Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Take time to get to know me

Take the time to get to know me

Yesterday I got in trouble because I did not do my homework.   Last night when I was supposed to be doing homework, my parents were fighting again.   My father said he was going to leave us.  My mother told him to go.  If my father leaves how will we live?  My mother does not have a job.  Please take the time to get to know me.

I am the girl in the second row.  I am not pretty and I don’t have a good body.  I am 14.  The other girls in my grade have boyfriends.  Boys don’t look at me and I know it is because I am not pretty.   I really want a boyfriend.  I could have a boyfriend if I let boys do some things with me.  I don’t want to do that.  Sometimes I get into trouble because I am sending notes to boys.  Please take the time to get to know me.

My parents are very smart.  They both have really good jobs but the jobs keep them very busy.  They don’t have a lot of time for me and my little brother.  We have a nanny to look after us.  When I get in trouble in school, you make my parents come to school for a meeting.  When I am in trouble in school, I get attention from my parents not the nanny.   Please take the time to get to know me.

I live with my mom and my brother and sister.  There are three of us and my mom.  We don’t have much money.  My mom loves us very much and she works long hours to make enough money for us to have food, a house, clothes and other stuff.  Sometimes our house is crazy.  It is hard for my mom to remember to sign all the forms from school.  It is hard for her to get off work to come to school meetings.  This makes you annoyed.  Please take the time to get to know me.

My parents love me very much.   I have a younger sister.   She is very smart.  She is smarter than I am.  She can do things already that I still don’t know how to do.  I try very hard but I have special learning needs and they make me have trouble learning.  I am way behind other kids my age.  My parents say I need to work hard and I will catch up.  I don’t think I will.  My parents love me but I think my special learning needs embarrass them.  They don’t talk about me to our family the way they talk about my sister.  Please take the time to get to know me.

I am the kid in your class that seems uncooperative.  I am the kid who does not do homework or bring in permission slips.   I am the kid who causes you a lot of extra trouble when you are just trying to do your job and teach your class.  There are things in the rest of my life that I wish you could understand.  Please take the time to get to know me in this new year.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Learning the hard way

Learning the hard way

Americans are learning about government the hard way.  The impeachment of an American president is about to happen for only the 3rd time in our nation’s history.  Unfortunately, this is a very tough way for people to learn civics.
Turns out that Americans know very little about their government and about how it is organized and conducted.
It is really frightening.   Twenty-one percent of the people surveyed  recently could not name all three branches of government.  I am not talking about the people who are leading those branches; I am talking about just the generic name for the branch.   Foreign born people who wish to become U.S. citizens need to take a test on US history and government.  Ninety-one percent of the people taking the test pass it.  When the same test was given to native-born citizens, the majority of people taking the test in EVERY state failed it, with the exception of Vermont.  You go VERMONT!   Anecdotally, people in other countries know more about our history than our own citizens do.
And the situation is not any better in higher ed.  Should you desire, a student can get a bachelor’s degree from any college in our country without ever having to take a course in American history.  AND, in 80% of the colleges and universities you can major in history and still avoid taking a course in American history.  
Yet we expect people to vote and to make wise decisions on who is going to lead our country and on what direction we will be taken. Sometimes I think it is just as well that only about 37% of Americans vote since so many people do not know enough to make an informed decision.  Donald Trump regularly complains about fake news.  How are citizens even able to recognize what is fake or not in the news if they have so little knowledge about the history and current events of our own country.  
STEM skills are very important and they can even lead to high paying jobs.   Being an informed citizen in a democracy is also very important.  Without that informed body of citizens there won’t be those good jobs down the road because our country will be misled and there will not be informed voters to turn it around.
Our country’s history is our country’s story.  Like any story, it can be well told or not.  We have a responsibility to our children to make sure that our history is a well told story.  As Shakespeare said, “what’s past is prologue.”  And anyone not knowing our history could be stuck in a Groundhog Day and learning the hard way.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

False Promises

False Promises

The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) promises families choices if they believe the school has failed to provide the required free appropriate education at public expense.   Families have been told that they and their children will have the right of due process in fighting back against what they believe to be an inappropriate placement. 
Turns out that in practice, not all kids are getting those benefits.  Race and income level play a significant part in the question of “who benefits?”.
The nonpartisan investigation arm of Congress analyzed the data from five states (Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania) for the 2017-18 school year.  School districts in high-income areas were four times more likely to have at least one due process mediation as compared to less affluent areas.  Correspondingly, school districts with lower income families had many fewer due process claims.
There were multiple factors that led to these differences.  Obviously, lower income families did not have the funds for lawyers and expert witnesses.  A number of years ago, Congress passed legislation that requires school districts to pay the cost of a family’s attorney if they prevail at a hearing.  However, that does not include the cost for expert witnesses nor does it help a family put out the money in advance.  Given the limited success rate of families since the make-up of the hearing boards has changed, few attorneys are willing to accept these cases on contingency.  Add to the cost factor, the limited opportunity to take time off from work for lower income families and you can see why due process is not seen as a resort.
One U.S. Representative from Virginia has called the results of this investigation a “wake up” call saying that the civil rights provided to children under IDEA are not equally accessible to all students.  Of course, he is correct.  But since IDEA (and EHA before it), school districts have been hard at work to limit these rights.   Families initially did not need to be represented by attorneys.  They could be represented by lower cost child advocates.  That changed as school districts hired high powered attorneys to represent the school district.   Early on families won 90% of the hearings.  Hearing officers were, at that time, required to be knowledgeable in the areas of the child’s disability.  That too changed when court masters, with little to no knowledge, of children with special needs and/or what their educational needs were replaced the educational professionals as hearing officers.  To add to the insult, these masters were trained by the very boards of education who were appearing before the master.  Now families prevail in about 5% of the cases.
Read IDEA, the promises will warm your heart.   Sad to say, they are false.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

You've Got to be Carefully Taught

You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught

That’s a line from the old musical, South Pacific.  The rest of it is… “to hate and fear, it’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear, to hate all the people your relatives hate, you’ve got to be carefully taught.”   Turns out we aren’t teaching enough of anything and what kids are learning by omission because we aren’t teaching is that difference is bad, that is why we don’t talk about it.
Sesame Workshop did a broad range survey of over 6,000 parents of children ages three through twelve and over 1,000 teachers from pre-school to fifth grade.  Parents aren’t talking and kids are noticing.  They notice that people with certain skin tones live in places that are the same or different from their own.  They notice how people like them are featured in social media, the movies or TV.   They see lots of advertising.
The findings of the survey were interesting.  Only 10% of families discuss race with their children.  Does that mean if we don’t talk about something it won’t impact us?   Minority parents seem to be more on the job than majority families, but still not enough.   Twenty-two percent of black parents discuss race with their children but only 6% of white families do; and nearly 35% of all families say they never talk about race or social class with their children.  Fifty-seven percent of families say they never or rarely talk about gender with their kids.
These conversations aren’t happening in school either.  Although the majority of teachers say they would be comfortable talking about these topics, less than half think it is appropriate for them to be doing so!
We used to think we couldn’t do sex ed in schools because that would make kids sexually active.  Then we realized that hormones more than talk made kids sexually active and that failing to discuss sex just made it more intriguing.
Now families and teachers are saying talking about race will make kids more race conscious and even racist.   Turns out that is wrong too.  Research shows that by 3 months of age, babies begin to show preference for their own racial group.  I would be interested in knowing if that is the racial group of the caregiver and what happens when the caregiver is of a different racial group than the child or if the parents are of two different races.
Researchers recommend that we start early discussing differences in skin tone and that normal is really a statistical word meaning most prevalent not necessarily preferred.  Families should be open about privilege both racial and socio economic.  Failure to show diversity in ads, on TV or in movies should be pointed out to children and kids should be told that these depictions do not represent reality.
When we demonstrate by our behavior that certain topics are taboo, we are sending a clear message that these topics need to be hidden.  Turns out there are many ways to carefully teach kids to hate and fear.