like mine. This is not the behavior any elected official should adhere to. The people of Texas are paying his salary and for his office. We deserve to be heard.

Be Normal or Be Punished

Two years ago, 7 year old Kaylb Primm was handcuffed at school for crying because he was being bullied. Kaylb was both black and differently abled, having hearing loss in one ear. When I read about incidents like this, I get scared and frustrated. There are two prongs to this that are intricately tied together, the first being different, and the second bullying.

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The Problem With the Concept of Special Education

About ten years ago, something called mainstreaming became popular in the schools in my area. Mainstreaming is educating children with learning differences such as dyslexia in the regular education classroom. They would have a special education teacher in the classroom who would adapt the material for them. Before mainstreaming, children with learning differences were often sent to a special education classroom (also called resource, or a myriad of other different names).

The intentions behind mainstreaming were good. Most school districts in the US require that students learn in their least restrictive environment, and by sending children with learning differences to a different classroom you are by definition putting them into a different and less challenging environment. It was expected to boost student’s self esteem by having them stay in the general education classroom. And it was expected to increase tolerance among students in the general education population for their peers with learning differences.

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These Little Things

It’s Buddy’s last week in public school. On Monday he starts a program specifically for children with autism. And after today, I’m thinking it’s coming not a moment too soon. And the matter is so small it should be inconsequential, but it isn’t.

I want to encourage Buddy’s independence as much as possible. He’s five. Sissy is not yet 2 and I still have to take care of a lot of things for her, such as dressing her. Buddy can dress himself. One of the things that drives me crazy about the school dress codes is that if I give him a shirt with Jack Skellington or Olaf on it, he will get in his shirt, pants and shoes in five minutes flat. But if I give him a plain polo shirt that the school requires, even in his favorite color, it’s more of a pulling teeth experience to get him to dress himself. But he’s five, he’s able to do it, so I find ways to coax him into it (usually if I set them out at breakfast he’ll put them on as part of a routine, but then there are days when he doesn’t).

I’ve always had an issue with school uniforms. Way to promote conformity and stifle individuality! But as a parent, I find them even more irksome because it is so much easier to get Buddy to dress himself when he really wants to wear what I set out.

The second part of this is that Buddy does not care if his clothes are on backwards. Well, he cares if his shirts that have characters he likes on them are on backwards. He will turn those around himself. Not the polos. He will even button them up in the back.

One thing I firmly believe as a parent is that you have to choose your battles. Running in the street? Yes, that’s a battle I will fight. Even though Buddy does not want to, I make him hold my hand when we are in a parking lot or crossing the street. That is a battle I will fight. Wearing his shirt forward? Not so much. He’s not hurting himself. He’s not hurting anyone else. The person it affects most is him. I know some people worry about teasing, but given my own experience with being bullied, bullies will use ANY excuse to bully another child. If they aren’t going to bully him for his clothes, they’ll bully him for the strange way he talks. If not that, then they might bully him because he’s biracial. Buddy is NOT responsible for the bullies’ behavior. The parent of that bully or the teacher has a responsibility to tell that kid that bullying is not okay and to knock it off. In my mind, use it as a learning opportunity for kids to promote tolerance. Some kids like their shirts forwards, others backwards, but it really doesn’t matter.

If I try to coax Buddy into turning his shirt around he gets upset. Trust me, we’re quickly on the road to a tantrum if I push the issue. To me, it’s not worth the battle. He dressed himself, which is what I wanted. Him dressing himself makes my life easier. Me fighting with him over which way his shirt is facing does not. I’d much rather spend time having positive interactions with him than arguing with him over something that is of no consequence to anyone!

The school has sent notes commenting several times that they had him turn his shirt the right way and he didn’t protest with them. This does not surprise me too much. Like a lot of kids with autism, it takes Buddy a while to be comfortable telling people what he wants. In strange places he’s less likely to protest stuff that he will at home, where he feels more secure and comfortable (and unlike a lot of kids with autism he rarely tantrums in public). So he’s more likely to protest something with me than he is his teacher in a place that is not as comfortable for him.

Today they sent a note saying he needs to come to school with his shirt facing forward. Of course, they pointed out that he doesn’t protest with them so it shouldn’t be an issue at home.

Fine. Come live my life for one day. Come see what battles you’ll fight then. Just dismiss my experiences with my son, who I live with every day. Come, tell me I’m doing it all wrong. Come, tell me I should create a power struggle over something so small and insignificant as a matter of which direction his shirt is facing. Come, tell me I should fight with him over that as opposed to spending that time doing something we enjoy together because, for whatever reason, it is so vitally important that his shirt faces the right way.

It bugs me because it is such a small matter. He’s five. No one is going to be harmed if his shirt is facing the wrong way. And this is just a beautiful example in my mind of how school policies can just make life at home that much more miserable for parents and kids who have disabilities, or even kids who do not, and are more focused on appearances than actually creating environments that are kid friendly and conducive to learning. My mom fought this battle with my sister. Though my sister is not autistic, she has sensory processing issues and as a child especially was extremely sensitive to touch. The seams on her clothes were extremely painful for her as a result, and she preferred to wear her pjs and her clothes inside out. My mom had to fight with the school for this to be allowed. But how they would expect a 6 year old to learn anything when she is in physical pain because of the seams on her clothes is beyond me. If a kid learns best wearing pajamas, why is it such a battle to get the schools to let them learn in pajamas?

And for the record, my sister now wears regular clothes and outgrew a lot of her sensitivities. And she’s now getting her Ph.D., is well adjusted, and lives independently. This is not mollycoddling and spoiling. This is about schools having rules that are not realistic for children. This is about promoting policies that make them kid friendly and creating environments that are conducive to learning. For small kids, this means being comfortable. To me, this means focusing less on what our kids are wearing and more on what they are doing.

And no, I am not going to pick a battle with Buddy over this. As of now I’m just repeating the mantra, “two more days, two more day.”

The Decision to Homeschool

I recently came to the conclusion that it is in Buddy’s best interests to homeschool him. Schools in Texas are simply not kid friendly, and I am very worried about some things happening in his pre-school and that are happening in the districts. I am excited about being able to take this path with him, but I’m also mad. I’m mad that the public schools are so toxic to learning that I feel my only two options are to pay a lot of money I don’t have for private school or to homeschool.

Some background. Pretty much everyone in my family has been a teacher at some point in their careers. Three of my four grandparents have taught in the schools (the fourth gave flying lessons). My mom has worked as a kindergarten teacher for a private school, and I’ve studied child development, worked with children who are differently abled, and taught children and adults in several different settings.

Growing up, my parents were very anti-homeschool. They had a lot of valid complaints about it. It’s largely unregulated. Concerns about Evangelically Christian curriculums and socialization. However, I also have many different learning disabilities, and I really struggled in school in elementary school. My parents advocated for me, and often it was like hitting a brick wall. I know people look at me and say I have a Master’s degree so it can’t have been that bad, but I often feel like I made my accomplishments in spite of school and not because of it.

People who know me now also don’t realize that in elementary school, I hated it so much I never planned on going to college. It wasn’t until things got easier for me in junior high that I changed my plans. But what I found in elementary school made me hate learning.

My parents had been disillusioned by their experiences with me, and for my mom I will say not pulling me out and homeschooling me is one of her biggest regrets. Right now I have the means to generate income in the evenings so I can stay home with them during the day, and though it will be a tremendous amount of effort on my part I feel it is the best route to go down.

That said, I am angry. I am angry that the schools in my area are so not kid friendly. I’m also angry that I have yet to meet a parent in this area who is happy with what is happening in the schools, and I wonder why these policies are being pushed through even though they are so unpopular.

What am I talking about when I say schools are not kid friendly?

  1. No talking at lunch. One of the school districts in my area has a policy that kids eat in silence and then lay their heads down when they are finished. If they talk they are sent to detention. Um, isn’t one of the selling points of school socialization?
  2. Standardized tests. Texas started this trend. It is deeply entrenched here. No one particularly likes it but the general attitude is, “I survived standardized testing and I turned out OK, so I’m not going to protest it.” When I worked as a substitute, one classroom in particular stands out in mind. The lesson plan for math was to have the kids go through the testing manual, just like they were taking the test. This teacher had her lesson planning book out and I looked at it. It was not just something she had assigned for the sub, EVERY DAY all she did for math was having them answer questions in the testing manual. I had several kids ask me about a question that tested their knowledge on the mean, median and mode, and I had to stop class and give an impromptu lecture on it. None of them had heard about these concepts. In short, I do not want my kids to go to school where the textbook is a test manual.
  3. No playgrounds. I have subbed at elementary schools with no playgrounds and no recess. Kids need to move, and they need to play. They both learn better and behave better when they have time for unstructured play. But these days people see unstructured play as worthless…
  4. Homework. My son is in pre-k. He gets a packet of handwriting homework to complete throughout the week. This is not age appropriate work, it also doesn’t teach handwriting that well, and if anything seems like torture for the parents. It also advantages kids who have parents who have the time/means to do this with them over children with parents who do not.
  5. Labeling kids instead of behaviors. When I took an educational psychology class in college, we were told about a study where they gave a group of students a test, randomly selected several students and told those teachers that those students were gifted and they would be the next Einstein. Let me make this clear, these kids were actually average, no different than their peers. The only difference was in how they were labeled to their teachers. At the end of the year, those students who in actuality did no better or worse than their peers, surpassed their peers on a test given to them at the end of the year. The reason was because of the attention that their teachers gave to them. Cameras in the classroom showed that the teachers subconsciously set those kids up for success in a way they did not set up other students, and those students benefited. Sadly, we also know the reverse occurs. A kid gets saddled with the label of being “dumb” or a “troublemaker”, and teachers look for behaviors that confirms those labels while they discard behaviors that don’t as flukes, if they notice it at all. So I was very angry when I started getting notes home that my four year old with autism was being “defiant” for not staying in his assigned area. For one thing, I’m not even sure he understands the concept of staying in an assigned area, for another, teachers should know better than to label him as defiant! They should describe his behavior, not saddle him with a dangerous label that could follow him as he progresses in school! (Further, they have the behavior color codes, and every day he gets the perfect color code, which tells me his behavior is not disruptive and giving him such a negative label for not following instructions or staying in his seat when he has documented issues showing he does not always understand what is expected of him troubles me).

As someone who knows so much about child development, it is frustrating to see so little of the fruits of what we have found works best to help children learn in the schools. Kids learn best through play. Kids learn a heckuva lot more playing with blocks than they do with flashcards. Kids often want to please, but sometimes can’t figure out what we want because their brains and senses are still developing, which is why we describe the problematic behavior rather than labeling them as troublemakers! Or rather, this is what we should be doing, but aren’t.

I want to send my children to a school environment that is based on play, that gives them lots of time outdoors to move, that has someone help them as they learn to interact with others. We know so much about what works when it comes to educating children. And I am mad as hell that we do not see this in our schools.

I’m mad that my tax dollars are going to support a school system that I see as being so kid unfriendly that I am worried about continuing to send my son there. And the general consensus among my fellow counselors and specialists in autism when I tell them about my decision has been, “that’s the best thing you can do. The earlier the better.” The fact that people know and accept that the schools are not kid friendly, especially for kids who are differently abled, and movements to change it in my area are practically non-existent (I’ve checked) is maddening.

It also concerns me that in Texas, there’s pretty much a two tier educational system. A quality one for those who can afford private school and/or have the means and education to homeschool effectively, and then the lesser public school options. Yes, I could put my efforts to trying to starting a movement for reform, but my parents were never very successful, and I figure any change would happen too late for my children to benefit. The better option seems to be to put my efforts into giving them a quality homeschooling education.

I found a secular curriculum where the lessons plans are done out with modifications for children with autism. My child’s progress will be tracked by a computer, which will make things easier on me as I still will have to see clients in private practice to stay afloat financially. I also plan to keep Buddy in private therapy and to find a music group and swimming classes for socialization. He also loves his Sunday School class at the UU and will be exposed to different points of views there. I really dislike the idea of homeschooling to indoctrinate.

A final thing I think is imperative is to read the critiques from adults who were homeschooled. And reading and listening with the intent to understand and learn from them. What did they like about it? What would they change about it? What can I do to avoid the mistakes their parents made and build on what successes their parents had?

I’m making a big decision that will impact my kids tremendously. I owe it to them to make sure I give them an education that will prepare them for life in the real world.