Saturday, November 17, 2012

Ranting about Conformity

David is away this week, coming home (hopefully later tonight, possibly tomorrow morning) from San Diego and Mexico. Which means I had to take Sofia to her Reading School today.

Sofia takes part in the monthly Learning Program, a special program originally designed by the Down Syndrome Foundation of Orange County. The program and the materials that come with it are terrific. But it meets once a month on Saturday mornings, half an hour drive from home, so my deal with David was that if he wanted Sofia to go to it, he had to mostly be the one to take her. Of course, I end up doing most of the work with her at home, but at least this gets him involved.

While the kids are in their class, the parents get together for a learning session of their own. And almost every month, when David returns from the Learning Program, he spends a good 24 hours ranting and raving about Sofia's education. Are we doing the right things? Are we doing enough? Is the school cooperating? Are they just treating her like a baby? Why aren't we fighting for more?

It's exhausting for me to keep up with all his questions, mainly because he does not have the day-to-day interaction with the school(s). He is also hearing from the parents who attend the program, none of whom are from our own town. Massachusetts schools as a whole are really good, but of course every town (and every school) is different. So experiences vary widely. And there's also the differences each individual child brings to the discussion. What works for Sofia may not work for another child, and vice versa.

So today it was my turn to go (since he is away). And I discovered another big problem.


Here's the specific issue that really fired me up, but there were many other pieces:

Within our learning packet today, which was about teaching our kids how to Add, there was a page with pictures of hand-signs for numbers:

(note, this was not the actual page, but these were the signs being used). These are the American Sign Language (ASL) signs for the numbers 1 through 10.

This took us to a side conversation that really irked me. One of the moms had run into a problem, because of the number 3.

Look at the Three sign above. Now look at this hand sign:
Notice the difference? In ASL, that sign means "W", but for non-ASL users, that is usually the hand sign for "3".

The discussion went along the lines of "we should not have spent so much time forcing our kid to learn the ASL number signs, because now he has to UN-LEARN them in school".

When I asked why not just educate the teacher as to the difference, they pushed back. "This is how they do it in public school."


ASL is a Language. Which means that child is bi-lingual (at least; there are several families that also speak another language at home). Which means the school has to accommodate that!

Which very basically means the kid should not have to unlearn his ASL hand-signs!

Of course, my mind does not stop there.

I started listening to the questions various parents were asking. And I got SO frustrated! There was so much angst about making their kids meet the homework expectations, and only a little about making the homework meet the expectations for the child (to be fair, the conversation did start off with making the distinction between making a fair accommodation and making the work too simple).

But no one was thinking Outside The Box.

What is the point of homework?

To practice skills already learned in class, to help cement those skills into the brain.

Which means homework should not be for first learning. It should be practice.

Which means that is the child has not learned something yet, there should not be homework on that topic.

I hate homework. And I've told every one of my kids' teachers that if my child can't do the homework at least mostly independently, then my kids will not do the homework.

And, because the boys are at the day school, which is small and creative and prides itself on child-centered learning, I've never had a problem with this theory.

And because Sofia is in an Inclusion class but gets lots of her own individualized work, I have gotten only agreement from the public school.

So what I don't understand is, WHY do parents strive for their kids to be JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE? Why not strive for their kids to be THE BEST INDIVIDUAL LEARNER that child can be?

In "modern" society, we have identified key skills that are important: basic reading, simple math, etc. These fall into "Life Skills". We then go on to identify "higher learning" skills like Algebra.

Ok, I have no problem with that. Buy why does every child have to learn the same way? And why does every child have to DO things the same way every other child does them?

I know I live in a creative community. In our town, there are many families from other countries. There are many cultures and languages. We as a family are immersed in the Jewish community. Two of my kids have learning differences that require accommodation.

Why can't we just appreciate and integrate each difference, rather than try to iron everything out into one flat picture?

If a child speaks another language at home, yes, let them primarily speak English in school, but let the teachers be cognisant that there might be some words that cause "translation" issues.

(Great story to that point: our former Head of School has a grown son with DS. When he was little they lived in Israel, and then when they moved back to the states, he went to public school. One day, the parents were called in because he kept yelling "Die! Die!" at some kids who were teasing him. Turns out, he wasn't yelling "Die." He was yelling "Di" - די, which means "Enough"!

Ok, I've been sidetracked by too many questions from my children since I sat down to write this. But in summary, I do not want my kids to be like everyone else. I want them to be comfortable being who THEY are. Individuals. With individual skills, talents, failings, likes and dislikes.