Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Mystery of Lonely "F"

Up to high school, we really didn't have an official "grading" system in our homeschool. One of the things I quickly realized as we arrived at the high school level, not only am I the mentor, the chauffeur and the parent, I also get to be a guidance counselor. As a new "guidance counselor" I have to say, I still am opposed to grading students. I am afraid it will become the measure in how my student views himself as a whole person, it will tempt me to use this system to measure if I have provided "the student with a comprehensive education experience" - how ever one can really do that. But for us to proceed past GO, collect the two hundred dollars and play the game of college, we need a transcript, so god-help-me, I am keeping "grades". I am keeping "grades" with the understanding that this is an understood way to show a college we measured certain aspects of what my student "learned" in high school. But hey, when else in life does one get a "report card"? May as well do it just this once- right?

How do you measure one's knowledge? We can look at effort applied, we can look at and measure assimilation of an "accepted" base of "facts" about a subject. But what if you have a student that absorbs the obtuse items along with all the "accepted" facts and he prefers to remember and assimilate the obtuse? Does that student get a "failing" grade when we try to measure -- say with a standardized test? Often that is what happens to the gifted student in a school system. But then there are also other issues that can effect how a student gets "graded" that often isn't considered in a "grading" system.

We all process information at different paces, with different interest levels and in different ways. Some of us understand things in "pictures", in words, in lists, in cartoons. We all learn different ways and most of us, whether we want to admit it or not, learn on a need to know basis, in spite of the best efforts of our school systems.

We all process sensations in different ways too. We don't like the way corduroy feels, we don't like the sound of scratching on a blackboard, we hide our eyes from bright lights, we don't like to feel wet or the tickling of grass on our feet, we sense what other people are feeling, or we might not be able to sense that at all. When we recognize that this isn't the way everyone deals with life, we find ways to hide these personal "quirks" because in a school system we need to be a salmon or a wheel rolling smoothly on a running train.

What would you say about a kid's "report card" where they had been granted 5 "A's", 1 "B" and an F in Gym class? I found it fascinating actually, especially as a new "guidance counselor" who only has one student to worry about. It was an interesting mystery to solve, the mystery of the lonely "F".

So if you were to solve the mystery of the lonely "F", what kind of clues would you need to make an educated "guess"?

What if the kid were in Elementary would that matter to our mystery? How about if the kid were in Middle School? What if this report card was describing the efforts of a high school age student? Because it is and that's what make it so interesting to me. Especially since this student is required to pass gym in order to graduate and receive a diploma from the public school system.

One could conclude that this kid was being stubborn or lazy about having to "perform" in a group with other peers. One could also conclude that this particular teen is making a statement, which is also typical in the teen years because if you look at the idea that in all the other "difficult", more "meaningful" subjects, this student performed beautifully, like the trained seal the school system hopes to graduate. But there are still more clues we could consider.

What if this student also has had issues with penmanship? What if this same student also has issues with the way food tastes or feels? What if this student has sensitivity to the way clothing feels and has sensitivity to feeling wet and cold? What if this student clung to certain routines and needed a certain predictability to life a lot of the time. This student has these sensitivities.

Are these worthwhile clues to solving the mystery of the lonely "F"? They are.

The public school system makes me crazy. We have granted so much power to this system over our families. We allow this system to dictate the need for medical treatments for our kids like Ritalin and immunizations. We allow this system to determine how our kids learn about drugs, intimate relationships and social diseases. We allow this system to measure the "knowledge" our children have acquired with them because we have come to believe that this is what is best for our children. We have let the school system convince us that we as parents are not able to impart the knowledge and wisdom our children need to be successful in a global community.

We have let the school system convince us to value the letter grades they assign to our children's efforts so much that our children begin to believe that these letters measure who they are. We reward our children for the "good" letters and chastise them for the "bad" ones. We take the "grading" game the public school system has set up for our children and try to make our children fit their game without ever really considering that maybe they don't really "fit" or maybe they shouldn't be made to "fit".

There is one quote from Patrick Farenga that has stayed with me for years:
The concept of universal compulsory schooling is a very recent idea, one that is not even two hundred years old, yet we act as if it is an ancient, sure-fire way to make sure our children "learn something.””
A fact known by the homeschooling community is that the established teaching profession is very intimidated by the successes of homeschoolers and this group indoctrinates any new members entering the profession to the idea that homeschooling is bad for our society.

Read an item from National Education Association (NEA), the most prominent teacher's union in the United States, a list of resolutions (2007-2008 NEA Resolutions. The section on Homeschooling:
"B-75. Home Schooling
The National Education Association believes that home schooling programs based on parental choice cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience. When home schooling occurs, student enrolled must meet all state curricular requirements, including the taking and passing of assessments to insure adequate academic progress. Home schooling should be limited to the children of the immediate family, with all expenses being borne by the parents/guardians. Instruction should be by persons who are licensed by the appropriate state education licensure agency, and a curriculum approved by the state department of education should be used.

The Association also believes that home-schooled students should not participate in extracurricular activities in the public schools.

The Association further believes that local public school systems should have the authority to determine grade placement and/or credits earned toward graduation for students entering or re-entering the public school setting from a home school setting (1988, 2006)."

If you would enjoy an amazing study of the whole antiquated public education system, you can read the whole report at their website. If you do get through one of these resolution lists, you may conclude that this organization does not envision a parent as being able to impart worthwhile knowledge or life skills to their children. And boy you ought to read what they have to say about educating the gifted kid. But sorry, I digress, it's not just the public school system that makes me crazy. It's is also the willingness of people to ignore all the clues to the mystery of the lonely "F", or even worse, see some of the clues as a defect, or a character flaw. So far we have a lot of clues we can use in solving the mystery of the lonely "F". But let's add some more ideas.

What if we found out that this student was identified as being "above average" in the school system, not identified as gifted, but "above average". Do we go back to the idea that this student is being lazy or stubborn with Gym? Do we go back to the idea that maybe this kid doesn't see Gym as worthy of his talents? Maybe this student recognizes that the requirement to pass Gym for graduation is ridiculous and they are just making a "radical" teen statement. But we are forgetting about the less obvious clues we have. The clues that this kind of student has become expert in disguising in the school system; The ones that involve how this student may be processing sensory information, like that this student has issues with the way clothing feels and has sensitivity to feeling wet and cold. That this student clings to certain routines and needs a certain predictability.

When Sensory Integration Disorder Interferes with Your Child's Social Skills
"Social activities other children find enjoyable can be extremely uncomfortable for kids with sensory integration issues. As a 'tween or teen, a child with sensory integration issues may have difficulty tolerating the clothes that all the kids are wearing, and feel ostracized because he constantly wears ratty old tennis shoes and sweatpants. Eating with other kids can cause social anxiety, as a child's inability to tolerate different food textures, or notice if he's got crumbs on his face, can make him feel embarrassed."
(from an interview with Lindsey Biel and Nancy Peske authors of: Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Integration Issues)

Teens who have had these challenges in the school system become experts at hiding what they perceive as the things that make them "different". They become experts at ignoring who they are and they can become depressed or aggressive. I know this because even teens who are homeschooling hide their "quirks" too and they sometimes become depressed or aggressive. These teens ignore the very things that make them have such a unique perception of the world; what makes them a true individual. They allow these traits to become something negative. Relatives don't want to see a "flaw", because it's more effort for them to look at the world another way than through the glasses they already use. Even the professionals label Sensory Integration issues as a "disorder". Kind of cruel I think.

What can parents do?
The most crucial thing a parent can do is to acquire sensory smarts. Recognize that life is a sensory event, and there will often be times when the sensory input most of us take for granted and don't even notice will greatly affect their child. Respect your child's sensory integration needs and teach him how he can meet his needs in a socially acceptable, safe manner.
(more from an interview with Lindsey Biel and Nancy Peske authors of: Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Integration Issues)

At our house, as I have written before, we use humor to bail ourselves out of really uncomfortable and nasty times. One of my students favorite tee shirts has a saying on it that goes like this "You may think I am different, I think you are all the same". It may take a while for me to recognize that a severe case of "mean-teen" is generally due to me misreading how my student might be perceiving something. But eventually I get there and I remind my student to appreciate his individuality and that I appreciate his individuality.

I don't think we'll ever solve the mystery of the lonely "F", but it is a classic reminder to those of us who have these brilliant kids to remember to tune into how your student might experience the world. But not to just tune in, recognize that maybe their perception might just be a bit more interesting than yours.

by Amy Cortez -Editor The Eclectic Telegraph - who homeschools a gifted student and notes what she learns at www.brightkidsathome. Reference twice exeptional. Reference identify.

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