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Expert help for a problem that doesn’t exist

March 28, 2010 2 comments

So, several of my mom friends have recently, and for a variety of reasons, seen child experts. Someone who came in and observed their child and then offered a dispassionate, professional, and considered opinion on various aspect of the child.

Now, in each case, it’s because there was something…. different about the child in question. Not necessarily bad or wrong, just different. One is hearing impaired, one is exceptionally introverted, one is on the autism spectrum, etc. etc. And listening to the advice that they got from the experts I have decided that I want an expert consultation, too.

Not because there is anything wrong with The Child or even different. She’s very big and somewhat bright for her age, but well within normal parameters.

But I’d still like someone with a background in this stuff to come out and say to me, “After observing your child, I think that these strategies would help her. I think you ought to do these things and this is a way of thinking that will help you understand where she is coming from.”

Maybe that’s why I’m suddenly on a mom-book kick. But those are general books for general kids (and a fearful maternal audience). I want something specific, tailored to The Child.

I know it’s silly. And I’m not sure why I want it, frankly. And I won’t go get it because most experts are trained to look for problems and to solve them. We don’t have a problem and I don’t want someone coming in and telling us that The Child has a problem. I think Americans have a tendency to pathologize anything that’s outside of the norm and I think it’s a stupid tendency.

And, of course, then there’s the fact that “experts” always come with their own baggage. They subscribe to this or that theory, they believe in this or that educational or parenting method.

But I still think I am entering a new phase of motherhood and would like some sort of touchstone to help me understand things. Maybe that’s why I’m craving this.

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Categories: education, motherhood

Looking up from the bottom of a gravity well

July 20, 2009 2 comments

I know that most Mom Blogs are concerned with diapers and potty training and gender-parity issues and playground politics and whatnot. And certainly that’s what I spend most of my brain energy on.

But I have enough left over that I worry about other things, bigger things outside of my small, toddler-cluttered world. I worry that $6/gal. gas is almost certain to happen in the next five years and that it’s going to break our badly constructed country. I worry about Monsanto’s drive to destroy all food systems. I contemplate whether capitalism, which is entirely based on a consumer culture, is a sustainable social structure given what we now understand about the environment. I worry about the new Sufi terrorist group the Naqshbandi, because there is nothing more terrifying than a peaceful mystical group deciding it’s time to do something.

And I worry about being at the bottom of a gravity well.

All the talk of the anniversary of the moon shot has made me really think about the fact that people like Buzz fucking Aldren say we don’t need to go to the moon, just go to Mars. I want to grab them and shake them and make them read Moon is a Harsh Mistress until they understand.

Any country that controls the moon controls the Earth.

I know that there’s a treaty about not militarizing space. I’m not sure I think that’s the best treaty for us to have signed, but I get why we did it. But the fact of the matter is that it doesn’t take a whole lotta tech to be able to chuck rocks (semi accurately) from the moon. And a rock thrown from the moon will hit with more force than you can imagine. Think nuclear bomb, without all the effort necessary to get uranium, build a reactor, build a rocket, etc. etc.

“But,” you say, “it’s hard to get to the moon! Harder than building a nuclear bomb.”

I’m not sure about that. There are good arguments that it could have been done with gaslight-era technology. (I’m not saying that I believe the arguments, but smarter people than I give them credence.) If you’ve seen the lunar lander at the Smithsonian, you’ll know it looks like a kludge built in your dad’s workshop. And it was built with technology from the 1960s.

So when the Obama administration starts talking about “re-examining” NASA’s upcoming missions, I get nervous. When I hear that the shuttles are being retired and there won’t be a US vehicle to get humans into space for about five years, I get nervous. When I hear people like Buzz fucking Aldrin (I am so angry at this, can you tell) say that getting to the moon was about proving we could go there, and now that we’ve done it we should just aim for Mars…. I get very very nervous.

There are lots and lots of other reasons to go to the moon. We need to do more exploration, more scientific discovery. There are lots of other security threats in space — the satellite thing makes me wake up at night in a cold sweat. But let’s not abandon the moon folks.

If only because we don’t want people throwing rocks at us.

The costs of motherhood

March 23, 2009 1 comment

I’m the only stay-at-home adult in my condo complex. It’s a small association — only eight units — so it’s not surprising that I’m the only one. But it means that whenever an inspector needs to come in, the fire alarms need to be serviced, etc., I get to spend the morning at home making sure that the service guy gets in, has access to all the common areas, doesn’t get lost.

We have a condo manager and he would do it for us, of course. At the cost of $50 a pop, plus travel expenses.

After two years of this, it finally dawned on our manager (though not on me or anyone else) that maybe it would make sense to pay me to let these guys in. I’m going to get $25 for each instance. That’s less than half as much as we’d pay the professional, but still compensates me for the morning lost to each service call.

What I find really notable in this is that it took our manager two years to think of it. And I never did.

We pay the guy who lives upstairs from us to shovel the walk whenever it snows. No one would have even thought of asking him to do it for free. But of course the stay at home mom will be happy to spend four hours waiting for the plumber to come and fix the pipe to the communal washer and dryer.

There’s a concept in economics called externalizing the internalities. It’s big in environmental studies. It means (very loosely) that we don’t count costs of things that we take for granted. And I find it interesting that motherhood is squarely in that category.

I’ll give you another example. The Husband, who is very involved, thoughtful, considerate, and does all the laundry, was talking about his grandparents’ caregiver. Her name is Rosemary and she’s from Ghana and she lives with his maternal grandparents. She takes care of them, cooks and cleans for them. She gets one day off a week and one hour off every day. Otherwise, she’s on duty.

“Can you imagine?!” The Husband said, shaking his head. “Working 23 hours a day, six days a week, taking care of someone you have to bathe and help to the bathroom? How much would they have to pay you?”

I quirked a smile at him and looked down at The Child, holding my hand on the escalator. “Honey, I do it 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For free.”

He blinked. Twice.

“I do outweigh her, which is an advantage,” I admitted. “But she’s way faster than your grandparents are, so it probably evens out.”

“I was about to say that she cooks and cleans too, but I’ll shut up now.”

I don’t know how much Rosemary gets, per hour. Let’s pretend that it’s minimum wage. In Massachusetts, that’s $8/hr. Times 23 hours a day, times six days a week, times 52 weeks a year = $57K and change. (Not that I get a whole day off to myself every week. Hell, I’m barely get a whole hour off to myself every day.)

Now, Rosemary doesn’t have a car so she doesn’t do the shopping or any car errands. I do that, so I’m probably worth another $5K a year. I also let people into condo, which is apparently going for about $50 a pop on the open market. Add that all up and …

Well fuck. That’s a pretty good wage. Even more when you realize that I do a part-time gig on the side, and make dolls and quilts for The Child. I don’t know if you’d count the hours of research I spend reading articles and journals and books on childcare?

I haven’t spent a lot of time pondering the policy implications of this. But it seems to me that a tax break for at-home caregivers would not go amiss here — take The Husband’s salary and subtract my “salary” and we could pay taxes on only the remainder? It needn’t apply to just parents, though. What about all those suffering women (and it’s mostly women) who are caring for elderly or sick relatives? There’s a tax credit if you paid someone else to do it. Why not for those of us who are doing it ourselves and therefore aren’t earning money outside the home?

Maybe if we monetized this stuff, we’d get some respect?

The redshirting thing… again

April 19, 2008 Leave a comment

I’ve written about redshirting before. Though that particular post devolved into a scree against the half-assedness of the U.S. educational system. Now that I think on it, a lot of my posts degenerate into screes. Anyway…

The article in the Times which I cited last time was interesting because it contradicted a lot of things that the educational literature was saying. What’s more, the Times article made more sense to me than the official party line.

Basically, everyone in the biz of teaching kids insists that redshirting is pointless since all those differences simply evaporate by 5th grade. I remember hearing that and feeling two totally different things at once:

One was relief: The Child won’t be among the youngest, so it’s not really an issue for us, but she won’t be among the oldest either. And we just don’t have the cash to keep her at home another year.

The second was sheer skepticism: Those differences really disappear? Honestly? Truly? The teachers who have heard from previous teachers about how brilliant little Tommy is are simply going to disregard that information? The confidence and self-assurance built over those previous years is going to evaporate? What about little Suzie who has been struggling (unsuccessfully) to keep up with kids more than a year older than she is? She’s suddenly going to blossom into a brilliant, confident reader?

(There was a third thought, too. Which was, cynically, “Well! Isn’t that convenient that the educational researchers have decided that something that undermines their whole way of thinking is totally irrelevant?!”)

Well, the Times article points out that my second reaction was on the money. Redshirting has a significant effect. The youngest kids in each class tend to struggle. And once they get used to being behind, get used to not being right or called upon, they sort of get stuck in that rut. And the older kids, the ones who shine and are praised all the time, they get stuck there, too. They approach everything with the confidence of someone who doesn’t often fail, so they don’t often fail.

Turns out, there’s even more supporting evidence for this, too, in a strange place: the baseball diamond. The Boys of Late Summer, it turns out, are better players than the Boys of Mid-Summer. Little League cutoff is July 31. About twice as many MLB players are born in August (and so older than everyone else in their Little League year) than in July (and so the youngest in their year). In fact, the rate of birthdays occurring in the majors is high in August and then declines each month until July, a steady and irrefutable decline.

This, of course, makes me nuts again. The Child is a January birthday — she won’t be at any significant advantage or disadvantage against her year. But she will be at a significant disadvantage against those of her classmates (up to a third in my region!) who may be a full year older than she is. That’s just dumb and it fucks with my kid. Which makes me nuts.

What’s more, it’s a major problem and I don’t have an alternative solution to offer. (Other than a violent and complete overhaul of the U.S. educational system. Improbable.) I hate not having a solution. It bugs me.

Categories: City mama, education

Redshirting, Waldorf, and moving to Finland

March 16, 2008 4 comments

There was an article about redshirting in the Times recently which dovetailed nicely with some conversations I’ve been having with other friends. redshirting, for those of you who are sane and not aware of this crap, is the practice of holding a kid back a year from Kindergarten so that she is older and more mature than the others and therefore more likely to succeed. A lot of literature says that those benefits wear off by fourth grade but some research indicates that in our track-obsessed schools, the habit of being better sort of sticks with the kids well into older grades.

My friend K says that in her (high-end, pricey, exclusive, Cantabridgian) preschool, almost all the kids are going to be redshirted. She’s so sick of it that she’s pulled her kid and put him in the public preschool. (Well, there are other factors, too. But they aren’t relevant to this post.)

I can’t help but think about how a lot of parents simply can’t afford another year of day care or preschool or whatever and need to get that kid into a publicly funded school. So once again, the rich get the advantage.

But more than that, I was reading the article and a few things leapt out at me. One was how in Finland, which doesn’t start school until age 7 (and even then, it’s much less “educational”), these age differences don’t appear. Another was about the pressure on kindergarten students to do:¬† to read, write sentences, be able to do all these thing which we really used to teach in first grade way back when.

Five year olds should not be doing worksheets. They should be running around, learning kinetically, interacting, discovering their inner worlds, building social alliances.

What amazes me is that even as we push earlier academics, more homework, and more rigorous testing, the quality of our graduates continues to spiral downward.

Back when I was a working woman, I worked at a well-known newspaper for several years. I had an intern who was about to get her masters in journalism and was doing scut work for me while looking for a job and finishing two credits. I will repeat: a masters. In journalism. And I had to rewrite every sentence she wrote for me. Her grammar was appalling, her vocabulary limited, and her grasp of style lacking. (Style is a big deal in the newspaper world.) What’s more, the basic skills of j-school had eluded her. She was going a piece on landlords and I had to walk her through every step: Call the landlord association. No, I don’t have the number, here, look it up on Google. Ask for the names of a few landlords who would be willing to be interviewed. Call those people. Set up interviews…. it was like leading a dumb dog through an obstacle course.

She graduated with honors that fall. I refused to write a recommendation for her.

We know so much about how kids learn and we’ve utterly failed to implement that knowledge in our schools. We know different kids learn differently — visually, aurally, kinetically — and yet we insist on teaching all one way. We know kids needs exercise to focus properly and we keep cutting¬† gym and recess. We know…

Christ. We know so much and it’s all so screwed up. How the hell do I fix this in the three years before The Child goes off to school? Because Waldorf seems the only solution but I can’t afford $12K for the only Waldorf kindergarten in the area.

Categories: education, motherhood