Thursday, July 16, 2009

Small Steps

Right. Well, I've had the meeting with the psychologist who carried out Elder Son's 'Formal Assessment' at the behest of the school and the Ed Dept. No great surprises: he's very high in verbal, in abstract reasoning, perceptual stuff, not quite so high in other aspects - and a little slow in what they call 'processing speed'. I'm assured that's not uncommon in kids at the sharp end: essentially, he's a deep thinker, not a fast thinker. That would reflect his mother more than me; I've met people who are faster thinkers than I am, definitely, but not every day.

So the prognosis is that yes, he's a clever cookie and yes, the Ed Dept and the school have to start thinking of ways to work with him on that basis. And that's a good thing, sure.

But -- it's not like the school is overloaded with resources and available people. So whatever we work out, it's unlikely to take a whole lot of workload off my shoulders.

I must say, the assessing officer was a piece of work. She's very smart, highly articulate, and extremely passionate about what she does. It was a genuine relief to talk with her. I never wanted to be the kind of 'in-your-face' parent who insists the kid is a little genius and demands special consideration... but it was heartbreaking watching the boy's face drop every morning at school time, and it was depressing to see the books he brought home as assigned reading.

There was one morning... we'd been reading Tennyson, I think. Just to enjoy it this time. But he turned to me with this puzzled look in his eyes and said "Why do you think they're still teaching about the 'magic E that makes the vowel say its name?"

I said: "Well, because it's useful to help people read."

And he said, without any kind of rancour or condescension: "Yes, but they've been teaching it to us for three years now. Don't they realise we know?"

And at that point, I had to scratch around for a diplomatic way of saying that no, not every kid in your class has worked it out yet, nor will.

I settled for a sports analogy: reminded him that he's not the fastest runner nor the best football kicker in his class. Told him how some kids are better at some things than others, and it didn't make them better or worse as people. And I was lucky: he didn't point out that the fast kids are allowed to run just as fast as they want, and he didn't point out that the sporting kids are allowed to join teams and play games with the bigger kids... he just accepted the idea and left it there.

But obviously, I didn't forget.

Primary schooling for me was a miserable exercise in painful fucking time-wasting. So, for that matter, was most of secondary school. Natalie had much the same experience. Worse: even though they noticed and knew that I was good -- really, really good -- with language, nobody really paid attention to that until I was in year twelve, and even then...

Schools have inched forward since then. When I was eight, the Qld dept of education assessed my reading and verbal comprehension as being off their charts. (The charts went to 'reading age 18'. There was nothing higher.) Then they sent me back to my Year 3 classroom to read picture-books in a circle. Now, even though it's taken over a year to get there -- at least there is a formal assessment system in place, and a recognition of the obligation of the school system to kids at the high end of the curve as well as the middle and the low.

The talk with the psychologist was a huge relief, a weight off my shoulders. I've felt bad about pushing the school. I know how undersupplied and underfunded schools are, and I know how damned hard teachers work. The last thing they need is an irritating parent demanding some kind of special treatment. But at least with this piece of paper in hand, the school now has the ammunition to ask the ed dept for help -- and I have a tangible justification for my attitude.

It's already improving. I've had the Elder Son learning to type here at home, and when he passed 20 words a minute, I decided he might as well do al his English and his writing that way. The school has been really good: he's been allowed to type there, too. Better still, the assessing officer tells me it's an excellent approach, allowing him to utilise his thinking skills instead of frustrating him with the trials of penmanship. (We're still going to work him through cursive script, of course. But for actual work, he can type. And that makes him happy, and produces more work which is also more accurate, detailed and thoughtful.)

There will be more. I have to meet with the school people again, and we have to try to construct some kind of effective programme for him on school time and school resources. This isn't going to be easy, or simple. But my kids are not going to spend their childhoods hating every day they have to set foot in school, bored beyond belief.

That is not going to happen.


  1. Good man.
    I'm impressed that you've developed your children so well.
    It's a great thing to hear.

  2. My Dad got "the cuts" on for mucking up in class, as he took 2 minutes to complete the hours work, and then annoyed others.

    I got left alone and allowed to read once I put the work down - so I eventually read my entire primary school library. No Joke. Every book. But they never had to hit me.

    I wonder how long it will take before they get it right :)

  3. Bravo! I wish my folks had taken such an interest in my education. Maybe I wouldn't be typing this from a cubicle right now. Ha!

  4. The school systems haven't changed since the 1800's. Still have desks in a row, still have textbooks which only have certain information in them rather than the Internet on every kids' desk. They are designed to slot and sort. And they assume bright kids will make their way despite the system. I was bored to death with school but have always loved learning. As a teacher I was thwarted by the system of teach and test and regurgitate even moreso than as a student. While training teachers I was appalled at the level of incomepetence of many of them and that they were there because "it's an easy degree to earn" and "summer vacations are nice." I failed many of them, and had many a meeting with superiors as a result. I eventually got out all together. Many of my former hs students are now teachers themselves and good ones who challenge their kids to think but also are now battling an arcane system. It's not only discouraging, it's appalling. Change comes slow but I mean REALLY! I'm glad I'm outta the system even though I miss teaching.

  5. Elder son is very lucky to have you at home to supplement his education. All too often I would have kids way beyond the class level and the best I could do for them was to allow them to do their AMEB booklets in class because by necessity - the majority ruled. Usually by about grade eleven all the kids would be on the same level and that's when the fun began for me! There is nothing more exciting for a teacher to watch than have all the kids feeding off each other when learning. I hope Elder Son gets to experience that with his peers one day.

  6. "There was one morning... we'd been reading Tennyson, I think. Just to enjoy it this time. But he turned to me with this puzzled look in his eyes and said "Why do you think they're still teaching about the 'magic E that makes the vowel say its name?" "

    ...Best para in the entire entry. And Natalia is spot on. Those kids are wildly fortunate to have parents that have gone to such lengths to create the environment they are growing up in.

  7. I suppose it is fortune. But... who would they be if they hadn't been the children of these parents? And for these parents, anyway, raising the kids as best we can is an absolute obligation.

    NatV: I think I've mentioned my mum was a primary school teacher for all the time I knew her. My heart goes out to teachers everywhere, trying their damnedest to do something society manifestly doesn't really want them to do.

    And BigSky...yep. I owe you heaps for dragging me as far as you did into this stuff! You made a real difference to a lot of people.

    Bart: finish the work and read quietly. Yep, me too. But I didn't read the entire school library -- kept changing schools, and about eighty percent of the damned libraries were too boring to contemplate. But the city library was useful, and my mother made sympathy trips to the secondhand bookstores for me...which is how and why I got through most of Moorcock, Tolkien, Howard, Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury and Heinlein before I was thirteen.

  8. Dirk, the problem is that 'steaming' was seen as being elitist from the 70's onwards. And this 'everyone must be winners' theory that rewards no matter what, really sticks in my craw.

    I have to say it's great that ES's school is at least willing to look at alternatives.

    I treated school like a bad joke but in the end the joke was on me as I ended doing a degree i hated and so got a crap honours degree out of it.

  9. My experience parallels Barts - the whole damned school library (well each class had its own little library, no central one there).

    My Littlest Bloke is going to have these challenges. Got assessed at 3.5 and could use language like a 6 year old. Has pretty much worked out reading now (just turned 4), but keeps a lot of it under his hat for fear that Mum and I won't read to him anymore! He'll be off to school next year, and the two primary schools we've picked (public) have programs for brighter kids. But we'll stay on top of it.
    Eldest boy did well last term (14). His brother(13) did shithouse because he buggerises around in class and doesn't do his homework - he's smart but needs to apply himself. Hard for me to do much as they live with their Mum. Son 3 (12) isn't a great academic - but he's a great muso. Learning 4 instruments...*sigh* such a mix!

    You're doing great things for your son FH.

  10. Chazman... what's "steaming"? In this context, I mean. I steam dumplings quite frequently.

  11. D'oh!! i meant STREAMING, LOL!