Tuesday, November 19, 2013

America's "White Suburban Moms" are upset WHY, now?!?!?

Earlier this week, America's Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, made a remark that has touched off a firestorm of commentary: "It’s fascinating to me that some of the pushback is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were."

Not long ago, he was blaming pushback on the Common Core State Standards Initiative- which is IMO in essence a de facto national curriculum, perhaps not in writing but in reality, where the rubber meets the road - on "fringe groups," such as Tea Party Conservatives and conspiracy theorists. To be fair, there is a fair amount of resistance from those groups, but the vast majority of resistance I am seeing is from parents, from teachers, even from administrators - from regular people, in other words, from people who are seeing first-hand the effects of Common Core on their schools, their students, and their own children. This is also hardly defined by race, either; when public schools in Chicago and Philadelphia were closed en masse due to "budget shortfalls" or "underutilization" - and many in Chicago likely to be replaced by corporate charter school chains, negating the "underutilization claim," while certified teachers are being laid off and replaced by Teach For America corps members with a scant 5 weeks of training - it was parents and students and teachers and community members of color, those who taught in and attended those schools, who raised their voices the loudest.

Resistance has been made out to be a race issue, a political Left-vs-Right issue, even a religious issue - but the truth is that it's been coming from everywhere. And many of the "white suburban moms" pushing back have NOT "suddenly" come to any realizations of the sort, but have realized some time ago, with growing certainty, that something is rotten in the arena of American public education. Online Facebook groups such as Dump Duncan have been around for a while, but others with more provocative names like BadAss Teachers Association and Stop Common Core (here is the Maryland group) have spawned their own spinoff groups, whether state BAT groups, a parent group (BadAss Parents), even a Progressive BadAss Teachers group. Arne Duncan's latest aim at white suburban moms, though, really touched a nerve; within hours, Moms Against Duncan was formed on Facebook and has been growing steadily since the remark was first made a couple of days ago, with membership comprised of mothers of ALL colors - and fathers and grandparents too!

This article in the Washington Post education blog The Answer Sheet touched off its firestorm. I've been following the Answer Sheet blog for a couple of years now, and while responses on some posts have been thick and fast, I don't recall EVER seeing just shy of 2000 comments (as of this writing - probably over 2000 by the time I'm done proofreading!) sprout up on a post there in the space of only 2-3 days. Also in response, a petition asking for Arne Duncan's removal from his appointed post has been created; a similar petition that made the rounds this past summer stalled out at about 2600 signatures after its 30-day window; this one already has 2600 signatures in its third day!

I have tried to avoid using this blog for posts of this nature, but today I'm making an exception. Here is what I had to say, modified with links added, a correction in spelling, and a slight change in wording near the end from my response on that post:

Monday, November 18, 2013

Anti-Bullying Lesson - Follow-Up #2

Sent this out today (tried calling between lessons and Sick Monkey but ended up with voicemail):
Hi [Curriculum Office Specialist]! CrunchyProgressiveMusicMama here - I left a voicemail at the curriculum office as well in between other stuff going on here (I teach private lessons out of my home AND I have a sick 3rd-grader home with me today), but I wanted to follow up in writing.

A couple of weeks ago, my younger daughter was working pretty diligently on a self-portrait, as directed by her classroom teacher. She's a pretty detail-oriented kid, so over the week they had to complete the assignment, she put a LOT of herself into this. Had I known that this would be used for the "crumpled paper" anti-bullying lesson, I never would have let her take it to school, not something that she probably invested 3-4 hours in (on top of the hour-plus it already takes her to do her homework nightly - but that's another kettle of smelly fish LOL) over the course of the week she worked on it.

So here is the aftermath: http://crunchyprogressivemusicmama.blogspot.com/2013/11/anti-bullying-lesson-really.html

Friday, November 15, 2013

Anti-Bullying Lesson - Follow-Up

Wow - that last post about the anti-bullying lesson my third-grader's class undertook sure did get a lot of views, and lots of commentary on the Facebook side as well. I have yet to hear from one person who didn't find the lesson "inappropriate" at best and "barbaric" at worst; most expressed anger and outrage, a few suggested phone calls to the principal/teacher. I did email the teacher but got limited joy on that front; I got some more details - which is good, because even with an impeccably honest but still-young child, parents are still going to hear more of that child's perspective of the experience than they are likely to hear an objective account, so I wanted to give the teacher the benefit of the doubt. He instead basically confirmed what Monkey had told me, with a few more details I could follow up on.

Another teacher who read my account of the incident and was less than impressed by the lesson kindly located it on the curriculum page and shared with me a cut-and-pasted copy of the anti-bullying lesson described here. To my surprise (and sadness), it is indeed included in the third-grade curriculum (not in a higher grade, as I'd half-hoped). Step-by-step instructions follow:

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Anti-Bullying Lesson? Really?

A couple of nights ago as I was tucking in my youngest for bed, her face took on a serious expression. I've been around the block with this expression with both kids now, and when it happens at bedtime it inevitably means that there is something very deep on the mind of the child wearing the expression, and it also usually means that she needs to talk and unload and dialogue about it. And it inevitably happens at bedtime. :-) I used to be irritated at the delay in sleep for them and in "me/us" time for us parents, but I've come to love the close times and the thoughtful discussions that they seem to be most open to at these times, so I usually try to roll with it.

The week before, Monkey Child had been putting in a fair amount of time on a self-portrait that had been assigned by her third-grade teacher; one day the basic drawing, then some details, then some clothing, finally some color. And since Monkey is a very detail-oriented kid when it comes to her artwork, she put in a LOT of time over those few days to make it just so. She took it off to school and I didn't hear about it again until Monday evening at bedtime.

"Mom, we did something with our portraits in class on Friday," she said, quietly and seriously in the mostly-dark room, illuminated only by the rainbow that shines for 10 minutes after the main light goes off.

"Oooh, really?" I replied, curious to know how they'd been used.

"We used them for a lesson about bullying," she continued. "Each person in the class got someone else's picture to hold...." and suddenly my heart sank, hoping that I was NOT about to hear what I did indeed hear next.

Monday, September 30, 2013

"How Does Data Drive Your Instruction?"

"How does data drive your instruction?"

I was interviewing for a job teaching instrumental music in a highly-regarded mid-Atlantic school system when I first heard this question. I was prepared for things like, "Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses," and "How have you used technology in your classroom?" (I have to admit I laughed out loud at that one, as in many cases I was lucky to have a piano with 88 working keys, let alone one that was in tune - forget about technology!)

At the time, I made up an answer that probably clearly sounded to the interviewers - a music supervisor and a Human Resources staffer - that I had no clue what I was talking about. If that was their impression, they would not have been too far wrong.

Fast-forward two years to this past summer. I've had two intervening long-term vocal music substitute positions, and I'd already been passed over to fill one of them as a contract teacher because I hadn't yet gone through the vocal music interview, and there was another part-time opening at my neighborhood school which I figured would be the perfect supplement to my other part-time work, so I sucked it up and went in for that interview as well - although, to be honest, I wasn't holding out a lot of hope, having also been passed over for the instrumental music position at the same school, where I already knew the majority of the kids and would have been fairly easily able to run the instrumental music program.

Sure enough, there was that question again.

"How does data drive your instruction?"

OK, folks, I'm a MUSIC teacher. In a typical vocal music position here, the kind where kids come to "music class" all together, the school would schedule me with kids from 25-50 minutes per week, so even if there were no holidays, assemblies, field trips, or other circumstances that would preclude my seeing a class, I'd see kids in groups for less than an hour each week. I would have those 25-50 minutes to deliver a curriculum on a predetermined schedule and be responsible for assessments throughout the year. Music, along with the other arts, is one of the things that in my deep belief makes people HUMAN. HUMANITY drives my instruction. The love of making music individually and collectively, of performing and creating and moving to music, the sheer joy of music - THAT drives my instruction.

"How does data drive your instruction?"

It DOESN'T. And it NEVER. EVER. will. NEVER. It simply cannot drive my instruction. It *can* inform my instruction; it can show me places where I need to spend more time on this or that concept or activity, or it can highlight shortcomings I need to address. But DRIVE my instruction?

Never. Not as a music teacher, and I don't think it would drive it as a teacher of a regular academic (non-arts) subject, either. My students are not "data points" to me. My children are not "data points," except perhaps to the forces currently trying to re-shape public education, to distill it into manageable data that can be used to drive instruction. And I highly doubt that my children are "data points" to their teachers in school, no matter how their teachers might have answered that question.

"How does data drive your instruction?"

When I answered honestly at this second interview, that it does NOT drive my instruction, and that what does drive my instruction is wanting the joy and humanity of the arts for all my students, there was silence for a couple of beats; the music supervisor finally said, "Interesting...." and made some notes on her clipboard. It was not brought up again, nor do I think it ever will be, except possibly to be used against me. LOL (The interviewers also clearly did not think much about my views on school discipline, either; the looks of bewilderment that I wouldn't apply a punishment across the board to all offenders amuse me to this day.)

"How does data drive your instruction?"

How does data drive instruction at your children's schools? It's a good question to ask of your school's leaders.......

Update: After a Tweet about not being a data-driven teacher, I got a phone call from HR, prompted by the then-Superintendent who'd read the Tweet, reprimanding me for my stance. I hand-delivered my resignation 2 days later to HR, and was summarily Twitter-blocked by the ex-Super.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Carrots and Sticks, Part the Fifth: Punishment in School Settings - Solutions

Originally published on Wednesday, February 1, 2012

I started writing about rewards and punishments partly because a number of fellow parents and teachers have expressed surprise that we don't use rewards or punishments here at home, at least not in the conventionally-viewed sense. No sticker charts, no time-outs, haven't needed 'em, and when we tried them they only seemed to impede what we were trying to do. As a teacher, I've sat through my share of "behavior modification" workshops, only to find that discipline problems never seemed to be solved; if anything, temporary and tenuous truces were called, but no real lasting changes came about, leading me to wonder what shortcomings might exist in current common practices in school discipline. Turns out there is a LOT of evidence in that area, and I dutifully dug it up and wrote about that too. Then it only stood to reason that we need to start looking at better ways to handle behavior problems in schools, which in turn led me to Alfie Kohn and to Dr. Ross Greene, both of whom gave me real concrete solutions for navigating parenting a difficult preschooler.

Dr. Ross Greene has worked successfully with kids with some major behavior issues, even clinical ones, and has lots of concrete advice about it. For starters, check out this survey about school behavior climates. Granted, he's selling a commodity, which is his services in revamping school behavior systems, but his descriptions fit nearly every educational environment I've taught in outside my home, from a Montessori preschool through a private JK-12 academy to public schools from kindergarten through high school.  I found the following points to be particularly relevant to what I'll be immersed in for the next month or so:

    The philosophy guiding our thinking about behaviorally challenging kids is Kids do well if they want to rather than Kids do well if they can.
    In responding to challenging behaviors, the school relies heavily on a rubric system: a list of behaviors students mustn't exhibit and an algorithm for how adults should respond to those behaviors if they are exhibited.
    There are many "frequent flyers" in the school: students whose behavior has not improved despite frequent exposure to the school discipline system. (emphasis mine)
    The problems precipitating students' challenging behavior seem to occur again and again without ever being durably solved.    

Carrots and Sticks, Part the Fourth: Punishment in School Settings - The Problem

Originally published Friday, January 20, 2012; edited for spelling and tightening up the writing a bit.

When I started out this set of posts about rewards and punishments, my plan was to paint with broad strokes, find information that would apply across the board. A slight change in course is altering the setting of my thoughts right now, from family life and parenting more to school settings, but I think the basic premise absolutely holds true: if repeated punishments aren't working, that's a sign that a new approach needs to be tried. Since I started out, I've spent more time substitute teaching (That's "supply teaching" for my friends Across the Pond) and observing in schools with this subject on my mind, so that's the point of view I'm taking in my writing - but make no mistake, the same premises apply at home. :-)

Following are collected observations (with lots of parenthetical commentary, as usual LOL) gathered most recently at my daughters' school but also observed in 3 different Maryland school systems and in dozens of schools I've been assigned to in those systems.

Carrots and Sticks: Part the Third: Punishment

Originally posted on Friday, January 6, 2012

I started out my third post with "just" a focus on punishment and found it evolving to a more specific topic, which is discipline in school settings. While that's definitely an area I do want to address, this isn't that post, so I copy-pasted it all to some future post for me to work on later. This is hopefully going to be more general. It's also going to be, well, LONG. Go get a cup of coffee or refill your water bottle or whatever blog-reading sustenance you need to get you through here.

I first publicly addressed the idea of not-punishing in a post I did for a friend's blog this past summer. It gave me the chance to really put into words what my position was on traditional punishment and how I came to that place. Most of that was covered in my Carrots and Sticks: Background post, so I'll sum it up here and add some more recent thoughts and some links to back me up.

Parenting a special-needs child is HARD. It's even harder when the needs manifest themselves more behaviorally than physically, because it's so very easy to blame bad parenting for a child's difficulties when the child is acting out rather than, say, being unable to walk. Wheelchairs and Down's Syndrome are visible disabilities, but Sensory Processing Disorder and other neurological issues, not so much, neither to parents nor to others outside the family unit (teachers, relatives, well-intentioned strangers in supermarkets declaring that you should spank your child and teach her her a lesson she'll not soon forget. ::angry face goes here::)

Carrots and Sticks: Part the Second: Rewards

Are rewards and promises of rewards - "carrots," in other words - really the motivators they're marketed to be? Are rewards and punishments the best way for children to learn and engage in socially acceptable behaviors?

Here's a scenario for you: students in a school are asked to bring in non-perishable food items for a food drive. I can totally get behind this: times are hard and food pantries are really running dry much faster than they have in a long time as more and more families need their services to keep their kids fed. As an incentive, students are told that whichever grade brings in the most food items will win a pizza party for the ENTIRE GRADE!!! *waving flags, big brass band sounds, maybe some cheerleaders*

Over the course of the next week or two, big paper graphs are hung across from the cafeteria where all students will be able to see the progress of their grade and the other grades as the piles of food add up. Every time a teacher or a volunteer gets a chance to count food items and update a grade's graph for the day, you can see the children's excitement building: OUR grade has the biggest bar! No, wait, the second grade is catching up! Oh, NO! But wait, we're still ahead! And look! We're catching up to that grade!  All on their own, kids are excited about, well, they're excited about the bar graph and what it shows. To the younger kids, say up to first or second grade, it's a competition to see who will need to add another piece of paper, or who will have the highest bar, or beat the other grades in sheer quantity of boxes and cans, but to most of them from third grade upward, it shows......who's going to get a PIZZA PARTY!!!! *more waving flags and brass bands here* Very few kids are actually thinking, "Wow, this is great, we're going to be feeding a lot of people and families who really could use this food." (A great big "teachable moment" is winging its way out of the school and away from the children here.....)

Monday, September 9, 2013

Carrots and Sticks, and The New Paradigm: The Background

Originally posted on Thursday, December 15, 2011

I first blogged about rewards and punishments on a friend's blog this past summer [the blog has since gone dormant :-(]; the mothers on the blog had written about their stance on corporal punishment, and I suggested a follow-on post about viable alternatives to spanking and smacking and ended up guest-blogging that week. Not only did I come out against smacking, but against rewards and punishments altogether. That post is pretty much the condensed version of the novel I've written below.

I've had occasion to be thankful many many times throughout the past 10 years of my life for circumstances teaching me so many things. The biggest part of my last 10 years has been parenthood, which in many ways has radically changed how I do, well, EVERYTHING - but in other ways it has also reinforced a lot of things I was already doing as a teacher and began doing instinctively as a parent until I let well-meaning doctors, teachers, and even friends and family get advice in there that made me second-guess myself. It wasn't until I recently found an old evaluation form from a school principal who evaluated my teaching probably 14 years ago, give or take, that I actually remembered some of my pre-parenthood philosophies and realized how true to them I had stayed - or come back to. LOL

I do think that now that I've parented a strongly introverted "atypical" gifted child and a strongly extroverted and also-gifted but more neurotypical one, I have many new insights into children than I did before I had any of my own. I'm also pretty sure that if I'd had a son, or if I had more children, that my parenting - and teaching - would be even different than it already is, so I do recognize that I don't have all the answers - just a lot more than I did 10 years ago (with a lot to go, I'm sure!).

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Non-Academic Skills: Can We Teach Those?

Originally posted on Monday, October 29, 2012

This was originally written as Hurricane Sandy approached the East Coast, her sights set on a point a couple hundred miles north but determined to give the Washington, DC area a wind-lashed deluge over the next few hours and interrupt my typing with power outages. The original post was lost; I was only able to retrieve the opening paragraphs, but I have more to add, so it’s due to be updated anyway.

With this in mind, my younger child decided to use the windy afternoon before the storm arrived to be outside and to burn off calories and to just....be. She'd been working on jumping rope recently. As recently as 4-5 weeks before, she was jumping awkwardly and managing perhaps 3 or 4 jumps before the rope caught on her legs. She would try again, over and over, before giving up in tearful frustration - and then, a minute or 2 later, with the tears not yet dry on her face, she was at it again, raging at the rope and at her inexperience as it happened again and again. And then, something very interesting happened.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Candy In School - Prepare for a Tirade!

Originally posted September 2011

Today is my girls' third day of school. As much as I'd love to homeschool - and perhaps I'll return to it someday - the school has shown time and again that they're committed to the kids who go there, and by and large are taking pretty good care of my kids, who in their turn are blossoming socially and intellectually. With one major serious exception: they feed my kids. They feed them junk food. And sometimes a LOT of it, depending on how one defines "a lot." There aren't words in English that I know of that express how deeply I dread Halloween, and even worse, Valentine's Day, with its overload of sugar and yellow and red food colorings and gobs of sugar and dairy.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Homemade Yogurt - Easier Than You Think!

My original yogurt post has gone the way of the dodo with the loss of the original blog, but that gives me the opportunity to wax poetic from scratch about this creamy tasty treat. We don't do a lot of dairy here since by and large it doesn't agree with us. However, there are a couple of exceptions: raw (unpasteurized) milk, and cultured dairy, such as yogurt, kefir, and sour cream.

My family goes through about a gallon of yogurt a week, give or take. It's a favorite in school lunches, for dessert, for breakfast, for snacks, or in smoothies - we don't give it that often, generally only one serving a day, but it can be pretty much any time of day. The last time I checked on the price of Stonyfield Farms whole milk (so full-fat) organic yogurt, though, it was pushing $5US per quart, meaning a gallon of organic yogurt would run up a tab of about $20 a week! (I suspect the price has gone up since then - it's been a few years since I bought it.) By contrast, a gallon of organic milk runs about $5-6US week, depending on where I can get it and whether it's store-brand or not and what's on sale that week. I can easily buy into the idea of saving $15 a week on yogurt alone.

The way I make yogurt is based on the Girls Guide to Guns & Butter's Crockpot Yogurt recipe, modified to fit my kitchen and needs. Reading it makes it look a LOT more complicated than it really is, and after the first couple of times you'll get into a groove and it'll be a lot easier. Promise. Ready? Here we go!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Random thoughts on Schools and Teaching

Originally published on February 26, 2012 [during a long-term music teaching assignment at a local elementary school; very slightly edited mostly for style and updated terminology.]

Now that I've been in this particular long-term teaching assignment for 5 weeks and counting (at least 3 more weeks to go), lots of random thoughts have been going back and forth in my mind, none of which is ready yet for a post on its own (except the school discipline and standardized testing which I was working on even before I started working here). Some are old memories refreshed, some are old memories seen through new eyes, and some are complete reworkings of misconceptions I had of kids and discipline before I became a parent.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Child's Response to the Standardized Testing Madness

Originally published on Thursday, November 8, 2012

Yesterday morning as I was braiding Younger Child's hair for school, Older Child was in the basement at the computer furiously typing away. "I'm going to write a protest letter!" she told me as she passed the doorway on her way downstairs; this week, in early November, students at her school are undergoing the first round of practice testing for the MSA, Maryland's standardized test, which is administered in March. Yes, that is FOUR MONTHS away, and there will likely be another round of practice tests and countless sessions of "how to find topic sentences" and "how to summarize contrived articles" before the real thing. Test preparation last year took us huge and unwieldy chunks of time and upset schedules right and left, all while stressing teachers and students to the max. When Older Child asked me why there were so many practice tests, and what they did with that information, and why she would have to make up a practice test if she missed it (because in all honesty I was planning to let her stay home this morning and go back in to school after the practice test was finished), I had no answers for her, and suggested she ask the people with the answers, and so the letter below was conceived.  My only admonishment was, "Make sure I get to read it before you print, please!"

Here, with only the signature edited out, is what she took to school yesterday, and with her permission I'm sharing it here:
To Whom It May Concern,

    What is the point of the practice MSAs? If they’re just to get us ready for the proper MSA, we already are. Most of the fifth-graders have taken it at least once, and the fourth-graders have usually taken it once before. I know there are some people who have just come to this school and are new, and the third-graders certainly haven’t taken it before. Maybe they should have the practice MSA, but it doesn’t mean all three grades should have to take it. It messes up schedules, and last year, I had to choose between instrumental music and my special. Nobody offered a make-up time, instructions on which to do, or even an apology I’d have to miss something. I don’t even think that’s a choice people should have to make.
    It also eats up our reading and math time. We don’t even get to read when we finish a section of the practice MSAs! Maybe it’s not allowed on the real one, but what about the practices? You’re supposed to check your work when you’re done. Okay. Once you’ve checked your work three times and you still have ten or fifteen or maybe twenty minutes left, is there any merit to checking it again? And then what are you supposed to do? If it’s still “good practice”, why is it as strict as the real MSA?
    Last year, among all the vocabulary quizzes, words of the day, and learning time spent reviewing strategies and going through packets, I think we got in more than enough practice time, and the tests really seemed unnecessary.
    MSAs are about reading and math, but instead of spending our time working up to the MSA focusing on reading and math(and science, in the case of the fifth-graders), we focus on test strategies. We’re learning how to take a test, not how to be good at reading and math.
    Altogether, I think we overload on MSA practice.

[My 5th-Grader]

I'm so very proud of her! :-)
[addendum: She waited a long while (several weeks) for a response, and when FINALLY she was called to the office for a meeting with the principal and the teacher in charge of testing in our school, the first things focused on were her tone and delivery, NOT the message. To be fair, she was told by her classroom teacher to deliver it to the teacher in charge of the testing, and when she did finally encounter said teacher she was on her way someplace else, so the actual delivery was....perfunctory at best. That said, IMO she raised a valid concern that was not entirely addressed to her satisfaction, nor to mine. She was told that PARCC would replace the MSA (Maryland's current mandated standardized test) in the next couple of years and, according to my child, was then asked if she could find the stamina to handle one more practice test. In the end, we opted out of the second practice test (in January) and she hung out with me that morning.

For the record, I believe that her teacher and her school have done well by her. My biggest gripe is about The System which imposes these tests on schools and students in the first place. That said, I'm not sure at what level decisions about how much test prep and practice tests are made, even after this incident. This year, my younger child will be in her first year of high-stakes testing, and for a number of reasons I'm very conflicted about this. That'll be covered in a later post on its own.]

Friday, August 23, 2013

Personal Vision: The School of my Dreams

Originally posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Came across this link in my Facebook news feed this morning:  http://daringclarity.com/powerful-question

Go ahead, take a moment and click on it. Nothing but good. And deep. :-)

Wow. When I read it, I had.... nothing. Some vague grandiose ideas, but that was it.

At our UU church today, the 6th-graders had their coming-of-age ceremony and the graduating high school seniors had their "bridging ceremony" where they're formally welcomed to the adults in our church, and it began to hit me. In a couple of waves.

Listening to some of these kids talk about their school experiences vs their church experiences, I began letting my mind wander to a lot of the things that bother me about public schools...... so my mind alit on the idea of going back to homeschooling my kids, at least the Introvert but ideally both of them. And then, the second wave hit:

Why not school MORE kids who would benefit from a less rigid school structure, one that didn't limit them or force them where they weren't ready to go but taught them where they were and guided them along as they were ready? One that included the arts - Every. Single. Day! One with lots of time for physical activity, and trips, and parent involvement. One where kids get the help they need, where they have lots of relatively unstructured time to do what kids need to do, to work on fine-motor and social skills informally well before being asked to decode letters and count to 100, where they can spend time BEING CHILDREN, particularly in the early years. A place where children and families contributed to the school in whatever ways they could, from helping grow food in the garden to helping make and maintain classroom materials to simpler cleaning and maintenance, and even to the larger community. A place that was limitless and nurturing, where kids could excel beyond anyone's wildest dreams, that would take the damn standardized tests ONLY because they had to by State law (assuming it would be a public school and so available to everyone regardless of ability to fork out hefty tuition - privately-funded would be better!) - and then get back to the work of growth. A place where I could include kids from toddlerhood onward, younger if I could manage it, and go as far through the school years as possible, so that even at the earliest ages, when children are so impressionable, we could make perhaps the biggest difference - but then have the chance to MAINTAIN it! A place where kids weren't constrained by their chronological ages but could mingle with kids of different ages as their educational needs suggested. A place that could be a cornerstone of a community, that could fill a need not just for children but for everyone. A place with a spiritual - but DEFINITELY nondenominational - bent as well.

And then I remembered that just before I went out on maternity leave a little over 10 [now 11-1/2] years ago, I asked my county for a form to apply for a charter school for my dream school, which would be arts-based. They didn't send me the form till after my baby came, and I was a new mother and overwhelmed with the depression and the reflux and the sensory and special-needs issues, and by the time those went away, the dream had been all but buried..... but when it came to the surface this Sunday morning during the ceremony at our UU church, I had to keep from drawing a breath so sharp it would have been audible across the sanctuary.

I wonder if I even kept that form? I know more or less where it would be: in the music studio where my dream's newest incarnation is taking shape already, teaching private music lessons and making plans to go hunting for grants to teach music in early childhood settings.

So looking at my vision up there, it's both wildly specific and very vague all at the same time. Lots of stuff I want to accomplish, but short on details. I wanted to dig deeper, work out what I knew and could already quantify and identify the stuff I'm still clueless about. And I wanted to get it down in writing, on e-paper, if you will, as a public starting place instead of just a pipe dream. Remember, the whole point of the exercise isn't "I want to do this but...." and list reasons why I can't; it's what I'd do if I knew I COULD NOT fail, so I figure I may as well throw it ALL in there. *grin*

Toddlers: Toddlers will PLAY. They will EXPLORE. They will have tons of materials available to them for primarily unstructured play. Large-motor, small-motor, sit-still and run-around. Sensory input galore. Music to listen to and musical things to make sounds on, and songs sung and dances danced whenever appropriate. Art and craft materials for self-directed and teacher-guided projects. Opportunities to get dirty on a regular basis. (mental note: include laundry room along with sand and water tables. LOL)

Preschoolers/Primary (up to Age 6, really): strongly Montessori-based. Kids this age are ready, in varying stages and ages, for more structured sit-still work, refinement of fine-motor skills throughout this time period. Working on getting children to become more and more self-directed as developing maturity allows. Still plenty of music and art and maybe some more formal physical education, but still plenty of time during the day for unstructured physical activity. I'd love to include foreign language in some way, but not sure how practical it would be to include it as immersion is really the way to go at this age; setting that aside for now for further investigation. :-) This is also a wonderful age to practice basic etiquette; one thing I saw my first day as a Montessori parent was the teachers greeting students with handshakes, and while it almost seems funny and stilted and overly formal to us as adults, I started doing it myself and I love how even the smallest children now come to me at school and thrust out their hands to get their "handshake hello." There is practice in the social pleasantries that then become second nature after a surprisingly short time; I've been encouraged by the changes I've seen in my Head Start long-term substitute assignment even though I'm only in my third week there. :-)

GOOD FOOD to eat, and children becoming involved in the preparation and even growing of some food in the GARDEN. (Some Montessori schools grow plenty of vegetables as part of their curriculum, some even have animals like chickens or goats.)  During this time, not much formal work on learning to read or do sums, not in the whole-class way we're accustomed to thinking of reading and math instruction, anyway. Montessori materials provide a HUGE window of access to reading and phonetics and computation; I've seen a number of 6-year-olds working their way through the math materials and doing multiplication and division, partly because the materials lend themselves to ways of working with and manipulating numbers that is very concrete. If kids want to work for days on end primarily on math until they "get" something, they have that opportunity, and their classmates can be working on the things that inspire them at those moments. Ditto the verbal and science and social studies and fine-motor activities. And helping the kids become self-directed is a HUGE skill they'll be able to draw on their entire lives, but hard to do in a traditional classroom where a teacher needs, for his or her own planning sanity (and often because administrators demand it), to maintain some degree of consistency in the curriculum.

I would also like to add some daily time for meditation, even 5-10 minutes. I strongly believe that taking that time to connect with our inner selves regularly is important, and I wish I'd learned that as a child because it's really hard to remember to do it as an adult. :-\

[An aside here: in the school where I'm currently teaching, and in many public schools, there are a number of teachers who've had Montessori-taught students come into their school completely unwilling or unable to handle more structured classroom instruction, and as a result there's a perception that Montessori = free-for-all. In a GOOD Montessori program, this is NOT the case. Adults do provide guidance, try to keep students from avoiding harder work entirely, and also work on behaviors which would be an asset to any traditional classroom as well.]

Elementary grades: Finally some more formal instruction in math and reading, but still the opportunities for a lot of self-selection. Plenty of writing as developmentally appropriate - but not so much as to overwork still-developing hands. Instruction on a musical instrument like piano or recorder or violin as young as second or third grade depending on interest and hand size, starting more Suzuki-style and progressing to reading musical notation. Art instruction, perhaps something along the lines of Monart, which I like because of its way of training students of all ages to see things more deeply and to translate what they see into pictures. Oversimplified, maybe, but that's how I perceive it in my brain-centered way. I'd love to learn more about it - got to see a bit of it in practice but only from the periphery. Dance for sure - and physical education 2-3 times a week. Continuation of foreign language begun in the Primary years. Toward the middle and end of elementary ages, some more involved higher-level projects: community service, making a film or other dramatic production, write a book or script, paint a mural, teaching of the younger kids by the older, creation of a portfolio - something big and cooperative to go along with lots of small-group and independent work.

More work in the garden and in the kitchen for all students, and the beginnings of some work in the community at large, perhaps: stream or park cleanup, making food for a shelter or soup kitchen, that sort of thing, and still time for quiet and reflection and meditation, spiritual but non-denominational, perhaps investigate some of the UU (Unitarian Universalist) curriculum.

Middle school onward I'm still thinking about, mostly because that's not a stage my kids have yet gone through so I haven't been immersed in it for about 15 years, way back when I taught middle school band for half a day for two years. I love the age and stage, for the most part, and I'd want to do right by kids whose brains are going through growth similar to that experienced by toddlers - only in going-on-adult bodies and with more complex language skills and abstract thinking ability, and with the lack of impulse control that also comes with toddlerhood. What a task, coming up with a curriculum that works WITH those factors instead of in spite of them, which I'm not sure many middle school curricula actually do - but again, that's an area I still have to learn more about, especially since I wasn't yet a parent last time I worked in middle school. LOL [addendum: My oldest is now about to embark on her own middle school adventure; looking forward to seeing what's changed, including my own perspective, as the school year progresses.]

I am definitely finding that having my own kids at an age and stage, and seeing their friends and classmates in a way that most parents don't - as a teacher in their school, sometimes in their classes! - has been very enlightening for me, and I'm curious to see how we'll all weather the middle and high school years if I continue to be involved in my kids' schools throughout, or how my perceptions will change if we go back to homeschooling.

Meanwhile, though, I have this vision to hold in my mind and heart, and to collect experiences for. :-) Anyone else want to work here?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Color My World... On Second Thought, Please Don't! Food Colorings (for starters)

Originally posted on Monday, January 9, 2012

Ah, the marvels of modern science! Our children can have cereal with marshmallows (if you can call them that) in every color of the rainbow: Pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars, green clovers, and blue diamonds! And that's just the last time I heard a Lucky Charms commercial, which has been probably 20 years, not long after they added the blue diamonds because four different artificially-colored sugar bombs apparently wasn't enough in one box of cereal. (I understand it now also comes in chocolate. *shudder*) And oh, the yogurt colors: not just baby blues and pinks any more, or a bit of a yellow or green tint, but full-on intense deep RED and BLUE!

Until you've seen a child completely fall apart shortly after having had some of these brightly-colored treats, it's easy to think of them as harmless additives that make our food that much more appealing. Adding red to sugar-saturated kids' yogurt will make it more appealing to the children, so when they eat it, they will be "eating healthy," right?


Not so much. :-(

I hate to break it to you, but if you regularly eat foods with artificial colors, you are eating petrochemicals. And if you're giving artificially-colored stuff to your kids, you're feeding THEM stuff derived from coal tar and petrochemicals. For real. Many European countries have had the sense to ban these chemicals from all food, and manufacturers have made changes in those countries in order to keep selling their products there, while American food remains loaded with colorings and additives not found in their European counterparts. Look at these photos of Kellogg's Nutri-Grain bars (I found this picture in several articles, including this one, which is LOADED with information about this!) for just one example among many.

WHAT?!?!? But surely our government wouldn't permit dangerous substances in our food! If it weren't safe, it wouldn't be approved!

Why Arts Education is Crucial - Semi-Random Thoughts

Originally published Thursday, March 29, 2012

Amid all the standardized testing hoo-hah lately I've been feeling a sort of undercurrent that the stuff on the test is considered "important" and the rest is considered "frills." Oh, sure there are music and art and PE teachers in all our schools here, but that's as much to provide contractually-agreed-on planning time for classroom teachers in elementary schools as anything. Once kids get to middle and high school, very few schools take music or art as seriously. Kids are routinely scheduled out of non-academic classes like band or chorus or drama (assuming these classes are even part of the to begin with); when I taught high school, band was not only placed opposite required sophomore required classes so 10th-graders could only sign up for band if they took those classes on their own time and at their own expense in the summers, but I was taken to task for the decline in enrollment after 9th grade!

Howard Gardner has spent the majority of his professional life researching and writing about multiple intelligences. For those not up on the theory, it's the idea that above and beyond the verbal and math skills measured by traditional intelligence tests (and standardized tests in schools), there are other equally valuable intelligences we can have: musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, intrapersonal, and interpersonal. Recently added to the list was naturalistic intelligence, and existential and moral may find their way to this list as well.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Hi and Welcome!

Welcome - or welcome back! - to My Very Own Crunchy And Progressive Parenting Blog Mark Two. The first one was lost when I deleted a renegade gmail address from my computer and Google's own customer assistance provided zero assistance to this customer. :-( Since there seems to be no way to retrieve the blog, and since no actual humans seem to work at Google, it was easier to just start over.

I hope to eventually restore the content that I still have here on my hard drive (thanks to The Wayback Machine for so many helpful caches!), although like an idiot I didn't save everything here. Won't make that mistake again.

If you're looking for a place to read stuff about parenting, education, healthy food, and, well, whatever other stuff comes to my mind, this is the place! I come here from time to time to "unpack" all the stuff that builds up in my head - not on any particular schedule, just whenever I need to unload.

So come on in and read and learn and share your own learning!