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.